By the time it gets to Thursday, I’m often hard-pressed to add a unique perspective on the week’s events—a personal objective, and one I don’t always achieve. I’m usually challenged as well not to talk about Donald Trump. From his perspective—that of a former reality TV personality—he is the most successful President ever, as he so dominates the airwaves that it is difficult to reflect on our present reality without considering the style and substance of his leadership.

Pittsburgh synagogue

The tragic events in Pittsburgh over the weekend—hard on the heels of pipe-bombs (not “hoax devices” warned FBI Director Christopher Ray) being sent to high-profile critics of the President—again left me pondering our President’s moral compass. His decision to go to Pittsburgh even after many in the community (including the mayor) asked him not to come until the victims had been buried, left me wondering if the man had any ability whatsoever to back off from the spotlight and summon empathy for people who are hurting. In times of tragedy, every President from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama offered words (and in Obama’s case, a hymn) of comfort and healing.

Yet, in the aftermath of the shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue, the President held campaign-style rallies, offered partisan attacks, cast blame for violence on Democrats and the media and made lighthearted comments about his hair. The absence of a healing voice created a thunderous silence in our land and yet another missed opportunity to bring the American people together. He barely mentioned the murders at the synagogue and virtually ignored attempts to harm some of his most high-profile critics. The accused bomber is Trump super-fan Cesar Sayoc whose van was a decoupaged shrine to the President.

Cesar Sayoc van

With each week—literally—there is another outrage on the empathy-free scale. With each week, we find another example of aggressive hostility towards one another. It is exhausting, demoralizing, divisive. It is a priority of the President of the United States to bring people together in moments of crisis, and yet our Empathizer-in-Chief is consistently absent.

Still, the quiet courage of the people prevails. I was moved by the peaceful and plaintive march of those in Pittsburgh who expressed their dismay with verbal civility and gentle song. I was inspired by those who held the President accountable for society’s division, decrying a rhetoric that gives permission for violence against others based solely on religion, race, gender identity, civil status, sexual orientation or political persuasion.

But, empathy is not only the job of the President. The solution to what troubles this country is up to each of us. Election Day is a week away. Voting is an imperative, not an option. Call your friends. Drive them to the polls. Make phone calls. Change the direction that is poisoning our future.

Synagogue protest

Ask yourself whether or not this empathy-empty environment is what you want to pass on to the next generation. Look within and find your own empathetic leanings and then incorporate them into how you live your life every day. Put yourself in the shoes of the immigrant, the refugee, the one whose family is struggling with health care costs, the young person overwhelmed by student loan debt, the senior citizen whose rural hospital may close, the person of color fearful of confronting institutional racism with each new day, the Jew who faces an anti-Semitism that has moved past vile and unacceptable words and onto acts of physical violence in our most cherished and sacred of all spaces.

Ask yourself, “Is this who we are?” If you are saddened or angry or ashamed by the answer that confronts you, it is time to expose the lack of empathy that spills down from the top and drenches us all in its tragic, toxic swill. And it is time for each of us to change our nation’s course.

2 thoughts on “Where Is Our Empathizer-in-Chief?

  1. Thank you, Bob. Like many Americans, I was blind to the deep levels of hatred that have been lurking below the surface of our society. That hatred is the real “invader” of our country and it is a formidable foe. Now that we know it is there, it’s time to use every positive means at our disposal to seek out that hate and invite it to leave us. All my best, Barbara Costigan

  2. As a recent “immigrant” from Florida – just one town over from where the pipe-bomber “lived” in his van – to San Diego, where I now hear reports that 15,000 troops will be assembled to meet the so-called “invading horde” of Central American immigrants, I find myself wondering what Moses and the fleeing slaves felt when they found themselves being hunted down by Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea. What will our faith call us to do – even as we pray for the sea to part yet again?

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