We are four months into the presidency of Donald J. Trump, son of Fred Christ Trump (yes, President Trump is Christ’s son). Often I find myself sputtering and fuming incoherently in response to his most recent Tweet or Executive Order or policy proposal. This weekend I have felt something different – pity and sadness, wondering if there is a little boy stuck there in a man’s body.
Three images last week brought me to this place. First was the strong, enduring handshake between France’s Emmanuel Macron and President Trump. This certainly is not the first longish handshake between Mr. Trump and another; each one has lasted an extended time and has reminded viewers of tugs-of-war, or a modified form of arm wrestling, in which a winner must be determined. In this instance, it appears that Mr. Trump was the one who cried “Uncle.” But that is not the point; keep reading.
The second image was of the prime minister of Montenegro being pushed aside by President Trump. It is true that Montenegro’s prime minister downplayed the scene, but I also know how tempting it is to tell a teacher about a bully, “No ma’am, nothing happened; it was nothing – really. He was just playing with me.” At least to me, the possibility that more was going on between the two is glimpsed in the way President Trump shoulders past, never looks at the other, and then thrusts out his chest; I really expected him to thump a time or two as he lifted his head and looked at the camera. That appears to me at least to be Alpha dog behavior, putting another in his place while strutting victoriously and powerfully over the foe. Never mind that President Trump never speaks or makes eye contact, never apologizes or even “sees” the other. The prime minister of Montenegro is made invisible and inconsequential, of no regard.
The final image again involved France’s Macron as he walked toward the gathering of G-7 leaders. As he draws nearer, Macron seems headed directly for President Trump; when Mr. Trump begins to extend his hand toward Macron the French leader suddenly veers away, leaving Mr. Trump’s hand grasping…well, nothing. He has been publicly shunned and humiliated, as Macron intentionally goes toward Angela Merkel, warmly greets her, then another leader, and finally shakes Mr. Trump’s hand briefly and moves away.
Why do I dwell on these images? Because they all could have taken place on a playground with 8 year old boys in various ways seeking to assert supremacy, or being knocked down a peg or two. While President Trump has won his previous arm wrestling matches with other world leaders, he didn’t seem to win against President Macron and he certainly was brought up short in their other encounter. On last week’s power playground, Mr. Trump was 1-2, and he only managed to eke out a win against a much smaller foe; after all, how many of us can even find Montenegro on a map, much less expect its leader to take on the leader of the Free World in a shoving match?
But whatever Mr. Trump’s win-loss record from last week, he seems always to feel the need to win; never to back down or admit error or defeat; when attacked, to swing back harder; to demean, diminish, dismiss, or demolish any and all opponents; and to exude emotions of aggressiveness, anger, braggart brashness, confidence, cockiness, intimidation, and unrelenting stubbornness – all of which combine to create a certain hard, stony harshness to his persona.
How did he become this person? I wonder if there were there wounds received earlier, frights or experiences of falling short that led to stumbles or painful scars that hardened previously soft tissue? I know very little about his parents or his growing up years, but when your father’s middle name is Christ, I wonder if that would feel overwhelming or intimidating to a small boy who looked up to you for love, acceptance and approval. In my mind’s eye I see a little boy, too young to be a Donald yet, a small youngster named Donnie. Would you feel like you had to please, but could never quite do so as fully as wished or expected? Would acceptance and love feel like it had to be earned even if it was offered freely; would recognition seem a bar too high, a bridge too far? Like the triumphant and distant Pantocrator Christ in the dome of an Eastern Orthodox cathedral, would that young Donnie’s father Christ feel distant, demanding, unapproachable; and even if he wasn’t, could that have been that little boy’s perception? Or did this Christ teach his son to feel superior and always to be tough, no matter what the cost? We know that President Trump’s brother died at a relatively early age, his life shortened by alcoholism (this is one reason the President does not drink, and he is to be commended and honored for that discipline). But did his brother drink because he was too soft and tender, and was overwhelmed by life or his father or expectations for hard, unforgiving toughness? Did that young, small Donnie see what happens when you are tender or too gentle, and decide that the only way to survive is to be tough, never to back down, never to be vulnerable or open to a wounding blow? I have no idea at all, but I did wonder these things this past week.
During this presidency, I confess I have been greatly troubled by what I perceive to be outrageous, hurtful, illegal or unconstitutional, belittling and dismissive words and actions by President Trump. And I have also been stunned by his sudden and unexpected changes in direction or opinion. Even members of his own political party don’t seem to know which way he will go with any change of wind, or whether his words today will be trustworthy or reliable, or have any cache tomorrow. He seems to be untethered, unmoored, unanchored, so much so that his words, demands and promises seem light, airy, impermanent, diaphanous, ephemeral, insubstantial gossamer nothingness. There is no there there.
This past week what came to mind was T. S. Eliot’s “hollow men,” or C. S. Lewis’ “men without chests.” Mr. Trump’s reluctance to engage in self-reflection seems to suggest a disquieted fear that if he ever did so, he would find no one home. Where there should be heart and substance, there is only straw and empty space. What is missing in that vacuous emptiness is heart, love, acceptance, the sense of being cherished for who you are, not for what you have. And while Mr. Trump may laugh on occasion, it is never at himself, and he seems not to know joy, or happiness, or authentic peace. He is a troubled soul.
Buddhist philosopher Ken Wilber, in his book, A Brief History of Everything, describes modern people as Flatlanders who think the only thing that is real is what can be counted, measured, possessed. It is a shallow and superficial existence that fails to notice or experience the great depth and mystery of the richer, thicker, substantial, spiritual entirety of the Kosmos. Wilber believes we can all experience this spiritual depth and reality, but often we are wounded and crippled by previous experiences and get “stuck” in early, immature positions that block and impede further growth and deepening of life.
In thinking about Wilber’s work, I wonder how many wounds Mr. Trump carries and how stuck he is with earlier pain and defensive responses from childhood or other early years of life. What if, beneath The Donald’s suits and ties and insistence on being right all the time and need for recognition and take no prisoner mentality, there is still that little child Donnie, hidden away, scared, uncertain and hurting, just wondering what it would be like to be loved and accepted unconditionally? What if the next time that hidden Donnie extended a hand to begin a power wrestling handshake, he was pulled into a warm embrace and held and comforted and reassured that his life mattered, regardless of wealth or success? What if the members of the G-7 had surrounded that young hidden Donnie and provided a strong, caring, accepting, welcoming embrace that held him close and would not let him go as he was told he didn’t have to be strong, and could stop trying relentlessly to prove himself because they would treat him with dignity and respect and honesty, period? And what if I and 1,000,000 other people wrote him a letter, assuring him that we prayed for him and wanted him to be healed and whole, and that he didn’t have to be a bully or loud or pushy to get our attention. I honestly don’t know, but I wondered this week if beneath all the bluster there’s still a little Donnie deep down there who doesn’t know how to get out, but would be so much happier if he could be set free.