Loving Voldemort and Donald Trump
I’ve been reading recently (read: obsessed with) the Harry Potter books. Remember those? I somehow missed them in their heyday, and as grad school is a pretty intense slog-through-the-real, I needed an alternate reality to inhabit now and again. Call it escapism, call it dissociation; I call it Pottermore.
Anyway, as part of my obsession, I’ve found my way to a podcast called Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Run by Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile, two humanist theologians out of Harvard, they treat each chapter of each book in the septet (octet? is that new one canonical?) as if it were a sacred text; that is, they read closely, look for thematic threads and questions, and cultivate spiritual practices around the text. There have been episodes on hope, white privilege, friendship and rebellion, for example. You should totally check it out; I need someone to geek out with.
At the end of their first season, unpacking the the final chapter, the theme for the episode was love. They waxed on about Harry, Ron and Hermione’s love for one another and Harry’s mother’s love being a “protective force” against evil. All well and good. But when they engaged the moment (SPOILER ALERT) that Harry and Voldemort finally come face to face, the hosts offered a take on Voldemort that I quibbled (Quirrel’d?) with.
Quoting from the text, they talked as if Voldemort is unable to love; that he is so deeply evil that he can’t love, he can only control through fear.
I was a bit startled. The sure casting of Voldemort’s inability to love struck me as, well, unloving. And so I began to wonder: it may be that now, in his current, twisted form, he is unable to love, but was that always true? What if Voldemort’s lust for power and control doesn’t originate there; what if it comes out of something much deeper: shame.
And even deeper than that, what if Voldemort’s core shame, his ur-shame, that leads to scheming and power-grabbing, following of Dark Magic and ruling by fear and violence actually comes out of a place of desiring love?
What if, at his core, Voldemort desperately longs to love and to be loved?
If you can’t abide another slog into politics, feel free to simply ponder the previous thought experiment. But here’s the connection: I can’t help but wonder about Voldemort’s true “driving nature” without jumping to Trump (and not in an ironic, meme-creating sort of way). I really do wonder: as base and vile as the things Trump does and says, as violent and fear-mongering and un-Christian as he is, as much as I don’t want him to be elected to office, I have to wonder: what’s with this guy?
The narcissistic rage Trump routinely and unapologetically displays is no secret (some have even ventured to offer a potential diagnosis); but what’s hidden under all that? I have to believe–or at least entertain the thought–that he’s longing, desperately, for the one thing he can’t seem to give or get: real love and human connection.
And wedded to that drive, I think, must lurk shame. Shame at himself, his family, the life he’s led and, perhaps, the life he wanted but could never attain as recently pointed out by real-life Dumbledore Garrison Keillor. How do I know this? I don’t know, per se, but I have a sense from my own story of what it might be like to be this guy, just a little. I know the shame and sadness that lurks in my dark corners, and how my desperate longing for love and connection comes out: addiction, anger, spite. Maybe not to Trumpian levels, but Trump wasn’t always the way he is now: he’s grown into it, cultivated it, because it’s what he knew. It’s where he felt safest. It somehow kept him alive.
So I know a little of what it might be to be Donald Trump, as I’m willing to bet, we all do, if we look deep enough. And so as I wonder I find I have an small sliver of empathy I can look at when all feels lost.
But even more: as someone who’s trying to make sense of Jesus, I feel more than just curious. I actually feel compelled to follow this line of inquiry. If I’m meant to practice resurrection, I’m asked o to open my mind, loathe as I might be, to consider The Donald a child of God, too. To be absolutely clear: this doesn’t excuse his actions or choices; those are his and his alone and he should be held accountable. As much as I am called to consider Donald Trump in love, I am also considered to call upon justice. They are not mutually exclusive; in fact, they are tightly bound. So I will resist and decry the violence he has done and the fear he mongers. But I can’t ignore that the “way he is” doesn’t come out of a vacuum; it comes out of a certain context, just like I do, bearing both darkness and light.
Because the alternative is Donald Trump just becomes another Voldemort: a cartoon villain I can root for, or even help, to be destroyed. He’s not real, he’s not worth being curious about. He stops being a human being, whose thriving requires giving and receiving love, and becomes just a phony reality TV host with bad hair, a twisted wizard living a half-life in someone else’s body.