The consequences of Donald Trump’s inability to feel.
On Dec. 26, 2004, the French author Emmanuel Carrère, his girlfriend and their respective sons were vacationing at a cliff-top hotel in Sri Lanka. Their relationship was dying and, feeling out of sorts, they decided not to go down to the beachfront scuba diving lesson they’d signed up for. It was a consequential decision, for that was the morning the tsunami hit.
A family they knew was staying on the beach. That morning the grandfather, Philippe, was reading the paper while his 4-year-old granddaughter, Juliette, happily played in the wavelets nearby. Suddenly Philippe felt himself swept up by an enormous wall of black water, pretty sure he would die, certain his granddaughter already had.
In his memoir, Carrère bears witness to the days of suffering and endurance that followed the wave. When Philippe tells his daughter and son-in-law about the death of their child, Juliette’s mother, Delphine, screams. Her husband thought, “I can no longer do anything for my daughter, so I will save my wife.”
Carrère had lamented that he had always been unable to love, but in those horrific days he and his girlfriend stayed with the family, searched among the corpses, enveloped the family with compassion and practical care. He observes how at mealtime Delphine’s hand shakes as she brings a forkful of curried rice to her lips.
He is with Delphine when they come across a woman, Ruth, who was on her honeymoon and has lost track of her husband, Tom. For two days she sat outside the hospital, not eating or sleeping, convinced that if she nodded off Tom would never emerge alive from wherever he was.
“Her determination is frightening,” Carrère writes. “You can sense that she’s quite close to passing to the other side, into catatonia, living death, and Delphine and I understand that our role is to prevent this.”
Carrère’s memoir describes how a self-absorbed man is altered in crisis and develops a deep and perceptive capacity to see the struggles of others. The book is called “Lives Other Than My Own.”
I thought of that book this week because the sensitive perceptiveness Carrère displays is the opposite of the blindness Donald Trump displayed in quotes reported by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic and Bob Woodward in his latest book about the administration, “Rage.”
Goldberg says Trump told people that he sees the war dead as “suckers” and “losers.” Trump can’t seem to fathom the emotional experience of their lives — their love for those they fought for, the fears they faced down, the resolve to risk their lives nonetheless.
If he can’t see that, he can’t understand the men and women in uniform serving around him. He can’t understand the inner devotion that drives people to public service, which is supposed to be the core of his job.
The same sort of blindness is on display in the Woodward quotes. It was stupid of Trump to think he could downplay Covid-19 when he already knew it had the power of a pandemic. It was stupid to think the American people would panic if told the truth. It was stupid to talk to Woodward in the first place.
This is not an intellectual stupidity. I imagine Trump’s I.Q. is fine. It is a moral and emotional stupidity. He blunders so often and so badly because he has a narcissist’s inability to get inside the hearts and minds of other people. It’s a stupidity that in almost pure clinical form, flows out of his inability to feel, a stupidity of the heart.
In most times and cultures, people realized that understanding a person or situation is as much an emotional process as an analytical one. In the Bible the word “to know” covers a range of activities, from having a conversation with, to having sex with, to entering into a commitment with and much else — all the different ways we come to understand each other.
St. Augustine’s theory of
- knowledge begins with emotion.
- Love is a focus of attention.
- Love is a motivation to learn more about a person.
- Love is a reverence for the image of God in each person.
Through his own failures, Trump illustrates by counterexample that the heart is the key to understanding. To accurately size up a human situation you have to project a certain quality of attention that is personal, gentle, respectful, intimate and affectionate — more moving with and feeling into than simply observing with detachment.
Carrère achieved that quality of attention after the tsunami.
Maybe I spend too much time on Twitter and in media, but I see less and less of this sort of attention in America, even amid the tragedies of 2020. Far from softening toward one another, the whole country feels even more rived, more hardened and increasingly blind to lives other than our own.
The president is looking for a dangerous domestic enemy to fight.
Some presidents, when they get into trouble before an election, try to “wag the dog” by starting a war abroad. Donald Trump seems ready to wag the dog by starting a war at home. Be afraid — he just might get his wish.
