And now, in this quiet lull before he infuriates me anew, on an early August Sunday morning, a few kind — or at least kinder — words about the notorious horse’s ass, Donald Trump, because there is still a place for pity in the world.

He is a monster, to be sure — the son of a monster we now know, thanks to Mary Trump, daughter of Fred Trump Jr., who somehow held onto his humanity, at the cost of his life. Donald, meanwhile, surrendered his, if he ever had it, in a desperate attempt to earn his father’s affection, or approval, or at least redirect his withering contempt. Or maybe he was born a monster and took to it like a duck to water. We’ll probably never know for sure.

The protégé of Roy Cohn, another self-hating monstrosity, who served as his mentor in the dark arts of ruthless conniving, Donald became a man more sinning than sinned against, a man who doesn’t know how to tell the truth because truth always involves more than one’s own self. His is a psyche with no room for a superego, only ego and id. Being incapable of empathy himself, it is difficult to accord it to him, but not impossible. Somehow the estimable John Lewis probably found a way to love him. 

When it comes to Trump, love is an emotion too far for me, but I do feel pity — maybe because he seems to be melting before our eyes, his behavior growing more and more erratic. Dangerous to be sure, capable of causing greater harm still, this human cartoon’s boast of passing a dementia test would be laughable if it didn’t confirm his cognitive decline. 

Yet for all the evil he is doing, for all the earth he is scorching, for all of the Constitution he is torching, he has awakened us in a way no one else could, not even the pompous asses who enable him: Mitch McConnell, Mike Pompeo, Bill Barr and the rest of the hair-on-fire hellraisers in Congress who mindlessly defend him. His sheer ineptitude has laid bare the deep insufficiencies that lie just beneath the thin veneer of our civilization and has exposed our diseased body politic. As a bonus, he has been breathtakingly transparent all along about his mean-spirited mission to undermine democracy and prop up the morally decrepit scaffolding of white supremacy. For that clarity, we owe at least a moment of silent gratitude as we show the horse’s ass the door.

His dissolution is mesmerizing to watch, but elicits no glee. Not yet anyway. On Jan. 20, there will be glee to spare, tempered by a sober awareness of the mess we have been left to clean up.

For now, though, his decline may make the last days of Nixon, Hitler and “Citizen Kane” look mild by comparison. Pity is the only emotion that applies when a human being descends into a hell of his own making. As C.S. Lewis said, “The gates of hell are locked from the inside.” 

But we must not descend with him. He was at one point one of us, so we can only watch with pathos. The goal of classical Greek tragedy is a cleansing emotion known as catharsis, a combination of pity and horror, as we watch a noble figure fall from a great height through his own actions. This is not that tragedy. Donald Trump was never noble, though his fall, aided and abetted by the coronavirus, was nonetheless his own. He will forever live in infamy, a cautionary tale of ambition run amok, like Shakespeare’s Macbeth. 

But there is still a place for pity in the world and tragedy’s catharsis, in theory anyway, allows the audience to reclaim its own humanity as it leaves the amphitheater. Donald Trump, pathetic human being, broken if he were ever whole, dysfunctional if he were ever functional, who in becoming president devolved into a malignant tumor, has also, I hope, helped us get in touch with a deeper level of our humanity. 

We are the surgeons who, with steely resolve, must wield the scalpel that excises this malignancy. Yet I doubt that surgeons hate the tumors they eliminate. I can even imagine they feel a moment of pathos for this pound of flesh and wonder at its deep deformity before removing it. 

And that, for better or for worse, is the kindest I can be about Donald Trump on this early August Sunday morning.

As I finished writing this, a friend from Colorado, Kevin O’Keefe, who is very much in touch with his humanity, sent the following email that seemed to offer “a more perfect” ending:

“Children’s stories end with the evil-doers being vanquished and the heroes living happily ever after. The Sondheim musical Into The Woods, however, shows us that this is only the ending of Act One.

“Evil is never vanquished. It slithers away in defeat, only to emerge in other variations when opportunities knock. Victories over evil are ever only partial and only temporary. In the best possible scenario, whereby Truth and Justice prevail in the November election, America may get a chance to slow and divert and maybe even briefly expose the contours of the evil within. But it will not be eradicated, not ever.

“Maybe a few new constitutional amendments will be passed in our lifetimes to bolster against the sort of evils that have been allowed to breathe free these past few years, and that would be a good thing.

“And looking back in time at the arc of history bending toward justice should give us hope. Someone told me the phrase ‘more perfect’ is improper and should never be used, but for a single exception: when referring to America’s striving to become a more perfect union. Boy, do we have a long way to go. And I can accept that no nation will ever attain perfection. But let’s hope our younger generations will renew the promise to strive to be ‘more perfect.'”

Amen to that.

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