Imagine that you are a 70-year-old man, your biblically-allotted threescore and 10 already behind you.
Imagine that you have spent those 70 years in what can be fairly described as less-than morally impeccable pursuits. You have engaged in many shady business dealings and all forms of tax evasion; you have abused, degraded, allegedly raped and insulted many women; you have had two unsuccessful marriages and endless tawdry affairs behind you; you are a less-than-involved father to your 10-year-old son; you are a man feared by and deferred to by many people, but loved, or so it seems, by no one outside of your immediate family.
And then, by some incredible miracle, you are elected president of the United States. Almost overnight, you go from being a disrespected, and largely dishonest, real estate magnate and exploiter of your name to being the most powerful person on the face of the earth.
You are — and you yourself can often hardly believe it — the 45th president of these United States of America. And then, incredibly enough, an even more incredible thing takes place: Not only the nation you have been elected to lead, but the entire world, falls under the spell of a major global pandemic and, accompanying it, a worldwide economic recession of virtually unequaled magnitude.
Tens of thousands of your countrymen die, hundreds of thousands of your fellow human beings around the world are stricken, as well, and the economy over which you have more or less successfully presided for three years is suddenly beset by tens of millions of unemployed, many millions of homeless and millions of businesses, small and large, teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
But, as in all of life, these defeats and challenges also present opportunities. You, a rather unlikely candidate for the job, now have the opportunity to show compassion for those who are suffering, to rally your fellow citizens around a program of caution, sacrifice, citizenship, generosity and high-mindedness as they confront a pandemic and potential economic depression such as the world has not witnessed for over a century.
You have, in other words, before you an opportunity for heroic action — for heroic decency, heroic compassion, heroic steadfastness, heroic honesty. You have, in other words, been presented by the gods, whoever and wherever they may be, with an opportunity for personal redemption. You have been given something which life does not usually present the vast majority of mankind: a true second chance.
But — if your name is Donald J. Trump, at least — you do not seize that second chance. You respond to it, rather, by being even more the vindictive, mean-spirited, self-serving and narcissistic man you were before. You respond to it by continuing to spread the ingredients of hate when the times call for an expanding network of love. You respond to it by continuing to belittle those you feel are opposed to you when the times call for unity and forgiveness and cooperation among all those who oppose and agree with you. You respond to it, not by becoming better than what made you — better than you once were, better than that which got you to the pinnacle of power you inhabit now — but by continuing to be the embodiment of all that is divisive, hate-filled, mean-spirited and small.
In other words, you squander the rare and precious opportunity to remake not only your own destiny, but the destiny of your nation and of the world. You respond to it, not by seizing the opportunity of being reborn, but by squandering the gift of a second coming some mysterious deity has bequeathed upon you.
You respond to it, sadly, by calling into question Mahatma Gandhi’s belief that “no human being is so bad as to be beyond redemption.” You respond to it, finally, by revealing to us once again that, for most human beings, and in some profound and enduring sense, character is indeed destiny — and that now, sadly and pathetically in this profound moment of human need, the character of the man we have elected president of these United States is our destiny, as well.