How did we get here? Well, when historians summarize the Trump team’s approach to dealing with the coronavirus, it will take only a few paragraphs:
“They talked as if they were locking down like China. They acted as if they were going for herd immunity like Sweden. They prepared for neither. And they claimed to be superior to both. In the end, they got the worst of all worlds — uncontrolled viral spread and an unemployment catastrophe.
“And then the story turned really dark.
“As the virus spread, and businesses had to shut down again and schools and universities were paralyzed as to whether to open or stay closed in the fall, Trump’s poll numbers nose-dived. Joe Biden opened up a 15-point lead in a national head-to-head survey.
“So, in a desperate effort to salvage his campaign, Trump turned to the Middle East Dictator’s Official Handbook and found just what he was looking for, the chapter titled, ‘What to Do When Your People Turn Against You?’
“Answer: Turn them against each other and then present yourself as the only source of law and order.”
America blessedly is not Syria, yet, but Trump is adopting the same broad approach that Bashar al-Assad did back in 2011, when peaceful protests broke out in the southern Syrian town of Dara’a, calling for democratic reforms; the protests then spread throughout the country.
Had al-Assad responded with even the mildest offer of more participatory politics, he would have been hailed as a savior by a majority of Syrians. One of their main chants during the demonstrations was, “Silmiya, silmiya” (“Peaceful, peaceful”).
But al-Assad did not want to share power, and so he made sure that the protests were not peaceful. He had his soldiers open fire on and arrest nonviolent demonstrators, many of them Sunni Muslims. Over time, the peaceful, secular elements of the Syrian democracy movement were sidelined, as hardened Islamists began to spearhead the fight against al-Assad. In the process, the uprising was transformed into a naked, rule-or-die sectarian civil war between al-Assad’s Alawite Shiite forces and various Sunni jihadist groups.
Al-Assad got exactly what he wanted — not a war between his dictatorship and his people peacefully asking to have their voices heard, but a war with Islamic radicals in which he could play the law-and-order president, backed by Russia and Iran. In the end, his country was destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Syrians were killed or forced to flee. But al-Assad stayed in power. Today, he’s the top dog on a pile of rubble.
I have zero tolerance for any American protesters who resort to violence in any U.S. city, because it damages homes and businesses already hammered by the coronavirus — many of them minority-owned — and because violence will only turn off and repel the majority needed to drive change.
But when I heard Trump suggest, as he did in the Oval Office on Monday, that he was going to send federal forces into U.S. cities, where the local mayors have not invited him, the first word that popped into my head was “Syria.”
Listen to how Trump put it: “I’m going to do something — that, I can tell you. Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country.”
These cities, Trump stressed, are “all run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by radical left. If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell. And we’re not going to let it go to hell.”
This is coming so straight from the Middle East Dictator’s Handbook, it’s chilling. In Syria, al-Assad used plainclothes, pro-regime thugs, known as the shabiha (“the apparitions”) to make protesters disappear. In Portland, Ore., we saw militarized federal forces wearing battle fatigues, but no identifiable markings, arresting people and putting them into unmarked vans. How can this happen in America?
Authoritarian populists — whether Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Poland, or al-Assad — “win by dividing the people and presenting themselves as the savior of the good and ordinary citizens against the undeserving agents of subversion and ‘cultural pollution,’” explained Stanford’s Larry Diamond, author of “Ill Winds: Saving Democracy From Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency.”
In the face of such a threat, the left needs to be smart. Stop calling for “defunding the police” and then saying that “defunding” doesn’t mean disbanding. If it doesn’t mean that then say what it means: “reform.” Defunding the police, calling police officers “pigs,” taking over whole neighborhoods with barricades — these are terrible messages, not to mention strategies, easily exploitable by Trump.
The scene that The Times’s Mike Baker described from Portland in the early hours of Tuesday — Day 54 of the protests there — is not good: “Some leaders in the Black community, grateful for a reckoning on race, worry that what should be a moment for racial justice could be squandered by violence. Businesses supportive of reforms have been left demoralized by the mayhem the protests have brought. … On Tuesday morning, police said another jewelry store had been looted. As federal agents appeared to try detaining one person, others in the crowd rushed to free the person.”
