I have been reading the new autobiography of Bruce Springsteen titled Born to Run. The first part of the book details the town Springsteen grew up in, a down and out, blue-collar town in New Jersey named Freehold. The description of his family and his town – hardscrabble with a departing manufacturing base, little to nothing replacing it, and a future in question – could easily be applied to my family and the town I grew up in (Hudson, New York). It could also apply to the town I with my wife and son now live in, Orange, Massachusetts. (Neighboring Athol meets the description as well.)
Also like Springsteen, beginning in my early adulthood up to even now, I have carried a simmering anger toward the unfairness and inequity that seems so rooted in modern American life. I experienced firsthand the financial dire straits and stresses of my family. I experienced my father losing his job and not knowing where the next one would come from and worrying about putting food on the table. I experienced all around me a crumbling town and disappearing jobs. I sometimes drive from Orange into Amherst and see the posh houses and the thriving businesses and feel angry at the incredible disparity.
I share these things to say I completely understand the surface level appeal of a candidate like Donald Trump. I understand the anger and the frustration that says it’s so thoroughly bad why not put someone in there to tear it all down.
However, like Dirty Harry said, “a man’s got to know his limitations.” It is important to look past the hype and deeper than surface level, and acknowledge there is a line we cannot cross.
If we look deeply enough, we will quickly see Donald Trump represents that line.
Donald Trump as Working-Class hero is a mirage. He grew up privileged and remains so. He does not understand nor really care for working class or poor people. Only in as much as the working class and poor are part of his voting base, does he care. If you don’t support him and are working class or poor, you quickly become a member of his loser list.
How do I know he doesn’t care for the poor? He has never evidenced such care. Trump grew up in Queens, a working class borough of New York City. He lived in a swanky neighborhood in that otherwise hardscrabble borough. As soon as he was able, Trump in a flurry fled Queens for the limelight and allure of Manhattan. He never looked back.
Did he ever invest in, build real estate in, or donate a building, such as a library or school a la Andrew Carnegie, to any hard hit neighborhood in Queens, or in Bronx, Brooklyn or Staten Island? Did he seek to better the lives of hard hit areas in upstate New York where I grew up? Did he ever, before running president, spend time in a small town like Orange or Athol just to experience the people, their lives, their hardships, their hopes and dreams a la Bruce Springsteen? Did he ever sit down with the lower paid employees of his hotels or golf courses and hear about who they were or what they were about, not to mention raising their wages?
Of course not. Even his giving to charitable organization has always been minuscule.
The other thing that tells me he doesn’t really care for poor people or working class people is his disregard and denigration of other vulnerable people. From people with disabilities to refugees fleeing genocide, Trump has exhibited not an ounce of real compassion or empathy.
In fact, it is just the opposite. Donald Trump has consistently ridiculed, dismissed, and bullied the most vulnerable among us. Those with physical disabilities. Those fleeing war and genocide and seeking refuge in the Land of Liberty. Those experiencing hardship and hunger and seeking a better future in the Land of Opportunity. Those unjustly convicted and long incarcerated (see “The Central Park Five”). Those living amid the poverty, danger, decay, yet the possibility and promise of American inner-cities. Those still facing misogyny’s and sexism’s intimidation and degradation.
Those assaulted by a culture of possessiveness, objectification, and aggression.
He has in the past even ridiculed poor people. In a 1999 interview with the New York Times, Trump said this: “My entire life, I've watched politicians bragging about how poor they are, how they came from nothing, how poor their parents and grandparents were. And I said to myself, if they can stay so poor for so many generations, maybe this isn't the kind of person we want to be electing to higher office. How smart can they be? They're morons.”
In the process of ridiculing, dismissing, and bullying the vulnerable among us, Mr. Trump has been also teaching our children. Mr. Trump has been teaching the most vulnerable among us, our children, an ugliness, a mean-spiritedness, an incivility that is toxic and harmful. Our children are taking all of this in. It is no wonder schools have been reporting an increase in bullying and harmful language.
In one of the most revered passages of the Christian Bible, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, Jesus talks about the final judgment. For Jesus, that judgment is based on how this key question is answered – what have you done for the most vulnerable in our world?
It’s important to note that Donald Trump sees the world in a binary way. He sees a world of either invulnerable winners and vulnerable losers with no in-betweens. Trump is one of the greatest disciples of what is called “Social Darwinism.” It is red tooth in claw battle for supremacy. And the prize of riches, fame, power goes to those who are the most ruthless, the most vicious, the most willing to take whatever is remotely available to win. As for those who don’t take the prize, the sentiment is “better luck next time.”
The idea that the poor and the working class need help is novel to Trump. But is this new found desire to help merely a means to the end of winning an election? I truly believe it is. As I mentioned,
Trump cares for the working class and the poor only in as much as they help him to win.
For me, Trump’s vision of and way of being in the world could not be any different than that of Jesus. Jesus continually exalted the most vulnerable, the least among us, the losers, the lost, the last-placers, the lesser-thans.
In turn, he sought to unmask humility in the rich, the powerful, and the arrogant. He called on them to let go of their prized-possessions, their pride, their ego, and become poor in spirit and servants at heart.
And Jesus called on all of us to let the children and the most vulnerable teach and guide us. “The last shall be first.” “The children shall lead.” “The humble will be lifted up.” “The poor” and “poor in spirit will know the kingdom of God.” A Samaritan – a Muslim, a Mexican, an African-American, a Hillary, what is Other to us – shows us what it means to be a citizen.
Jesus not only spoke to the hopes and fears of the most vulnerable among us, he lived among those hopes and fears and among the down-and-outers replete with those hopes and fears. He dined and walked with outcasts, punks, and has-beens. He became one of them. Not to lift them out of some gutter but to show them that they, in their glorious diversity, were the ones worthy of God’s kingdom and the ones to build that kingdom right where they were.
Simply put, Donald Trump represents everything Jesus stood against. Trump represents the win-at-all cost and belittle-at-every-turn mentality that Jesus rejected and was rejected for.
(If there were a 2016 that most closely mirrored the principles and path of Jesus it was Bernie Sanders. Since he did not win, we are left with the candidate Sanders himself supports.)
To close, I share a verse from Bruce Springsteen’s 2007 song titled “Long Walk Home.”
"Your flag flyin' over the courthouse
Means certain things are set in stone.
Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't"
Means certain things are set in stone.
Who we are, what we'll do and what we won't"
This election has hopefully forced us to do some soul-searching as Americans, a soul-searching that will outlast the election. Who are we? What values for us are etched in stone? What do those words etched in stone say about what we will do and what we won’t?
If we are in any way a nation that values the good teachings of Jesus; if we are in any way a nation that sees innate value and worth in all people, beginning with the weak, the loser, the last, the lost, the least; if we are in any way a nation that sees kindness, neighborliness, and humility as virtues etched in stone, we will choose on November 8th accordingly. We will make our forefathers and foremothers – and our kindergartener teacher who taught us all we needed to know - proud. Our children, the most vulnerable among us, are counting on us.