Yesterday, in anticipation of my 63rd trip around the sun, I started feeling a slow creep of melancholia. At my age, because all movements are slower than frozen molasses, I now have the luxury of spotting doom early on, as its ambling my way. Last night’s gloominess was mostly about aging, but amplified by my nightly dose of watching the evening news. As usual, the news inevitably featured Donald J. Trump being Donald J. Trump, and saying things that can’t—without the aid of a delusional disorder—be framed as anything other than mean, nasty, and dangerous. After yet again witnessing Mr. Trump’s malevolence, I turned to Rita and murmured, “I think he might be evil.”
As soon as the word evil escaped my mouth, I immediately thought of Carl Rogers. Rogers was an amazing American psychologist who, from the 1930s to the 1960s, developed a profoundly empathic way of working with people. Rogers was raised in a rigid fundamental conservative Christian family. He wasn’t allowed to dance or play cards. During college, at age 20 (the year was 1922), Rogers took a sharp ideological left turn while on a slow boat to China. He stepped away from his fundamentalist roots, and began embracing a broad and encompassing belief in the goodness of all people. Rogers stepped so far away from judgmentalism, and believed so deeply and persistently in the innate goodness of all humans, that many philosophers and psychologists in the 1950s and 1960s (like Rollo May and Martin Buber), viewed Rogers as dangerously naïve.
After realizing back in the 20th century that I would never be “Like Mike” (Michael Jordan), I started fancying myself as being like Carl Rogers instead. The match seemed perfect. Just like Rogers, I believe in everyone’s positive potential. Also like Rogers, I don’t really believe in evil. However, after four years of listening to someone with immense power mock the disabled, disparage the military, demean women, remorselessly lock migrant children in cages, stoke hate, division, and conspiracies, and threaten to blow up our democratic process . . . I’ve begun reconsidering my naïve Rogerian perspective on evil. Last night’s news snippet included Mr. Trump’s continued attack on the Michigan governor. As far as I can tell, the only times Mr. Trump manages to use his words to show empathy is when he’s reading—rather haltingly—off of a teleprompter.
Rogers might blanch at my judgment of Trump, but I think not. He wrote a book “On Personal Power” and his bottom line was that you should give it away. And when I interviewed his daughter, Natalie Rogers, in 2006, she made it clear that her dad was in favor of accepting and prizing all human feelings, but that he could be quite firm when people (and his children) behaved in unacceptable ways. I’m pretty sure that Carl Rogers, one of the most profoundly influential psychologists of all time, would be horrified by Mr. Trump’s behavior, and he would use his power to bring back civility, decency, and empathy.
A couple years ago I had the honor of meeting Joe Biden, face-to-face. He greeted me with flourish and enthusiasm. He oozed empathy, compassion, kindness, and a commitment to service. He spoke and acted without a whiff of arrogance. I’m convinced that he’s the sort of person who will use his power for good.
Here’s my birthday wish (and request). Instead of sending me all the lavish gifts you had planned to send me, just go out and spread the word that decency, empathy, respect, kindness, and love are making a HUGE comeback. And if you know someone whom you think isn’t voting, consider this: reach out with respect and kindness and ask them to vote for Joe Biden. That would be amazing . . . a little frosting on my birthday wish.
Thanks for reading this and for helping make my birthday wish come true.