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll, according to The Post, found that a “majority of Americans support the Black Lives Matter movement and a record 69 percent say Black people and other minorities are not treated as equal to white people in the criminal justice system. But the public generally opposes calls to shift some police funding to social services or remove statues of Confederate generals or presidents who enslaved people.”
All of this street violence and defund-the-police rhetoric plays into the only effective Trump ad that I’ve seen on television. It goes like this: A phone rings and a recording begins: “You have reached the 911 police emergency line. Due to defunding of the police department, we’re sorry but no one is here to take your call. If you’re calling to report a rape, please press 1. To report a murder, press 2. To report a home invasion, press 3. For all other crimes, leave your name and number and someone will get back to you. Our estimated wait time is currently five days. Goodbye.”
Today’s protesters need to trump Trump by taking a page from another foreign leader — a liberal — Ekrem Imamoglu, who managed to win the 2019 election to become the mayor of Istanbul, despite the illiberal Erdogan using every dirty trick possible to steal the election. Imamoglu’s campaign strategy was called “radical love.”
Radical love meant reaching out to the more traditional and religious Erdogan supporters, listening to them, showing them respect and making clear that they were not “the enemy” — that Erdogan was the enemy, because he was the enemy of unity and mutual respect, and there could be no progress without them.
As a recent essay on Imamoglu’s strategy in The Journal of Democracy noted, he overcame Erdogan with a “message of inclusiveness, an attitude of respect toward [Erdogan] supporters, and a focus on bread-and-butter issues that could unite voters across opposing political camps. On June 23, Imamoglu was again elected mayor of Istanbul, but this time with more than 54 percent of the vote — the largest mandate obtained by an Istanbul mayor since 1984 — against 45 percent for his opponent.”
Radical love. Wow. I bet that could work in America, too. It’s the perfect answer to Trump’s politics of division — and it’s the one strategy he’ll never imitate.
For some reason — let’s say another way to paraphrase “repairing public discourse” is, we want to grow up as a society. We want to be worthy of the moment we inhabit and meet it with our best. We possess a lot of intelligence in our lives, in our families about, for example, that nothing gets any better if people don’t acknowledge mistakes they made, and we don’t embrace that and encourage them to grow, and that you never, ever change anybody’s mind by telling them how stupid they are, ever.
Ms. Tippett:Ever in history has that happened.
Ms. Kohn:Well, I want to say, to me, the opposite of hate isn’t love. It’s connection. You don’t have to love people to not hate them. You have to see that you have something at your core, a fundamental humanity, a fundamental goodness, that transcends the division. The reason I talk about my Aunt Lucy is, there are people who, when you meet them, when you know them, when I talk to my trolls, you realize that we’re at a point in our society, in our history, where we focus on a very small sliver of our beliefs to fight over. I don’t know about you, but when I see my relatives who I don’t agree with on 100 percent of — first of all, I have a whole bunch of relatives I don’t agree with on 100 percent of political issues. But I don’t see them as — they’re still on my side because we — I don’t know; what do we agree on? Ninety percent of the political issues? Where’s that dividing line? The point is, when I see my Aunt Lucy — all right, maybe we disagree on even more — I still love her. I still care about her. I still know she’s a good person and wants what’s best for me and my family and the country and the world. That is a really good place to be able to start to then talk about what we disagree on.
The Source of Trump’s Black Hole:
John Fea posted a Lawrence O’Donnell video that names the source of Trump’s black hole — his incomprehension of “love“.
O’Donnell was responding to events at the National Prayer Breakfast, which are listed below:
National Prayer Breakfast: Feb. 6, 2020
Arthur Brooks: America’s crisis of contempt
Arthur C. Brooks’s remarks, as prepared, for the National Prayer Breakfast keynote address on Thursday at the Washington Hilton.
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Mrs. Pence, Speaker Pelosi, heads of state, members of Congress and honored guests: Thank you for inviting me here today. I am deeply honored and grateful to address the National Prayer Breakfast.
As you have heard, I am not a priest or minister. I am a social scientist and a university professor. But most importantly, I am a follower of Jesus, who taught each of us to love God and to love each other.
