Compassion is taking it on the chin these days.
Buses filled with migrant children from Central America are confronted in southwestern border towns by xenophobic crowds chanting “U.S.A” and “Send them back, now!” Opportunists in legislatures as far away from the Mexican border as Harrisburg object to Catholic relief agencies in Pennsylvania showing compassion to these children by housing them, because they purportedly may be “undercover gang members” or “carriers of disease.”
Sympathy for Palestinian civilians, especially children killed during the Israeli army’s response to Hamas’ futile and irresponsible rocket attacks, is somehow construed as veiled anti-Semitism. Israel’s justifiable fear of terrorist attacks launched from Gaza somehow becomes a justification for actions that would be described as war crimes by the United States in another context.
Video footage of a New York police officer using an illegal choke-hold on a civilian whose only crime at the time was allegedly selling loose cigarettes without a license is rationalized as a reasonable police procedure by defenders of even the most brutal law-and-order tactics. Even though the choking was officially ruled a homicide, many fail to see why the cops involved should be prosecuted. It was, according to them, an honest mistake made during a confrontation with a 300-pound man who failed to defer to their authority.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama faced the nation last week and admitted what reasonable people have known all along about the post-9/11 interrogation techniques used by our intelligence agencies when it came to captured al-Qaida suspects: “We tortured some folks.” There was nothing short of a collective yawn over that “revelation,” because everyone knew and internalized the shock a long time ago.
Still, there’s something uniquely appalling, though very much in tune with current levels of American callousness, about real estate mogul Donald Trump’s response to the news that two American doctors who contracted Ebola would return to this country for treatment. In a series of ill-thought-out tweets, Mr. Trump proved that there’s no subject he won’t bloviate about, no matter how ignorant he is about the subject: “Stop the EBOLA patients from entering the U.S. Treat them, at the highest level over there. THE UNITED STATES HAS ENOUGH PROBLEMS!”
His next tweet was less emotional by his standards, but equally cruel and unintentionally hilarious: “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great -- but must suffer the consequences.”
His next tweet is a classic of fear-mongering: “The fact that we are taking the Ebola patients, while others from the area are fleeing to the United States, is absolutely CRAZY-Stupid pols.”
Perhaps sensing that his Twitter followers would consider him heartless for consigning two Americans to death for helping people in West Africa, Mr. Trump attempted to justify his heartlessness: “They knew the risk when they went to Africa. They chose it freely.” In other words, no good deed goes unpunished — literally, as far as he’s concerned.
Soon, “The Donald” was back doing what he does best — being a low information alarmist in the age of Twitter: “The U.S. must immediately stop all flights from EBOLA infected countries or the plague will start and spread inside our ‘borders.’ Act fast!” It almost sounds like Donald Trump has just binge-watched the first couple of seasons of “The Walking Dead.”
Amusing? Sure, but also incredibly sad, because he appeals directly to the hysteria of a segment of the population that is inclined to selfishness and is perpetually afraid of its own shadow. Even the fact that these medical missionaries are Americans doesn’t earn them a trip to a top-notch medical facility back home in Mr. Trump’s estimation. He truly fears that their contaminated blood and bodily fluids could stage an unprecedented breakout from quarantine and infect the country.
If only Donald Trump’s attitude was an isolated example of waning compassion. It would be easier to laugh at. But in many ways, it is all too typical these days.
Tony Norman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.