Donald Trump says terrible things on a regular basis, almost never apologizes, and has reportedly decided that being vile and vulgar is now his only path to victory.
On Sunday, the world got to see Trump lurk behind Hillary Clinton in their second presidential debate, threaten to throw her in jail, dismiss lewd hot-mic bragging about forcing himself on women as "locker room talk," call Clinton "the devil," point out four women he brought to the debate who accuse Bill and Hillary Clinton of some form of sexual or callous malfeasance, and say a number of other things that are outlandish or otherwise not-safe-for-children.
But Trump's worst — and most telling — line from the debate was when he accused Clinton of having "tremendous hate in her heart."
This is terrible in no small part because of what it says about Trump, and how it encourages the unhinged hatred that drives much of the angry opposition to Clinton, an otherwise middle-of-the-road, almost boring candidate who promises incremental changes to the status quo.
Trump began his attack on Clinton's heart by talking about our "very divided nation," citing mostly divisions involving black protesters and white police officers, saying the U.S. is "a divided nation because people like her — and believe me, she has tremendous hate in her heart." He brought up Clinton's one-off remark about Trump's "deplorables" and "irredeemable" followers, then reiterated: "She's got tremendous hatred, and this country cannot take another four years of Barack Obama, and that's what you're getting with her."
For her part, Clinton accused Trump of running a "hateful and divisive campaign." But that's different than saying someone has a heart of stone. The latter is orders of magnitude stronger. Trump is claiming to know what's at Clinton's core and what she feels. But more than that, he's saying Clinton's black, cold heart makes her fair game for all the vicious and threatening things Trump and his supporters have been saying about her.
Trump's assessment of Clinton's heart seems more like a funhouse-mirror refraction of what Trump fears about himself. The knock against Clinton isn't that she's a big hater, it's that she isn't entirely honest. Trump on the other hand, "is essentially adviser-less, friendless," conservative David Brooks writes in a stinging assessment of Trump in The New York Times. "He was a germophobe through most of his life and cut off contact with others, and now I just picture him alone in the middle of the night, tweeting out hatred."
For "bullies" suffering from "narcissistic alexithymia" like Trump, Brooks says, "your only rest comes when you are insulting somebody, when you are threatening to throw your opponent in jail, when you are looming over her menacingly like a mafioso thug on the precipice of a hit, when you are bellowing that she has 'tremendous hate in her heart' when it is clear to everyone you are only projecting what is in your own.... Trump is so alone, if a tree fell in his emotional forest, it would not make a sound."
Trump is now more or less openly hoping to ride irrational hatred of Clinton to inglorious victory in November. That's dangerous, because hatred isn't defeated at the ballot box. Trump, along with threatening to jail his political rival based on fever-swamp conspiracies, has suggested that Clinton be harmed or even killed on at least two occasions. With his assertion that Clinton's heart is shriveled and hate-filled, he is suggesting she is both deplorable and irredeemable. He is encouraging America to actively hate her.
This is especially galling because Trump has heavily courted and is counting on conservative and evangelical Christians to carry him to the finish line. Christianity doesn't put much stock in humans grading hearts and souls, just actions. "Judge not, that you be not judged," Jesus says in Matthew 7:1. "Every man's way is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts," says the Book of Proverbs (21:2). Trump's lewd comments about women that came to light Friday are also obviously antithetical to biblical teachings and Christian values, and they do appear to be harming him among evangelical voters. But as Mark Halperin noted on Saturday:
Gov. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), Trump's running mate and an evangelical Christian himself, reminded everyone on Monday that as a Christian, "I believe in forgiveness." At Sunday night's debate, he added, Trump "showed the American people what's in his heart. He showed humility to the American people and then he fought back and turned the focus to the choice that we face, and I'm proud to stand with Donald Trump."
But Pence seems to forget that forgiveness is something you have to ask for, and Trump's half-hearted apology posted after midnight on Friday night was anything but contrite.
In fact, back in June 2015, Trump said he never asks God for forgiveness. In January, he adjusted his stance, saying he "will be asking for forgiveness, but hopefully I won't have to be asking for much forgiveness." Then on Sunday, according to adviser Ben Carson, Trump finally prayed for forgiveness with a televangelist. In Trump's Presbyterian tradition, the Lord's Prayer is often translated as "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors," with the clear implication that God forgives a man to the extent he forgives those whom he feels wronged him.
"Let's assume for a moment that Trump has repented, that God has forgiven him, and that, therefore, we should forgive as well," write Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz in The Washington Post. That still would not mean he is "cleared morally for the presidency.... To suggest this would be a misunderstanding of the theological concepts of sin and forgiveness." You can forgive Trump and still not consider him fit for the Oval Office.
I'm not going to say that Trump has tremendous hatred in his heart — how would I know? — but I'm going to suggest that he has no intention of forgiving Clinton for making him look bad on a national stage, or to ask her forgiveness for trying to publicly humiliate her for political gain. I don't think Trump is irredeemable. But I don't believe he has any intention of trying to redeem himself in the near future, and certainly not before Nov. 8.