More Than Policy: How Trump’s Lack of Empathy Hurts Americans

When you are elected president of the United States of America, you become the protector of all Americans, regardless of party affiliation, social or economic status. The president is tasked with bettering the lives of all Americans, a job which requires a number of traits, like integrity, courage, and empathy to name a few.

Empathy is essential to a successful presidency but difficult to quantify and woefully lacking in the current occupant of the Oval Office.

You may disagree with the ideologies of our last two presidents, but one thing is apparent, Presidents Bush and Obama displayed grace and empathy. They exhibited an awareness of and sensitivity to the feelings of others during times of national suffering.

President Bush endured verbal attacks from grieving mothers because he knew he was partially responsible for their loss. He understood their pain and shared their grief, qualities that were highlighted in a Chicago Tribune Piece written by former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino.

While visiting Walter Reed National Military Hospital, President Bush encountered a family struggling to process the news that their son was dying. The mother yelled at the president, wanting to know why her son was the one dying and not his child. As Perino put it, “Bush wasn’t in any hurry to leave the room.” He stood there taking the tongue lashing because he knew that was his role and felt the pain of that mother. Perino later said that on the flight home, the only thing the president said was, “That mama sure was mad at me,” then he turned to look out the window of the helicopter. “And I don’t blame her a bit.” One tear slipped out the side of his eye and down his face. He didn’t wipe it away as they flew back to the White House.

It was not different for President Obama. It’s why he decided to visit Dover Air Force Base to meet the coffins of troops returning from the Middle East before deploying 30,000 additional troops to the region. This same sense of empathy and compassion is why he consistently visited with soldiers at Walter Reed National Military Hospital, walked the hallowed grounds of Section 60 Arlington Cemetery (the area for those that gave the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan) and spent time with families of the fallen. These acts of compassion were often done without the public knowledge because his purpose was not for praise or political gain. Rather, he sought to connect on a human level with the individuals that were willing to sacrifice it all for this country.

The events of the past two weeks have made it abundantly clear that President Trump does not possess a capacity for empathy.

SGT. LA David T. Johnson was killed in an ambush in Niger the week of October 2. Details of a phone call between the family of SGT. LA David T. Johnson and President Trump have surfaced that do not paint a picture of an empathetic man. Trump was quoted saying, “he knew what he signed up for… but when it happens, it hurts anyway.”  The insensitivity of this statement is striking. If you don’t agree, I recommend listening to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, on Good Morning America talking about that phone call and at one point stating, “It made me cry, because I was very angry at the tone of his voice.”

A recent widow and a mother of two with a third on the way doesn’t need to be reminded that her husband knew the risks. She is confronting the loss of her partner for life and the reality that her children will grow up without their father. The fact that the president found it necessary to remind the grieving widow of the risks of military service feels like an attempt to cover his feeling of guilt. But that wasn’t the worst part, according to Rep. Wilson who said: “She was crying the whole time and when she hung up the phone she looked at me and said ‘he didn’t even remember his name. That’s the hurting part.” Let that sink in. The president of the United States couldn’t even be bothered to remember the name of a patriot who died in a military operation under his watch. When given the opportunity to do the same and serve, our Commander in Chief took a pass. Actually, he took five.

These are not the actions of an empathetic and compassionate man. President Trump practices conditional caring. He only cares to relate to or relieve the suffering of others if his actions serve a personal or political purpose. His pattern of conditional caring was on display Oct. 12, 2017, when he tweeted “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in the P.R. forever!”  This sentiment stands in stark contrast to his outreach to flood-ravaged Texans when he tweeted “Texas: We are with you today, we are with you tomorrow, and we will be with you Every Single Day After, to restore, recover and REBUILD.” If the difference in messaging does not elicit a visceral response from every American, then we have a problem.

It’s been a little over three weeks since Hurricane Maria touched down, absolutely devastating Puerto Rico. 83 percent of the island is still without power and the water situation is deadly. Currently, clean drinking water is scarce. People are so desperate they are willingly drinking water from wells at a hazardous waste site. This is the situation on the ground, and by his tweets, our president couldn’t care less. The only thing Trump should be focused on is getting every resource possible down to the Puerto Rican people, just like we are doing in Texas and Florida. After all, Puerto Ricans are fellow American citizens.

That’s right—since 1917, Puerto Rico’s population of 3.4 million has been American citizens just like you and me. The only difference is that they can’t vote in our national election. But do you know what they can do? They can and do serve in our military. Since World War 1, Puerto Ricans have been involved in every war. They currently have over 10,000 active military members and more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have served in the military. Since Trump seems to be very concerned with respecting our troops during the national anthem, you would think he would also want to help suffering vets and military families on the island. But like I said before, Trump doesn’t actually have empathy for those suffering unless it fulfills some personal objective.

His lack of empathy was also on display when he announced the end of cost-sharing subsidies to the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA), a move that will have a crippling impact on the poor and middle class.

Currently, there are about 10 million Americans that claim health insurance through the ACA exchanges. In August, the Congressional Budget (CBO) office projected that ending the cost sharing payments would increase taxpayer cost by $6 billion in 2018 and $21 billion in 2020. Most notably, premiums will increase due to the fact that insurers won’t be able to use the cost-sharing subsidies to offset the cost. They will have to make up for the difference by increasing premiums. The CBO estimates that for the Silver plans offered (the level that allows for cost sharing) premiums could rise about 20 percent. Also, individuals that don’t qualify for government help will see their premiums rise as well.

Ending this program may force insurers out of markets, leaving little to no options for customers in some counties. Lack of competition will result in price spikes that will price individuals out of the market. The decision to end cost-sharing subsidies will cause pain and suffering for our most vulnerable citizens, a tragedy of Trump’s making that won’t make his radar.

President Trump is so happy with the idea of dismantling Obama’s legacy, he doesn’t realize the consequences of his actions. This decision will have the largest impact on people living in Trump states. Nearly 70 percent of benefactors from the cost-sharing payments live in states Trump won. Does President Trump care about the health of his voters? All signs point to no. He has not worked tirelessly to come up with solutions to the problems associated with the ACA. He has rejected opportunities for a bipartisan solution to the problem. All that matters is that he can go on national TV or Twitter and say ACA is dying.

There was plenty of evidence in the run-up to the election that President Trump lacked empathy, a fact that many Americans chose to discount or ignore. His behavior in the last few weeks has made clear that he is incapable of offering care and comfort to Americans in their time of need. He cares deeply about applause lines and feeding an ego that thrives on destroying anything with his predecessor’s name on it and we should all take notice now.

Tensions are rising in the Korean Peninsula, a budget crisis is looming, and the country is facing countless moral dilemmas. This all requires a steady, rational, empathic hand behind the wheel. Unfortunately, we can’t look to the President for that. This should scare us all into getting involved with keeping our elected official engaged in checking his power and decision making regardless of political affiliation.