Polls Track Trump’s Empathy Problem


“…There is little question that Trump is extremely close and fiercely loyal to his family and a very small inner circle of friends. But that is a very different thing than being empathetic about the struggles of people you’ve never met or who you know didn’t vote for you or don’t like you.” – Chris Cilliza, CNN editor at large

If your response to Trump: Year One has been to lock the doors and spend your days watching Hallmark Channel reruns, you’re due for some good news: Trump’s already epically low poll numbers have now dropped below the Mendoza Line for any sitting president at this juncture of an elected first term. They’re the lowest. Since polling began.

Let that sink in. For in a nation so thoroughly ensconced in one of two camps, a goodly chunk of heretofore loyal Trump supporters are taking issue with his overall leadership. Even factoring for differences between conservatives and progressives as to why he is so unpopular, such low numbers should further mire some of the Republicans’ regressive agenda. And that’s more good news.

But no matter the divergent reasons for dissatisfaction with Trump’s presidency, there is growing, bipartisan unease that only partially has to do with his performance on the issues. Namely, his character: when asked in a recent Quinnipiac Poll to weigh in on Trump’s character traits, 34% of respondents found him lacking in honesty, and 38% said he doesn’t care about average Americans.

This broad-brush thesis is not without support. While Trump has a long list of domestic topics on which he waxes ineloquent (the Wall, DACA, healthcare, “political correctness”) and regularly hates on his cache of handy scapegoats (media, immigrants, Obama, the Clintons) he is arguably at his human worst when talking about anything to do with others’ suffering.

In a CNN online op-ed describing this disconnect, author Michael D’Antonio points out that Trump makes liberal use of the word love - as in his claim to love Puerto Rico - yet in that instance showed no sign of moral conflict when he ordered initial support, then soon after backed away; informing Puerto Rican officials they had “used enough FEMA (federal) resources” and they (natural-born US citizens) would have to go it alone.

D’Antonio sees this lack of empathy as an overarching, defining feature of both Trump the man, and Trump the president:

“Altogether, Trump’s attempt at self-revealing comments, whether he’s voicing the love in his heart for some people, or his hatred for others, like protesters and members of the press, depict a man whose emotional declarations seem manipulative, staged, and hollow … It’s like listening to a first-day student repeat after the instructor in a foreign language class. You recognize the words, but not the feeling behind them.”

There’s an almost Nixonian sadness to D’Antonio’s monochromatic Donald Trump. Here, the emotionally distant president leads from a place of utilitarian moral expediency because that’s the man he has become. So when called upon to take up the role of what US News assistant editor Emily Arrowood terms, consoler-in-chief, Trump is thrust into the untidy world of somebody else’s feelings. Where he’s once again an accidental tourist, awkward and lost.

Looking back, there’s still much to hate about the fated campaign Hillary Clinton ran against Trump. The what-ifs are beyond number. But there remains in memory the verbal punch landed in the heat of debate as she warned the nation the angry Trump they were seeing is the only Trump there is. That there is no softer, reflective one to be had.

If the polls are any indication, more folks are listening this time around.

Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister and substance abuse counselor living in Pittsburgh, Pa. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, Febuary 15, 2018


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