Trump vs. Literature

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In March, I wrote this essay as a way to process my growing concerns about Trump’s candidacy. I did not share it widely and did not submit it for publication because I was trying to stay optimistic and believe that this nightmare would go away. Instead it has grown bigger and worse, like a bad case of poison ivy. If I were to rewrite this, I could discuss Trump’s history of misogyny, lies, sexual assault and complete disregard for humanity, but this was back in the day of bullying, bigotry and narcissism. I thought we had reached the peak of his hatred; we weren’t even on the mountain yet.

I am sharing this now for a couple reasons. First, I found Melania’s fight against cyberbullying platform more than laughable – it is abhorrent. Second, there could be some people out there who were on the fence or even early Hillary supporters who have now shifted to Trump because of media influence. Maybe a couple will read this and be reminded of how scary he really is. Lastly, if nothing else, I’ve included a couple of book recommendations. Reading stories is the best path to tolerance, so maybe someone will read one of these books and think differently because of it. Most importantly, vote tomorrow (and vote wisely)!

March, 2016.

A few days ago, I drove along the street by our local high school and passed a car with a Trump ’16 sticker on the bumper. I couldn’t help my reaction. I cringed, felt a wave of nausea combined with anger and fear, gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter and then remembered to exhale.

Through all of the elections in my adult life, I have taken sides. I have pulled for one candidate over the others and hoped for an outcome that aligned with my values and what I felt was best for our country. Never, ever, have I felt deep anger and fear. Even in the elections where I was not pleased with the outcome, I maintained a certain level of respect for and trust in the government as a whole to serve us as a nation.

In some elections, I cried tears of joy, viewing the winning candidate as a sign of our nation’s progress. In others, I sighed out of disappointment, but still felt a patriotic inertia to look forward. Perhaps only some of my interests would be prioritized this term, but I am not the only person in this country. We are a country of many, a country of differences, and a country facing challenges. We are a country that cannot move forward in fear. Hate does not make great, Mr. Trump.

It upsets me that I am angry at Donald Trump and his supporters, and at the GOP for letting things go this far. Our nation has become a joke, and Trump’s candidacy is bringing out our nation’s worst qualities: boasting and badmouthing. As a classroom teacher, I facilitated discussions with students about the issues that concerned them most, trying to instill in young children an understanding of the electoral process that does not emphasize opposition, fear or hate. Now, my seven-year-old comes home from school with questions about why Donald Trump hates Mexicans and Muslims and why he would be allowed to be President if he is mean to people. I can engage in thoughtful, age-appropriate discussions with my children and my former students about 9/11 and other world events, but for these questions, I have no answers.

I recently read two books, titles I picked because they had been on my reading list for a long time, not because they had any connection to this year’s election. Both books left my mind spinning, thinking about the current state of our country and its people.

In Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, we glimpse a fictional future in which hatred and fear take over our country, people lose their sense of humanity and compassion, and society is an every-person-for himself wasteland without laws and governance. Mr. Trump advocates for violence and citizens mistreating their fellow citizens. It might sound humorous or provocative at a rally, but the greater message he is sending is disgusting and foreshadows an America that is a bad, bad place. There is nothing funny about violence and lawlessness.

In Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, I met an Olympic athlete and soldier, Louie Zamperini. Louie, along with other Americans and soldiers from around the world, suffered intense torture at the hands of their captors as POWs during World War II. That one man could survive this torture, let alone many men, is a testament to the will of good over evil and shows what our citizens are capable of when we defend the universal human rights of all of mankind.

In both stories, there is hatred, enslavement, cruelty and fear, but it is clear that the characters who thrive on shattering the dignity of others are not the victors. The strongest people show love, compassion, and respect for their fellow human beings. They even show forgiveness. We do not need to be historians or sociologists to recognize how many problems are caused by hate and bigotry. Some notable individuals built their power on fear and racism in World War II. Let’s not forget who they were.

Donald Trump tries to present himself as a strong man, but he is weak. A strong person embodies positive characteristics and upholds those values in the face of adversity. A strong person has a sound moral and ethical code by which they govern themselves and to serve as an example for others. We have no room for Trump’s weakness in the White House.

In the words of Maya Angelou, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Despite being incredibly wealthy on paper and believing himself to be one of the most successful businessmen in history, Donald Trump makes people feel awful. He fills his supporters and his opponents alike with negative emotions. By this measure of what makes true wealth, I would argue that Trump is one of the poorest men in the world.

Moving forward, because it does me no good to get upset over a bumper sticker or fear a bully of a man, I have decided to replace my own frustration with the optimism and hope I have felt in the past. By focusing on the ideals that have made our country great and the values that shape everyday heroes, I ask you to replace Trump’s anger with compassion, his hate with kindness. Remember this advice from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.” Let’s not let Donald Trump take another minute from us.

 

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