Connections: No Decency

Does our president have even a shred of real empathy?

The admonition that before you judge a man you should “walk a mile in his shoes” was, clearly, quite sorely lacking in Donald J. Trump’s upbringing. Does our president have even a shred of real empathy?

The saying has been attributed to a 1895 poem called “Judge Softly,” although some imagine that it originated with Native Americans and therefore replace the word “shoes” with “moccasins.” Either way, it is an all-American aphorism. 

President Trump indulges in a nonstop stream of invective, mocking the appearance, size, intelligence, and sex-appeal of anyone and everyone he perceives as an opponent or critic — politicians, members of the media, or, especially, any woman who dares call him out on something, no matter how seemingly trivial. Apparently, his fans find it clever (or at the very least no big deal) when the leader of the free world ridicules fellow Americans for having plain looks, small breasts, a few extra pounds, or a physical disability.

Like others, I am reminded these days of the words of Joseph N. Welch, who was an attorney representing the United States Army when it was under investigation for Communist activities by Senator Joseph McCarthy, who had reigned over the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee for many years. “At long last,” Mr. Welch asked, “have you left no sense of decency?”

The man in the White House’s decency and, yes, honesty have been widely questioned. Now, too, questions about his ability to muster up even a modicum of compassion have been raised following this fall’s devastating hurricanes. Some observers say he is working on it.

A Fox News poll at the end of the summer showed that only 26 percent of Americans described him as “compassionate,” while 71 percent said that word described him “somewhat” (18 percent) or not at all (53 percent). Meanwhile, a Quinnipiac poll last month showed just 40 percent think he understands the problems of average Americans, compared with 57 percent who don’t. If that is true, is his so-called base eroding?

The polls show that you don’t have to be a Democrat to want those who represent you, regardless of ­at what level, to show empathy, decency, and honesty. The president actually got worse marks for compassion than honesty in the Quinnipiac poll, even though he was caught in more than 1,000 false or misleading claims in his first eight months in office, according to The Washington Post.

As for the question of decorum, his response would likely be a snort of derision. (I’d say that he would laugh if asked about it, but, oddly enough, President Trump never seems to laugh or even smile naturally.) The Trump administration has essentially made basic good manners out-of-date as a standard of social behavior. “Decorum” might be an old-fashioned word, but what it basically boils down to is a sensitivity to and awareness of those around you. A man who hogs the after-dinner ice cream or tosses out paper towels like souvenir T-shirts at a press event following a massively destructive hurricane isn’t just lacking in the politeness department, he’s lacking any clue of what is going on outside his own skin.

Polls also show, however, that regardless of Mr. Trump’s personal failings, his base continues to support him in the belief that his policies are good for the country. The only way I can explain this to myself is to surmise that when they look at Mr. Trump, they are projecting their long-held hopes and wishes upon him, rather than seeing him for what he really is. It’s a tragic situation, but can we blame people for willfully convincing themselves our president is a good man.