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How to show compassion for Trump — even if you don’t like him | Elizabeth Wellington

In this time where politics feels so poisonous, is it possible to find compassion for Trump right now? Is it worth it? Here’s why — and how — we should try.

President Donald Trump walking from Marine One to the White House on Friday.
President Donald Trump walking from Marine One to the White House on Friday.Read moreCarolyn Kaster / AP

President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, have tested positive for coronavirus.

My first reaction was a sleepy — albeit, giddy — grin. Too bad, so sad. He lied to Americans about the severity of the coronavirus for months. He flouted science. He didn’t wear a mask. He held mass maskless rallies as case counts rose across the country. He made fun of people who did wear masks as recently as Tuesday at that farce of a debate.

From where I sit, Trump’s actions are all reprehensible. I’m of the opinion that Trump’s reign of terror should end on Nov. 3. Thanks to Trump, close to 210,000 Americans are dead. My friends. My friend’s parents.

He deserved this. I closed my eyes and went back to sleep.

In the morning, I felt differently.

» READ MORE: What should we do with our anger right now?

Not because I felt bad for Trump. I felt bad for myself, afraid that by secretly thanking karma and virtually high-fiving my liberal friends in a smug I told you so way, I’m becoming the monster. I’m no better than Trump. That’s not good for me. And collectively, it’s not good for our country.

What kind of person was I turning into that I was taking such glee in someone else’s pain? For months, we’ve heard how scary and deadly this disease can be. As a person who strives to be compassionate, I shouldn’t wish this on anyone.

In this time where politics feels so poisonous, is it possible to find compassion right now? Is it worth it? Here’s why — and how — we should try.

It’s OK to feel conflicted

The moral confusion we feel right now is totally normal, said the Rev. Charles Howard, chaplain of the University of Pennsylvania and the university’s vice president for social equity and community. “So many of us have been hurt by his policies, by his words and by his manner. We felt assaulted by him after that debate. It’s very natural for humans who want those who hurt us to hurt,” Howard said. “So, for a split-second, Trump’s illness might feel good, because finally the Universe, or God, is fighting on our behalf, like karma finally caught up to this meanie and got to him.”

But taking joy in someone else’s suffering — or potential pain — only hurts you in the long run, Howard said. Because that hate builds up and colors everything we see. Justice becomes less and less important as getting even becomes the focus. “It can be very spiritually dangerous to think this way,” Howard said.

Think about whom you want to be

In this moment, we should be thinking about who we are and whom we want to be, said Michael Baime, director of the Penn Program for Mindfulness. And even if we are angry — in my case livid — about this president, hoping for the worst isn’t healthy for us emotionally or spiritually. In a way, Baime said, we are mirroring the monster we hate.

“The whole country is feeling more hatred and less kindness. This is a moment where we need to take stock, pause, and think about what matters for ourselves and our whole country."

Know the difference between justice and vengeance

There is a difference, Howard said, between seeking justice and wishing that someone suffers. It’s important to keep our focus productive, and vote.

» READ MORE: Don’t unfriend someone who isn’t going to vote. Here’s how to engage them.

Also, Howard said, showing compassion is by no means letting the president off the hook. “If he’s guilty of the crimes he’s accused of, yes, he should be be held accountable, and if that means going to jail, so be it," he said.

“But I don’t want his kids to hate him, for his wife to leave him and for him to lose his life in the process. I would hope that he would learn from this, not be destroyed in the process."

Being kind is not the same as forgiving or forgetting

Compassion isn’t about forgetting the evil that has been done to you. It’s not about ignoring the wrongs. It’s not about making excuses for things that are just flat-out wrong.

It’s about having empathy. It’s about seeing yourself in someone’s shoes, no matter how different they are — and still extending kindness.

Being truly compassionate means you have empathy even when it’s really hard to do

“It’s hard,” Baime said. “At times it can feel impossible, but you have to remember that the hatred you may be feeling doesn’t really make you feel good, even if in some ways it’s satisfying.”

Basically, Howard said, it boils down to this: We can’t fight against hate and be hateful at the same time. “Trump mocked people who got tested, he made fun of people who wore masks, and now we are cheering him all the way to the hospital. We are literally turning into that mean-spirited guy, and we have to fight that. If we can get over this hump, that will be a major moral and spiritual victory for all of us."