I am here today to talk about what I believe is the biggest crisis facing our nation — and many other nations — today. This is the crisis of contempt — the polarization that is tearing our society apart. But if I do my job in the next few minutes, I promise I won’t depress you. On the contrary, I will show you why I believe that within this crisis resides the best opportunity we have ever had, as people of faith, to lift our nations up and bring them together.
As leaders, you all know that when there is an old problem, the solution never comes from thinking harder in the old ways; we have to think differently — we need an epiphany. This is true with societal problems and private problems.
Here’s an example of the latter: I have three kids, and two are still teenagers. (Pray for me.) Two years ago, when my middle son, Carlos, was a senior in high school, my wife, Ester, and I were having a rough parent-teacher conference. It was his grades. This was an old problem which we had tried everything to solve, but we were getting nowhere. We left the conference in grim silence and got in the car. Ester finally broke the silence.
“We need to see this problem in a whole new way,” she said.
“I’m all ears, sweetheart,” I answered, “because I’m at the end of my rope.”
“At least we know he’s not cheating,” she said.
See, that’s thinking differently! And that’s the spirit in which I want to address the problem of political contempt.
(By the way, in case you’re wondering what happened to Carlos: Currently he’s in Parris Island, S.C., at boot camp for the U.S. Marine Corps. We couldn’t be prouder of him.)
To start us on a path of new thinking to our cultural crisis, I want to turn to the words of the ultimate original thinker, history’s greatest social entrepreneur, and as a Catholic, my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus. Here’s what he said, as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, chapter 5, verse 43-45: You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Love your enemies! Now that is thinking differently. It changed the world starting 2,000 years ago, and it is as subversive and counterintuitive today as it was then. But the devil’s in the details. How do we do it in a country and world roiled by political hatred and differences that we can’t seem to bridge?
First, we need to make it personal. I remember when it became personal for me.
I give about 150 speeches a year and talk to all kinds of audiences: conservative, progressive, believers, atheists and everything in between. I was speaking one afternoon some years ago to a large group of politically conservative activists. Arriving early to the event, I looked at the program and realized I was the only non-politician on the program.
At first I thought, “This is a mistake.” But then I remembered that there are no mistakes — only opportunities — and started thinking about what I could say that would be completely different than the politicians. The crowd was really fired up; the politicians were getting huge amounts of applause. When it was my turn to speak, in the middle of my speech, here’s more or less what I said:
“My friends, you’ve heard a lot today that you’ve agreed with — and well you should. You’ve also heard a lot about the other side — political liberals — and how they are wrong. But I want to ask you to remember something: Political liberals are not stupid, and they’re not evil. They are simply Americans who disagree with you about public policy. And if you want to persuade them — which should be your goal — remember that no one has ever been insulted into agreement. You can only persuade with love.”
It was not an applause line.
After the speech, a woman in the audience came up to me, and she was clearly none too happy with my comments. “You’re wrong,” she told me. “Liberals are stupid and evil.”
At that moment, my thoughts went to … Seattle. That’s my hometown. While my own politics are conservative, Seattle is arguably the most politically liberal place in the United States. My father was a college professor; my mother was an artist. Professors and artists in Seattle … what do you think their politics were?
That lady after my speech wasn’t trying to hurt me. But when she said that liberals are stupid and evil, she was talking about my parents. I may have disagreed with my parents politically, but I can tell you they were neither stupid nor evil. They were good, Christian people, who raised me to follow Jesus. They also taught me to think for myself — which I did, at great inconvenience to them.
Political polarization was personal for me that day, and I want to be personal to you, too. So let me ask you a question: How many of you love someone with whom you disagree politically?
Are you comfortable hearing someone on your own side insult that person?
This reminds me of a lesson my father taught me, about moral courage. In a free society where you don’t fear being locked up for our opinions, true moral courage isn’t standing up to the people with whom you disagree. It’s standing up to the people with whom you agree — on behalf of those with whom you disagree. Are you strong enough to do that? That, I believe, is one way we can live up to Jesus’ teaching to love our enemies.
Let’s take a step back now and diagnose the problem a little bit.
Some people blame our politicians, but that’s too easy. It’s us, not them — I am guilty. And frankly, I know many politicians, many of them here today, who want a solution to this problem every bit as much as I do.
