This morning I read Richard Cohen’s op-ed piece in the Washington Post, Donald Trump’s Intolerable Cruelty. Putting my confirmation bias on the table, I’ll say up front that a number of Cohen views are also my own. They resonate deep within. You’ll find no interest here on my part to engage others on Trump’s virtues or lack thereof. To be clear, I believe Donald Trump to be a rogue, megalomaniacal narcissist, who possesses the resources (read: butt load of cash) to feed his psychoses in front of the masses. I have (hopefully) a much less developed narcissistic megalomania in me, and, coupled with (definitely) less capital, my damage can be mitigated in this world. Trump is emotionally nuclear, and the implications for a Presidency of similar description are quite clear.
What really struck me in the piece was this paragraph,
Trump has his charms. But he’s a towel-snapper — a rich kid who has always had it easy. He has never had the character-building setbacks that sometimes season the callow — Franklin D. Roosevelt’s polio or Robert F. Kennedy’s loss of his brother John, for instance. These are the sorts of things that reduce the rich to the powerlessness of the poor. Trump has none of that. He lives in a pre-Copernican world of his own. The sun revolves around him.
It made me think that Trump has either chosen to appear unaffected by suffering in his life — we all have it in one form or another — or, he was shaped by it in a way that both handicaps him and gives him personal force. I get that, and see similar leanings on both counts in myself. This surely must explain at least some of DJT’s appeal. He touches on topics and feelings that come from an unproductive or stunted response to suffering. But RFK…
Somewhere in my transformation from a robotic follower of all things conservative to striving to be a critical, independent thinker, I rediscovered the recorded speeches of Robert F. Kennedy. This one in particular:
This is an example of what Cohen wrote about. RFK used wisdom gained from torturous, dripping pain to help give productive focus to the suffering of his listeners. Months later, RFK was killed, it would seem, because his own torrential suffering gave him hope that political and economic systems could be shaped to put shoulder to the anguish of others. That was too threatening to the view of the American Dream, of American Culture, of perhaps American Exceptionalism that was held by some in his day.
Not so with Trump. He foments base-level responses to pain in his audiences. He may occasionally touch on something true or real (“even a broken clock…”), but his manner in doing so, and his end game, is to ride anger, bigotry, fear, and anti-intellectualism straight to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Someone once said that if you have all compassion and no truth, you are half way there. But, if you have all truth and no compassion, you are less than nowhere. So, it follows that care for others sets the table for straight talk. In Kennedy’s speech, he spoke extremely difficult things to a crowd of mostly Black Americans, difficult even more so because he was White. He was able to do so because the insufferable droplets of pain upon his own heart produced not only wisdom, but also deep compassion. All these years later, it is still beautiful to observe.
I want a candidate who has much more RFK in them than DJT. I always will.