“The world of men has forgotten the joys of silence, the peace of solitude, which is necessary for the fullness of human living. Man cannot be happy for long unless he is in contact with the springs of spiritual life which are hidden in the depths of his own soul.” – Thomas Merton.
Donald Trump taught me that to not be him; I had to be something else. To get away from the rage and hurt eating him up, I had to learn something else, or these past years would hurt me almost beyond repair.
In his inability to be silent, I learned the meaning of silence. Through his noise, he taught me quiet.
Donald Trump and I have had the most extraordinary relationship without ever meeting or speaking.
I can’t speak for him, but he taught me some of the most important lessons of my life at a time when I needed to hear them.
I taught him nothing; how could I? It doesn’t seem fair.
I went to the gym today, came home, and sat down to meditate, which I do when I feel something welling up inside of me that needs to come out.
This usually happens late in the afternoon, and it comes out of the silence I seek and cherish.
There has been nothing in my life that has helped or guided me or brought me more grace and wisdom than the silence. In a world of noise, confusion, and conflict, there must be places of silence, inner discipline, and peace. In such places, love and wisdom can blossom.
Sitting in a chair in the quiet, Zinnia at my feet, Bud snoring in my lap, it came to me that I needed to write about the essential things Donald Trump has taught me.
They are important things; they have changed, enriched, and widened my life; they have given me great gifts.
Donald Trump taught the importance of truth. I never thought about it that much before him. Silence is authenticity; it is the foundation of character. There is no reality without truth; thus, nothing for us to trust.
All around me, I see truth fighting for itself, struggling to be seen and heard. Donald Trump taught me to care about the truth; I will never forget about it again.
Donald Trump has taught me not to hate or argue. I thank him for that.
When he was elected President, he shocked me with his dishonesty, cruelty, and rage. I found myself surrounded by people who hated him intensely and who began arguing with other people about him.
I saw them drifting to a place I didn’t want to be.
Sitting in this very same chair (I remember the day quite clearly) in the first days of 2017, I believe it was my angel who spoke to me and said, “Jon, Jon, this can’t be you, this can’t be the next four years.”
She was clear: “Hating someone day after day for four years or more and arguing with strangers over that time will eat up, corrode your soul, drain the spirit. That cannot be you.”
She was right; I heard her very clearly.
I promised myself that that would not be me.
I said every time that I began to hate or argue, I will turn away and do some good, commit small acts of kindness. My life was going to be my politics, not my tweets or Facebook messages.
I chose a Medicaid assisted care facility and the refugee community in Albany. This was demanding and difficult work; it took me a couple of years to figure it out.
These places were symbols to me of the need to do good, and the experience taught me that there were so many people out there who felt the same way.
Out of this came the Army Of Good and countless small acts of great kindness that brought comfort to the elderly and support, food, clothes, and school supplies to refugee children and their families in a time of their great need.
The work continues to this day and deepens and grows. My God showed me a way to navigate these difficult years. Trump opened the doors for me and taught me how to do it.
Instead of fighting about what good was, I did well. It was really as simple as that.
Instead of arguing, I felt good. This became my work and changed my life.
When I descended into anger or argument, which I did more than once, I thanked President Trump for what he taught me, and I learned a great life lesson: hate accomplishes nothing, doing good is a joy, every time.
It never gets tired or stale.
Donald Trump taught me about the pain of childhood; the damage hurtful parents can do.
From the first, I felt a troubling connection with Donald Trump; strange as it seemed, I identified with him. His father taught him what my father taught me – that I was broken, weak, and would never please him or his idea of me.
And how best to be strong in front of a disapproving father? That was easy; all you have to do is hurt other people.
I know the pain of that. When he behaved in ways that seemed hateful to me, I knew he was not to blame, not to blame in so many ways.
He was broken, as I was broken. He never got the help I got, and he has to take responsibility for that. He taught me that the strong get help, and the weak cannot.
He taught me what empathy really means.
It is easy to preach empathy and claim it; it is so hard to do it. Like many people, I learned that I only felt true empathy for people I liked, not for people I didn’t like.
And they were the ones who needed it the most.
Donald Trump is a wounded child who never got the chance to grow up. He could never afford empathy and was never given any.
When I started to struggle with his cruelty, I created my own mind game: I imagined walking with him on a country road, trading stories of our fathers, telling him about my miraculous encounters with doctors and therapists who did show me empathy and caring, and who healed me and saved my life. I told him these stories in my fantasy and handed him the name of one of the therapists. And he took it and took on the hard work of healing. I was going to save him—so much hubris.