What is leading us to this dark place that we don’t like?
The problem is what psychologists call contempt. In the words of the 19th-century philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, contempt is “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.” In politics today, we treat each other as worthless, which is why our fights are so bitter and cooperation feels nearly impossible.
The world’s leading expert on marital reconciliation is Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist at the University of Washington. Over the course of his work, Dr. Gottman has studied thousands of married couples. After watching a couple interact for just one hour, he can predict with 94 percent accuracy whether the couple will divorce within three years.
How can he tell? It’s not from the anger that the couples express. As I already told you, anger doesn’t predict separation or divorce. The biggest warning signs, he explains, are indicators of contempt. These include sarcasm, sneering, hostile humor and — worst of all — eye-rolling. These little acts effectively say, “You are worthless” to the one person a spouse should love more than any other. Want to see if a couple will end up in divorce court? Watch them discuss a contentious topic and see if either partner rolls his or her eyes.
Why do they do that? The answer is that it’s a habit, and that habit is tearing their marriage apart. And like a couple on the rocks, in politics today, we have a contempt habit. Don’t believe it? Turn on prime-time cable TV and watch how they talk. Look at Twitter — if you dare. Listen to yourself talking about a politician you don’t like. We are guilty of contempt.
It’s a habit, and it’s tearing our society apart.
How do we break the habit of contempt? Even more, how do we turn the contempt people show us into an opportunity to follow the teachings of Jesus, to love our enemies?
To achieve these things, I’m going to suggest three homework assignments.
- First: Ask God to give you the strength to do this hard thing — to go against human nature, to follow Jesus’ teaching and love your enemies. Ask God to remove political contempt from your heart. In your weakest moments, maybe even ask Him to help you fake it!
- Second: Make a commitment to another person to reject contempt. Of course you will disagree with others — that’s part of democracy. It is right and good, and part of the competition of ideas. But commit to doing it without contempt and ask someone to hold you accountable to love your enemies.
- Third: Go out looking for contempt, so you have the opportunity to answer it with love. I know that sounds crazy, to go looking for something so bad. But for leaders, contempt isn’t like the flu. It’s an opportunity to share your values and change our world, which is what leadership is all about, isn’t it?
I’m asking you to be kind of like a missionary. I’ve had missionaries on both sides of my family, and they are amazing entrepreneurs. They don’t go out looking for people who already agree with them, because that’s not where they are needed — they go to the dark places to bring light. It’s hard work, and there’s lots of rejection involved. (Here are words that have never been uttered: “Oh good, there are missionaries on the porch.”) But it’s the most joyful type of work, isn’t it?
I’m calling each one of you to be missionaries for love in the face of contempt. If you don’t see enough of it, you’re in an echo chamber and need a wider circle of friends — people who disagree with you. Hey, if you want a full blast of contempt within 20 seconds, go on social media! But run toward that darkness, and bring your light.
My sisters and brothers, when you leave the National Prayer Breakfast today and go back to your lives and jobs, you will be back in a world where there is a lot of contempt. That is your opportunity. So I want you to imagine that there is a sign over the exit as you leave this room. It’s a sign I’ve seen over the doors of churches — not the doors to enter, but rather the doors to leave the church. Here’s what it says:
You are now entering mission territory.
If you see the world outside this room as mission territory, we might just mark this day, Feb. 6, 2020, at the National Prayer Breakfast, as the point at which our national healing begins.
God bless you, and God bless America.
President Trump: National Prayer Breakfast, Feb 6, 2020
9:11 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Well, thank you very much. I’m working very hard for you, I will tell you. (Laughter.) And sometimes you don’t make it easy, and I certainly don’t make it easy on you. (Laughter.) And I will continue that tradition, if I might, this morning. And, Arthur, I don’t know if I agree with you. (Laughter.) But I don’t know if Arthur is going to like what I’m going to say. (Laughter.) But I love listening to you. It’s really great. Thank you very much.
And thank you, congressmen, for the great job you’ve been doing and the relationship and the help. You’re a warrior. Thank you very much. And, Kevin, you’re a warrior. Thank you. The job you’ve done is incredible. It wasn’t supposed to be that way. A lot of extra work. Unnecessary work.
