Empathy in America: An Obituary

Some days life hands you a gift.

Some days you get the answer to a question laid out in clear, bold type.

This morning, waking to the news that the GOP had bulldozed their tax bill through under the cover of night, during a week when many Americans are preparing for the Christmas holiday, I couldn’t quite place the sick feeling I had in my stomach. It was different than the one I’ve grown accustomed to this year.

It wasn’t merely the disgust watching a group of opportunistic political predators make a last, shameless cash grab before the approaching midterm election reckoning. This has been their pattern since January 20th, and the nausea it induces is nothing new. 

It wasn’t the frustration from the continued coddling of the super wealthy and the exploiting of the most vulnerable; the poor, and the sick. This has become the status quo in this Presidency and sadly it’s barely noteworthy anymore.

No, it was something more than the normal exasperation the past twelve months has yielded, but I couldn’t quite name it.

Then this landed in my timeline:

And there it was in black and white: clarity and summation.

There in those 280 characters was the thing I couldn’t name but recognized when I saw it: what it looks like when empathy dies and jerks dance on its grave.

This is the sickness America is afflicted with and this is the source of my fresh grieving today.
This is what it looks like when any semblance of compassion for another hurting human being is replaced with a desperate begging for the applause of a faceless crowd. 

To be that lacking in self-awareness, that oblivious to the suffering of others that you’d stand on the backs of parents with sick children whose healthcare is threatened or low-income families getting further squeezed—just to get a cheap laugh from strangers and sycophants. That’s a pretty good signal that you’ve lost the plot of Humanity.

And I really wish this Tweet was an aberration, or that the author was unusual—but it’s really an accurate diagnosis of a common affliction and he symptomatic of the epidemic of our growing callousness. 

This is what a good portion of this country has become: people who simply don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves, people who in fact, find in another’s misfortune fodder for a laugh.

This Administration has willingly birthed this poverty of empathy; with every piece of malicious legislation; with every dead eyed, robotic Sarah Sanders press conference; with every rushed midnight vote; with every refusal to hear the words of those they’ve damaged—they’ve made compassion a liability and malice an asset.

GOP senators reportedly left chambers laughing at protestors pleading their cases, and Trump supporters have been busy mocking people who realize how endangered this legislation leaves them. They’ve spent this morning tweeting out insult-to-injury social media shade simply because the insulation around them makes such things seem at all human.

The height of privilege is to believe that your experience of the world is everyone’s experience; that because something doesn’t hurt you that it doesn’t hurt anyone else. It is to only be capable of manufacturing compassion for yourself and those who look and think and believe the way you do—or those in the same tax bracket.

It’s all made me rightly sick, but I suppose that’s oddly good news.

That queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach is a reminder that I still care, which means all is not lost.

Maybe the outrage so many are expressing today is further proof, that although empathy has died in far too many people, that it is still residing here in the center of our chests, and that this will have to be the thing that propels us into a day and a country that would kill that compassion within us.

I hope the day never comes that I make a joke about another person’s suffering.

I hope I’m always able to remember that my story is not everyone’s story.

I hope I never stop giving a damn about people.

Even if the empathy in America fully dies, may it never die within me.



54 thoughts on “Empathy in America: An Obituary

  1. It’s going to really suck for the anti-Trumpsters as the economy comes roaring back under Trump.

    Already Hispanic unemployment is at it’s lowest ever and Black unemployment is at its lowest in 17 years.

    Continue draining the swamp and making America great again, Mr. President, even for the snowflakes and irrational haters who don’t deserve it.

    • America will never be great under this horrible excuse for a president. I hardly recognize my country anymore. I want kindness, belief in people, the ability to pull people together and a strong sense that we all matter. This is what I want in my president. This is what will make America great.

    • Black unemployment is low as a continuing trend from the Obama administration. It has nothing to do with 45.

      Draining the swamp is a terrible analogy. Swamps are critical for the environment as they provide cleaning and retention of water within ecosystems, as well as habitat for a wide variety of God’s creatures. Maybe people could say what they mean instead.

  2. I have long felt that the largest difference in mindsets between conservatives and liberals is empathy. If it’s genetic, they are definitely lacking that gene.

  3. I feel as if I have been given a death sentence, along with all of my fellow Americans living below the poverty line.

    We could not have received a clearer statement of just how little we matter to the politicians in power.

