Empathy v2.0

Addendum to Can We Stop Wringing Hands?

Last Thursday President Biden borrowed portions of the speech I wrote for him and imposed a requirement for being vaccinated or tested at least weekly in most venues where the federal government has strong influence or control.

He doesn’t have the power to require teachers, staff and school children to be vaccinated or wear masks, because control of schools lies with the states, so he did the two things he could do there. First, he called out the governors who are doing so much to make things more dangerous. Second, he implored them to stop endangering the lives of children and make vaccinations and masks mandatory in schools. Note that vaccines for children under 12 won’t be available for a while, perhaps not for months.

As smack-downs go, the President’s last Thursday’s was mild, but it was a smack-down nonetheless.

While the right wing echo chamber is buzzing with hyperbolic idiocy over all of this, public sentiment is largely with President Biden and support will grow, as people see the infection, hospitalization and death rates plummet. The Biden approval rate will continue to climb as we become a healthier nation and the economy recovers.

Perhaps President Biden has made the time come sooner when we can stop wringing hands over this pandemic.


I’ve moved quite a bit in my thinking about those who wear pandemic blinders, from their denial of the reality of the pandemic itself, to mask and vaccine refusal, to embracing conspiracies and to full-on temper tantrums on airplanes. I’ve struggled to understand the extreme right behavior that is to their significant detriment, but now I think I’ve found part of an explanation.

Tressie McMillan Cottom writes a new newsletter for the New York Times and in her first post she dug into what’s driving millions of Americans to refuse to do the simple things that will protect themselves and others. She included in her post part of her conversation with Martha M. Crawford, a psychotherapist and clinical social worker. Here are some of her comments.

Tressie: Still, I cannot deal with the Americans who are insane as it pertains to Covid denialism. What is up with them?

Martha: This is practically a Freudian notion of a kind of manic defense against death .  .  .  It is like the horror hasn’t hit them yet. They’re in an initial, almost ecstatic phase of grief where you’re just so relieved .  .  .  that you’re alive, you had your toes curled on the dip so you didn’t fall in. There’s a kind of manic response that is activated and grandiose and inflated by massive, collective crisis .  .  .

On this [denial] territory, there is no culture that is plugged into the radio, television, or reads books, that hasn’t been indoctrinated to believe in this kind of notion of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.

Okay, these refusers are denying death and invoking invulnerability, and all their experiences and exposure to ways of being are focused on bootstraps and individuality. That’s pretty psycho, but understandable.

Click for The Onion story.

My notion is that you can amplify this explanation with a thunderclap of attitude: “YOU CAN’T TELL ME WHAT TO DO!” turbocharged by, “I’LL SHOW YOU!” (Caps and italics added to indicate shouting/screaming, like crazy people on airplanes and at school board meetings.)

Let’s be sure to cut some slack for those who waited for full FDA approval of vaccines out of an intellectually honest concern. By now, though, all vaccines have been fully vetted for a while and these folks should be fully vaccinated. If any are not, their reluctance is driven by something else.

I began this section stating that I have moved in my thinking about these refusers. At first I was puzzled and looked for explanations for why people would do self-harming things. I was concerned for their health and safety, too. You know, empathy.

Then it dawned on me that they were harming others and I was angry about that. My empathy shifted to be mostly for those others, including our frontline healthcare folks.

My primary interest is that they don’t take others down with them. I don’t have inside information, but I’m betting they haven’t asked others if they’re willing to die with them as they have their tantrums. That puts these refusers into a bucket with homicidal maniacs.

There are vaccine mandates on the way and our refusers are going to be affected. I’d like to make their transition as easy as possible, so I offer this heartfelt freedom advice for those who refuse to be vaccinated:

You have the freedom to lose your job if you refuse to be vaccinated.

You have the freedom to be refused rail and air transportation.

You have the freedom to be refused entry into the supermarket, gym, movie theater, baseball or football game and even the next MAGA rally.

You have the freedom to continue to believe what you want, for example, that Covid vaccines are unproven, dangerous and that they contain tracking nanobots that will allow Bill Gates to know where you are at all times.

You have the freedom to believe that behind the vaccines is a socialist, child blood drinking, world domination bent cabal, and that vaccines will subject you to space lasers and will suck your precious bodily fluids (Dr. Strangelove).

You have the freedom to be infuriated by governmental interference in your absolute freedom and to proclaim your rights with your gasping, choking last breath.

