It is impossible not to contrast the mood of the presidential inaugural on January 20 with the world-wide Women’s March that took place a day later.
In Time magazine’s coverage of the inauguration, David Von Drehle wrote, “Trump’s rallying cry was resentment: resentment of foreign governments and industries, resentment of elected leaders and faceless elites, resentment of the empty factories and haunted cities that define the American landscape as rendered by its new leader. ‘American carnage,’ is how he tallied it all up . . . .”
Another Time reporter, Karl Vick, described the Women’s March differently: “(protest) signs were as bawdily exuberant as the crowds, which inevitably skewed activist but included many who had never demonstrated before, and who experienced in the gatherings both a stirring well of fellow feeling and sudden momentum. . . Many said it was the best they’ve felt since election day.”
Conversations, e-mails and Facebook posts from friends, family and clients who attended the marches continue to confirm the exhilaration and fresh hope that were born of this event.
PART ONE: RESENTMENT
There’s a very old joke about Saint Peter giving new arrivals an orientation tour of heaven. In the distance there is a wall, and behind the wall comes the sound of glorious singing—hymns praising and expressing gratitude toward God. One of the newcomers asks St. Peter what’s behind the wall. Peter responds, “Oh, those are the (fill in the denomination of your choice—conservative Catholics, Evangelicals, Baptists, Fundamentalist Christians, Mormons, etc.)”
“Is their heaven better than what you are showing us?” a concerned member of the group asks.
Peter laughs and says, “No, no, no. Absolutely not! It’s just that God realized early on that there are some groups of ‘true believers’ who would be eternally resentful if they found out that anyone else was here.”
In the early 1980’s I made a road trip from Denver to Los Angeles with my friend Jerry Ivy. I hadn’t thought about that road trip or Jerry in a long time. (Jerry died a few years a later, an early casualty in the AIDs epidemic; but we didn’t know that then. Word of the disease was just beginning to spread in the gay community and none of us could have foreseen the terrible toll it would take.)
We stopped the first night in Aztec, NM, to visit Jerry’s parents, the owners of a local florist shop there. Jerry was in the habit of going out after the bars closed in LA and clipping Birds of Paradise flowers from the yards of Angelinos, packing them in ice, and shipping them by Greyhound to his parents’ shop for them to sell. “They grow like weeds in L. A.,” Jerry reasoned. Jerry, I should say, was a kind of wild child, reminiscent of Huckleberry Finn in his determination to resist domestication. (He’d be in his mid to late 60’s if he were still alive, but I always remember him as youthful and handsome, with an untamable cowlick which made it next to impossible to keep his hair from falling in his face in a manner that suggested he just got out of bed.)
Jerry was one of three brothers; his older brother had died mysteriously (in a bar fight in Alaska as I recall), and Jerry was estranged from the other brother, a hard-scrabble fundamentalist Baptist preacher who had repeatedly told Jerry that he was damned to hell.
During supper with his parents, Jerry’s mother urged him to try to reconcile with the surviving brother. “He’s the only brother you have left,” she said.
Jerry and I made the pilgrimage to his brother’s church, a re-purposed Quonset hut located in a desolate spot in the middle of the New Mexico desert. Jerry’s brother and his wife lived in a small, rusted and sun-bleached trailer adjacent to the church. (It would have made an ideal location for a scene from “Breaking Bad” or “No Country for Old Men.”)
While Jerry’s brother gave him a perfunctory tour of his church (Jerry’s mother must have phoned ahead), I examined the pamphlet rack near the rear door. “God Never Laughs!” exclaimed one of them. “While there is no record in all of scripture that God ever laughs,” the pamphlet promised, “He will surely laugh at the suffering of all the souls in hell who had failed to worship Him and obey His commandments.”
Although I didn’t realize it at the time, that pamphlet introduced me to the theology (if you can call it that) of Christofascism*. I saw the word in print for the first time recently in a blog forwarded to me by a Facebook friend.* (link at end of article) The word gave me chills; an internet investigation of its meaning did much to resolve the mystery of the Christian Right’s vote for Trump.
There is a resentful and judgmental strain of religion in this country predominantly, but not exclusively, Christian which believes in a vengeful God and wears its righteous suffering on its arm like a badge of honor. “My reward will be in heaven,” the elderly Irish Catholic biddies of my childhood would incant, black rosary beads clasped in their hands. The implicit understanding being that those who didn’t suffer on earth—the elite, the rich, the successful and famous—would “get what’s coming to them when they die.”
Another mantra common to this particular strain of belief is, “Somebody (else) ought to do something about this!” I once asked my godmother, my Aunt Harriet, who this “somebody” might be and she didn’t speak to me for two weeks.
On another occasion I asked Harriet what she did all day. “Well,” she said with no small degree of indignation, “I worry and I form opinions.” In another conversation Harriet stated, without a hint of irony, that she “never let the facts interfere with her opinions.” Harriet lived in a world of alternative facts (aka bullshit) and there is no more powerful fertilizer for resentments.
There are too many people of all faiths who’ve fallen victim to the doctrine, which I can’t find in any sacred texts, of “getting even” or, more colloquially, “fixing their sorry asses.”
