Donald Trump isn’t empathetic. Is that a problem?

“He has spent his life in a bubble, surrounded by hired yes men and women who have never told his inner child to grow up.”

Source: Washpost

Author: Chris Cillizza

Emphasis Mine

Donald Trump has cleared every electoral hurdle before him in this presidential race. He went from 1 percent, literally, to the top of the polls. He beat 16 other people for the Republican nomination. He finds himself in a statistical dead heat with likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. And, he has done it all by being himself: brash, bold, controversial and unapologetic.

As the nation turns its eyes to the general election, I have one question that continues to nag at me as I think about the possibility of Trump in the White House: Can he be empathetic? Like, at all? And does he need to be?

“Ultimately, I think a lack of empathy is just one piece of a portrait of a person who is unbalanced and damaged,” said Stuart Stevens, a Republican consultant who has long vocally opposed Trump. “He has spent his life in a bubble, surrounded by hired yes men and women who have never told his inner child to grow up.” 

The race to be president is unlike other races for elected office. No one turns to a senator, a member of Congress or a governor when there is a mass shooting, or when a tornado devastates a community. (The Joplin tornado, which killed 158 people, hit the Missouri town five years ago Sunday.)

They do turn to a president. A president is expected to do many things in office, but perhaps the most important is to be both a cheerleader and a shoulder to cry on when moments of great joy and great sadness affect the entire body politic.

The fracturing of the media, our tendency to self-sort into silos of sameness and all manner of other factors have lessened the number of national moments — my seminal one was the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986 — that we experience. Still, there remain moments (the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut being one recent example) in which the nation looks to its highest elected leader for solace and strength.

Those are the moments in which you realize that politics — at the presidential level, at least — is about much more than policy positions. Voters pick politicians who they think understand them and their values at some level. It’s an emotional connection far more than an issue-driven one. And, it’s also much more powerful than simply an agreement on those policy positions.

 All of which brings me to the current state of the presidential race and, specifically, Trump. For all of his successes to date (and there have been many), Trump has consistently struggled on questions tied to empathy.Asked which candidate “better understands the problems of people like you,” 47 percent of registered voters in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll chose Clinton, while just 36 percent named Trump. On the question of who better represents “your personal values,” 48 percent chose Clinton, and 37 percent went with Trump.

That’s far from an outlier. Two-thirds of voters in a CBS News-New York Times national poll released last week said that Trump did not share their values. Seven in 10 said he did not have the right temperament to be president.

It’s worth noting that Clinton is no great shakes on these questions of empathy, either. Sixty percent of respondents in the CBS-Times poll said Clinton did not share their values. Forty-nine percent said she did not have the right temperament to be president. (Forty-eight percent said she did.) But, on virtually every measure, she outperforms Trump on the palette of questions aimed at testing how empathetic voters believe a candidate to be.

The question going forward for Trump is two-fold: (1) Can he change the perception of himself as a strong leader but not one you can imagine traveling to the site of a natural disaster and delivering a speech to help heal a country’s raw wound? (2) Does he need to?

The answer to the second question is, if past is prologue, yes. Voters — especially swing voters — in a presidential election often make a “feel” vote, meaning that the person they choose is as much about a set of personality traits as it is about a set of policy positions.

If you believe that Trump needs to show a softer — or at least a more understanding — side, the simplest way for him to do that is to put his family more front and center in the general-election campaign. Even people who loathe Trump give him some credit for the family he has raised. Trump as doting father is an image that could go part of the way to softening some of his sharpest edges as a candidate.

Trump could also talk more openly, and candidly, about his relationship with his father and how he dealt with the death of his older brother.

There is, of course, the possibility that the answer to the “does he need to” question posed above is no. That would go against virtually everything we think we know about how modern politics — and voters’ psyches — work. But how different would that be from everything that has propelled Trump so far?

At every turn, he has run the anti-campaign, and voters have loved it. Maybe this is an election in which tough and unapologetic is the new soft and empathetic. With Trump, nothing surprises me anymore.

(N.B.: make that some voters rather than the voters have loved it.)

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.



Empathy vs the GOP

George Lakoff: “EMAPTHY is at the heart of progressive thought. It is the CAPACITY to put oneself in the shoes of others – not just individuals, but whole categories of people: one’s countrymen, those in other countries, other living beings, especially THOSE who are in some way oppressed, threatened, or harmed. Empathy is the capacity to care, to feel what others feel, to understand what others are facing and what their lives are like. Empathy EXTENDSwell beyond feeling to understanding, and it extends beyond individuals to groups, communities, peoples, even species. Empathy is at the heart of REAL rationality, because it goes to the heart of our values, which are the basis of our sense of justice.

    Progressives CARE about others as well as themselves. They have a moral obligation to act on their empathy – a social responsibility in addition to personal responsibility, a responsibility to make the world better by making themselves better. This leads to a view of a government that cares about its citizens and has a moral obligation to protect and empower them. Protection includes worker, consumer, and environmental protection as well as safety nets and health care. Empowerment includes what is in the president’s stimulus plan: infrastructure, education, communication, energy, the availability of credit from banks, a stock market that works. No one can earn anything at all in this country without protection and empowerment by the government. All progressive legislation is made on this basis….In describing his ideal Supreme Court justice, President Obama cited empathy as a MAJOR desideratum. Why? Because that is what our democracy is about. A justice has to take empathy into account because his or her decisions will affect the lives of others. Before making a decision you have toPUT yourself in the shoes of those who your decision will affect. Similarly, in judging causation, fairness requires that SOCIAL causes as well as individual causes be taken into account. Empathy forces you to notice what is crucial in so many Supreme Court cases: systemic and social causes and whom a decision can harm. As such, empathy correctly understood is crucial to judgment. A judge WITHOUT empathy is a judge UNFIT for a democracy.

    President Obama has described Justice Sotomayor in empathetic terms – a life story that would lead her to UNDERSTAND people who live through oppression and deprivation and what it does to them. In other words, a life story that would allow her to APPRECIAYE the consequences of judicial decisions and the causal effects of living in an unequal society.

    Empathy in this sense is a THREAT to conservatism, which features individual, not social, responsibility and a strict, punitive form of “justice.” It is no surprise that empathy would be a MAJOR conservative target in the Sotomayor evaluation.”