To enthusiastic fans of Donald Trump

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Two people were facing the congregation at Mass last Sunday: The priest, of course, and an interpreter, who was signing for the deaf people in the pews.

Scratch that, there were three people facing the congregation. The third was a profoundly disabled man, his body twisted permanently into a pretzel, his skull misshapen, his features preternaturally mobile. He didn’t seem able to face the altar, but spend most of the hour bobbing and grinning and leering at the rest of us, while his caregiver patiently redirected him over and over again, calming him when he got agitated, soothing him when he got loud.

Why is it so hard to meet the gaze of folks like this? If ever there was a low-risk social interaction, it’s making eye contact with someone who can’t talk at all, much less expect something witty or suitable in response. “Just smile at him,” I tell myself. “Just be friendly and sincere, and then move along.” Still, I avoid eye contact. It’s obviously not about him. It’s about me.

That hour nagged at me.  Two faces, the translator and the disabled man demanded our attention, their eyes shining, their hands busy with gestures that meant nothing to me. If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts. If today you see a face and it keeps grinning and winking and nodding at you, at least you could ask the Holy Spirit what’s up. Here’s what I think it is.

The sign language translator was there because there are some folks in the congregation with a disability. They cannot hear, so they need extra help to have God’s word conveyed to them.

I am disabled, too, spiritually. I need a translator. There is something in my heart that fears and rejects mentally and even physically disabled people, and I’d rather they just turn around and leave me alone with my smart, attractive children and friends. I’m a pro-lifer, so I am ashamed to respond this way to any of God’s children. It is a common but severe defect. I want to be open, but I am not, and I can only fake it about half the time. Most of the time, I just avoid, avoid, avoid, avoid. I’m not alone or unusual in this, but that doesn’t make it all right.

I don’t mean to reduce another human being to a symbol. This man was attending Mass, and certainly wasn’t there just for my benefit or edification. He has a name, and he obviously has at least one person who loves and cares for him. But he was also, for me, a translator, someone turning to face me to convey a message that I wasn’t able to hear on my own without his help. Sometimes you don’t realize you are deaf until a translator turns up.

So there is more. It made me ask myself: Who am I having the hardest time facing right now? Who do I not want to look in the face? Who am I reluctant to treat as fully human?

Easy to answer in January of 2017: Enthusiastic Trump supporters. Over and over again, despite my resolve, I lose my temper with them, I get nasty, I get personal. I am just so angry at what they have chosen for me and my family and my beloved country. There they stand, shamelessly twisted in their worldview, not even hiding their faces, just leering and gesticulating. Turn around! Shut up! Get away from me! I want to yell (and sometimes do).

I’m not proud of behaving this way. I call myself a pro-lifer. This is a severe defect, that I allow myself to respond to other human beings with open, personal contempt and derision. It’s especially egregious because I often write about our obligation to show love to each other.

I don’t know what to tell you. I’m working on it. Yes, this post is the best I can do right now. Those of you who happily voted for Trump and continue to champion him, I think you are wrong, wrong, wrong, and I will not apologize for calling it twisted and awry to admire and champion a wicked man. Whatever your motivation, you have done something objectively terrible to our country.

But the way I respond to you is my problem, not your problem. I have a defect, and I know it. Thank you for looking me in the face and helping me be more aware of my defect. Thank you for being the translator who alerts me to just how deaf I am. Please pray for me, and I will pray for you. And then maybe we can all just turn around and face the altar, like we’re supposed to.

***
Image: Detail of Self-Portrait as a Deaf Man by Sir Joshua Reynolds (Creative Commons)

 

24 thoughts on “To enthusiastic fans of Donald Trump”

  1. Glad you’re being honest, but boy, this made me ill. I have a family member with a disability, and I love him very much. The way you wrote about the gentleman in the wheelchair was just…horrible. Honest, yes, but really offensive. For example, your use of the word “leered.” Here’s the definition:

    “To look or gaze in an unpleasant, malicious, or lascivious way.
    “bystanders were leering at the nude painting”
    synonyms: ogle, look lasciviously at, look suggestively at, eye, check out; informalgive someone a/the once-over, lust after/over
    “Henry leered at her””

    You keep your attractive children close so they can absorb that attitude and maybe stop calling yourself “pro-life” until you can honestly see some value in those of us who aren’t lucky enough to suffer a physical or developmental disability.

    1. I am sorry that my words came across that way, Jillian. My entire intention was to convey my discomfort under the man’s gaze, and to acknowledge that I was at fault for my response.

    2. “You keep your attractive children close so they can absorb that attitude and maybe stop calling yourself “pro-life” until you can honestly see some value in those of us who aren’t lucky enough to suffer a physical or developmental disability.”

      That’s just nasty. She clearly wasn’t talking about his intent. That’s what he looked like to her. And she recognised the lack in her self. That was the whole point of the article, and it contributes to driving honest self-analysis and change.

      “Keep your attractive children close … ” is a very unfortunate and sinister sounding phrase, btw.

  2. Yes keep your attractive brood close and thank God every day that none of them were born with the disabilities that make you so uncomfortable when you observe them. Your chances increase every baby you have.
    I also feel just as strongly FOR President Elect Trump as you feel Against him and am really offended by those who think they are right and I’m not. I don’t yell st them even though I don’t understand why they can’t see how wrong things are now. I don’t consider myself to have a “twisted world view” and if Mr. Trump can create an economy that puts people to work instead of providing entitlements then not just “your” beloved country but “our” beloved country will be much stronger.