It’s wonderful to be with the thousands of religious believers for the 68th annual National Prayer Breakfast. I’ve been here from the first one, where I had the privilege of being asked. I’ve been with you for a long time before then. And we’ve made tremendous progress. Tremendous progress. You know what we’ve done. I don’t think anybody has done more than all of us together during these last three years. And it’s been my honor.
But this morning, we come together as one nation, blessed to live in freedom and grateful to worship in peace. As everybody knows, my family, our great country, and your President, have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people. They have done everything possible to destroy us, and by so doing, very badly hurt our nation. They know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.
Weeks ago, and again yesterday, courageous Republican politicians and leaders had the wisdom, the fortitude, and strength to do what everyone knows was right. I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong. Nor do I like people who say, “I pray for you,” when they know that that’s not so.
So many people have been hurt, and we can’t let that go on. And I’ll be discussing that a little bit later at the White House.
We’re joined today by two people whose faith inspires us all: our amazing, wonderful friend, Vice President Mike Pence — (applause) — and his wonderful wife, Karen. (Applause.) Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you to all of our great political leaders out there — so many that I’ve been working with so hard over the last three years. And we’ve accomplished so much. And to members of my Cabinet in attendance — Secretary Mike Pompeo, Mark Esper, David Bernhardt — (applause) — Gene Scalia, Alex Azar, Ben Carson, Dan Brouillette, Betsy DeVos, Robert Wilke, and Administrator Jovita Carranza.
Joining us — (applause) — for this cherished tradition are a lot of friends in the audience. And many, really, have become friends. They are political leaders. They’ve become great friends. That’s all I get to meet anymore. (Laughter.) That and the enemies and the allies. And we have them all. We have allies. We have enemies. Sometimes the allies are enemies, but we just don’t know it. (Laughter.) But we’re changing all that. But thank you all, and thank you all for being here.
I also want to welcome foreign dignitaries from more than 140 countries. That’s something. (Applause.) That’s something. Everyone here today is united by a shared conviction. We know that our nation is stronger, our future is brighter, and our joy is greater when we turn to God and ask him to shed his grace on our lives.
On Tuesday, I addressed Congress on the state of the Union and the great American comeback. That’s what it is. (Applause.) Our country has never done better than it is doing right now. Our economy is the strongest it has ever been. And for those of you that are interested in stocks, it looks like the stock market will be way up again today.
According to the latest Gallup poll that just came out a little while ago, a few minutes ago, American satisfaction is at the highest level ever recorded. Can you imagine? And that’s from Gallup — no friend of mine. (Applause.) Ninety percent of Americans say they are satisfied with their personal lives. How about that? Isn’t that something? Just came out today. (Applause.) They must have known I was going to be here. (Laughter.)
In everything we do, we are creating a culture that protects freedom, and that includes religious freedom. (Applause.)
As I said on Tuesday in the House Chamber, “In America, we don’t punish prayer. We don’t tear down crosses. We don’t ban symbols of faith. We don’t muzzle preachers.” We don’t muzzle pastors. “In America, we celebrate faith, we cherish religion, we lift our voices in prayer, and we raise our sights to the Glory of God.” (Applause.)
So much of the greatness we have achieved, the mysteries we’ve unlocked, and the wonders we’ve built, the challenges we’ve met, and the incredible heights that we’ve reached has come from the faith of our families and the prayers of our people.
Before America declared independence, patriots in all 13 colonies came together in days of fasting and prayer. In the bitter cold of Valley Forge, Washington and his men had no food, no supplies, and very little chance of victory. It reminded me a little bit of 2016. We had very little chance of victory. (Laughter.) Except for the people in this room and some others believed we were going to win. I believed we were going to win. But what they did have was have an unwavering belief that God was with them. I believe that too. God is with the people in this room.
Before a single skyscraper rose up in New York City, thousands of poor American families donated all they could to build the magnificent St. Patrick’s Cathedral. (Applause.)
When Buzz Aldrin landed on the Moon, he said, “Houston, I would like to request a few moments of silence.” Then, he read from the Bible. (Applause.)
