Robert Azzi: A void of empathy

For the Monitor
Published: 10/17/2020 11:00:13 AM

This week I wanted to write about Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” (“Brothers All,”) in which he writes:

Every brother or sister in need, when abandoned or ignored by the society in which I live, becomes an existential foreigner, even though born in the same country. They may be citizens with full rights, yet they are treated like foreigners in their own country…

But I can’t.

This week I even thought about writing about how much happier I am rooting for the New England Patriots now that Cam Newton is quarterback.

But I can’t.

I can’t because even as we come off a three-day weekend of celebrating Indigenous Peoples, I can’t get an Emily Dickinson poem off my mind:

I heard a Fly buzz – when I
died –

The Stillness in the Room

Was like the Stillness in the Air –

Between the Heaves of Storm –

I can’t purge the thought because I know that flies feed on the dead, on corpses and carrion, and to my mind the Fly we saw was there to remind us that daily, “Between the Heaves of Storm,”nearly a thousand Americans are dying because leaders mandated to protect and defend us are doing neither.

As I write over 214,000 Americans have died – and the Fly continues to buzz.

I can’t because this week we have had affirmed for us – in one buzz after another – that Donald Trump has so contaminated this nation with a pupating and debilitating affliction that nearly every aspect of our noble American experiment has been impacted.

Because last week, on Oct. 8, six Americans – perhaps hoping to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” in homage to their great white leader – were charged in a terrorist plot to kidnap Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and put her on trial for “treason.”

“Snatch and grab, man,” one of the plotters told an FBI informant. “Grab the f**kin’ governor. Just grab the bitch. Because at that point, we do that, dude – it’s over.”

“Just grab …”

Because last week we saw evidence that revealed that even breastfeeding mothers were forcibly separated from their children because Attorney General Jeff Sessions, representing administration policy (to intimidate asylum seekers,) told government lawyers: “We need to take away children” – children later caged, many never reunited with their parents.

Because last week we witnessed Utah’s Senator Mike Lee – channeling Ayn Rand – tweet: “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are. We want the human condition to flourish. Rank democracy can thwart that.”

Lee tweeted that while infected with COVID-19, tweeted while being cared for by taxpayer funded medical programs, tweeted after being likely infected by President Trump himself, a grifter with no interest in liberty, peace or prosperity for anyone except himself and his family.

Lee offered that tweet even as America confronts one the most contested and viciously fought elections in its history – one marred by accusations of voter intimidation and suppression, by a compromised Postal Service, by unfounded accusations of wide-spread voter fraud.

Maybe Lee will receive a “Get Well” card from the president.

That’s as likely as America receiving an apology from President Trump for failing us on science and the truth, for failing us on testing, for failing to maintain a reliable supply chain, for failing 214,000 Americans and their families.

Trump has failed us because he values the support of Wolverine Watchmen, Boogaloo Boys, Oath Keepers, Proud Boys, Three-Percenters, QAnon, and assorted other extremist and militia supporters – values “very fine people” – above the interests of all Americans.

Above all except himself.

DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) describes narcissism as “… a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy… ” Trump is not only a narcissist but a sociopath as well, unable to understand the feelings of others and lacking compassion.

Trump, who believes he bears no responsibility for anything, suggests that Gold Star families were responsible for him becoming infected by COVID-19 – then suggested that it was a Blessing from God.

Trump, he believes, is the anointed one.

I wonder how 214,000 dead Americans and their families feel about that blessing, few of whom, if any, got the level of care Trump got – blessings from Walter Reed and John Hopkins, from compromised Secret Service agents, that no one else received.

Because he’s unhinged. Because he’s creating a constitutional crisis by calling into question the validity of the election if he loses – it’s only valid if he wins.

Because he’s a vile person.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy, in June 1951 said: “How can we account for our present situation unless we believe that men high in this government are concerting to deliver us to disaster? This must be the product of a great conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that, which it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men…”

Sound familiar?

Trump, who hosted a super-spreader event last weekend, does not hesitate to endanger even people close to him if it’s to his political advantage – like introducing Judge Amy Coney Barrett as his Supreme Court nominee. He has built his case for re-election – indeed, his very ‘raison d’etre’ – on such McCarthy-like appeals.

I’ve traveled and worked in nearly 80 countries. I’ve attended weddings and funerals, fallen in love amidst the ruins of ancient civilizations, and covered civil conflict, insurrections, coups, and war. I’ve occasionally been beaten and jailed (once expelled) and lived in refugee camps and attended state dinners.

Almost without exception – even in what Trump calls ‘shithole’ countries – I’ve found my brothers and sisters, even those in need, all share similar understandings of dignity, respect, fairness, justice, hospitality, and love.

Trump the narcissist, void of empathy and humanity, profanes all our brothers and sisters, diminishing them, as Pope Francis describes, to “existential foreigner, even though born in the same country.”

Today, our brothers and sisters, being treated as foreigners in their own country, demand that we stand with them.

Today, it is up to us – we who stand Between the Heaves of Storm – to make the buzzing stop.

(Robert Azzi, a photographer and writer who lives in Exeter, can be reached at theother.azzi@gmail.com. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.)




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