Yesterday I saw what might be my new favorite hashtag of all time: #trumpsterfire. Basically, this was used as a description of Republican nominee’s campaign after of week of giant gaffes and mistakes. From silencing babies to cheapening a purple heart to feuding with the family of a fallen soldier, the train wreck that is the Trump campaign seems to be running itself into the ground.
The campaign is such a mess right now, that the media has had to prioritize which of of missteps to cover. Lower on the list has been the blatant lies that Trump has told about those who are supporting him. He claimed, for instance, to have received a letter from the NFL agreeing with him that scheduling the presidential debates during primetime games was “ridiculous”. The NFL quickly shot back with a response that they had sent no such letter. This isn’t the first time that he has claimed endorsements from people who quickly distanced themselves from him. Remember the cavalcade of sports stars and entertainers who were supposed to be appearing at the Republican National Convention? Instead the campaign brought out Scott Baio and Anthony Sabato Jr. I still can’t believe that actually happened. Two washed up reality TV stars came out to support a washed up reality TV star for the highest office in the country.
But why? Why claim the endorsements of public figures who have their own spokespeople and media people who will refute you? Why lie so publicly, knowing that you will surely be found out? What is happening here?
Unfortunately, I know the answer. I know it because I live it. It’s ego. I know it all too well. As much as I am against Trump and all that he stands for, I totally get him. I am him.
Early this week, I told a “little white lie” (don’t get me started on the racial implications of that particularly lovely phrase). I did it to save face. I immediately confessed to the person I had lied to who was understandably angry with me. I could feel defensiveness in me building, though I was clearly in the wrong. I apologized and tried to put the whole thing behind me. Later that night, a more egregious lie of mine was exposed. Another attempt to “control” my life. Another attempt to prop up my image. Another attempt to protect a version of me that I want people to believe is real. I’ve been dealing with the fallout all week. My life has become a #trumspterfire.
One of the books that has been most helpful for me in the last couple of years has been Richard Rohr’s “Falling Upward”. Rohr describes the two halves of life, less chronological constructs than emotional ones. The first “half” of life is spent building the container of life. Identity, skills, beliefs… all of things that build us up as individuals and make us separate from others. This is the “egoic” self, a construct that we project to the rest of the world, a construct that we work hard to defend. It can be beliefs about skill set, our nationality or race, or of our role in society. Throughout my life, I have worked to project my intelligence, my goodness, and my insightfulness. I have protected the role of self as pastor.
Rohr argues that it is crisis, hitting rock bottom, that ushers us into the second half of life. That process began for me (at least I hope) with my divorce and the exposure of my affair. The image I had created for myself was shattered. The second half of life is the half where you wrestle with your shadow side, the dark and natural consequences of building a personality that is over and against other people. We have to wrestle with pride, ego, narcissism, fear, insecurities, and doubts. The goal in the second half of life is to lose our egoic self in discovery of a Divine, universal self that unites us with humanity instead of separating us.
This week hasn’t been a re-hitting of rock bottom for me… I hope and pray that there is nothing lower for me than what I experienced as my marriage ended… but it was a reminder of one of the second half of life. We can actually just rebuild the first half container and return to a way of living that is driven by protecting our ego. That is what I have fallen back into unconsciously. I’ve been striving to rebuild a “me” that is special and unique. A “me” that has purpose and value over against other people. The hardest part for me is that the containers I have built for myself are “good” things: pastor, spiritual director, intellect, leader…things the world needs and that offer help. Things I can feel good about doing… until I am dishonest to protect those identities. Then my ego re-exposes itself and I see myself for who I am, an insecure narcissist trying to prove to the world how great I am. I become Trump.
This has been a wake up call for me. I’ve gotten complacent in my wrestling with my shadow side. To not fall back into the patterns of feeding my ego requires diligence. When I look at Trump and his campaign, the word “undisciplined” flies into my mind. I cannot allow that for myself. I have to be humble. I have to be disciplined. I have to let all of the parts of me that feed into my ego narrative die. Well… not just let them die… I have to actively kill them. There’s too much at stake. Too many people get hurt by living into the egoic self. Our whole world is endangered by a man who, instead of being humbled by his mistakes, insists on doubling down on the wager that his narcissistic self makes. I can’t be that man anymore. I won’t be that man…