Learning to love Donald Trump

I tried and failed miserably at giving up politics for lent. This season started with a trip to Mexico, where I was blissfully disconnected from the world, but after I returned I found myself too weak to resist the siren call of the drip drip drip of news.

Do you know how much has happened in the last 45 days? Lent started right after Trump’s state of the union speech, and since then we’ve learned about the FBI investigation and all the revelations that have happened since, seen health care legislation crash and burn, and bombed 2 countries. That’s a LOT of news. Which doesn’t justify my crushing addiction, just goes to show how strong the temptation was.

However, I was relatively successful at resisting the urge to engage in political debate on social media, and found the last 6 weeks to be a space for contemplation about where I am, how I got here, and what my role might be in this whole mess.

A few weeks ago, I struck up a conversation with a youth leader at a nearby church, who was describing his middle schoolers to me as a generation filled with passion and love, that are truly invested in God and doing his work, but that they had to put a moratorium on discussing Trump in Sunday School because the kids were so disturbed by him. The pastor said he gave them one week to air their grievances, which he said fell into phrases like “Trump is less than human,” and then had to step in and point out that God calls us to love everybody, even when it’s hard, and that describing people as “less than human” has been the excuse for all sort of human tragedies over our history.

Oh! How this conversation knocked me off balance! Because, if I’m being truly honest with myself, I hate Donald Trump.

I hate him in such a pure, uncomplicated, white hot way. He is the opposite of everything I stand for as a person, as a Christian. It is as if my very soul is repulsed by him. It reminds me of Voldemort’s wretched soul at King’s Cross at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I have never felt such hatred before, and I hate him even more for making me feel it now. I hate the way he has dragged this tar out of my heart. I hate the way he has changed my view of others — people I love! People who I have long respected that are complicit in aiding and abetting and normalizing such a monster.

Donald Trump has brought a darkness over my heart, and I hate him for it.

But hate begets anger, and anger is the opposite of the love that we are called to. More importantly, this anger is vulnerable to being hijacked. Neuroscience shows that fearful, negative thoughts are like velcro — the neurons in the brain solidify around them. Further, every time our pre-existing opinions are validated, we get a hit of dopamine — the same neurological thing that happens when we take a hit of cocaine. We are literally addicted to news that reinforces our biases.

I find that this is definitely true for me, and I worry that these negative, validating thoughts about Trump are radicalizing me in the same way that negative, validating thoughts about Obama have radicalized the Republicans in my life (perhaps the subject of another essay). It is clear to me that I need a course correction — that I need to find a way to refocus my attention away from the constant dopamine hit of awful, terrible news.

The thing I have taken out of my failed Lent experience, is how necessary it is to find a way within my heart to love Donald Trump.

I’m not quite sure what this will look like yet, as I certainly don’t feel called to condone his actions, but I find the path forward to be presented in Romans 12:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Bless those who persecute you, bless them — do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay evil with evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. Live at peace and do not take revenge, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is his to avenge.
If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, offer him drink. In doing this, you will be dumping coals on his head.
Do not overcome evil with evil, overcome evil with good.
Accept the one whose faith is weak, and do not quarrel over disputable matters.

I will start by praying for the softening of both Trump’s heart and my own. To find within myself the capacity to forgive those closest to me, to find a way to love them even when they respond with hatred towards me, for my unforgivable sin of being a liberal living in the south.

I will continue to make contemplative meditation a practice — to pay attention to positive thoughts and hold them in my mind long enough to soak in them.

I will work towards living a life with integrity and grace, working to make the world around me a better place than what I inherited. I will do more to reach out to communities of people who are different than me, to find ways to serve them.

And finally, I will continue to abstain from social media disputes. They are only serving to give us hits of bias reinforcement dopamine, and thus are likely doing more harm than good.