Donald Trump, Mitt Romney, and the Absence of Empathy

When 47% Was Scandalous and The Void It Revealed

Will Staton
Sep 20, 2019 · 5 min read

Some may remember Mitt Romney’s insightfully deplorable “47%” comments from the 2012 presidential campaign. In case you need a refresher you can find the clip here. Despite his defenders’s attempts to spin them otherwise, the comments were made entirely within context and displayed the disdain of the Republican party — and its then standard bearer — for virtually half of the nation’s population. Before Donald came along and blew the lid of decorum, there was Mitt Romney, a rich white man talking to a room full of other rich white men and speaking openly and transparently about their contempt for those they deem the country’s underclass.

I recall seeing the video of those comments in 2012 and thinking to myself that they should disqualify anyone from running for president (how low we have sunk since then) and that Mitt Romney was, personally, a horrible individual devoid of empathy and charity.

But in the aftermath of the 47% comments something happened that changed my opinion of Mitt Romney, slightly, and in retrospect highlights the depravity of Donald Trump.

In 2012, after Mitt Romney admitted to a room full of his wealthiest supporters that half of Americans were unworthy of his consideration, a number of individuals who knew Romney personally rushed to his defense. I don’t remember all of their testimonies, but I do recall the story about a time a Bain coworker’s daughter went missing and Romney shut down company operations and enlisted employees in finding her. As it turns out the young woman had been kidnapped and dosed with ecstasy. Doctors said she may not have survived much longer. Mitt Romney saved the day and perhaps her life.

This episode doesn’t negate or offset the 47% comments, but it did, for me, cast Romney in a new light. I realized I was wrong to see him as devoid of empathy, recognizing instead that his empathy was limited to those within his bubble, those to whom he was speaking the night he dismissed 47% of Americans. Mitt Romney, I realized, was not a bad person, but rather a sheltered one raised in the sterilized world of wealth and thus limited in his capacity to see the complete humanity outside that world.

Contrast Romney to Donald. The former made single indefensible comment in private — if also very much in context, as noted above — was immediately defended by those who knew him personally, and made an attempt to explain himself and state that he was running for president to represent the 100%.

This man dismissed nearly half the nation. Yet his political party has sunk so low and is so incapable of applying either intellect or ethics that he now looks like a saint by comparison.

How many opportunities has Donald given someone — anyone — to rush to his defense the way some people rushed to Romney’s? How many times has he, by displaying his racism, ignorance, and disdain for any and everyone, essentially begged someone, anyone to come to his defense publicly, to tell even one story about a time when Donald set his own needs aside to help someone else. Time and time and time again, often multiple times a day, Don presents an opportunity to speak up for him to anyone whom he may have once treated charitably.

Yet no one speaks up. Because Donald has never treated anyone charitably. Because there are no examples of times when Donald put his own needs aside to help another. Because Donald Trump is a sociopath who is concerned with and capable of helping no one other than Donald Trump. Not even his children are able to conjure such stories, telling and sad signs about what it must mean to have Donald as a father.

It is little surprise that the same party that eagerly embraced Mitt Romney even after he dismissed half of the nation and no few of his own supporters — it’s not as though all 47% of the moochers Romney referenced are dark-skinned, no small number of the people he denigrated are red voters in rural states — even more enthusiastically embraced Donald Trump. It is even less surprising that the way to secure these voters’s embrace is to run as far away from decorum and basic human decency as possible. The Republican Party — a morally and intellectually bankrupt organization if ever there was one — has been catering to white America’s worst fears, tendencies, and habits since Richard Nixon pioneered the southern strategy. Romney did not initiate the trend of using racism and hate as an electoral strategy, and Donald will not be the last to employ these tools. There is a direct line that runs from Nixon through Reagan’s Cadillac Queens to Paul Ryan’s sham budgets to Ted Cruz’s crusade against Obamacare to Romney’s dismissal of half the nation to Donald’s indecent existence. At every stop along the way the party has accumulated more and more racial baggage and steeped itself even deeper in bigotry and hate.

The void of empathy in the GOP is so wide, so deep that both its elites and its constituents have abandoned any pretext of pretending to care just as they have abandoned any pretext of pretending tax cuts for the wealthy are somehow beneficial for the rest of us. They have sunk so far that the rotten facade has collapsed and the spirit behind it nakedly screams and thrashes in hatred and ineptitude. It is a frail, pathetic creature fed only by fear and fury, by stupidity and hate.

This descent into what can safely be called evil has been a long, slow process but it is now complete. It is, of course, easy to imagine someone worse than Donald Trump. All that person would need is a degree of intelligence, of which Donald has none. But in terms of moral character, empathy, even a scintilla of ability to understand and care, the Republican Party and its avatar of anger can sink no further. It is impossible to be more callous and hateful than Donald Trump, only possible to act on that hatred more than Donald and his acolytes have been able to achieve thus far.

Just less than a decade ago the Republican Party had already crossed the threshold of callousness into the realm of political nihilism, but were still forced to pretend that they cared about the well-being of real people. That charade has now been completely abandoned. What comes next will only be funny if it happens in an episode of South Park; the real life implications of GOP depravity ought to make us all scared for the future.

Will Staton

Written by

Career Educator. Author of “Through Fire and Flame: Into the New Inferno.” Bylines at Arc Digital, Areo Magazine, and the Strategy Bridge.

Breakthrough

Politics, tech, culture, economics magazine // commentary, analysis, opinion pieces and more

Will Staton

Written by

Career Educator. Author of “Through Fire and Flame: Into the New Inferno.” Bylines at Arc Digital, Areo Magazine, and the Strategy Bridge.

Breakthrough

Politics, tech, culture, economics magazine // commentary, analysis, opinion pieces and more

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store