At every stage, our nation’s long march for civil rights was inspired, sustained, and uplifted by faith, prayer, and devotion of religious believers.
To protect faith communities, I have taken historic action to defend religious liberty, including the constitutional right to pray in public schools. (Applause.)
We can also talk about the Johnson Amendment. We can talk about Mexico City Policy. We’ve done a lot. But I also recently took executive action to stop taxpayer dollars from going to colleges and universities that spread the poison of anti-Semitism and bad things about Christianity. (Applause.)
We are upholding the sanctity of life — sanctity of life. (Applause.) And we are doing that like nobody has ever done it before from this position. You better get out and vote on November 3rd — (laughter) — because you have a lot of people out there that aren’t liking what we’re doing.
And we’re pursuing medical breakthroughs to save premature babies because every child is a sacred gift from God. (Applause.)
Together, we are building the world’s most prosperous and inclusive society. We are lifting up citizens of every race, color, religion, and creed. We are bringing hope to forgotten communities. And more Americans are working today — 160 million. A little bit short. Just a little bit. One hundred and sixty million. We’ve never been even close — than ever before. Think of it: More Americans are working today — almost 160 million — than ever before. Our unemployment numbers are the best in the history of our country. (Applause.)
A more specific number and numbers that you hear me say, if you listen: African American, Asian American, Hispanic American — the best unemployment numbers in the history of our country. Women — best in 71 years. Sorry. We’ll have you there soon. Soon, it will be “historic.” I have to apologize to the women; it’s only 71 years.
But the best unemployment numbers, we have — we’re doing things that nobody thought possible. We’re setting records that nobody thought achievable.
And to give former prisoners a second chance at life, which so many people in this room have worked on for so long — (applause) — we passed criminal justice reform into law, and I signed it nine months ago.
And it’s proving more and more that America is indeed a nation that believes in redemption. What’s happened with prisoners is a miracle. Prisoners would come out and nobody would give them a job. And oftentimes, most of the time — almost all of the time — they’d go back into prison. They’d get caught doing something bad. They had no money. They had no hope. They had no job. Now they’re coming out into a booming economy. And employers are hiring them, and to a certain extent, maybe because they’re having a hard time getting people.
First time in our country’s history, actually, we’re running out of people. We have plants moving in by the thousands. We have car companies coming from Japan and from Germany, from lots of other places, and we need people. And employers are hiring prisoners, and they would have never done it, except for what we’ve done with criminal justice reform. But even before that, because the economy has become so powerful.
And these prisoners have done an incredible job. The employers are saying, “Why didn’t I do this 20 years ago?”
So it’s an incredible thing what’s happening to people that are given a second chance, and sometimes a third chance, in all fairness. And it’s something that everybody in this room should be very proud about, because you’ve always felt that way long before it was fashionable. So I want to thank you for that. (Applause.)
As we revive our economy, we are also renewing our national spirit. Today we proudly proclaim that faith is alive and well and thriving in America. And we’re going to keep it that way. Nobody will have it changed. (Applause.) It won’t happen. As long as I’m here, it will never, ever happen. (Applause.)
Something which wasn’t done nearly enough — I could almost say wasn’t done at all — we are standing up for persecuted Christians and religious minorities all around the world — (applause) — like nobody has ever done.
Last year, at the United Nations, I was honored to be the first President to host a meeting of religious freedom. It was based all on religious freedom. That was the first meeting of its kind ever held at the United Nations. There I called upon all nations to combat the terrible injustice of religious persecution. And people listened.
And countries that we give billions of dollars to, they listened because they had to listen. (Laughter.) It’s amazing how that works, isn’t it? (Laughter.) That nobody ever played that game before. (Laughter.)
Weeks ago, a 21-year-old woman, who goes by the name of Mary, was seized and imprisoned in Iran because she converted to Christianity and shared the Gospel with others.
In Venezuela, the dictator Maduro has arrested church leaders. At the State of the Union, I was honored to host the true and legitimate President of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó. (Applause.) Good man. I told him that all Americans stand with the Venezuelan people in their righteous struggle for freedom.
Yesterday, our administration launched the International Religious Freedom Alliance, the first-ever alliance devoted to promoting religious liberty. It was something. Really something. (Applause.)