I am no Pollyanna; I understand that it is a fantasy, not even a dream. I also realized that this fantasy was part of my healing, even if it couldn’t be part of his. I was healing myself.
This was so much more valuable than anger. And in my fantasy, this gesture reached him and opened something up inside of him. And he decided to use his Twitter feed for good: every day, he would let the country help someone in need: an injured fireman, a struggling immigrant, a family forced out of their homes by fire.
Maybe it was a dream.
All 80 million of us could get together and bring so much comfort to needy people. I drool to think about what we could do with that kind of money.
Since the election, the few times I’ve seen President Trump on TV, the pain in that face is evident, the confusion, the unbearable reality of humiliation and failure – I’ve felt that, haven’t we all felt that? There is no pleasure in that sight for me.
Before our eyes, he is becoming just what his father told him never to be.
By having no empathy, he taught me the meaning and power of it. He was a void I could partially fill. Somehow, through some mysterious alchemy, he pulled this out of me.
Donald Trump also taught me that the journalist in me still lived and had meaning. I loved being a journalist; it was a great experience for me in so many ways.
I was passionate about telling the truth and committed to helping people understand the truth around them. But my years as a political writer were behind me, I had become a dog and farm writer, and I thought those days were gone for good.
In the very painful turmoil of 2020, I saw and felt the fear and confusion rising in my readers, and sitting in my chair; I had the somewhat arrogant idea that I might be able to help, that this could be a small act of great kindness that came from inside of me, from a glorious part of me that I had allowed growing cold and distant.
Donald Trump was worth it; I know of no one else who could have gotten me to do it. He taught me that there are some things you can’t run from; you have to face them.
So I began writing my column, One Man’s Truth, and I worked hard to do my homework, deal in facts, explain rather than argue and frighten. I could leave hatred to the pundits.
No one was more surprised than I was when these columns began to roll out of me, and I felt that old and powerful feeling in my heart – and excitement, the belief that I could cut through a lot of the fog and rage and help steady some people.
I was proud of myself.
Sometimes, I failed, sometimes I succeeded, but I worked harder and harder and got better and better. Every day, I get the most meaningful messages from people thanking me for writing those columns; they said the words that bring me the most happiness and pride: “you made me think.”
That was the point, then and now, and this was quite a gift, raising this precious but forgotten part of me. The political writer was still there, engine idling, biding time.
A gift to me, my blog, my sense of worth, of writing something valuable again. Donald Trump brought it back and taught me the importance of it.
The opposite of hate is love, and the less I hated, the more I loved. There was no other way for me to go.
Maria, the dogs, the farm, my readers, the refugees, the people at the Mansion. The less I hated him, the more I loved myself and the people around me.
He taught me not be him and not to judge him.
So my job became to explain him, rather than joining the language of the day, hatred and judgment.
For language to have meaning, there must be intervals of silence somewhere, divide word from word, an utterance from utterance, confusion from reality, and compassion from hate.
He who retires into silence, wrote Merton, does not necessarily hate language. It is, in fact, the love and respect for language which calls me to the silence.
In silence, God ceases to be an object and becomes an experience. In silence, I can see the confusion and turmoil of the world so clearly.
I never claim to know other people’s motives; I have no illusions that Mr. Trump sought to help me or teach me or listen to me. My strength came from the fact that I was outside of that awful system and not a part of it.
People wrote to me almost any day urging me to send my columns to the New York Times, and I sometimes try to make them understand that that would ruin it, erase the whole point of me.
It was my liberation from that system that helped me to see. Trump taught me that we both could never find a system that will accept or tolerate us for long.
My safety comes from accepting that. Silence was the only way I could do it; figure it out. In silence, I can find my own form of prayer, in which there is no distraction.
In a sense, my whole life becomes a prayer. Donald Trump taught me to dance the cosmic dance; I had to become a whole human, not one broken into small parts.
I couldn’t hate in the morning, but not at night. It was one thing or another, give it up or surrender to it.
The cosmic dance is always there, and Donald Trump taught me that just as much as if he were standing in front of a classroom, writing it on the chalkboard.
Life is strange. I never had a teacher who taught me as much as Donald Trump or who changed the direction of my life as clearly or positively. Perhaps I can find another teacher who can tell me how that happened.