President Donald Trump walks from Marine One to the White House in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, as he returns from Bedminster, N.J. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Topics: Ethical Living | Opinion

How to show compassion for a leader who lacks it himself

I hope the experience of COVID-19 challenges Donald Trump to revisit his priorities and his life choices

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(RNS) — After our family was infected by and survived COVID-19, I said to my partner that I wouldn’t wish what we had gone through on anyone. It was the most harrowing and stressful experience of my life, especially as our two young girls spiked dangerously high fevers that, no matter what we tried, we couldn’t control.

Now that President Trump has tested positive for the coronavirus, I am channeling this memory as a way to summon the appropriate sympathy for a man who so rarely shows it to others in his public life — not to children penned into cages at the Mexican-U.S. border, not to his political enemies, not to people protesting racial injustice. Instead he has demonized and dehumanized Muslims all across the world and degraded women and girls at every turn.

At the Republican National Convention, a parade of Trump family members, aides and other associates testified to the empathy they had seen the president display in private in an extended acknowledgment of what the rest of us never see him do.

My faith teaches me that each of us is equally divine and that we are better off when we can see the shared light in everyone we encounter.

Sometimes, though, beliefs are hard to put into practice. To be honest, it has become increasingly challenging for me to see that divine light in Mr. Trump.


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It gets harder yet when I consider Trump’s irresponsible and incompetent handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. He put my family and the families of millions of Americans at risk. The malice and hate he seems to bear taint not only what he says and does, but also has destroyed the very fabric of our nation.

So where does that leave those of us who want to feel compassion for our political enemies but feel deeply and sincerely challenged by people in our world responsible for immense levels of human suffering?

Let me go back to my own experience with surviving the novel coronavirus, a lesson that’s not unique to me. There’s something about staring death in the face that can lead us to soften our hearts and reevaluate our life choices.

For me, that meant challenging myself to live in accordance with my priorities, and specifically, making time for the relationships I cherished most in my life. Seeing the fragility and impermanence of our lives pushed me to live less in the future and more in the present. It was a spiritual experience that completely transformed my relationship with the world around me — and especially with my closest friends and family members.

I hope that Trump will experience something similar as he endures COVID-19. I hope the experience challenges him to revisit his priorities and his life choices, and I hope it leads him to come out of his egomania and connect with the people around him.

We have seen in the past how meeting death can soften the hearts even of tyrants — from the story of Pharaoh in the Exodus to the memory of Aurangzeb’s repentance upon receiving the Sikh Guru Gobind Singh’s life-changing letter (the Zafarnamah).

I am not here to convince anyone to pray for the president or to judge anyone for wishing him ill. What I do know is that there are a number of potential outcomes that feel sinister. One outcome we can hope and pray for is this: May the experience of enduring COVID-19 soften Mr. Trump’s heart and cause him to lead with more compassion and kindness in the future.

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  • says:

    'the empathy they had seen the president display in private'?? I would suggest that those 'family members, aides and other associates' had been drinking far too much of the Trump Kool-Ade!! LOL

  • says:

    I hope for the same outcome with all my heart. Kindness, compassion and integrity are needed more than ever on this planet.

  • says:

    Thak you for this meaningful and positive post.

  • says:

    The writer refers to political “enemies”. There are millions of people who voted for President Trump last time and there are millions who will vote for him this time. Are they “enemies” as well or are they people that have different viewpoints?

  • says:

    I needed this read this morning! I just did not know how to pray for President Trump, what prayers I wanted aswered by God for him.
    Your final sentence has given me the 'good way' of prayer for Pres. Trump.

    Thank you. God bless you and your family.

  • says:

    My faith teaches me we are not divine. Therefore we are to ask for Divine power, and to use discernment when choosing a leader (see 1 Timothy).

    I can never figure out how so many people can hate a man once elected as President of the United States (and it is not only Donald Trump). Can people not see what characteristics a man has when choosing a leader? Do the actions of President Trump surprise those who watched The Apprentice in 2006?

    How many times in the Bible do I read "Pray for those in authority". All authority comes from God, not from people.

    We often think that if God chooses a leader than it is for blessing. Not so, sometimes God chooses a leader for chastisement against a nation. King Saul was a good example.

    Our prayers for the President should be for a full recovery, and that God uses him for His Glory, not for our gain or amusement.

    Finally, I don't think Pharaoh's heart was softened when faced with God in Exodus. (Exodus 3:19, 4:21-23, 8:18-19, 9:11-12, 9:34-35, 12:31-36, 14:4-8)
    The best Pharaoh did was drown.

  • says:

    Very well said and true.