As everyone who is not in a cave on a Himalayan mountainside knows, Donald Trump shocked the world by winning the election for President of the United States. This event was both surprising and disturbing for many people, including me. While of course Trump’s supporters are very happy—and there are obviously quite a few of them—in much of the United States and virtually the entirety of the rest of the world, this unexpected turn of events has spawned intense fear, anger, and despair. All of this came home to my e-mail inbox very quickly—within hours of his victory, I got multiple requests to address this issue. It has hit people hard; as one of my correspondents said, “I can not remember feeling this way after any election, or really at any time in my life.” So, I’d like to offer some thoughts that have come to my mind about a Course-based response to Trumps election victory.
But first, a little disclaimer. Writing about this is a delicate matter, because though my personal political views are no secret, when I have my “Course teacher for the Circle of Atonement” hat on, I try to steer clear of commenting on the performance (or anticipated performance) of particular elected officials. However, I also respond to the specific needs of students, and in this case, the requests I’ve already received reveal a crying need to address the distress felt by many people over Trump’s victory. The target audience of this piece, then, is Course students who are not Trump supporters and are having a hard time coping with the prospect of President Trump. If you yourself are a Trump supporter, you may not wish to read this particular article, and that’s okay. But if you do, I hope you’ll find the Course-based counsel I offer here helpful, because that counsel is itself not political and can be applied to any life situation.
With that in mind, I want to talk about what has struck me the most about the Trump victory and the aftermath: the prevalence of attack. Pretty much everyone who has followed this election agrees that the divisions have been more intense and vicious than anyone can remember. The various attacks of Trump and his supporters are well known, so I won’t get into them here. (Even many Trump supporters acknowledge those attacks, but support him either because of them or in spite of them.) Indeed, awareness of those attacks and concern that they will continue is the surface cause of the very fear, anger, and despair I’m addressing in this article. Since this article is addressed to those who don’t support Trump, I want to focus on attacks on the anti-Trump side, since those are the ones we are less likely to want to acknowledge.
And yes, the attacks have definitely been a two-way street. During the election itself, I saw many verbal and written attacks on both Trump and his supporters. I’m not speaking here about legitimate statements of fact about things he has actually done, or legitimate questions about his fitness to be president and the disturbing views of at least some of his followers (for instance, the fact that the Ku Klux Klan endorsed him is something we need to look full in the face). I’m speaking about angry and disdainful personal insults meant simply to mock and tear down him and his followers. Indeed, at their worst, those attacks were quite cruel. In the eyes of many, anyone who supported Trump was nothing more than a racist, sexist, Islamophobic, homophobic, unedumacated redneck, a permanent resident in the basket of deplorables.
The protests that have followed his election have also at times turned vicious toward Trump and his followers. Now, to be clear, I think taking to the streets and protesting is a precious constitutional right and fully compatible with the Course if done in the right spirit. And I don’t want to exaggerate the attack aspect: There have been many who have called for a genuinely loving response to the phenomenon of Trump. (I’m actually a bit fond of the slogan “Love trumps hate.”) But let’s admit it, there’s a lot of anger there. I’ve seen footage of Trump being burned in effigy, and let’s face it, setting fire to someone, even symbolically, isn’t terribly loving. I’ve seen people screaming invective and brandishing signs with words like “Donald Trump is evil,” “Trump = Hitler” “F*** you, Trump” and—a message directed at his supporters—”Your vote is a hate crime.” I can’t imagine how that last one would be helpful in reaching the heart of a Trump supporter.
I bring these attacks to mind not to condemn anyone or make them feel guilty. Sad to say, attack is just what people all too often do in this world. In this case, the anger is understandable on a human level, and we know that from the Course’s standpoint, all attacks are simply mistakes that call for love and forgiveness. Yet the more I’ve reflected on this, the more I’ve kept coming back to the thought that, as understandable as anger may sometimes be on a human level, it is not helpful to indulge it, for attack is the problem. After all, the Course tells us that “the cause of the world you see is attack thoughts” (W-pI.23.2:1) and says that therefore the answer to all of our problems is to give up attack thoughts toward anything that seems to arouse such thoughts: “I can escape from the world I see by giving up attack thoughts about ___” (W-pI.23.2:4). Imagine applying that practice to Trump and his followers—in fact, you might want to do it right now.
