Donald Trump is human, too

Brandon Stanton’s recent open letter to Donald Trump has quickly gone viral on Facebook, with over a million shares in the past four days. I really like it, especially coming from someone whose entire life is dedicated to helping us see the beauty and humanity of the "other." But I am troubled by the last paragraph.

"Those of us who have been paying attention will not allow you to rebrand yourself," he writes. "You will always remain who you are." 

I think I get the point he's trying to make, and share his lack of trust in Trump's authenticity. But at the same time, Donald Trump is a human being. And if there’s one thing I know about human beings, it’s that we have the capacity to change. We are all works in progress.

Donald Trump has been acting ignorant, mean, judgmental, and dishonest. But I've got to remind myself: I've acted that way too. Quite recently, even.

Get me feeling small and threatened, and I too revert to some pretty childish behaviors. I get smug and self-righteous. I lash out and blame things on other people. And I go in circles trying to justify my behaviors and save face. 

But here’s the thing: When I’m already feeling threatened, telling me how bad I am for acting out doesn’t help me change. It just makes me feel more threatened, and more trapped in the behavior.

What frees me is to be reminded of my essential goodness as a human being, to know that I can be loved, accepted, and forgiven no matter how much I’ve screwed things up. Only in that context does it feel safe to change. 

Fortunately for me, my temper tantrums are relatively small, and the damage relatively easy to clean up. But I think the same basic dynamics are at work with Donald Trump. I think attacking his essential humanity, and seeing him as a hateful person who can never change, is one of the biggest mistakes we can make.

Can you imagine how much courage it would take at this point for Donald Trump to step back and apologize? To admit how much pain and damage he has caused? To acknowledge how much of a discrepancy there has been between his actions and his deepest values? 

Can you also imagine what a source of healing it would be for our country if he were to turn around and use his power to make things right?

Isn’t that what we want? To have a leader who can inspire us? Or do we prefer schadenfreude?

The way we respond to this person matters.

You may think this is ridiculous Pollyanna talk, that a change of heart is impossible for “someone like him.”

You may be right. 

But you also may be wrong.  And if you are, I hope you’ll be right next to me in line to offer Donald Trump your forgiveness -- and to ask for his.