Irish Examiner View: The empathy void shows its real value

It is ironic that the value of empathy has been highlighted because the spectacularly unempathetic President Donald Trump has contracted Covid-19.
Irish Examiner View: The empathy void shows its real value

The widespread absence of empathy is an obvious consequence of the Trump administration's culpability in America's 210,000 or so Covid-19 deaths, culpability it, naturally rejects.

Empathy is a mercurial, almost indefinable quality. It can be a powerful energy in relationships, generally in the most positive ways. In a world almost weary, or at least pretending to be so, of anything that predates the internet, empathy has been rebranded as mindfulness. Those ideas may not be twins but they are certainly first cousins. It is ironic that the value, the human heft, of empathy has been highlighted because the spectacularly unempathetic President Donald Trump has contracted Covid-19, one of around 35m people to do so. Few if any of those have had comparable medical attention, even if there is certainty around their diagnosis. The response to the Trump announcement, and the admission that the virus has run amok in a mask-averse White House, was scepticism and an empathy void. That is a consequence of the Trump administration’s culpability in America’s 210,000 or so deaths, culpability it, naturally rejects. Fake culpability assumedly.

In another twist, Trump’s declaration provoked sympathy from opponents, their empathy prevailed. Joe Biden prays for him. Kamala Harris sends him heartfelt wishes. The Biden campaign has suspended negative TV advertising but the Trump campaign’s all-guns-blazing ads and attacks continue.

Had the situation been reversed, had Joe Biden been laid low, it is not necessary to have the instincts of a Mitch McConnell or a Dominic Cummings to imagine how the Trump campaign would exploit that situation. The denunciations would have been personal, cruel, relentless, and exaggerated. It would also epitomise how much of contemporary politics have become dangerously polarised, especially politics since the internet became such a forum for hate and intolerance.

Pope Francis addressed that ticking timebomb in a new papal letter yesterday. He denounced the “myopic, extremist, resentful and aggressive nationalism” gaining so much traction. The encyclical Fratelli Tutti — All Brothers — focused on social justice. “A global community of fraternity based on the practice of social friendship on the part of peoples and nations calls for a better kind of politics, one truly at the service of the common good,” is necessary he said. The pandemic should inspire a rethink of global priorities, the Pontiff suggested. It is not necessary to be a Catholic to agree with him but it is necessary to have some empathy.

It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall when Pope Francis discusses those issues with the increasingly right-leaning leadership of American Catholicism. Epitomised by Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, this strand of Catholicism is hand-in-glove with Trump to roll back social legislation. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, America’s senior Catholic, effectively endorsed Trump when he gave his blessing to the Republican convention in August.

A third of America’s Catholics are Latino and that proportion will grow. They will recognise that the Faustian Pact between their Church and Trump shows no empathy with their lives. Is it any wonder Trump and his acolytes are working so very hard and dishonestly to limit voting rights?

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