A Chaplain’s Perspective on Trump: When America is the Patient

It has been just over a week since the country elected Donald Trump to serve as its next president. Many Americans are happy to have a change in leadership, and to them it represents the potential for a fulfilling life that respects and honors their culture and their preferences and that guarantees life will be a little easier for them and the people they love. There are obviously a lot more factors in their elation with his election, but those factors lead to an increase in their happiness as the ultimate goal. On the other hand, we have just as many people who are distraught, some of whom are flocking to their local churches for conversion because Trump satisfies all required competencies on the Antichrist job application.

I had to get that out, because for me his election is a reminder that the United States is still very much a nation that, instead of honoring our diversity, seeks to homogenize the American experience and to continue the same destructive patterns of life that we warn our children about. As a black man in America, I can’t say I’m surprised. I’m actually laughing at this because laughter is the medicine I need right now. For me personally, this is just standard American operation, and we’ve just returned after an eight-year vacation on an island called Progress. In honestly reflecting on US history, Trump is not the worst we could have done despite Trump being…himself. This is how I’m coping with it before I figure out what to do next, because I can’t let it rule my life, and the alternative is to spiral into unhappiness.

As a chaplain, I’ve sat with enough people to see beyond my hopes for progress and have had to find a way to make space for everyone. In fact, I see American life collectively being played out just like any life I come across in the hospital. We have the country as the patient, Trump representing the change in health, and the American public as the family members who each have different hopes, needs, and relationships with the dying patient. That’s a recipe for, quite frankly, exactly what we have right now. To truly cope, we’re going to have to learn how to grieve and go on.

So I decided over the past few days to get to work like I always do and be present. I watched hours of Trump and his supporters’ YouTube videos so that I could try to relate and speak their language a little better without judgment, fear, and anxiety. In doing so, I found that most of his supporters weren’t too different from me in daily living, even though we have different communities, passions, and languages. In watching those videos I found that there is a difference between how I feel about Trump and how I feel about the people that got him elected, allowing compassion to find its way into my relationship with them.

In coping with this reality, we have to be honest with the prognosis. All previous exams, biopsies, goals of care conversations, and attempts to revive our new norms have failed, and it looks like death is imminent. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Progress has always been a roller coaster ride that presents difficult challenges and the falling away of our illusions. In that, we can then determine that despite our suffering, there is still a life worth living but it’s going to take a bit of rehab to get there. With resiliency as our modus operandi, we can transition into a new life that is more appropriate for where we are.

The mission given to chaplains requires us to meet people where they are and provide presence and care to all regardless of belief and intention. My counterparts across the country have their hands full, and I challenge them to instill in everyone they care for a bit of that mantle so there won’t be a need for any intermediaries in our relationships with each other. Separation, after all, is the largest part in the creation of our pain. Encouraging all to be in more compassionate relationships while making it ok for things to change may be the only way we can brace ourselves for the unknowns and find some positivity to serve as the catalyst for whatever good we can take from this.

So until we get a game plan, let’s hope that the office of President of the United States will force President-elect Trump to change as a person, that others will follow that lead, and that we can find a way to constructively and positively support his presidency…and that it will only be one term.

Still laughing, still coping.

Note from the Editors: Everyone deals with grief in their own way, and everyone reaches the stages of grief at different times. If part of your way of processing this grief is to get involved in actions that will protect marginalized communities from the bigotry and hate that has been directed at them during the presidential campaign and that is now threatening them in the coming administration, here are some organizations you can get involved in: the American Civil Liberties Union, Standing Up for Racial Justice, Planned Parenthood, and Amnesty International. You can also, of course, become more involved in the American Humanist Association’s work to continue to defend the gains we’ve made for church-state separation and rights for nontheists! Here are some ways humanists can get involved.

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