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Trump’s Antipathy to Art Signals Lack of Empathy

At Saturday’s human rights rally, my friend Joe Berns spoke stirringly and concisely about the need to teach children empathy so they will not dehumanize others or commit or tolerate human rights abuses.

Donald Trump’s resistance to empathy is at the core of our nation’s current authoritarian madness. Author Dave Eggers notes the long list of musicians, writers, and other artists whom Presidents Kennedy, Reagan, Bush, and Obama hosted and celebrated and compares that with Trump’s treatment of artists as enemies hogging his spotlight. Eggers ties that antipathy to the arts as a sign of Trump’s failure of empathy:

This White House has been, and is likely to remain, home to the first presidency in American history that is almost completely devoid of culture. In the 17 months that Donald Trump has been in office, he has hosted only a few artists of any kind. One was the gun fetishist Ted Nugent. Another was Kid Rock. They went together (and with Sarah Palin). Neither performed.

…Admittedly, at a time when Mr. Trump’s policies have forcibly separated children from their asylum-seeking parents — taking the most vulnerable children from the most vulnerable adults — the White House’s attitude toward the arts seems relatively unimportant. But with art comes empathy. It allows us to look through someone else’s eyes and know their strivings and struggles. It expands the moral imagination and makes it impossible to accept the dehumanization of others. When we are without art, we are a diminished people — myopic, unlearned and cruel [Dave Eggers, “A Cultural Vacuum in Trump’s White House,” New York Times, 2018.06.29].

Portrait of Donald Trump at Mar-A-Lago
Portrait of Donald Trump at Mar-A-Lago

Arts advocates should keep that in mind when we join our next battle with a state government that thinks high school and college should be all welding and banking classes. And we should keep that in mind when we vote: people like Trump who disdain the arts, who have no aesthetic sense beyond stamping their name and face in gold on everything, should not be trusted to make public policy, which requires and understanding and feeling for other human beings.


  1. Donald Pay 2018-07-02 10:13

    That is an interesting portrait. It was, of course, done or imagined in a time long since past. It almost seems to be right out of The Great Gatsby, when America was Great, making heros out of greedy upstarts right up until the worldwide Great Depression hit. That Depression was brought on, partly, by a failure to regulate the bond trade and stock markets, vastly increased tariffs, the shrinking of trade, the rise of strongmen leaders and axis fascism, and an explosion of racism and anti-semitism.

    In the portrait we see the figure with a look of determination in his face completely undone by the casual dress and pose. It appears the guy has nothing to be focused more on tennis or golf. He has a semi-smile, or is it a smirk? The background is a pink sunset cloud that sets off the white slacks and sweater. It would be a nice fashion ad, except the gaze is too direct, a stare, not the mid-distance “don’t look at me, look at the clothes” pose of most fashion photography. The guy, a narcissist or con man, wants you to look at him, to consider just him. No one and nothing else matters. His stare sizes you up. You don’t matter, it says.

  2. grudgenutz 2018-07-02 11:35

    Antipathy to the arts? How could you say that while posting a great piece of art like that?

  3. Debbo 2018-07-02 11:47

    I think this is funny, a NY Times article:

    Trump’s Ancestral Village Abounds With His Relatives. Few Will Admit It.

    The locals pronounce the name “droomps.”

  4. mike from iowa 2018-07-02 12:28

    Is that the portrait purchased with foundation pesos, probably illegally?

  5. Debbo 2018-07-02 14:00

    The Emotionally Malformed One. I like that, but it’s too long. It is accurate. Child Abuser-in-Chief.

    Mike, I believe that’s one of the counts in the N.Y. charge against the bogus Droomps Foundation.

  6. Vance Feyereisen 2018-07-02 19:43

    Remember Noem’s push on sex trafficking? I wonder what she thinks of the moron’s new business spun off from immigration?

    Human trafficking!! While not expressly arresting and jailing immigrants for sexual or slave reasons the administration is exploiting immigration for very lucrative commercial reasons. The private prison industry has gotten millions in contracts. Microsoft is profiting to the tune of 20 million in contracts. Suppliers for the prison industry are profiting as investors must be.

    Our dear leader wants to expand immigration facilities by thousands of beds. He says he can imprison families until their cases are heard. He wants to appoint more immigration judges.

    There are some problems. ICE does not have the money to do what he wants because he cut their budget. At the same time he wants to shave another per cent off corporation taxes. This seems to be the plan. Keep spending more and collecting less and we will MAGA.

  7. Shirley Harrington-Moore 2018-07-02 23:50

    Either you are born with empathy or you have none. Trump has none considering the immigration crises he has pulled upon his own head. Add to that, the families of the immigrant children are now expected to pay to get their children back. What if they don’t have the money? What if the trauma done to the children keep them from ever connection with their families? Look what you’ve done, Donald. All the pretty pictures of you are for naught.

  8. mike from iowa 2018-07-03 14:59

    East Bay Times sez Jason is full of it as per usual. The guy was from Berkley, Cal, not the University and he threatened an Oregon government official’s children.

    He may have threatened Paul but there is no verification on that.

    He was arrested and is going to Oregon on a single charge so far. No one expects liar Alex Jones to get the story straight.

  9. mike from iowa 2018-07-03 15:06

    Bill Suttons party has officially endorsed socialism and communism.

    Even for you, Troll, this is pathetic. Ocasio-Cortez is a singler member of the Denmocratic party. She hasn’t been elected to Congress, yet and would not be the leader if she is elected.

    I realize simp0le concepts mess up your rabid racist attacks on Libs, but, really try to smarten up a bit. You look so foolish posting garbage.

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