Maybe not from Covid-19, but the jury of the virus is still out. He’s going to die because he is, like you and me, a human being, and this abyss is one into which we all are cast in the end.
I think I saw him realize it a few days ago when he was headed to Walter Reed, a flash of that realization as an imminent possibility . . . like a combat troop riding a helicopter that’s taking heavy fire. Helpless. It was like that nanosecond of grace described in a Flannery O’Connor story; I saw the vulnerable boy before he was mutilated into the grotesque monstrosity he now is by an abusive father and by great wealth — the biggest corrupter of all. That flash of humanity, in its ultimate vulnerability, came, then it was gone like a wisp of smoke in the breeze.
He may die from this virus, a possibility that has fanned the burning anger at all the suffering he has caused to feed his narcissism and quell his ever present fear that he might be “dominated,” a terror instilled by his father. People are angry, with good cause, and our reaction is to hit back!
Moreso in text, because it’s a medium where we can vent like mighty lions to conceal from ourselves our sense of deep foreboding and helplessness in the face of crisis stacked on crisis stacked on crisis. In that, we are a little like Trump, who is a human being like us. We always want to declare humans of whom we are ashamed to be more or less than human, monsters . . . and his actions have been monstrous, like many humans before us. But the seed of the evil that possesses him is in every one of us. I believe that, perhaps because I am not innocent, but also because I’ve known a lot of human beings.
There’s a lot of ink being spilled on what the ‘correct’ response is to Trump’s infection — which he is spreading around still to satisfy the bottomless void of his ego. There is no ‘correct’ response, of course. Not one that can be universalized, and this enrages many of us because we want everyone to be exactly like what we imagine ourselves to be.
I can’t respond to Trump’s diagnosis, or his very apparent physical distress, in the same way as someone who has lost a parent or child to this virus. I can respond like someone who watched his storm troopers ripping babies from their mothers’ arms and to this day is housing children and adults in prisons for the crime of being poor and desperate. Neither standpoint is conducive to compassion for a man who has demonstrated again and again his utter contempt for compassion as somehow not sufficiently butch.
He is a wretched, thoughtless criminal . . . a fact only disputed by his vast cult of personality. I even see some of my Christian friends, those who advocate for nonviolence, finding ways to lawyer around that ‘enemy-love’ clause. He’s a reprehensible man who has done massive and irreparable harm, a hate-filled man who has threatened civil war to preserve his status, his power, and his immunity from prosecution.
I pulled a post down on this site a few days back after I took a swing at the Proud Boys, because I found myself being just as butch in my response as the very men I rebuked. Really, it was just sublimated violence . . . which is at least better than manifest violence, I guess. This nonviolence thing, its a work in progress . . . and it ain’t easy.
But back to my first point.
Donald Trump is going to die. Maybe soon.
You and I are going to die. Maybe soon.
I’m feeling very Catholic today, ergo these reiterations of memento mori.
So here is my reaction to the current unfolding of events . . . my reaction is not universalizable, and I won’t even try to impose it on anyone else. That reaction is both personal and Christian (in my own disabled and fragmented . . . in my own human . . . way).
I don’t care about Donald Trump except for the fact that he is driving a bus with all of us in it through some treacherous mountain road . . . drunk. Had he not run for president, and won, I’d never give him a second thought. Just being honest.
I don’t care whether he lives or dies, because — apart from his ability to do damage — he is remarkably uninteresting, just another entitled rich fuck. There are plenty of them, too many for me to hold in my head like bad acid. My actual feelings are reserved for people I know and care for. I don’t know Trump, I don’t know his shitty, grasping, uncaring family, and if any of them dies, I’ll give their death about as much thought as I give to other deaths of people I never knew, or to road kill. Caring has never been abstract for me, and I won’t apologize for not caring if Trump is alive or dead. Except for one thing. I can’t see the consequences, but I just want him out of office — dead or alive. Being honest, but here I run into another problem.
Here’s where that Christian thing comes in, and my more theologically inclined friends may want to correct me if I’ve strayed. I do, a lot.
I read bits of the Bible every day. I have several Bibles. I just found the one my dad gave me when I was nine (60 years ago). I have a bilingual Spanish-English Bible. I have an NASV Bible I was given at RCIA. I have a super-footnoted NRSV with Apocrypha given to me by the guy who baptized me. I have David Bentley Hart’s excellent translation of the New Testament. They’re all a hot mess, written thousands of years ago for audiences whose cultures and experiences of personhood are incomprehensible to us, but I keep going back to listen to those long-dead voices “wrestling with God.” I’m wrestling with God, too.
Being the contradictory and anachronistic mess that Scriptures are, they’re susceptible to being used for . . . well, any damn thing. We’ve all seen these jackleg preachers of the Prosperity Gospel and the ones who want Christ to be a white American.
There was capital punishment for sheep-shagging in the Bible, though I haven’t seen that one hauled out anytime lately — except in Montana. So if I quote Scripture, I hope I’m at least approximating the intent of the authors and their revelations about a Creator prior to space and time, about whom I can only talk with analogies, or with reference to a mystery called the Incarnation.
If you want some lamentation, poetic praise, or some powerful curses, go to the Hebrew Scriptures. They’re peppered all through the New Testament, too, but the originals were Bronze Age fire. Listen to what Amos says about rulers who refuse justice for the most vulnerable (Pay attention, Donald):
This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Israel:
“Your city that marches out a thousand strong
will have only a hundred left;
your town that marches out a hundred strong
will have only ten left.”
