Should I feel badly for Donald Trump?

A colleague’s former student, as my colleague writes, “suggests that we pray for Donald–not to win the election, but to be freed of the demons that seem to possess him. Not sure it would help him, but it might make us feel better.”

I think it might. We might even feel a whole lot better if we take it a few million steps further. Here’s what I mean. Read the former student’s blog post on the matter, called “Election Disconnection.” This resonated:

What about me and my desire to disengage during this election cycle? Will turning inward put me on a path to narcissism and a lack of connection? Could my very heart and soul be impacted? Yes, I think so. Already on a number of occasions I have found myself writing off in my mind every Trump support[er]…until I remember that members of my family who I love and respect are most likely voting for him… I may not be able to avoid the pervasive, negative election coverage, but perhaps I can make it through with more grace by changing my perspective. Perhaps by moving from anger to compassion I will feel expanded rather than shriveled. Perhaps instead of disengaging from everyone who thinks differently than me, seeking bridges to understanding will lead to a powerful connection. Perhaps instead of hating Donald Trump, I can…pray for him.

Perhaps.

When I see Donald Trump, I see smallness, and an all-consuming need for validation and adoration. It must be terrifying, to be so desperate for love. He looks that way to me: Desperate for love. Starved of it.

When I see his supporters, however, I see anger at perceived injustice. Sometimes that manifests as racism, sexism, xenophobia, or willful ignorance. Mostly it manifests as confusion, desperation, exhaustion, and nihilism.

What I see in his supporters–whether online on social media, or on television  through coverage of Trump’s rallies or his surrogates… it brings out the worst in me. I draw conclusions and I make judgments and I convince myself that I am righteous.

But righteousness–if indeed I am–is not enough.  I have two children and a dog. They can tell when kindness drives me. They can tell when it does not.

So I will pray for Trump and his supporters. I will find compassion and be kind. I am not sure I will find bridges to understanding or forge any new connections, but I will open myself to the possibility.

I will feel better.

There is no other alternative. As EJ Dionne writes today:

The left is in trouble precisely because it has not responded adequately to this fear or managed to tame the forces that produced it. This is not just a political mistake but also a moral failing…

Progressives regularly preach empathy and insist that the best way to solve a problem is to deal with its underlying causes. These principles apply as much to the struggles of our political opponents as they do to the problems faced by our allies. Defeating Trump is the first step. Giving an ear and a heart to the legitimate concerns of his supporters is the next.

Liberal elitism will never pave the way for liberal egalitarianism

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