As I’ve thought more about this, one Text passage in particular has jumped out at me, one that has long been a favorite and a staple in my Course practice (especially the seventh sentence, which is the title of this article):
The only safety lies in extending the Holy Spirit, because as you see His gentleness in others your own mind perceives itself as totally harmless. Once it can accept this fully, it sees no need to protect itself. The protection of God then dawns upon it, assuring it that it is perfectly safe forever. The perfectly safe are wholly benign. They bless because they know that they are blessed. Without anxiety the mind is wholly kind, and because it extends beneficence it is beneficent. Safety is the complete relinquishment of attack. No compromise is possible in this. Teach attack in any form and you have learned it, and it will hurt you. Yet this learning is not immortal, and you can unlearn it by not teaching it. (T-6.III.3:1-10)
To me, this passage gets to the heart of the matter. Our big problem is that we think attack makes us safe. This is a perspective both sides of our present issue have in common: Trump supporters think safety lies in attacking the various people and institutions they see as threats, and Trump opponents think safety lies in attacking Trump and his supporters. But in the Course’s view, this is the big lie. When we attack others, we are attacking ourselves, reinforcing our conviction that we ourselves are vicious attackers, and this will hurt us—it will make us feel unsafe. I think we can really see the truth of this if we reflect on it. Think about some of your own attacks, perhaps attack thoughts you’ve had about Trump or one of his supporters. Now be very honest: Has indulging in those thoughts really made you feel safe? I can tell you that my own answer is a definite no.
Instead, real safety lies in going the complete opposite direction: “Safety is the complete relinquishment of attack. No compromise is possible in this.” Those lines have always hit me right between the eyes—no compromise is possible?—but I can’t deny the intuitive beauty and sense of rightness they convey to me. Instead of attacking others, Jesus says, we should extend the Holy Spirit to them, extend love to them. If we do this, the eyes of Christ in us will see the gentleness and harmless in them behind whatever attacks they may be engaged in on the surface, and as a result we will see the true gentleness and harmlessness in ourselves. This will enable us to set aside the futile attacks we have been using to keep ourselves “safe” and instead allow into our minds the real source of our safety: the protection of God. This assures us that we are “perfectly safe forever.” And now that we feel perfectly safe, we become miracle workers, uncommonly kind and beneficent extenders of love and helpfulness to all we encounter, including those who are calling for help with their attacks. Feeling safe, we extend safety to others, and thus our own sense of safety constantly deepens.
I think we can see the truth of this as well. Think now about some of the times you have been kind and loving, even in the face of an apparent attack. Perhaps there has been a time when you were able to remain calm, kind, and loving during an animated conversation with a pro-Trump friend or relative of yours. Think about such an incident (whether it was with a Trump supporter or not) and again be as honest as you can: Did not that extension of love give you a deeper sense of safety than the usual counterattack ever has? For me, the answer is a definite yes.
I’m convinced that this is the way out. As our passage says, while we’ve learned attack and it has hurt us, we can unlearn it by not teaching it—by not attacking. But how can we do this? How can we unlearn the impulse to attack that seems like such a fundamental and necessary part of life? How can we teach love instead? As I shared with a fellow Course student the morning after the election, in general terms a Course-based response to anything that happens in our lives boils down to two things:
- With the Course’s help, perceive everyone involved with the eyes of Christ, as a brother either expressing love or calling for love/help.
- With the Course’s help, ask the Holy Spirit or Jesus for guidance about how to express that loving vision behaviorally.
Our response to Trump’s election victory, in other words, should be the same response we Course students are called to make to everything else in our lives: to walk the Course’s path—to deepen our understanding of its teachings, to do its practices in the regular and habitual way it advocates, and to extend miracles to others as Jesus or the Holy Spirit directs. The devil is in the details, of course, but if the Course is our path, in the end it comes down to walking that path with all the diligence and dedication we can muster.