    “You will not kill,” says God. Jesus says “Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, meet the needs of the poor.” Any “Christian” politicians in Congress have demonstrated they don’t believe Jesus’ words are to be obeyed, turning their backs on the Gospel.

    They and anyone who claims to be a “Christian” and agrees with what they have done are apostate. “I never knew you,” says Jesus. They and anyone who claims to be a “Christian” and agrees with what they have done are in hell and in league with Satan.

    It’s that serious. Jesus makes it very clear.

  4. I find myself wishing someone would adopt me as I am alone in this world, disabled, handicapped, impoverished, living in chronic pain, and a senior.

    • Gloriamarie, I’m sorry you had to endure this holiday season feeling that way. I may be a stranger to you but trust me you’re not alone and I will keep you in my thoughts. I hope you have a wonderful new year. Best wishes,

  5. The reality is that I’m doing OK. I ain’t rich, but life is financially tolerable. Between my wife and I we earn over $70,000 per year, so I don’t complain too much. But I have this grandson – a real beautiful child. He will be eleven next month – but because of terminal cancer it will be a miracle if he makes it to twelve. And these people who claim to represent the American people work so hard to shove this sinful, hateful tax bill through, but refuse to work on funding CHIP. And in order to pay for this tax cut to the very wealthy they are already talking about cutting “entitlement” programs – you know, things like Social Security and Medicare that I have been paying into for nearly 50 years – in order to continue to pay for their corporate overlords.

    On the one hand, I am outraged that these people still insist that they are Christians – I suppose they’re fans of Jesus but they certainly aren’t followers of Jesus. On the other hand, I find myself trusting that God is in charge, and wondering how many people are going to be hurt and even killed by actions of these hideous people.

    Keep speaking up, John. It’s good to find light in a world that seems so dark.

  6. In short, I feel totally BETRAYED by this Administration. And a continuation of betrayal by Congress and especially by members who did have some gumption before the Moron in Chief was placed in Office by his pal, Putin.

    Now these men AND women have all been bought out by the Devil. They call themselves Christians yet they pay praise to everything that is evil in this world and have signed over their very souls for their share of gold coins.

    As for EMPATHY, while it is missing in the very people we put our trust in to do what is right for ALL OF AMERICA, We the People, for the most part, are still able of having Empathy for their fellow man, if only because we are all in the same boat (and taking on water, fast).

    The same ones, Big Pharma, Insurance, Gas and Oil, etc still have control over Greed, but there are other large corporations as well as very wealthy individuals who are fighting this corruption, but little or no mention is made of these valiant warriors and perhaps it is time they be given credit for standing up against this wall of indifference as portrayed by our so called Government. We need to be told and shown that not everyone lacks EMPATHY, that not everyone who can make a difference if standing by and letting other take this great DEMOCRACY to hell in a hand-basket. They are the REAL NEWS all this other is smoke and mirrors and the effects of what happens when Greed is allowed to overcome GOODNESS and RIGHT.

  7. I am sickened by everything that has happened in our political climate this entire year. The wolves and foxes managed with deceit and cunning to steal their way into the American psyche, that is 35% of them anyway. What is worse is that half of that number are true believers in whatever they believe and not in a good way. However, Americans can undo what has been done to kill empathy, compassion, and honesty. Greed often dies a terrible death.

  8. These powerful, wealthy individuals are working only towards the benefit of their equals. Donald Trumps rise to the presidency was the biggest, saddest joke ever played on the American people and I can only imagine that G-d is quite disappointed in his creation of the human race and the failure it has become.

  9. Another thing to consider is that this tax bill takes much of the deduction away from rich people in states with high income taxes.

    They won’t be able to write off as much of it as a deduction against their federal taxes.

    That tax they didn’t pay had to come from somewhere. The rich white liberal in New York was essentially paying less because of the poor black laborer in Texas helping to subsidize him. This will also make workers and taxpayers in these states a little more wary about how their state governments spends their hard-earned money.

  10. Absolutely.

    And the reason people are mocking you, Pavlovitz, is because they have ready John 12:1-9.

    Hint: You’re Judas.

    We know full well what your “empathy” looks like.

    It’s screaming that anyone who doesn’t vote Democrat, who doesn’t do what you want, is a racist sexist Nazi homophobe white supremacist who wants to murder children and the elderly.

    People have realized that you are weaponizing empathy. You are an abuser, someone who tries to manipulate and coerce others through guilt for your own advantage.

    Your screaming tantrum of the past year proves it. You ar a selfish, malignant toddler who doesn’t care about anything other than getting what you want.

