Trump's 'losers' are often winners in God's eyes

This story appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

by Christine Schenk

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Alright, so who else besides me has pretty much had it with the "Trumpertantrums" ruling the news these days? Yes, I'm a political junkie, but the Donald has pushed me to embrace a salutary fast from obsessive media megaphoning of this distressingly hollow man.

T. S. Eliot's insightful poem is sadly apt:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw ...

While Eliot's poem hints at a piercing longing for God within all that vacuity, it also ends on a note of cynical desolation:

... This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

(Um, yes, you can see why I need to fast from the Donald.)

To listen to the Trumpers, the country is a mess and the world is pretty much coming to an end.

But don't let their tantrums fool you. President Obama's approval rating recently hit a three-year high of 50 percent. This compares to George W. Bush's 32 percent rating and Ronald Reagan's 51 percent rating at the end of their presidencies.

While some would argue that only 29 percent of us are satisfied that the country is going in the "right direction," in reality U.S. citizens are almost never satisfied with the way the country is going. The last time 50 percent of us thought things were going OK was in early January 2004, and this was a rare exception. Most of the time, less than one third of us are satisfied.

To me, this suggests that we either enjoy venting our negativity to anonymous pollsters, or that we don't know how to count our blessings.

That said, it is also true that rising income inequality and the failure of 21st-century economic policies to benefit everyone are fueling xenophobic responses from Trump supporters. Income inequality is an important issue that must be addressed, and candidates in both parties are proposing solutions to these complex issues. But to my knowledge only Donald Trump scapegoats ethnic and minority groups in his shamelessly shallow bid for the Republican nomination.

Donald Trump isn't the first politician to exploit fear for political gain and, sadly, he won't be the last. He is among the most skilled exploiters in recent memory, however.

In the meantime what to do?

Well, first, I refuse to allow this insidious poison to discourage my own mind and heart, hence my fast.

Second, I like to remember that the "losers" Trump so scornfully castigates are beloved of God and often a huge vehicle of grace in a struggling world.

If I had the chance to sit down with Donald Trump, I'd tell him about some beautiful people that he (and probably most of the rest of us) would describe as "losers," yet whose hidden lives are radiant with victory. Here are two:

Sister "Anne" (now deceased) suffered a major mental breakdown in my community's novitiate and spent years in institutionalized care. Eventually she was able to return to our motherhouse. Her speech was often slurred from the powerful psychotropic drugs she took, but mostly she was quite upbeat thanks to a quirky sense of humor. We treated Anne kindly but pretty much discounted her, when all was said and done.

After Anne died, we expected only a very few would attend her wake and funeral. So when scores of strangers began filling our chapel we were puzzled. When the time came to share memories, one person after another related powerful stories about how, during their dark times, Anne had helped them believe in themselves and to trust God again. Many were in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Others were struggling with mental disabilities of their own.

Unbeknownst to us, Anne had quietly conducted a highly effective telephone and personal ministry to AA and NA folks for years and years. And we marveled that, far from being a discounted "loser" (though we would never have used that word), Anne's life had radiated God's great love more powerfully than many of ours ever would.

She epitomized God's idea of a real winner, and we had been blind to her giftedness.

And then there is my high school friend, "Karen," who became pregnant out of wedlock in college. (In the '60s and '70s, the worst sin a woman could commit was to be an "unwed mother.") The local pastor, "Fr. Hedgeley," refused to perform a Catholic marriage because he was sure she would divorce and remarry, thereby excluding herself from Catholic sacraments.

After much angst, the couple quietly married in a Protestant ceremony and went on to have two beautiful children. Karen raised them as staunch Catholics. (Their marriage was later blessed in the Catholic church.) When her husband's chronic schizophrenia turned him severely paranoid, she was forced to file for a divorce to protect their children.  

Karen died recently. Her funeral was in the same parish where "Fr. Hedgeley" (long since deceased) had refused to allow her to marry those many years ago. Eulogizing her mother, Karen's daughter had this to say:

Our mother was the strongest person I have ever known. 'Be brave. Even if you're not, pretend to be. No one will know the difference,' she would say. She raised my brother and me alone, taking on the roles of both mother and father. She was our staunch defender and she provided us with a fierce, constant, unconditional support. She could care less what people thought of her and conducted her life in a manner that, when I thought of fairness, caring and integrity, I thought of her.

Praise in public, Criticize in private.
Pursue wisdom.
Be loyal.
Laughter comes straight from the heart.

These were her lessons for my brother and me.

As I sat listening in the pew, I couldn't help but notice that both of Karen's children are happily married with children of their own, and busy raising loving, healthy, Catholic families.

Many, if not most, of our high school friends left the church long ago, and if they haven't left, most of their children have.  

Well, Fr. Hedgeley, I thought, who is the faithful Catholic now? This woman, the one "rejected by the builders," has become the cornerstone of an exceptionally faith-filled family.  

So that's how it is. God's ways are not our ways.

For God, there is no such thing as a "complete loser."

For God, each one of us, no matter our mistakes, our vulnerabilities or our sins, has the capacity to become winners in the only race that really matters.

[A Sister of St. Joseph, Sr. Christine Schenk served urban families for 18 years as a nurse midwife before co-founding FutureChurch, where she served for 23 years. She holds master's degrees in nursing and theology.]

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