There they are, members of Trump’s private golf club in
Bedminster, New Jersey. They’re standing by their man who, as soon as he
freshens up from a day on the links, will sit down to sign an executive order
that the White House lawyers prepared for him.
First the aides will scurry
around putting up a few American flags, an indispensable part of the stage set.
So if you’re worried about the pandemic or your economic situation, worry no more: The order he’s holding up for the cameras will, he said, “take care of pretty much this entire situation.” So look for that check in your mailbox. A national plan for the pandemic? No worries, COVID-19 is “disappearing.” Just send your kids to school; they’re “immune” anyway. At worst, maybe they’ll get the sniffles.
And those club members? They put down their chardonnay and cocktails, stood behind him and booed the reporter who wanted to know why no masks or social distancing as the New Jersey regulations required—and as every doctor and scientist says ought to be in place everywhere.
We don’t need no stinkin’ masks, unemployment checks, Social Security, health insurance: none of it. We got plenty of money, especially since that 2 trillion dollar tax bill made us “a lot richer,” just like Trump said. And our 401Ks are doing great. A public school? Are you kidding? Our kids don’t go to public schools. We got Trump! Four more years! Hell, why not president for life?
You still think Donald Trump or any of these rich clowns cares about you? They say he lacks empathy. Well, that’s a pretty soft way to put it, but it’s not fake news.
We can post dozens of video clips. But here’s one, just 45 seconds, that demonstrates how empathetic Trump is. Maybe you didn’t see it?
Can you be a person of faith, just a decent human being, and stomach this behavior in anyone? You’d really allow your kids to do this?
I’m as self-interested as the next person but I’d feel ashamed to be golfing at plush clubs or yacking it up at Mar-A-Largo, arrogantly flaunting my wealth—not that I have any. Not while so many others are on unemployment lines, their retirement and health care threatened, and suffering from everything that’s happening in our country.
It’s as ugly and arrogant as I’ve ever seen. These people don’t care about us.
God-fearing? As I understand it, empathy is the foundation of religious faith. And yet, Trump continues to enjoy support—hopefully less and less—from evangelicals who are more religiously inclined than I. It’s this contradiction between religious faith and faith in this man that is so deeply troubling. Donald Trump and his relationship with professed people of faith has had me thinking about empathy and politics for some time now, I have no profound views on the subject but I’d like to tell a story or two about empathy and my own experience .
ON AN UNEMPLOYMENT LINE
The woman had three kids with her. The oldest was a boy maybe fourteen or fifteen. Two little girls in pigtails, shiny patent leather shoes, Sunday-go-to-church dresses, laughing and skipping along behind the boy and his mother. The girls were too young to know what was really happening. They were about to grow up faster than any child should have to grow up.
The family was walking uptown. Mother and son were struggling with beat-up old suitcases. Carrying everything they owned. The woman looked so weary. The boy, just a skinny kid, fifteen years old at most, was lugging the biggest suitcase, trying to look tough.
I knew they were heading for some kind of single room occupancy housing, an “SRO” in NYC lingo, or maybe a homeless shelter where the mother and the boy, the man of the family, would have to deal with who knows what kind of evil.
That was the scene I witnessed in 1974 or 1975. I forget exactly which year it was. New York City was bankrupt. I had just come from the unemployment office myself. Standing on that unemployment line, I felt humiliated. I had been running a research institute at City University. Along with thousands of faculty and administrators, I had been furloughed, my first and, thankfully, my only experience collecting unemployment. A few weeks later, politicians, regulators, bankers, unions—everyone who had a big stake in the outcome and some political clout to affect it—negotiated a deal to avoid a formal declaration of bankruptcy. Nobody was representing that woman and her kids. We would go back to work. But It would be years before New York recovered.
The memory of that scene has stayed with me all these years, maybe because standing on the unemployment line made me more sensitive to people in dire circumstances. For some, me included, that’s what it takes for a little empathy to kick in: direct experience.
I have to pause here to tell you something about how those New York City bankruptcy negotiations really worked. It’s an empathy story, too. Union presidents, who generally live pretty high on the hog and often forget where they came from, had to accept cuts in salaries and benefits for their members. The union negotiators could have taken those cuts in one of two ways: either the costs could be borne by all union members in the form of modest reductions or deferrals of wages and benefits, or the last workers to be hired could be the first to be fired. (That’s known as LIFO: last in, first out.) In other words, would the burdens be shared by every member or would some members bear all of them?
Why would any union leader agree to the second option, which would result in the firing of so many union members, not to mention the extreme pain those members would suffer? Think about it: the workers who weren’t fired would still be employed and still would be union members. Going forward, they’d be the only ones the leaders had to worry about. Sure, the others would be on the bread lines but they’d no longer be union members.
That’s a union story about empathy. I don’t want you to think I’m blind to union corruption. In fact, not a few New York City unions were controlled by Mafia crime families, the very same crime families that partnered with Donald Trump and his father, Fred. These gangsters were Trump’s role models and his business associates.
Sammy the Bull Gravano, the murderer of more than twenty people, the underboss who ratted out John Gotti, head of the Gambino crime family, actually endorsed Trump: “America doesn’t need a bookworm as president, it needs a mob boss.” I’m not going to bother with all the evidence of Trump’s mob connections. Just to say these aren’t people known for their empathy.
Here’s Roy Cohn, the New York shyster-lawyer who made the introductions for Trump. He was often indicted and finally disbarred before he died of AIDS.
“Fat Tony” Salerno, Carmine Galante, and Paul Castellano, the heads of the Genovese, Bonanno, and Gambino crime families, were Cohn’s clients, as was Fred and then Donald Trump.
Maybe you didn’t know what Trump meant when, before he got William Barr as Attorney General, he complained, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”
This is the man some of you think is a great president? A man who has been redeemed?
Those are just facts. Ignoring or denying them because of ideology or blind hatred of Democrats or so-called “socialists” or for any other reason doesn’t make them less true or make you a better human being. You might as well say the reason America is experiencing an out-of-control pandemic is because we do so much testing. Hmmmm. Maybe some of you actually think that, because Donald Trump says it’s true.
In the period I’ve described, 1974-75, it wasn’t the unions or that mother and her kids who brought New York City to that desperate state; as always, it was the bankers, some corrupt politicians—both Democrats and Republicans in that case—and the lawyers and accountants who helped them. That’s another empathy story I’d like to tell you about.
NEXT: Another matter of empathy.
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