  3. I feel your pain. I understand why many people, including my husband, felt the need to vote for Trump as the lesser of two evils. But I can’t relate to the enthusiastic support of him.

  4. Hi Simcha, I definitely wouldn’t call myself an enthusiastic Trump supporter, but I did vote for him. For me it came down to what I perceived to be a stupid, crass man (who claimed he would represent many of my views as President) and an evil, despicable woman (who assured me without apology the would not.) Two absurd choices in my opinion, but to my mind, Hillary is much more evil on so many levels. Just curious who you would have supported. Or would you not have voted at all? Peace from a fellow blogger…

  5. There is a story of either Catherine of Siena or Rose of Lima being disgusted and sickened at taking care of an oozing, ill, leprous man. She told herself “body if you cannot do it, I will make you do it” and drank the bowl of dirty water with which she cleaned his wounds.

    Thanks for being open and honest. More of us feel uncomfortable in one way or another towards our fellow man, whether towards elderly, disabled, beautiful, racial, etc. Seeing it in yourself is the first step in knowing yourself and growing. Drink it up, girl.

  6. Mother Olga is asking for us all to pray for our nation on Thursday night at 6 PM. She has a facebook event for it. If you’re in the Boston area you can even go (lucky!). No doubt we need healing and unity and to be able to look at each other without judgment. I don’t know if this will help at all, Simcha, but the way I look at it is I believe God can do more with a King David than he could have done with a King (or Queen) Herod. The Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” comes to mind very frequently these days. I will pray for you and will gladly accept those prayers for me.

  7. I would submit that “my smart, attractive children” is being used by Simcha with full self-awareness of the hypocrisy and smallness of the statement. She is using it to out herself, to herself, and to the world: let’s recognize that these thoughts can gain power to form structures in our minds that, if given words, would speak this way.

    I think it is a good reminder that Christians need to have the courage to face up to what makes them uncomfortable in other human beings, and why.

    1. I know that’s how she meant it, and I think this is an important and brave piece, but it was still so, so painful to read. Especially as my special needs son has left the cute-little-kid stage and is well into the hormonal-teen stage.

  8. Your honest self-examination feels a bit like that uncomfortable gaze to me right now–it’s challenging and hard to come face to face with our own weakness and limitations, and this post is challenging me to ask myself who I can’t look at straight-on…and I don’t like how many potential answers there are to that. I’m sure I’m not the only one commenting here feeling that discomfort, but I hope I can bear up under it with as much humility and openness as you have. Thank you for your vulnerable honesty–it’s a hard thing to sustain in our present poisoned public sphere.

  9. People who mistake this post as being about President Elect Trump, or politics at all, probably mistake Romeo and Juliet for a romance, too.
    I thought what you said was very vulnerable and true, Simcha.

  10. Simcha, I am a reluctant Trump supporter. I do not like the man. I think he is embarrassing. I pray he has the humility to allow himself to be educated in political and personal diplomacy. I think it is dreadful that both parties could not find more decent, moral, and mannerly candidates to represent them and ultimately become president.

    But I would rather be embarrassed than support an individual and party that does not represent me on life issues and social issues, and that has the condescension and nerve to think my Faith needs a “Catholic spring”. The other party is completely unapologetic, unsympathetic, and out of touch with those of us who do not live on either coast. If we do no agree with their agenda, they think we are ignorant. They are not willing to listen to us.

    I do not like the fact that some topics must be completely avoided by me and my oldest friend when we get together. We have been through so many good and bad time together, and we still love each other. But there is such antagonism between people now. There is no attempt to listen in a cordial manner.

    Like you, I am going forward and hoping for the best. Like you gazing on the disabled man in church, I think we all need to pull ourselves together and remember there are no “sides” in the end. We are all Americans.

    And like my good St. Francis, we need to embrace the leper, and get past our repugnance for those who do not look like us or think like us.

    Peace and all good – Susan, osf

    1. Well said smk629/Susan!

      I too am a reluctant Trump supporter. My original favorite was Ben Carson, but that was not to be. However, since the weeks preceding the election to today, I have felt “forced” into the corner of being a ___, ___, etc supporter of Trump. I wish the Trump-haters would turn around and look in the mirror and see what they have become. Hatred and violence – marks of evil influence – have become their norm. I wish more of those would be a bit more introspective as Simcha has.

      Simcha, you took on a brave path here. Note the remarks/replies. I applaud you and will continue to follow you with interest, even though you equate me with a profoundly disabled man.

      1. Thank you, Ron, and Simcha. We Catholics and Americans are much better than this, and we need to start acting like it.

        As a graduate once told my high school class, when you go to work everyday, you don’t have to like everyone else or agree with everything they say. You just have to get along for 8 hours.

        It is time to get busy, mend fences, and treat each other with kindness and courtesy, and to listen and empathize a little with people who come at us from another direction. We don’t have to agree. We just need to treat each other with decency and Christian dignity.

        Okay, I’ve said enough! God bless us all – Susan, ofs

  11. Curious that your refusal to treat poltitical opponents with civility led to being fired by the Register, yet the superior dispatches continue with a readership you claim to need and desire. I have been a fan for eight years or so and will continue to buy your books when they cross my path.

    This post, with its groping-for-profundity tone, is something I expect from an adolescent who spends way too much time online. I think the idea that it’s some high literary style beyond the average moron’s grasp is perhaps more laughable that the sad & offensive content. There — you diagnosed me (I didn’t even vote for the scoundrel but am thrilled with every detail of his victory), and now I have returned the favor. March on!

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