Think About It: In search of empathy

“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose voters,” claimed Donald Trump, in what we would soon come to recognize as his pattern of audacity mixed with self-aggrandizement.

My reaction or first thought was that would not be true for the father, mother, son, daughter, husband or wife of the person shot.

That Trump did not get pushback from his political colleagues or supporters made me wonder how others could so easily shake off their empathetic inclinations. I do not believe that all the 64 million who voted for him in 2016 or 74 million people who voted for him in the last election have lost their empathy.

Yet, prior to both November election days, Trump showed himself to be devoid of any empathetic inclinations toward the fate of those who are targets of his angry rhetoric, many who are innocent and only doing their work such as election workers and court clerks.

Recently, Trump chose to picture and lie about the clerk of one of the judges on his cases in a way guaranteed to make her the subject of hateful language and threats. Who can forget that, while president, he falsely accused a mother and daughter, both election workers, of mishandling ballots, thereby blessing them as objects of hate and threats.

Then there are the women whom he feels free to intimately assault because he is famous and the judges, prosecutors and members of the grand juries that indicted him who he calls bad names.

These are innocent people, not political opponents, many of whom do not have the station in life or the resources to afford legal or personal protection.

Why are they not people who deserve empathy or at least sympathy for the fate thrust upon them so callously by this man? Yet millions voted for him granting him power over millions of innocent people whose only offense is not voting for him.

How far are his supporters willing to let him go?

War on the innocent

We are now witnessing the extremes of failure to feel empathy as we watch our second war in two years: Ukraine, and over the weekend, Israel. Both share the horrific features of one country invading another country and killing, maiming, raping, kidnapping, torturing, and humiliating innocent people including children, the helpless elderly, pregnant women, women, and men not in combat.

Hamas, who I understand governs the Gaza Strip, are known terrorists without a whiff of conscience or breath of empathy invaded Israel with a precision that took all by surprise.

Hamas razed kubutzes and forced citizens from their “safe rooms.” Holiday celebrations were torn apart and hundreds killed.

Some citizens were shot, some stabbed, some taken as hostages, and women taken for rape by Hamas without pretense of fighting a legitimate war … if there is such a thing.

A young woman at least unconscious if not dead, was paraded on a jeep roaring through the Gaza town, her captors sitting on her body and spectators spitting on her.

Mission accomplished. Terror reigns, while more civilized war fighters plot their retaliation.

We know the experience is not that different than Ukraine’s.

And we must wonder if humans are more evil than empathetic. We can say Hamas is an aberration much like ISIS, religious outliers who are not afraid to die. We can say an egomaniacal Putin is to blame because he too is a terrorist who orders the bombing of schools and hospitals.

We can think we are different.

Could war on innocents happen here?

Terror on innocents is already happening: name calling, taunts and threats directed at election workers and people in the justice system is but one example. We can accurately describe those attempts as meant to terrorize people enough that they stop doing their jobs, leaving it or not applying for them out of fear.

We remember the unthinkable that happened when our country was invaded from within on Jan. 6, 2021, in a failed attempt to stop the final certification of a presidential election?

Hundreds of staff working that day in addition to legislators were terrorized. What if the angry crowd had gotten to Vice President Pence or Speaker of the House Pelosi?

The then-President Trump, pouting over his election loss, watched the action and gave succor to the rebels by making no move to stop their invasion and expressing his love for them when he asked then to go home hours later. When someone criticized what the rebels were doing, Trump responded that maybe (the rebels) cared more than that someone did.

How safe are we when the leading candidate of one of the major political parties cares not when he maligns innocent people and makes them targets of hate and threats? How safe is our democracy when a leader inspires his followers to acts of violence against innocent people?

We are not different.

We all have the potential for evil which manifests when we reject empathy for other humans by making them villains or “the other” to achieve our own ends. How many steps are there between cheering cruelty at political rallies and dancing in the streets celebrating dead babies and raped women?

We need to be vigilant in identifying wanton cruelty and, in all cases, start with vigilance over our own actions. I know there are times when I have not thought enough about the impact of my actions on another or times when I have been blinded to the suffering of another while clouded by my own suffering.

The irony in experiencing empathy is it is painful, and we feel no better for it. We know this from our own reaction to the terrible scenes in Ukraine and Israel.

However, empathy inspires the will and drives us to speak out and act when we see evil, to reject and do what we can to stop acts of evil on the innocent.

It becomes impossible to remain spectators who watch the dissolution of a civilized society.

Bertha Cooper, an award-winning featured columnist with the Sequim Gazette, spent her career years in health care administration, program development and consultation. She and her husband have lived in Sequim more than 20 years. Reach her at