Trump should try a little empathy

getty: President Trump

A president must have a vision of the world and America’s place in it. He must venerate the rule of law, and understand that he is its servant, not its master. He must also have empathy for the American people. All modern presidents – from Roosevelt to Reagan to Obama – had it. When FDR died, a mourner wept openly as his funeral train passed by, explaining that he did not know the president, “but he knew me.”

The president cannot be insensitive. Insensitivity to the feelings of the people in times of troubles is despicable. President Trump is insensitive. So is Vice President Pence. The fly in Pence’s hair during the vice-presidential debate, which he refused to acknowledge or swat away, can be seen as a metaphor for just how insensitive both men are to the plight of their fellow Americans. They just don’t seem to get it that their own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is predicting 233,000 COVID deaths in the United States by the end of this month, and that their deaths might have been avoided if only they had had a plan. They seem to regard our dead as only an inconvenient albatross around their political necks.

Trump, who has been unwilling to wear a face mask and mocked those who have, became infected. Not a big deal, he says. Gasping for air, he has claimed he has “recovered” from the coronavirus infection and is now immune. He wants to hold more outdoor rallies at the White House and in Florida. Yet, he may still be contagious. His contagion hardly prevented him from taking a joyride around Walter Reed Hospital with two secret service men, whose lives he needlessly put at risk. 

Trump tells us that his contracting COVID-19 was a “blessing from God.” Tell that to the families of the 214,000 Americans who have perished from COVID on his watch. He says he is “cured” with a wonder drug untested, untried and unavailable to virtually all other Americans. He says he is ready to debate, but not virtually. He says that he feels “20 years younger.” He claims that he is ready for action. But not a word of concern about the condition of his own wife, the first lady, or his debate coach, Chris Christie, or his close confidante, Hope Hicks, or the 34 other White House staffers, members of the press and colleagues whom he may well have infected.

Pence seems to have osmotically absorbed his boss’s insensitivity. His constant interruptions of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) during the vice-presidential debate smacked of sexist insensitivity. No matter. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used to complain that her male colleagues constantly interrupted the female justices during oral argument. Research has long shown that gender plays a significant role in interruptions. And Harris, they suppose, can be interrupted. 

Pence couldn’t wait to slip in a zinger about Biden’s purported plagiarism. It’s a case, however, of the kettle calling the pot black. He twice said to Harris that she was entitled to her own opinions but not her own facts. She managed to blurt out, “A good line.” It was a good line, stolen from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.), who died in 2003.

Biden said Trump is the worst president in American history, and it is fair comment. He has revived the isolationist doctrine of “America First.” We all should believe in America first, but it is untenable to believe in America alone. Trump has deprecated NATO, withdrawn from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris climate accords, the World Health Organization and the Iran nuclear deal. And what has all of this accomplished? Our standing in the world, according to a Pew Research Center survey, is lower than that of Russia and China because of our handling of the pandemic. He has antagonized our allies, and it takes a lot to anger the Canadians.

Trump’s base may turn a blind eye to all of this, and perhaps they have not absorbed the implications. But they cannot excuse his insensitivity. Many families are hurting, and they deserve much more in the way of help from the federal government. Trump’s insensitivity has put him further behind in the polls than he already was. Trump may have recovered physically, but he may never recover politically. A little empathy, and a lot less narcissism, wouldn’t hurt. 

James D. Zirin, a lawyer, is the author of the recently published book “Plaintiff in Chief-A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3500 Lawsuits.”

Tags 2020 presidential campaign Chris Christie coronavirus Donald Trump Donald Trump presidential campaign; Trump presidency Hope Hicks Michael Pence Presidents of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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