While Donald Trump may be colossally unworthy of our trust to be president, there is one thing about him I honor: his role in making saints. (Not that he knows he’s doing so.) I’m not cracking wise here. If a saint is somebody who has compassion for everyone all the time, Mr. Trump is among the masters who serve those of us who hunger to grow that skill.
That’s because he’s so easy to dislike. I can’t think of a single reason I would advise any of the young members of my family to turn to him for advice on any topic related to eternal values, or related to anything else for that matter. Mr. Trump is the equivalent of an active drug addict––more nuts than malevolent. From his mouth comes not a word one can rely on to represent integrity. This doesn’t mean he’s always lying. Lying or not lying isn’t a conscious consideration for Mr. Trump. He’s not wired that way. He lives in a cloud of compulsive self-absorption, just like the alcoholic (me, for instance, 30 years ago) whose number one priority is always the buzz, even if his pants are on fire. No action of an addict can be counted on to be grounded in kindness, the interests of others, or a sensitivity to consequences. An addict’s judgment and temperament are something other than presidential. So it’s easy to dismiss Mr. Trump. And that would be a shame. For it is precisely because of what many find to be his repugnancy that he can help us grow the tenderness of our heart. He has for me. Nobody acts the way Donald Trump does because inside they’re dancing with joy.
My father was an unpredictably violent person, at least toward me, his eldest son. I lived on guard. Violent wasn’t all he was, but it doesn’t take much of it for trust to shrink, since it is the potential for violence that perpetually poisons the air. My dad’s father had the same tendency, family lore suggests. I may not have been physically abusive to my kids, like my dad was to me, but my intensity has had flares that could fuel a rocket to the moon. I used to wonder if the four generations of us shared something akin to a genetic imprint. Gratefully, I’ve been blessed to learn that, even if that’s the case, that inheritance isn’t destiny. I can change. I can recover. I can stop passing it on. I’ve come to have a lot of compassion for my father, my grandfather, my children, and myself. Which is why I have a lot for Donald Trump.
I spent years in a love/hate relationship with my dad until I was grown up enough to be receptive to a transforming piece of advice: energetically enter his consciousness and feel what he was experiencing at the core of his being when he was abusive in any way. Terror is the answer. And feeling possessed by it. Before I was born he prayed for a son, but once I showed up he was ill-equipped to parent, except for the example of his father, which he was committed not to repeat. Yet, because my dad never developed the skills for effectively managing fear, that’s precisely what he did do. Fear unmanaged always harms, since it is expressed as anger in any of its myriad forms, all of them destructive, some brutally so.
Inhabiting my father’s being, so to speak, I experienced the forces that made him dangerous to himself, to me, and to the targets of his bigotry. I experienced his despair of not being enough. I experienced his longing to love. And most important of all, I experienced how that same energy has lived in me. (All of this I also experience in Mr. Trump.)
Along the way, I learned that a person’s behavior is an incomplete measure of their reality. That any of us act like a jerk, or worse, means only so much until our behavior is also seen as a cue that something within us––a fear, an unforgiveness, a belief…––is calling for our loving attention.
A Donald Trump presidency might be a catastrophe in many ways, but it would be a gift in at least one: those of us who aspire to grow compassion for everyone all the time would have a lot of opportunity to practice.