Progressives' Empathy Hypocrisy

Michelle Obama and the cheapest form of virtue-signaling.

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

On the Democrat Convention’s first day, Michelle Obama gave a presentation taped from her Martha’s Vineyard estate. The leitmotif of her talk was “empathy,” embedded in a list of examples illustrating the Republicans’ lack of this quality. Aside from her examples being duplicitous, equally revealing was the utter lack of empathy from progressives when it comes to people who are not politically useful to them.

First consider the mendacity and distortions in Ms. Obama’s oration:

They [the “empathetic woke”] see people shouting in grocery stores, unwilling to wear a mask to keep us all safe. They see people calling the police on folks minding their own business just because of the color of their skin. They see an entitlement that says only certain people belong here, that greed is good and winning is everything because as long as you come out on top, it doesn't matter what happens to everyone else. And they see what happens when that lack of empathy is ginned up into outright disdain. They see our leaders labeling fellow citizens enemies of the state while emboldening torch-bearing white supremacists. They watch in horror as children are torn from their families and thrown into cages, and pepper spray and rubber bullets are used on peaceful protestors for a photo-op.

Michelle’s got it backwards: it’s usually the mask-wearing Karens shouting at people without masks. And it’s unclear how she knows what’s in the mind of people who call the police when a black person is involved. Surely behavior, whether justly suspicious or not, is the reason people call the cops. Citizenship is not an “entitlement,” it’s a right for the native born. For others, it’s a right earned by successfully going through the legal process for becoming a citizen. Those are the “certain people who belong here,” and our government is empowered to determine the conditions for allowing in others. Michelle, Gordon Gekko called and wants his 37-year-old “greed is good”cliché back. It’s been exploded by the advance in global wealth––according to the World Bank average real global per capita GDP increased from $5,446.18 in 1990 to $16,233.96 in 2016––created by all those greedy free-marketeers.

Other stale CNN talking points are simply not true. Trump did not “embolden torch-bearing white supremacists” in Charlottesville in 2017, which Obama is obviously referencing. The full transcript of Trump’s remarks shows that he unequivocally condemned white supremacists and neo-Nazis, whom he explicitly excepted from the “very fine people” who were against tearing down the monuments. Putting children of illegal migrants “into cages” and separating them from their families was happening under Barack’s watch, with nary a peep or sign of “empathy” from Michelle or other progressives. Indeed, one photo of children in cages meant to illustrate Trump’s lack of “empathy” actually dated back to the Obama administration. And no, the thugs cleared from the square near the White House and the historic St. John Episcopal Church they set on fire were not “peaceful protestors.” 

We expect political rhetoric to play fast and loose with the truth. But when such sophistry is so manifestly hypocritical, it becomes offensive. We could spend all day asking progressives about their alleged “empathy.” Where’s their empathy for the families of black men murdered by other black men? For the nearly 20 million aborted black babies, one of the “populations that we don’t want to have too many of” that progressive Ruth Bader Ginsberg talked about? For the black people killed during the George Floyd riots, or the black businesses looted and burned, whole lifetimes of hard work gone forever? For the black policemen who have been injured and killed in other BLM/Antifa demonstrations, and who will be losing their jobs because of the “defund the police” movement? And how aboutsome empathy for all the victims of the double-digit increases in big-city violent crime brought on by blue-state mayors ordering their police to stand down during the riots? Don’t those mostly black lives “matter” and deserve our empathy?

Casting a wider net, where was Barack’s “empathy” when he called millions of Americans “bitter clingers to guns and religion”? Or when Hillary scorned Trump supporters as the “basket of deplorables” full of racists and xenophobes? Or when she pledged to throw even more coal miners out of work? Or the empathy during the past four years of progressives vilifying, mocking, and slandering Donald Trump’s family with a ubiquity and intensity never seen used against Michelle’ family? And most despicable, where was the “empathy” for the four dead Americans left to die in Benghazi, and for their families whom Hillary lied to as they stood next to their loved-ones’ coffins. Equally lacking in empathy were the administration hacks who went on national TV to repeat those lies.

Or where’s the empathy for the millions of Americans harmed by progressive policies in states like California? For the working and middle classes who can’t afford homes because of NIMBY plutocrats juking the zoning codes, and who have to pay exorbitant prices for gasoline––second in the nation–– because of environmentalists’ “renewable energy” hobbyhorse? Or for those who have to pay the 7th highest electricity costs in the country (no charge for frequent rolling blackouts), again because of green-energy regulations and boondoggles? Where’s the empathy for the victims of the opioid crisis afflicting lower class Caucasians, virtually ignored by the same progressives who turned the cocaine crisis of the Eighties into a non-stop racialisthorror-show? Or for the working-class Americans whose manufacturing jobs were packed off to China, only to be told by the “empathetic” Joe Biden that they should just learn how to code?

Maybe if the Obama administration, including Joe Biden whom Michelle claims is the candidate of “empathy,” had more empathy in 2016, they would have learned why their party wasbeaten by a novice who, for all his bluster and crude insults, at least showed that he cared about all those forgotten people of every color dismissed by the Democrats, and has governed on their behalf.

The call for “empathy” is the cheapest form of virtue-signaling. It bespeaks the defining flaw of most progressives–– the prizing of public, high-flown protestations of concern for those suffering, even as policies Dems have put in place and are proposing now are responsible for so much of that suffering. For them, those dispossessed and disadvantaged are mere props in their political theater, their “compassion,” as Christopher Lasch once said, “the human face of contempt.” How much easier to speechify from your multimillion-dollar estate in Martha’s Vineyard into which those people you have so much “empathy” for will never set foot.

True empathy is a wonderful quality to have. But as Aristotle said long ago, virtue is not about fine phrases. It is manifested inaction. Judge Donald Trump by his deeds, and the Dems by theirs, and then see who can be justly called empathetic.

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