Regarding those details, I’d like to share a few specific things that I’ve found helpful in coping with Trump’s victory. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of practices designed to help me let go of attack, like the “Safety is the complete relinquishment of attack” line. I’ve also benefited from Course lines that remind me that a loving God is in charge—lines like “God is still love, and this [suffering] is not His Will” (W-pI.99.5:5), “I place the future in the hands of God” (W-pI.194.Heading), and “A happy outcome to all things is sure” (W-pII.292.Heading). These lines remind me that even if things look bad now—and indeed, it sure looks to me like we are in the “acute emergency” that Jesus told Helen about, the emergency that made the “celestial speed-up” necessary—God has a long-term plan, we each have a part to play in that plan, and in the end all will be well.
I’ve also found it important to forgive Donald Trump (using practices the Course has given us for this) and even pray for him as he undertakes this huge responsibility that is now his. I want him to be a successful president. Now, in saying that, I’m not suggesting that we pray that he be successful in accomplishing specific goals that we see as harmful. What I mean is that, despite the protesters’ slogan that he’s “not my president,” the fact is that he will be the President of the United States, and therefore I believe it would be helpful for us to pray that he will discover the wisdom within him to do the job well. Jesus isn’t selective in whom he guides, and he can guide Donald Trump as well as anyone else.
Along the lines of wishing him success in this sense, I’m trying to look for the good in what he does. After all, the Course tells us that when we perceive people lovingly, we will be “careful to let no little act of charity, no tiny expression of forgiveness, no little breath of love escape [our] notice” (T-19.IV.A:14). For example, there has been a rise of racist hate crimes since Trump’s victory, and people have been calling upon him to tell his supporters to stop it. To his credit, on 60 Minutes he did just that, saying, “I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, ‘Stop it.’ If it helps, I will say this, and I will say right to the camera: ‘Stop it.'” Now, one can argue that he doesn’t really mean it, and that’s possible. But in my mind, I have to give him the benefit of the doubt; it’s not fair for me to put him in a position where he’s condemned no matter what he says. He is my brother, and if my stance toward him is that nothing he says or does can possibly redeem him in my eyes, what incentive does he have to choose another way?
Does this charitable approach to him mean that we can’t protest his policies, work to oppose policies of his that hurt people, or firmly confront him when he says and does hurtful things? I don’t think so. As I’ve written elsewhere (and allude to above), I think political activism is completely compatible with the Course if it is done in the right spirit. I for one would love to see a truly nonviolent political movement—nonviolent in thought, word, and deed—that stands against the most hurtful of Trump’s proposals and stands for a better, more loving way. Movements like those of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. have transformed not only external policies but the all important “hearts and minds” of everyone involved. To me, that would be a beautiful thing, a gift not only for the country and the world at large, but even in the long run for Trump and his supporters.
Such activism might take the form of offering kindness and helpfulness to groups that will likely be negatively affected by Trump’s presidency. You may be familiar with the post-election phenomenon of people wearing safety pins on their clothes as a way to communicate to vulnerable people, “I’m an ally. You are safe with me.” I read about a white, non—Muslim man who went to a mosque to offer support to his Muslim neighbors there. A fellow Course student friend of mine told me that she felt an inner prompting after the election to go to the local Planned Parenthood clinic and offer support—including financial support, since it seems likely that the Trump administration will defund Planned Parenthood. If you, then, have such inner promptings to help your brothers and sisters who may be especially vulnerable due to Trump administration policies and the hurtful actions of some of his supporters, I encourage you to answer the call to be a miracle worker.
And that brings me to my final point: We who are not Trump supporters need to be truly helpful, loving, and kind to the Trump supporters around us. They are our brothers and sisters in the family of God, and they are our neighbors, our relatives, and our friends. (I haven’t yet found a Trump supporter where I live in Mexico—no surprise there—but I have an aunt and at least one cousin who are definitely in that camp.) I think there is a desperate need to heal the divisions that have riven America. Now, unfortunately, I suspect that our political divisions likely won’t be resolved any time soon—we have some pretty substantive disagreements. But as President Obama likes to say, we can disagree without being disagreeable. Healing divisions has to start with putting down the sword in our interpersonal relationships and remembering that there is more that unites us than divides us. In short, we need to love one another as the brothers and sisters we really are.
