Monday, April 09, 2018

Sympathy for the Devil

Am I crazy? I can't believe I'm away from network and cable TV, and I'm going to watch a four-part series on Netflix called Trump: An American Dream. I'll just give it a try, I think, as I download the first part. But I end up watching all four, bizarrely intrigued. I'll be the first to admit that my husband and I are among those who start our day with Morning Joe and end it with Rachel Maddow or Chris Hayes, watching what Trump calls "fake news" and what we call a link to sanity.

But unlike lots of my liberal and progressive friends (and even my own husband), I have a hard time hating Donald Trump as a human being, or believing that if we just get rid of him, all will be well. I sometimes feel sorry for Trump, in a weird way. He seems so unbelievably angry and sad, for someone who has everything that anyone could possibly dream of.

The documentary helps explain this. Born into a wealthy family, with demanding parents and all sorts of childhood issues that would predispose anyone to neurosis, Trump also channels what became a fatal addiction issue with his brother into a lust for power, sex, and fame, since, although he doesn't drink and disparages drugs, he has to fill the deep inner emptiness with something.

One line in the documentary rings more true than any other: Donald Trump is deeply insecure. 

With that in mind, it's easy to see through his bluster, his destructive demands and decisions, his tiresome tirades, and the callous way he has dangled our democracy over the cliff for more than a year. He's not just a sociopath; he's actually an over-indulged, petulant, self-aggrandizing infantile being. He is who he is. It is we, the voters who did and didn't vote, the citizens who coasted along while our democracy languished, who allowed him to have control of western civilization.

We don't want to acknowledge this, our laziness, our indifference, how little we've done to maintain our freedom, our environment, how little we've done to reach out to conservatives and Republicans and people who are economically or educationally disparate from us, so we project all of it onto Donald Trump.

In the past few weeks, a story has come to prominence about a family who were killed when their van went off a cliff in Northern California. As the facts rolled out, (and much remains unknown), two things happened. It became clear that the parents, a white married female couple, had been investigated more than once for child abuse and neglect of the six children, all of whom were Black. It also appeared that the crash seems likely to have been deliberate, a murder/suicide, not an accident. An article published by the Washington Post pointed out numerous questions and complexities raised by this set of facts. Article:  Can't ignore race

Just as it is easy for Democrats and liberals to project all of our frustrations with the current situation on to one person, it might be easy for folks to look at this family and blame the mothers, since they were gay, or liberal, or adopted too many kids, or were white women adopting Black kids, or because they home schooled. That is projection, too.

Likewise, it's projection to make heroes out of people who adopt kids, who take on kids with special needs, who adopt cross-racially. Because this happens, people like these women, who clearly were not ready to parent at this level and intensity (if at all) may have masked their problems, taken on more kids, or adopted in the first place, or adopted because of their own needs for affirmation or love, the worst reason of all to adopt. I know something about this, since I took on a special needs child  nine years ago, and I still startle when I tell people and they express sympathy, or express how wonderful they think we are.

But, in this situation, there are some actual fingers to be pointed. Our Family and Child Services systems are broken. This horrendous story is one of probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of examples where the cries of kids and the reports of adults go unmet. I have experience with this too. My eldest stepbrother, who repeatedly raped two of my siblings, has custody of his two young sons, and despite everything I have done to alert and beg the State of NJ to intervene, they have done nothing after the one cursory visit.

As a minister, I look back, and wonder about some of the families I observed at my church. Do we always ask, listen, and pay attention to children? Besides teaching kids to tell someone about abuse, it might be good to teach all adults what to look for and what to do when they see and hear certain signals. They are common: kids who don't go out, too skinny, under-developed, don't do normal "kid" things, seem scared or anxious, act perfect or too good to be true.

Finally, I've seen lots of online conversation about the Hart family, because one of my Facebook contacts knew them, and wrote about her shock, but mentioned her empathy for the mothers. She was skewered. From every possible direction, (white) women let her know in no uncertain terms how full of white supremacy her remarks were, since she was mentioning the women (white, murderers) and hadn't named the children (Black, victims). Their comments to her were vicious. Whenever I see anyone react with such vitriol (including myself), I think "projection". White supremacy and white privilege are deeply embedded in the psyches of white people. We hate them and want to push them away. Hence,  many (usually young) progressives, seeing these anywhere, become valiantly self-righteous in what they see as defense of  all People of Color.

Sometimes, it is good to turn the projector off, to look within, and see what is there that we might improve. I know that is certainly true for me.