Is it time to Love President Trump??
I watched an old edition of Steve Colbert’s “Tonight Show” where he interviewed George Saunders on his book “Lincoln in the Bardo.” When Saunders mentioned his idea of “radical tenderness,” Colbert asked the inevitable questions –What should we do for our President?
I was expecting George would offer “radical tenderness to Donal,” a thought that I was not sure I would be able to digest, knowing that none in my circle are espousing, “loving President Trump more.” I need not have worried. Yes, Saunders was urbane, funny, slick, even implying, “Do we even have a President?” His preaching of radical kindness was not for Trump except the kindness that demands justice. Yadda Yadda Yadda. That did not sound like radical anything.
I played it out in my own mind, the answer that I was hoping for and yet was not ready to accept, even less tolerate. What if he said,”Its time to love President Trump!”
Of course, if we were Jesus or any decent Church remotely reminding us of Jesus- (which is harder and harder to find these days), we would say”Of Course,” Jesus would say that. I mean, he told the Romans moments before he was executed, “I forgive you because you do not know what you are doing.” But Christianity no longer stands for that. Its last radical interpreter was St. Francis or perhaps Dorothy Day. Our five “outstanding” Catholics on the Supreme Court uphold capitalism as sacred and the death penalty as their gospel. As Chesterton loved to say, “Christianity has not been tried and failed, it has failed because it has never been tried.”
THE IRONY OF EVIL THAT TURNS GOOD TO BAD
The irony of evil is that those of us who dedicate our lives to combating war and hatred so often end up becoming the mirror image of our enemies. We rage about how the President divides and excludes and then, tell any friend who votes for Trump that they can no longer be in our circle.
We decry the lies and the propoganda that are spewing out of the administration and then invest billions on finding dirt on our opponents so we can disgrace them as viciously as the President does. We shrug and say, “That is the way it is,” rather than admitting that no-“this is the way we are.”
We are addicted to that feeling of being so right when it is clear that someone else is so wrong. And without even knowing it, we slowly turn into the monster that we are fighting. They go low and we go high, says Michelle Obama, and at least we do for a while. But hen, like in a boxing match, if he hits me below the belt, then I will do the same. It’s no holds “Barred,” ( no pun intended.) Once we are dragged down into the mud, its all and only mud wrestling. And that is where we are.
What would radical love look like in the face of evil, lies and corruption? Perhaps we are already there in the mostly peaceful protests that have taken over our streets. The headlines of “riots and looting,” the headlines that the President is exploiting, is not just unfair but a total misread of the situation. The anomaly is that there is so little of it, not so much. An angry people who see how the police have brutalized citizens they were supposed to protect are likely to do much more damage. But no- Black Lives Matter and their allies understand- They want change. They want an end to the violence. And yet, they encounter a police force and government militia ready to inflict violence to quash their peaceful resistance. The irony would be comic if it were not so tragic.
What I am asking myself is- If I do not adopt a radical tenderness towards the President, how do I stop becoming a mirror of him? And is it too late?
Have we become that already? Love is muscular, strong, an unbeatable force for good. It does not mean passivity or surrender. Love seems to have been too hollowed out into some Hallmark card sentimentality. Saint Paul elaborated, Love is patient and kind, it never celebrates the wrong, never gives up, always hopes, always trusts, and never stoops to the same level as the hater. Radical Love gives up the blame game and gives up any addiction to righteousness. It is committed to bringing out the best in the other, even when he is at his worst.
As Martin Luther King Jnr explained to Malcolm X in their TV interview that features in James Baldwin’s “I am not your Negro” King tries to explain that in love, there is all the force of resistance, all the force for change that violence and hatred only pretend to promise. Love is scarily strong. Loving your enemy is not so much to persuade your enemy as to ensure you don’t become what he is. Love might finally change him but does not demand it. You take that risk. Love acts as our vaccine against the disease of hate, so that it does not change you. You have decided somewhere along life’s weary way that Love is who you want to become because Love is what you believe God is. That is how she made us. God followers are called to follow that path.
Love is the story that faith-filled people everwhere believe God has for the world. He will never condemn what he has created. It is a mirror of his goodness. But God understands because she hears all the stories. And if Jesus is any true message from God, it is that Love conquers all. Quaint, idealist, out of touch, antiquated perhaps? But what it sounds like is not what it is.
As an aspiring and failing Jesus follower, with 7 years in seminary and 25 years in ministry to try and learn that lesson, I confront the fact that I have relapsed. When I watch the news and see the White House briefing, I am not filled with love. Not at all. I want an end to all of this. I yell, I argue, I rage, throw things at the screen. I do not see the irony that I am not his opponent anymore but his mirror. I am just as petty, just as small and bitter, just as unforgiving.
Love does not mean I have to switch sides or go buy a MAGA hat or join a Trump rally. Love is sane enough to not subscribe to the madness. But if I practice a radical tenderness towards myself and all the mistakes I have made in my life, I cannot exclude anyone else from that same circle of compassion. That is God’s core story. To love President Trump calls me to try to understand those people who vote for him and the hope he represents for them. And not to judge.
LOVE is a bigger story than that. In fact, it is the biggest story. To understand President Trump means I chose to judge his actions but not him. To grant him the benefit of radical compassion is to understand that he is what life has made him. And as a celebrity and public figure, he is what WE have made him. He is us. To be so condemnatory of him and his corrupting of the system conveniently lets me off the hook for being complicit in a system that made him possible. How did this happen? How did President Trump happen? Look in the mirror.
Do not blame Trump. Blame us. He got there from votes. And that means that the radical call to change, as Jesus would insist, is within us, not just swapping one system for another at the ballot box. President Trump was quizzed about COVID19 and he said “I do not take responsibility.” That was his gift for a season of Attack Ads. But we have to be careful. I find myself saying exactly the same. It’s not my fault. He is to blame. But is he?
Love is that which says “I take responsibility” even if I know I am not guilty. Guilt belongs to the past. Responsibility is the call of the future. I did not elect this President. I did not impose immigrant or Muslim bans. I did not lie about COVID19. But loving you means, Mister President, we are all in this together. We have work to do. If most of it is wasted in petty squables, then we are not serving our people. If you cannot give the higher example of a love that brings us all together, then instead of complaining, I must lead. I am wasting too much energy blaming you. That is a useless distraction.
Loving you does not mean I will not call out your lies, or demand you to do the right thing. It does not mean I will not face down your police and army in protest. But Mr. President, I am not your enemy. I am not wishing any harm to you. I believe that Love is the highest calling, but it is also that grace at the grassroots that can change the nation for the better, with or without you. We need not wait for permission.
You can join that or resist it- But nothing, nothing you can do or will ever say will ever stop me loving you, and wishing you the best. If it means I work to have you unelected, it is not out of spite or hate. It must come from a higher place, a love that includes you, never denying you. Love must win, not you and not me, but for all of us.
Now Just imagine if that was an election slogan? Someone call Joe Biden.
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