With that, I’d like to end this piece with something that is not from the Course, but is so Course-like that Robert featured it in a recent Circle Course Community class. What follows below is part of the near-death experience account of a man named Howard Storm. It is a conversation Howard had with Jesus during his NDE. The transcript is taken from an excellent compilation of NDEs entitled Love the Person You’re With: Life-Changing Insights from the Most Compelling Near-Death Experiences Ever Recorded, edited by our friend David Sunfellow.
In this account, Jesus describes to Howard God’s plan for how to save the world, and describes our part in that plan—a plan expressed in the Course’s famous words “Teach only love, for that is what you are.” I can think of no better way to proceed as we move forward from the 2016 election.
• • •
[The “I” in the following account is Howard; the “he” is Jesus. Howard has just told Jesus what he plans to do when he returns to earth, and Jesus has told him that his idea isn’t a very good one. Then…]
I’m like, “OK, you shot down my idea, what’s you’re idea of what would I do?”
And [Jesus] said, “Love the person that you’re with.”
And I said, “OK, great, I’ll do that. No problem. What do you want me to do?”
He said, “I just told you what I want you to do: love the person that you’re with.”
And I said, “Yeah, but after I do that, what do you really want me to do?”
“No, that is what I want you to do: love the person that you’re with.”
I said “Well, that’s simple enough, that’s easy, I can do that.”
And he said, “Oh really? Well, that’s what I want you to do. That’s enough.”
And I said, “How is it enough?”
He said, “If you do that, you’ll change the world.”
And I said, “Oh, you want me to change the world?”
“Exactly, that’s why I put you in the world in the first place: to change the world.”
“Well you know there’s been a lot of people that have tried to change the world and they usually turn out really pretty badly. I can think of examples like Adolph Hitler, and Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse-tung. All of them wanted to change the world and they made it worse. If I go back and try and change the world, why isn’t it possible that I could make a lot of terrible mistakes and make the world a worse place?”
“The way that I want you to change the world is by loving the person you are with.”
“Wait a minute, that’s a contradiction. You want me to change the world but you just want me to love the person I’m with?”
“Yes, that’s the plan; that’s The Big Plan….If you love the person that you’re with, then they will go out and love the person that they’re with, and they will go out and love the person they’re with and it will be like a chain reaction and love will conquer the world and everyone will love one another. That’s God’s Big Plan.”
“It’s not going to work.”
“Why won’t it work?”
“I love the person I’m with. They walk across the street and get run over by a truck. Everyone gets angry and upset.”
“Yeah, that happens. But it’s really God’s plan and nothing is going to stop it. It’s going to happen.”
“Even if you had a million people, I don’t think it’s going to happen.”
“There’s more than a million people in the plan….”
“Well, from what I know of the world, you don’t have enough.”
“Actually, we have all the angels in the plan. There’s a lot of them. There are more angels than there are people in the world….There are millions of people. There are all the angels. And there’s God. It’s inevitable. The plan is going to happen.”
“If that’s your plan, I’ll do it, but I just don’t really see much hope for it.”
[And Jesus said], “You don’t know enough to see how it’s going to happen.”
So, my solution to everything is to love one another. And when I read the Bible and found out that that was written in the Bible as Jesus’ commandment: “This is my commandment, that you love one another…” That’s the program. I have tried to be part of that program… So, I personally have no big plan other than to be loving.
The only fly in the ointment was that I thought it was going to be easy, and it turns out to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It sounds so simple, but it’s really difficult. It’s easy for me to love my mother because she was a really nice woman and she was a very loving woman. It’s not hard to love someone who is really good and really loving. But what do you do with someone who is difficult, or really nasty? Those are hard people to love.
[Postscript from Greg: So that’s the solution to everything: Love one another. Love the person you’re with. Love even the people who are difficult or really nasty. And yes, love Donald Trump and his supporters. That’s the program. Let us all be part of that program—the program Jesus gives us in our beloved Course. Amen.]