I was deeply saddened last week by Donald Trump’s “[email protected]!hole” reference to several other countries, though certainly not surprised. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so sad for my own country. “Heartsick” would be the word. I felt plain heartsick. To save us all from any further arcane expectations of presidential honor, I wish Trump would publicly state that he’s racist. Doing so would not impact him a single iota, so he might as well. His followers at best don’t care and at worst share the same cowardly points of view. The rest of the country and the world, of course, already take it as a given.
A particular target of Trump’s vulgarity last week was Haiti. Now, I know somebody from Haiti. Her name is Lovencia Chambley, and she’s my friend Kelly’s 14-year-old daughter. They live in East Ridge. Lovencia was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Kelly adopted her seven years ago. They were kind enough to sit down with me for an interview.
I started by asking Lovencia how she felt about Trump’s [email protected]!hole comment. She said that upon initially hearing it, while she wasn’t expecting it, she wasn’t surprised. The typical response from Joe and/or Jane Sane American seems to have been raw kneejerk anger: “[email protected]^ that Donald Trump!” But Lovencia responded a) differently and b) better.
She actually considered what Trump said. Processed it, really. What it implied about Trump himself and its broader implications for America, home and abroad. Then, with Kelly, decided to do something. They filmed a simple video, Lovencia addressing Trump and respectfully calling out his foolishness. Which led to a story on Channel 3 last week and tons of traffic on social media. So far.
Kelly said Trump’s [email protected]!hole comment shows he lacks an experiential knowledge of people. It’s a kind of knowledge that requires willingness to understand those who live much differently than one’s self. Kelly pointed out that Trump has only ever known privilege and excess, and seems only willing to really relate to people who live the way he does.
Another case in point, Kelly said, was the incident in which Trump tossed rolls of paper towels at Puerto Ricans after the hurricane. He wasn’t even willing to share the personal space required to hand a roll to somebody, not even somebody suffering as greatly as hurricane victims. Others who live the way Trump’s used to living make up a very small percentage of Americans and an even smaller percentage of the rest of the world, so it’s easy to track where Trump’s ignorance comes from.
“But are you willing to experience what your constituents experience?” Kelly said. “Context brings grace.”
Rather than know, Lovencia also pointed out that “Trump assumes. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have called Haiti a [email protected]!hole.”
I had to ask for Lovencia’s forgiveness as well, because I asked the question that must be the bane of every 14-year-old’s existence. It was in my 14-year-old days, at least. That is, “When you’re done with school, what do you want to do with your life?” Lovencia told me that since they’d recently studied New York City in school, she’d like to go there. In New York, she’d like to continue studying dance—she dances quite a bit now—and spend time visiting elderly people in nursing homes. She’d like to teach them how to dance.
“And I want them to teach me how to play checkers,” she said. Methinks she’s on to something there. Can you imagine any better checkers teachers than old folks in New York City?
But what beautiful irony, eh? Picture it. Trump disparages Lovencia’s home country in a very ugly and very public way—public because Trump knew he had adversaries in the room with him when he said “[email protected]!hole” and knew those adversaries wouldn’t keep his remark under wraps. Incidentally, Trump, as of the writing of this column, remains unrepentant. He still thinks Haiti (no to mention the other countries he referenced) is a [email protected]!hole.
Lovencia, in turn, this native-born Haitian kid, wants to sojourn to Trump’s New York City. She hopes to endow it with the beauty of art, the compassion it takes to care for the elderly and the wisdom it takes to learn from those who’ve gone before her.
Lovencia also told me that she understands that when you’re a president, not everybody is going to agree with everything you say.
“But at least don’t call names,” she said.
She takes me back to Abraham Lincoln’s understanding of presidential leadership, actually: “You can please some of the people all the time, you can please all the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all the time.” Something else Trump doesn’t seem to get, but what else is new?
I’m grateful to Kelly and to Lovencia for sharing their time with me. I walked away from the interview thinking something I still think now and will continue to think as long as Donald Trump is in office: Despite Trump’s ignorance and vitriol, if Lovencia is the future of America, we’re going to be OK.
Paul Luikart is a writer whose work has appeared in a number of places over the years. His most recent book, “Animal Heart,” is available now from Hyperborea Publishing. Follow him on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.