George H.W. Bush died this weekend. He is the first president Jaron and I were aware of in childhood, so we experienced a wave of bittersweet nostalgia at the news—even though, as adults, we disagree with many of Bush’s political beliefs.
His death prompted discussion on how we’ll feel when other former presidents go. Bill Clinton, Bush junior, Barack Obama, and—well, You-Know-Who.
My husband confessed that he’ll be relieved when Donald Trump bites it at last. I struggled to define what I’ll feel. While I want Trump removed from any capacity to do harm, and death would certainly do that, the thought of being pleased with any human death seems wrong.
But as I imagined hearing of Trump’s demise, I realized there’s one thing I will absolutely feel, and I’ll feel it more strongly than anything else:
Rage and grief at the profound waste of his life.
Here is a man who had incredible advantages: charisma, wealth, influence, power. He held the highest office of the most powerful country in the world during an era of unprecedented knowledge and technological advances. Imagine his potential to impact human history.
And how did he choose to use that potential?
Instead of using his charisma to unite people around ideas that make the world better, he used it to turn people against vulnerable minorities and make us selfishly fixate on “America first.” Instead of using his wealth to fight poverty, he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and aligned himself with policies that fatten the rich. Instead of using his connections and political power to care for the earth and make our society a good global neighbor, he wallowed in an administration that built walls and tear-gassed children and ignored global warming and fed dangerous conspiracy theories to fearful citizens.
Fear, anger, lies, harming innocents. He is writing that legacy for himself.
Here’s my point: Trump has everything we are supposed to want, but the extravagance of his advantages is matched by the extravagance of the shame he’s brought on himself.
You almost couldn’t find a more perfect illustration of Jesus’ teaching in Mark chapter 8:
“Does a person gain anything if he wins the whole world but loses his life? Of course not! There is nothing he can give to regain his life. — Mark 8:36-37, Today’s English Version
The Message translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson says it this way:
“What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?
Trump gained the world. He got everything he wanted. But it didn’t make him more fully human; it made him less so. He lives in a way that seems against the flow of the Kingdom of God, the way of life that Jesus demonstrated, where the last are first and everyone has what they need and human life is treated with dignity. (I won’t speculate on Trump’s salvation, since I’m not God and that’s none of my business). Donald Trump could have been remembered as a man who seized his chance to improve the human condition, but he’s chosen to be remembered as an angry, fear-instilling, fact-denying antagonist who brought harm to vulnerable people.
That is most likely what I will think of when Donald Trump dies. I would like to hope that he’ll have a Road To Damascus moment and spend his remaining years toiling to undo the damage he’s caused. I suppose that’s up to him.