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].
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.