    People know that. And that’s why they are laughing at you and mocking you. They know you are a malicious abuser who is enraged and frustrated that people are no longer buying your lies and slander. People no longer consider you objective or civil; they see you as someone who actively seeks to harm them.

  11. The AT&T employees who all just received a $1,000 bonus due to the better tax rates may disagree with you on this. If you love everyone so much why do you attack half of Americans so much, John?

  12. Speaking from the point of view of someone who will never stop fighting from the trenches, for the most disenfranchised, empathy is not dead. That sick feeling is alive and well in a lot of us, and is better known as the “fire in our belly”. We’re still out here fighting for the food pantries, the homeless shelter beds, the domestic violence shelters, the military family needs, the children who feel abandoned, the trafficked, the addicted, the sick, the elderly and alone, abused and assaulted, the ones who battle but feel alone. We’re the ones who sit on the Crisis lines. You’re not alone. Keep writing. Keep feeling what you feel. We’re not going anywhere.

  13. Yeah John P. I think this country has lost all nearly all sight and semblance of the Jesus I see in the New Testament—and that is why there is so much selfishness and so little sympathy and empathy for our fellow man and woman here at home and around the world. “Potterville” in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” was just an outward symptom of a much different and deeper spiritual problem than the Potterville overlay The United States of America has that problem. It is exemplified by people like Trump, Ms, Sanders, James Dobson, Paul Ryan, and the whole sorry lot of them—and speaking of Lot—I doubt they will similarly survive the recompence that is coming to them as payment for a mind and a heart that have become frozen. I suspect the coming war with North Korea is the fire that will totally consume these splinters and the GOP. We are only about three months out from the beginning of that war. Leslie is probably the single person who posts here that is in the most potential danger from it because she lives on the west coast. The Russians and Chinese will see to it that it is another “huge bogdown” like Viet-Nam was. North Korea is very cold in winter and very mountainous like the Appalachian U.S. It is a very hard environment to fight a ground war in—-very unlike the Middle East.

    • You see a “jesus” who thinks abortion is good and the nun with her rosary praying outside an abortion mill as evil.

      You see a “jesus” who sees sodomy as a virtue and the restraint of concupiscence as evil.

      You “progressives” are not in any way Christian or followers of Jesus. Your beliefs are perverted and you dress them up with Christian concepts (after you twist them).

      The fundies don’t have all the truth and they’re a little screwed up, but they’re a lot closer to it than you guys are.

  14. You are FOS Liberal who has no idea whatsoever of how a Democratic capitalistic society works This tax cut is the greatest thing to happen to USA since. Victory in WW2. Wake up, shut up and observe the next 20 yrs.

  15. “This morning, waking to the news that the GOP had bulldozed their tax bill through under the cover of night, during a week when many Americans are preparing for the Christmas holiday, I couldn’t quite place the sick feeling I had in my stomach. It was different than the one I’ve grown accustomed to this year.”

    Under cover of the night? The GOP had been announcing that there would be a vote on this for weeks. Not all that sneaky, is it?

    “This is what it looks like when any semblance of compassion for another hurting human being is replaced with a desperate begging for the applause of a faceless crowd. ”

    So….how does more people keeping more of their money creating “hurting human beings?” You’re not making much sense…

    “To be that lacking in self-awareness, that oblivious to the suffering of others that you’d stand on the backs of parents with sick children whose healthcare is threatened or low-income families getting further squeezed—just to get a cheap laugh from strangers and sycophants. ”

    Nobody’s losing their health care because Congress lowered taxes. That’s just ridiculous. Getting rid of the individual mandate — which was ridiculous because it forced people to buy something they might not want — won’t keep people from getting health care. Chances are, they’re going to fund Obamacare some other way.

    “GOP senators reportedly left chambers last night laughing at protestors pleading their cases, and Trump supporters have been busy mocking people who realize how endangered this legislation leaves them. ”

    Uhhh reportedly? Where was this reported? Or did you just make it up and now you’re reporting it?

    “The height of privilege is to believe that your experience of the world is everyone’s experience; that because something doesn’t hurt you that it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”

    Um…still not seeing how lowering taxes hurts anyone else.

    “It’s all made me rightly sick, but I suppose that’s oddly good news.”

    Yes, it is. Especially since the tax bill hasn’t snatched healthcare away from anyone, so you can get that sickness taken care of.

    “Even if the empathy in America fully dies, may it never die within me.”

