My Country, Tis of Thee …

Tempered Joy and Saying Goodbye to Donald Trump

President Donald Trump has left the Oval Office, but I find it hard to rejoice. Not for the reasons you might think.

I hear fair-minded folks saying we should avoid public celebration. Its not gracious or Christian to celebrate while others weep. Don’t cast judgment on Mr. Trump’s moral character, or chant the litany of his crimes, sexism, racism, fascism or lies. Do not admit pleasure at the prospect that his avid supporters — the ones who stormed the Capitol with hockey sticks and guns or the ones who parroted his lies in the halls of power just before and after the mob struck — may actually receive justice.

Actually, I experience gratitude and even joy at Mr. Trump’s departure. I have prayed much of the last four years for deliverance from this president and his cruel actions and words. Millions of us have asked God, “Why?” and “How long?” — from the moment he launched his campaign by announcing that Mexican immigrants are largely rapists and murderers, to these tragic final days when he incited a mob to a domestic terror attack that left five people dead, sacked the Capitol and made American democracy an oxymoron to the rest of the world.

I am quite comfortable disagreeing with many of his policies and appointments. I don’t believe it is political or anti-Republican to say I am horrified that he and his allies so freely welcomed graft, white supremacy and authoritarianism at home and abroad. It is observably true that Mr. Trump drove a wedge into the already riven heart of America and then twisted it to push us further apart. There is no way I can maintain neutrality or silence at his departure. He may or may not be “evil” — that is not my call to make — but his actions and apparent intentions participated in evil to a degree that we are rarely able to collectively, publicly witness.

So yes, a part of me rejoices that we made it to January 20, 2021, but another part of me is holding back. I noticed the hesitation in a text I almost sent my family last night. “I feel as if it’s Christmas Eve. The present under the tree: we get our country back.” I didn’t hit send because the phrase “we get our country back” felt false. I ended up adding the caveat “sort of” and then sent it.

This is hard to admit, because I have always loved America fiercely. Maybe love of country seems naïve when a nation is as broken and sinful as ours. I didn’t care. I’m one of those people who cries when I see members of the armed forces at the airport, returning from a tour of duty. I know every word to “God Bless the USA” (yes, we sang it in high school choir, and yes, I got so choked up sometimes I couldn’t finish the song). I DO love this land and want God to bless it.

My country, it is of YOU, sweet land that promises liberty, that I sing. You, America, are the land where our fathers and mothers labored, bled, dreamt and died. Like Martin Luther King Jr., I want America to “be true to what you said on paper.” I know there have been moments when you, America, ventured close to your promise. When you have, you blessed the whole world. I want to be part of that redemption project. Especially today I want to love you, to shout it from the rooftops, but how can I when you consistently refuse to love me back and actively seek to wound me and people I also love? It’s the definition of a dysfunctional relationship.

You and I have been in this dance for a long time. Back in 1992, the day after Bill Clinton’s victory, a group of us College Democrats surged onto the Quad. It was a small group — hey, it was North Carolina in the early 1990s — but we were full of joy. Rain drizzled all around, so much that the green grass beneath our dancing feet turned to mud. We did not care.

It took us a while to notice our peers gathering by the hundreds on the perimeter of the Quad. We flashed them peace signs, promised them this was a victory for everyone and not just for us. I grinned and shouted, “We love you!” Until a boy made eye contact with me and shouted, “Go home welfare mother. You think you’ve won, but we’re coming back.”

I wonder now if the last four years were that young man’s promise coming to fruition. We thought we had won. Especially after Obama’s election, we had an America we could all be proud of, or at least an America willing at last to lean into the better angels of her nature. We were wrong. The angels within us are still wrestling mightily, and it is by no means clear who will win.

White supremacy, genocide and rampant greed have been part of our story all along, and there is no reason to believe those who support or give them cover will be shamed, silenced or forced into hiding. I’m not sure they should. Their claim to America is as strong as mine.

So today, my joy is tempered. Mr. Trump nurtured a public, safe harbor for racism, sexism, greed and mendacity inside the White House, but he didn’t create or cause them. In his absence, they do not simply disappear. He’s not the scapegoat we send into the woods carrying the sins of the nation. He amplified, stirred and ultimately only revealed elements of the American Way.

Am I relieved as the Inaugural hour approaches? Yes. Am I hopeful? Yes. Am I sad, exhausted and yet unsurprised at what we have seen and cannot unsee, over the last four years — to say nothing of the last 400 years? Yes. My country, it is of you that I sing. It is for you that I weep. It is for you that I continue to pray.

Priest, writer, seeker of justice, lover of souls