“Donald Trump masterfully turned economic resentments into blame, fear, anger and racial resentment. Pundits call it populism.” -Jim Wallis, Sojourners
Donald Trump is an evangelist and the fertilizer king to this strain of believer. He speaks to huge crowds of worshiping followers (something he is loath to give up) in arenas throughout the country, especially in the South and Mid-West. In the 1930’s he would have toured with a huge, easily erectable and collapsible circus tent. Trump’s speeches combine the pitch of the charismatic huckster salesman of “miracle cures” with the spell-binding, hysteria-inducing rhetoric of an Elmer Gantry style, bible-thumping preacher.
“Come to me all of you tired and resentful, come to me all of you whom technology, education, opportunity, privilege and ambitious immigrants have passed by, and I will smite your enemies! I will smite them and bring (God’s) judgment upon them! Can I have an Amen, brothers and sisters?”
Trump resents and projects blame on a litany of offenders (easy targets for his followers) —Meryl Streep and Congressman John Lewis, Alec Baldwin and Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, Planned Parenthood and the Supreme Court, People of Color and Immigrants, China and Mexico and, of course, first and foremost, former president Barack Obama—for the suffering of his faithful and he promises to rain down hail and brimstone upon them.
It doesn’t matter to his flock that Trump has publicly broken a significant number of the Ten Commandments; to them he is God’s instrument. “King David was also an adulterer,” you can hear them whisper. (At the end of the blog is a link to a recent NY Times Opinion piece, Donald Trump: the Religious Right’s Trojan Horse.**)
Dr. Shannon Monnat, an associate professor of rural sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, was interviewed on NPR’s “Weekend Edition” about a week after the election.
As the professor watched the election returns, she noticed “that the states where Trump was performing more strongly than expected, like Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan, have seen major upticks in drug overdoses and other deaths of despair over the past decade.”
“I think,” Professor Monnat said, “Trump really has sort of capitalized on and exploited the feelings of the people in these communities. . . . We have to remember that addiction and depression and these diseases and deaths of despair go far beyond the individuals themselves who are affected by them. They affect friends and family members and coworkers and first-responders and service providers and employers in communities who are dealing with the struggles of these (people) and experience the same sort of frustration and anxiety that are associated or wrapped up within diseases and deaths of despair.”
This makes sense; these are the same areas of the country that were hit particularly hard by the Great Depression and those areas were most vulnerable to the hucksters and snake-oil salesmen of the time. We must not allow Trump to lead us toward the Great Despair.
(It wouldn’t surprise me that if these deaths of despair were counted, we would see an epidemic to rival the worst years of the AIDs epidemic.)
My friend, teacher, and colleague, author Caroline Myss, coined the word “woundology” to characterize people whose biography is, seemingly a litany of their wounds—of what “happened” to them.
These communities of despair are as fertile a breeding ground for the viruses of resentment and woundology as standing water is for mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus.
According to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the bible of millions who are recovering or in recovery from alcohol and substance abuse, “Resentment is the number one offender. . . . From it stem all forms of spiritual disease.” (Page 64) and “Resentments” may be “the dubious luxury of normal men, but for alcoholics, these things are poison.” (Page 66) What could be more harmful and cynical to these communities of despair, described by Professor Monnat, than stoking flames of resentment to exacerbate their misery?
“Although paranoiacs make the great leaders, it’s the resenters who make the best instruments.” -Richard Condon, author of “The Manchurian Candidate”
If these communities have been infected by the fertilizer king, stand behind them, prop them to their feet, remind them that you love them and believe in them: hold fast with them through the long, dark night until the spell of the vampire breaks at sunrise. (A vampire cannot see his reflection in a mirror. Do you think, for a moment, that if Donald Trump and KellyAnne Conway could see their reflections in a mirror, they would wear their hair the way they do?)
Call these fellow citizens back from the diet of resentment and despair fed to them daily by Trump, Pence, Bannon, Breitbart, and Fox News. Re-awaken them to the enduring beauty and promise of this nation. We must not abandon them or refuse to help them any more than we would abandon and refuse to help refugees.
When Trump et al. fail to eradicate artists and prophets, climate scientists, teachers and parents, peace-workers, saints and martyrs (and they will) ready to give—not sacrifice—their lives for a better tomorrow, the resenters will bring him down, with calls of false prophet!
False prophets sing to the weary, suffering (and sometimes with good reason) resentful people. Do not judge them! (I confess to succumbing to such judgment in the recent past. It accomplishes nothing and leaves a terrible hangover.)
We must minister to them! We must advocate for them! We must let them know they are not invisible to us, that we see them. No matter what, we must not match resentment with resentment.
“Resentment is no excuse for bald-faced stupidity.” -Garrison Keillor
Pray for guidance. Pray for discernment. Do not remain silent!
If it were easy to love our neighbor, God would not have had to command us to do so.
This is not an impossible task, not even an improbable one.
An entertaining and inspiring 2014 British film, Pride, tells the true story of UK gay activists who raised money to aid coal miners during the lengthy strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1984. Rebuffed by the Union, the activists select a small Wales mining town and set off to make their donations in person. As the strike drags on, the two unlikely groups form a bond. A year later hundreds of miners showed up to march in solidarity at London’s Gay Pride march. Several years later, the Labour Party, under pressure from the National Union of Mineworkers, incorporated rights for gays and lesbians into their party platform. Interestingly one of the things the miners and gay and lesbian community had in common was their shared loathing for Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.
Watch the movie, it’s inspiring and really funny!
In the great myths, all roads to heaven lead through hell. Best to follow the advice of Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”
NEXT WEEK: RESILIENCE!!!!!!