    Unless it’s empathy for a Trump supporter. I’m sure that type of empathy is already dead, right?

  16. This lack of empathy did not start with 45 or even with his faithful minions in Congress and the Senate. You can tie it back 35 years to Saint Ronald Reagan, who cemented the idea among especially the less-educated and less-wealthy that anything any other person got came at their expense. 35 years of pitting people groups against people group and we have our result.

    Shameful. Especially for a political party that likes to use the Bible as a litmus test for membership.

  17. Thank you John. I have felt nauseous and so heart sick today. I needed to hear this kind of insight with some hope thrown in. I do not understand how so many around me could have voted these people into office. I do not understand why these leaders are creating so much hardship for the common citizens in our country. I do not go to church and I’m not sure what I believe spiritually anymore but I read your posts and feel like I am not alone. Please pray for me not to lose hope. And again….Thank you for your writing. from debbie in wnc.

  18. Damn you’re good! Every view you vehemently exclaim resonates exactly how I feel. You put an ardent voice to my thoughts which intensifies and propels the outcries within my heart. Thank you for your efforts to emphasize what is right, the obligations we must uphold, the strive for decency, equality, compassion, love and awareness towards everyone and everything. Never stop calling for those to awaken to the universal Truth of creation. Love is the greatest energy in the universe and that energy is God!

  19. Thank you John, for keeping me semi-sane this year. Many days I wake up thinking I have reached the depths of sorrow over what has happened to the country I thought I knew; reading your analyses have helped me endure…Merry Christmas

  20. Thank you for this, John, and for all the essays from this past, terrible year. While I’m as angry and sad as I was a year ago–maybe even a little more–you’ve cast a light that I continue to follow.

  21. I have seen it also and agree but this that was mwntioned has been going on since the beginning of the Obama era. Oh And was barely tolerable for me to handle then. Oh and tou fprgot something!?!
    To Wish. to your readers , A Merry Christmas.
    Saddened O’ne´.
    O’ = the, ne´ = nay

  22. Every member of Congress should be forced to watch “The Florida Project” and then search their consciences – if they still have them.

  23. I am a contributor to the NY Times bestselling “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump,” and in my chapter I write about the lack of empathy and compassion in Trump and his followers as emblematic of a type of abuse. Respectful relationships of all types must be built on care for the effect we have on others. Without that fundamental aspect of our humanity we will not experience the mutuality and reciprocity essential for healthy relationships and instead devolve into abusive relationships, like the one we are experience with Trump. Excellent blog and on point to what we are all experiencing daily when in relationship with abusive people like Trump and the GOP.

  24. This article finally made me see what I knew all along about a 45 supporter I used to call FRIEND. I was in, not 1, but 2 of her weddings and as her maid of honor in both, I felt I knew her. Boy how things have changed. I officially escorted her and her vile rhetoric out of my facebook pages and out of my life. She constantly mocked my posts and had an air of self righteous indignation with me personally each and every time. After she responded to this article on my wall, I knew she and I were done. Sorry she named her child after me, I feel as though she has done us both a disservice. I am no longer taking her verbal assaults on my empathy, compassion and my beliefs. Thank You John for speaking your truth, (which I agree with for the most part), you have helped me lighten my burden.

  25. I live in Costa Rica, formerly in the US. After a recent trip back for the holiday I compared notes with a few other US ex-pats. We all felt the same horrifying disconnect in our interaction with the residents. Things were never this divisive, even in the throes of the Vietnam/Nixon era.

  26. It has been a tragic year in U.S. politics. Trump and the republican congress are racketeering the American government. As you and others are observing and writing, they are manipulating the public to control our national wealth for their personal and political gain. Thank you for your columns.

  27. A young professional posted her inspirational story on LinkedIn a couple years ago.

    Accompanied by a photo – she was standing in front a Fifth Avenue lawfirm where she’d just landed her first job, a strikingly beautiful blonde with a dazzling smile – it provided her recipe for success:

    “I’m not brilliant or gifted,” she wrote. “I never had anything handed to me. Instead of going to parties, I studied. Instead of making excuses, I studied harder.

    “That’s what’s missing in America today. EFFORT! Instead of making their lives better, people make EXCUSES! I didn’t expect anyone to do it for me like so many people do. I achieved this MYSELF. And if I can do it, ANYONE can!”

    The only thing more disturbing than her monologue of hubris was the tens of thousands of LIKES and comments beneath her post: “Agree 10,0000%!” “You go, girl!” “We need more of this attitude today!”