More than 25 countries have already joined our campaign. I want to thank Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with Ambassador Sam Brownback, who are both here this morning, for leading this historic initiative. Thank you very much. Thank you, Mike. (Applause.) Thank you.
All of us here today reaffirm these timeless truths: Faith keeps us free. Prayer makes us strong. And God alone is the author of life and the giver of grace. (Applause.)
With us this morning is a pastor who embodies the miracle of faith and the power of prayer: Reverend Gerald Toussaint from Louisiana. Reverend Toussaint is an Army veteran, a truck driver, and a pastor. He leads the same church that his father led, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, which has been a pillar of the community for more than 140 years.
Last year, Mount Pleasant was one of three African American churches in Louisiana that was destroyed in a fire set by a wicked, hate-filled arsonist.
Yet, in the wake of such shocking evil, America witnessed the unshakable unity, devotion, and spirit of Reverend Toussaint and his entire highly spirited, beautiful congregation. Families quickly came together in prayer. Soon, people from all across Louisiana came to help any way they could. Americans in all 50 states and 20 different countries heard about it and they donated more than $2 million to help rebuild Mount Pleasant — (applause) — and the other two churches that were (inaudible).
On Easter Sunday, just days after he lost his church, Reverend Toussaint preached about what it all meant. What does it mean? “The Easter season,” he said, “is a fitting metaphor for recent events. It was dark the day that Jesus was crucified. It was dark [at] night when they burned our church. What has happened since is like a resurrection.” Old things are gone, but it’s going to be a brand-new start, and it’s going to be better than ever, Reverend. (Applause.) Better than ever. Fantastic.
And today, just 10 months later, the ground is cleared. Careful plans have been made, and they’re beautiful plans. And construction is about to begin on the new and very, very magnificent Mount Pleasant Church. Congratulations. (Applause.)
You know, the Reverend says that we’re rebuilding because that’s what Jesus does. He rebuilds, he lives, and he breathes. It’s what he does. He wants it to be rebuilt. It was torn apart, but it’s being rebuilt again, and I’ll bet you it will indeed be bigger, better, and nicer than before. What do you think, Reverend? Yes? And it’s going to have your mark on it. It did have and now it will have even great. And your father is looking down on you right now and he’s very, very proud of the job that you’ve done. Thank you very much. (Applause.) Very much inspire us, Reverend. Thank you.
Well, I want to just thank everybody. This has been very special. Tell your congregation that — and all of your people — that we have 350 million people in our country. They’re proud Americans. And they respect what we’re doing, even those that you don’t think so much like us, respect us, want to be with us. They’re respecting our fight, and we are in a fight.
Religion in this country and religion all over the world — certain religions in particular — are under siege. We won’t let that happen. We are going to protect our religions. We are going to protect Christianity. We are going to protect our great ministers and pastors and rabbis and all of the people that we so cherish and that we so respect.
America is eternally in the debt of our nation’s African American churches all throughout this country. That’s why it’s so fitting and so — it’s one of the reasons we chose this particular church in Louisiana. For generations, they bravely fought for justice and lifted up the conscience of our nation. And we’re grateful beyond any measure.
But I can say that going beyond that, we’re grateful to the people in this room for the love they show to religion. Not one religion, but many religions. They are brave. They are brilliant. They are fighters. They like people. And sometimes they hate people. I’m sorry. I apologize. I’m trying to learn. (Laughter.) It’s not easy. It’s not easy. (Applause.)
When they impeach you for nothing, then you’re supposed to like them? It’s not easy, folks. (Laughter.) I do my best.
But I’ll tell you what we are doing: We’re restoring hope and spreading faith. We’re helping citizens of every background take part in the great rebuilding of our nation. We’re declaring that America will always shine as a land of liberty and light unto all nations of the world. We want every nation to look up to us like they are right now. We were not a respected nation just a few years ago. We had lost our way. Our country is respected again by everybody. (Applause.)
This morning, let us ask Father in Heaven to guide our steps, protect our children, and bless our families. And with all of our heart, let us forever embrace the eternal truth that every child is made equal by the hand of Almighty God.
Thank you. God Bless you. And God bless America. Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)