There’s a long list of freedoms our refusers will enjoy if they continue to insist upon being a threat to our fellow citizens.

I want to be bigger than this, more loving, more equitable in my empathy. Right now, though, as refusers make war against medicine, science, learning, wisdom, the rule of law and any hint of sacrifice for others and for our common good, this is the best I can do.

Click me for the CDC report

The days are dwindling for us to take action. Get up. Do something to make things better.

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Copyright 2022 by Jack Altschuler
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Guest Essay – The Real Reason

Reading time – 4:35  .  .  .

Reader Dan Wallace has an insightful take on our American condition that is happily devoid of the hystrionics, name calling and partisan posturing of many. He offered it as a comment to my Hoping for Clarity From Sunday Times Readers post, but it was likely missed by many. His views are too important to be missed, so his essay is presented here. Read it and nod affirmatively and enthusiastically. JA

I was not a Trump voter for the reason given below. But it was, and I believe remains, the primary reason not to vote for him.

Simply put, comparing Trump’s publicly visible behavior to the available checklists for psycho/sociopathology, all indications are that he is psychopath, a sociopath, a person experiencing anti-social personality disorder, a malignant narcissist, or something along those lines. The exact term does not matter. That there is something seriously wrong with this guy is obvious and does matter. The right answer for someone like this is to feel sorry for him and to help him if we can, while minimizing the damage he can do. It is not to elect him (or keep him as) President of the United States.

For some reason it is considered unseemly to talk about this. I do not understand why. Choosing not to talk about it is like sitting down to dinner at a table that has a giant moose on it and pretending there’s no moose. There is. Step one in getting rid of the moose is admitting there’s a moose.

The view that there is something seriously wrong with Donald Trump is held by people as diverse as George Conway and Keith Olbermann. Unlike them, I am not a newcomer to it. I was virulently anti-Hillary in 2016. But I argued at the time, and I still do, that given a choice between venal and crazy, the right answer is to put 100 clothespins on your nose and vote for venal because it is at least predictable and is not necessarily oriented toward tyranny. While not all psychopaths become tyrants, all tyrants start as psychopaths.

Every now and then the American people make the mistake of putting into office someone with a severe mental disease or defect. The last time we did that was 1968. It took 6 years, but the institutions ultimately worked and we removed him from office.

We need to do that again, but the stakes are far higher now. We have an enormous division between those who have been left behind by globalization and those who have not. We have not figured out how we as a nation will compete in a truly globalized world. We have enacted policies that have driven the disparity of wealth to the sort of level that provokes insurrection. We have the least efficient healthcare system of any industrialized nation and continue to play the fiddle while it threatens to bankrupt us. In order to avoid dealing with those unpleasant realities, we have given ourselves a false sense of prosperity by fueling our economy with debt, something in which both parties have been equally and joyfully complicit. That accumulated debt is now so large that resolution of it likely will eventually require devaluation of the dollar, which will turn us into something like Greece or Venezuela. Meanwhile, we are experiencing a change in our environment that has the capacity ultimately to threaten the survival of our species (Moose #2).

These are serious issues and we should get about the business of addressing them in a serious way. The solutions will not be simple. There is plenty of demagoguery to go around, on both the left and the right. None of it helps. But one thing we should all be able to agree on: Having a psychopathic buffoon in the White House makes all of this worse, not better.


On Wednesday of last week, Trump “met with” a group of about 25 refugees in the Oval Office. Presumably, this was a photo op intended to make him look empathetic. The problem is that it was captured on video, and one thing he clearly is not is empathetic.

The video shows Trump’s interaction with Nadia Murad, a Yazidi refugee who won the 2018 Nobel Peace prize for bringing her horrific story to the world and for fighting to stop the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Her story includes ISIS raiding her village, killing her mother and six of her brothers, taking her captive, holding her as a sex slave and subjecting her to rape and torture.

The remarkable thing about this video is not Trump’s abject ignorance, unpreparedness and stupidity (after Murad tells him twice that ISIS killed her family, he asks, “So where are they now?” – Yes, really – watch the video.). Rather, it is that the President of the United States can listen to this story and show absolutely no empathy for the human being standing in front of him and for the appalling suffering and loss she experienced. If that lack of empathy doesn’t make someone a psychopath, then what the hell does?


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Copyright 2022 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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