I turn my back for five months and y’all elect a textbook narcissist with active rape allegations against him, dismantle key components of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), flirt with starting World War III …
If you wanted my attention, all you had to do was ask. No need to set the world on fire.
With today’s House vote to replace ACA with its evil Bizarro Universe counterpart Trumpcare 2.0 — in which almost anything related to being female is labeled a pre-existing condition (and just for kicks throw in sexual assault and domestic violence) — this seems like the right time for me to get back to shouting into the internet. You’re welcome.
I’m going to jump right over Nov. 8, because what we really don’t need is another election post-mortem. I had a sneaking suspicion that we might get our hearts broken because America does not usually do back-to-back progress. A first-ever president of any kind, regardless of party, right after a first-ever black president might have been asking for too much from America. That sucks. The rampant misogyny that got us there is a wound that won’t close. But we’ll have ample time to revisit that on-going bullshit.
Today I want to talk about compassion and it’s cousin empathy. These ideas are often used somewhat interchangeably. To wit, thousands of people on twitter today questioning the ability of Trumpykins and his cohorts to feel the human equivalent of empathy toward the millions of people they voted off the island in today’s Trumpcare 2.0 vote. The high-fives and literal bruh-cheers on the West lawn afterward was about as close as you can get to indifference and cruelty, aka the antithesis of compassion.
Compassion and empathy are important human qualities. I shouldn’t need to state something so obvious, but apparently that’s not a universally acknowledged truth. #facts
Empathy usually gets higher billing between the two because it’s one of the most important delineations between being a psychopath or not. (Incidentally, it’s an important tell for narcissism, but we’ll get to that.) And nobody wants to be a psychopath. So our ability to figuratively put ourselves in another person’s shoes — to understand their pain as our own — is pretty important.
That said, if you’re wondering how we get a bunch of rich, old, white guys practically chest-bumping on the White House lawn because they saved Insurance Bros millions of dollars, we need to look to compassion. The definition of compassion is “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” So if empathy is an ability to feel the hurt someone else feels, compassion is the ability to have concern for someone who is hurting. It sounds similar, but it’s not the same thing. To put it in Trump-speak, empathy is understanding how it feels to be a loser and compassion is feeling sorry for the losers.
You don’t have to have both empathy and compassion to govern well, but one out of the two will help you stop yourself from publicly cheering that your bill stops insurance coverage for those who have or had cancer, been pregnant, had a c-section, been raped, are veterans with PTSD, escaped domestic violence, have HIV/AIDS, are transgender, born with a physical or mental disability, born with a heart defect … and much more. Obviously, no one who voted for Trumpcare 2.0 has an ounce of empathy, but we knew that already. What shocks us is that they have no compassion either. They can’t even stand still and fake it for a photo-op.
The word compassion is a noun, but in a very real sense it is a verb. (Bear with me grammar nerds.) To have compassion for another person is an action. To use compassion is a choice. The problem is that choosing compassion goes against everything we’re taught about the American Way. We’re taught that our singular pursuit of happiness is our birthright and it’s not an accident that there’s no fine print about helping others achieve happiness, too. We’re taught the Great American Bootstraps Myth — you pull yourself up, damnit. And if that requires leaving boot prints on someone else’s back, that’s their problem. Nowhere in our mythology or the American ethos gives us anything more than a passing glance to compassion. If you’re lucky, you get a bit about the Golden Rule from time to time, which I would argue is the most narcissistic way to view basic courtesy. Doing unto others as you’d like them to do unto you is still framing something as basic as courtesy as being about yourself.
True compassion then is something you have to learn and apply. You have to choose to use it. And it’s work. … Well, there’s our problem.
Our country has put a narcissist in charge. By definition, narcissists are incapable of feeling empathy for others. And unless it ultimately serves their own ego (as in public accolades, positive press, or attention in general), they do not show compassion.
Let’s look at narcissism a little deeper. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, outlines a Narcissistic Personality Disorder as a person who meets several of the following characteristics:
- * Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
* Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
* Exaggerating your achievements and talents
* Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
* Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
* Requiring constant admiration
* Having a sense of entitlement
* Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
* Taking advantage of others to get what you want
* Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
* Being envious of others and believing others envy you
* Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner
Sound familiar? While it’s true that every president has at least some narcissistic tendencies, Donald Trump displays more than most. From his incoherent twitter rants to his signed letters to the media critiquing stories about him, Trump is like watching a master class on narcissistic behavior. It would be amusing if it weren’t so dangerous.
On a fundamental level I think this is the reason why so many of us truly don’t understand the actions of the Trump administration. How can they not see their own cognitive dissonance? They know we can see and hear them, right? Yes, actually, that’s the point. All they care about is being seen. Getting headlines. Everyone is talking about me! Winning!
As opponents of the Trump administration, we will lose every time if we appeal to empathy and compassion. They will only answer, “That’s not my problem.” Now watch me hit this golf ball!
While we do have compassion, we must change our tactics to match the fight. If appeals to their humanity won’t work (and they won’t), we have to hit them where it will hurt them. A narcissist hates, and I mean hates, when they lose attention. They hate it when someone holds a mirror up to their faults for public ridicule. They hate losing likes and followers. This is why the Women’s March worked. Look how many more people went to that then the inauguration! This is why calling your senators and representatives works. They hate feeling like people hate them! And answering the phone is hard, mmkay!
Save compassion and empathy for your direct, one-on-one conversations with conservative uncles and unsympathetic co-workers. One-on-one conversations work very well to effect change with people who can feel human emotions. When it comes to bloviating, inhuman politicians, leave the feelings talk on the bench. The only language they understand is the fame monster.
So to borrow from John Wick, “People keep asking if I’m back … Yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.”
Follow me on twitter @TheSinCitySiren and on instagram @EmmilyBristol.