This is what the Lord says to Israel:
“Seek me and live;
do not seek Bethel,
do not go to Gilgal,
do not journey to Beersheba.
For Gilgal will surely go into exile,
and Bethel will be reduced to nothing.”
Seek the Lord and live,
or he will sweep through the tribes of Joseph like a fire;
it will devour them,
and Bethel will have no one to quench it.
There are those who turn justice into bitterness
and cast righteousness to the ground.
He who made the Pleiades and Orion,
who turns midnight into dawn
and darkens day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea
and pours them out over the face of the land —
the Lord is his name.
With a blinding flash he destroys the stronghold
and brings the fortified city to ruin.
There are those who hate the one who upholds justice in court
and detest the one who tells the truth.
You levy a straw tax on the poor
and impose a tax on their grain.
Therefore, though you have built stone mansions,
you will not live in them;
though you have planted lush vineyards,
you will not drink their wine.
For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.
There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.
Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.
Therefore this is what the Lord, the Lord God Almighty, says:
“There will be wailing in all the streets
and cries of anguish in every public square.
The farmers will be summoned to weep
and the mourners to wail.
There will be wailing in all the vineyards,
for I will pass through your midst,”
says the Lord.
Woe to you who long
for the day of the Lord!
Why do you long for the day of the Lord?
That day will be darkness, not light.
It will be as though a man fled from a lion
only to meet a bear,
as though he entered his house
and rested his hand on the wall
only to have a snake bite him.
Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light —
pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
If you think Amos was harsh, listen up to Isaiah:
Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth!
For the Lord has spoken:
“I reared children and brought them up,
but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its master,
the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.”
Woe to the sinful nation,
a people whose guilt is great,
a brood of evildoers,
children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the Lord;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.
Why should you be beaten anymore?
Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
your whole heart afflicted.
From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness —
only wounds and welts
and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
or soothed with olive oil.
Your country is desolate,
your cities burned with fire;
your fields are being stripped by foreigners
right before you,
laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.
Daughter Zion is left
like a shelter in a vineyard,
like a hut in a cucumber field,
like a city under siege.
Unless the Lord Almighty
had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.
Hear the word of the Lord,
you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
you people of Gomorrah!
“The multitude of your sacrifices —
what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations —
I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
I am not listening.
Your hands are full of blood!
There’s more in both passages, offering redemption for repentance, but this is the point I find myself at right now . . . here, in the world with all this tribulation and Trump reaping what he has sown. On the other hand . . .
. . . here’s a New Testament passage that rattles around in my head:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
. . . but then again there’s Mary celebrating the downfall of the rich . . .
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me —
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.”
I have whiplash!
Then there’s the one that is most applicable — uncomfortably so — to the Superspreader-in-Chief:
And He said, “A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.’ So he divided his wealth between them. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. But when he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”’ So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. But he answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”
That one sticks in people’s craw pretty badly. That tension between justice and mercy that is only reconciled by grace. The reason I can’t wish someone dead or kill anyone anymore is that every moment alive is a chance for that repentance and redemption, and God wants every one of her children to come home. If Trump genuinely repents, and that could take a while on the contrition part, Jesus said he can rejoin the flock.
And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
That part? Where Jesus says he has come not for the righteous but for sinners? That’s what gave me a membership card. I needed forgiveness, a lot of it. I need it every day still. In Matthew (the above is Mark), the story reads:
“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners”
I. desire. mercy.
I’m right there with you, Jesus . . . when you’re talking about me. I don’t feel that same urgency when talking about Donald Trump, because I don’t know him, because I don’t like what I do know about him, and I rebel against the teaching about the prodigal son . . . it is inconsistent with our notion of justice as desert, or even vengeance.
I feel like a hypocrite (Jesus was pretty hard on hypocrites — the Greek word for play-actor.) if I say I’m praying for Donald Trump. I can grudgingly go through the motions, but I only feel prayers when they concern my own loved ones. Nonetheless, I’ll not wish him dead nor would I assist in the process, though I — like others — have been seized by such fantasies. My most real preoccupation with Trump’s presidency is the fear of fascism — a worldly concern, and one that is animated by fear for loved ones and, yes, by felt compassion.
Here’s hoping we don’t go there.
Donald Trump is going to die. He will wink out of existence at some moment — as fleeting and illusory as the next moment in the runaway train called time. What God does with that, I can’t know. So I hang onto that moment when I saw that flash of Trump’s fear and felt that instant of empathy for an abused dead boy reanimated as a wicked man. That moment of vulnerability that reminds me I worship a vulnerable God — one nailed to a cross. Because I, too, will encounter that instant and I, too, will disappear into the forgetfulness of a world that has passed me by. Donald Trump will die. So will I.
“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,
“Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”
What advantage does man have in all his work
Which he does under the sun?
A generation goes and a generation comes,
But the earth remains forever.
Also, the sun rises and the sun sets;
And hastening to its place it rises there again.
Blowing toward the south,
Then turning toward the north,
The wind continues swirling along;
And on its circular courses the wind returns.
All the rivers flow into the sea,
Yet the sea is not full.
To the place where the rivers flow,
There they flow again.
All things are wearisome;
Man is not able to tell it.
The eye is not satisfied with seeing,
Nor is the ear filled with hearing.
That which has been is that which will be,
And that which has been done is that which will be done.
So there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one might say,
“See this, it is new”?
Already it has existed for ages
Which were before us.
There is no remembrance of earlier things;
And also of the later things which will occur,
There will be for them no remembrance
Among those who will come later still.