Iniquity, humility and Donald Trump
Last week, I made an audio essay about my feelings about the election of Donald Trump. Listen below, or continue scrolling to read read the written version.
On Tuesday night, I turned on Stephen Colbert's live SHOWTIME special. My nerves were in knots.
I had felt happy earlier that day, even tweeting that it had felt like a national holiday. That morning, I had gotten on my bike and headed to a high school near my house, stood in a short line, and voted for the first female president of the United States. She was my favorite candidate on the ballot, and was also the favorite to win the whole thing.
But by the time Colbert's live show started, her chances had gone down considerably, as Trump picked up more and more states, narrowly. A group of friends and I were decorating sugar cookies shaped like vaginas -- this was supposed to be a big night for American women. Finally the United States would join the ranks of countries that had been led by a woman. But as more and more returns came in, we were nervous.
Colbert's show started strong, with a long animated segment that made a pretty strong argument that Trump may have been humiliated into running for office, being a small-handed little boy that craved praise from his father.
It felt like a balm to laugh -- at him. At this man who, during his campaign, had mocked the disabled, had called for a ban on Muslims, had vilified Mexican immigrants and stoked racism in various forms, had given a voice to white nationalism, even winning the support of the KKK, a man who had applied principles of corporate branding to belittle his opponents with nicknames (all of which stuck), who had, after a video surfaced that showed him bragging about touching women's genitals without their permission, showed no sign of genuine contrition and instead pointed he finger of blame at his opponent's husband, even bringing some of Bill Clinton's accusers to the second presidential debate as a means of intimidation and dominance.
It felt good to laugh at him and relish in the small person he was inside, because his whole persona was the opposite of that. He showed no shred of humility.
Donald Trump scared me earlier this year, because he was a wild card, unpredictable, someone who was making a mockery of the political process at every turn, but I stopped being scared when I identified a single, simple character trait that seemed to encompass everything he had done and said up to that point: He cares about himself and his image more than absolutely anything else. That trait gives logical sense to every one of his actions throughout the campaign. It's why he made fun of people and groups, it's why he was so friendly to Vladimir Putin, it's why he resisted condemning the support of David Duke, it's why he lashed out at Saturday Night live on Twitter for satirizing him. It's why he claimed that sexual assault is ok for him because "when you're a star" you can get away with anything.
This character trait, this cartoonishly large ego that shows no capacity for self reflection or humility, didn't make me less scared that he would become the President of the United States. But it made me less scared in general because, first of all, I didn't see how someone guided by that trait could gain ultimate power in the United States, and anyway, at least he was comprehensible now, predictable. And it proved true the rest of his campaign. Everything he did could be explained by that one trait.
And that one trait made him so fun to laugh at.
Something inside me, though, didn't like how much I enjoyed laughing at him. I had similar reservations with myself when, at one point during the campaign, I drank up a bottle of self-righteousness when it seemed my people, the Mormons, were the one group of religious folks who weren't going to roll over and accept Trump. In December, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints denounced Trump's call to ban Muslims. It felt good that Utah might go for a third party or even for Clinton, and that we Mormons could somehow see something other religious groups couldn't. I was proud of Mormons. But in the same feeling, there was tinge of doubt -- really? Did I think my group was better, smarter, than the rest? That made me uneasy.
And I felt even more uneasy by something else. Something I planned to do after Trump lost. I explained it to my fellow fallopian-tube-cookie-painters. I was going to send a mean tweet to Donald Trump on November 9 -- but then again, no, I didn't want to add to the larger mess of meanness that Trump had peddled and normalized during his whole campaign, so I decided I wouldn't send a public tweet.
But I would send a letter.
I would handwrite a letter to Mr. Donald J. Trump that simply said, "Dear Mr. Trump, Hillary Clinton was one of the most unliked candidates in all of history and she still beat you because you are a LOSER. You are such a loser you couldn't even beat one of the most unliked candidates. You are even more unliked than she is, because you are a loser. Sincerely, Derrick."
I imagined him reading it, maybe crying. The bully in every movie who finally got a taste of his own medicine. Who lashed out because he had thin skin, that even a nobody like me could puncture. It felt good to imagine that. But, in the back of my mind, I also felt gross for wanting to do that.
There's a scripture about charity, love, about how it never fails, ever, even when people are gross and bullies. It talks about how charity is kind, and doesn't envy, and doesn't puff itself up. And it says that charity "delighteth not in iniquity," which seemed like a non sequitur my whole life -- what does delighting in iniquity have to do with charity? -- until I was a 19-year-old missionary and I hated being with my companion, who I was with every single day for a stretch of several weeks. I hated how he talked and acted and how he was rude to people all the time. And then I started to actually kind of like when he was rude to people because every time he did something wrong, I got a little thrill of superiority over him. I was delighting in iniquity, his iniquity, without even noticing my own. Thatin my loneliness and frustration, I was the one without charity.
I think Stephen Colbert, who calls himself an unironic Catholic, has read and internalized some of the same scriptures as I have. By the end of his SHOWTIME special, Trump's victory was even more likely than it had been at the beginning of it, and Stephen Colbert looked like how I felt. He seemed incredulous and despondent that Trump was winning. And at the end of the episode, he gave a nervous, heartfelt speech, that seemed to me like a riff on "charity doesn't delight in iniquity":
By every metric, we are more divided than ever as a nation. According to the Pew research center, more than 4 in 10 voters say the other party's policies are so misguided they pose a threat to the nation. But you know what, everybody feels that way. And not only that, more than half of democrats say the Republican Party makes them afraid, while 49% of republicans say the same thing about the Democratic Party. Both sides are terrified of the other side, and I think that’s why the voting booth has a curtain, so you have some place to hide after the election’s over.
So how did our politics get so poisonous? I think it's because we overdosed, especially this year. We drank too much of the poison. You take a little bit of it so you can hate the other side and it tastes kinda good, and you like how it feels, and there's a gentle high to the condemnation. And you know you're right, right? You know you're right.
I've had that poison. And I'm very sorry that Trump won, because I think he doesn't have the interests of the county first. I think he's had the poison too, and I think his success has depended in a significant way in bottling the poison and selling it for political profit. But I'm not sorry that I can't send that letter. I hope I wouldn't have sent the letter if he had lost, but I think I might have. Or at least that the only thing that would have kept me from sending it was my own self-interest, not charity. Today, humbled, I am more committed to removing that poison from my own system, and not indulging in it next time it looks so tasty and refreshing, no matter how parched I feel.
Because delighting in the iniquity of others doesn't do any good. And it makes you miss your own failings. Case in point: Utah voted for Trump, and Mormons voted for him more than almost any other religious group in the country, according to exit polls. A former female leader of the church's largest women's organization even gave a prayer at a Mike Pence rally in the weeks before the campaign. Utah republicans heeded the call to "come home." I was so disappointed. And I'm going to remember that next time I think my group is better than another.
To be clear, I haven't seen anything yet from Trump that makes me think he has changed the single character trait that guides him. His acceptance speech is commendable only by the incredible low bar we always have for him. He didn't declare himself king or actively repeat the scary things he said he would do during his campaign. But he didn't apologize for those things. And I don't expect him to, ever, about anything.
So I'm going to be paying attention in the next four years, hoping for his success as President, ready to help how I can, ready to call him out on mistakes he may make and actively work against anything that would harm people that he may propose.
But if I can get the rest of that poison out of my system, my critical eye is also going to be directed at myself, and I'm not going to delight in his mistakes anymore. What we need right now is not another wall. It's to peer over the walls we have created this year, and reach across them to find each other.