    We don’t need more of this today. We need less.

    What effort did she put into being born white and attractive, without severe disability or significant mental impairment, to parents that did not starve her, in a neighborhood where kids were actually learning to read and write instead of how to make the best drug deal? Where was her gratitude for those who gave her moral support?

    This “up by the bootstraps” mentality has eroded our society’s sense of empathy to an alarming degree. None of the reforms of past generations – from housing codes to labor laws to Social Security – would be possible in today’s environment, because WE make everything good happen by our own will.

    We have become infected by “The Secret” – if we invision success, we get it. And if we didn’t succeed, then we didn’t want it badly enough. No grounds for sympathy, much less empathy.

    This will not end well.

  28. Thank you for explaining the sickness I feel. We have lost our way in this country due to the politics raging in our lives. Christianity is not lost. My belief is stronger in the fight for my faith. I will not let these people take it away. Thank you for speaking out.

  29. Pingback: “What About Him?” | The e-Word in Season

  30. If empathy died it is because people outsourced it to the government. With the massive entitlement state, by definition those who receive the $$ have no need to be grateful (they are literally entitled) and those who contributed the $$ did so by force, so they can’t claim generosity.

  31. Democrats have never had anything good to say as they were and still are attempting to murder our country. There is no attempt by the Democratic Party to make things better, they would rather just hide behind Momma Pelosi’s skirt than to work with another party to make things better. Ya can’t run a business let alone a country like that…

    • Ron. I have no desire to help you piss on those Jesus called “the least of these.” The things you people require are evil, and they go against the words of Jesus. No one in their right mind in this country is going to help Trump, the GOP, and other similar miscreants commit such atrocious evil—and certainly not in the name of Jesus. Please feel free to visit my blog and take a good, long look at yourself and your kind in the full-length mirror it provides to you:


      Be sure and read the “About” and “My Profile” sections because you and your kind are going to hear, see, and feel a whole lot of extremely hard push-back from people like me over the next 20 years. My blog is just one small drop in the 1,000-foot-high tidal wave that is rushing toward you. It is just over the horizon and headed your way.

      • Nobody who is a real Christian, or pro-life, or who believes Trump is better than crooked-Hillary and massive state control of the economy is going to read your boring and poorly written blog unless you have the guts to allow comments.

        • Thanks Joe Catholic. It’ll be a cold day in Hell when people like you are allowed to make comments there. As for my writing, it is very good writing. Lot’s of people like it, and it is the reason my blog pisses off so many people like you. They know it is effective, readable, and doing enormous damage to the fundie whacko house of cards in this country.

  32. Thank you. I see hope flickering in the ways that Trump supporters react to those who resist or even question. If they are so confident they are in the right and have won fair and square, why would they devote so much energy to fighting the “losers”? They hold the WH, the congress, and they got their supreme court justice. Yet, they are not contentedly celebrating, filled with hope and fearlessness. Just look at the vitriol in the comments. Your ardent voice would not inspire such outrage for people who are truly at peace with what is being done or how it is being done.

  33. Welcome to the African America world in America. People who love their country but a country that have shown little empathy for their lives. Maybe empathy is being experiences by Caucasian people in this country but it is nothing new. People who love their country and continue not to receive that love in return. Only when this lack of empathy is targeted toward you, then you want to speak up.

  34. Is it any shock? Comes back to how kids are raised and treated in the U.S. They aren’t shown empathy when they do wrong – they are smacked or punished, mocked, belittled or dismissed. Look at YouTube. Look at the “comments section” on any peaceful parenting article. Look to the fact that 19 U.S. states still allow school paddling (beating kids with wooden boards called ‘paddles’ for minor infractions). The lack of empathy shown to American children is SO bad that studies show 80% of American parents have smacked their children by or before age 1 (when cognitively, a child can’t even associate Action A with Reaction B yet – so the smack is a standalone abuse of power/trust not mentally connected by the baby to whatever the baby did. Keyword: “baby.” Also, wtf America).

    The punishment culture mindset begins at home and violence & apathy beget violence & apathy. We can’t expect kids who are met with violence, yelling or punishment for challenging/frustrating/having conflict with their parents to then do differently than was demonstrated upon them in their upbringing. That would be a breaking of patterns, not a following of them.

    Social patterns of cruelty all comes back to how children are treated in this country.

    But you know, let people say they “turned out fine …”

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