As unemployment soars, Trump struggles to muster empathy

As unemployment soars, Trump's top priority seems to be avoiding blame, not acknowledging pain.
Image: People wait to file for unemployment at the Arkansas Workforce Center in Fort Smith on April 6, 2020.
People wait to file for unemployment at the Arkansas Workforce Center in Fort Smith on April 6, 2020.Nick Oxford / Reuters
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump sat down this week with ABC News' David Muir, who noted rising unemployment and asked, "How bad is this going to get?" Trump didn't hesitate.

"Well, that is what it is," the Republican replied. "And you know, it's very interesting. Even the Democrats aren't blaming me for that.... Even the Democrats, they're not hitting me with, 'Oh gee, it's your fault' from that standpoint. Nobody's blaming me."

It was a peek into an amazing perspective: confronted with widespread public suffering, Trump's first instinct was to emphasize the importance of not holding him responsible.

This morning, the president called into Fox News' morning show, and was still on the air when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the nation lost more than 20 million jobs in April. His first instinct was jarring, but consistent.

President Donald Trump said Friday he's not to blame after the Labor Department reported that more than 20 million jobs had been slashed last month, when the U.S. economy buckled under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's fully expected, there's no surprise," Trump said. "Everybody knows that.... Even the Democrats aren't blaming me for that."

To the extent that politics matters, plenty of Democrats are holding the president at least partially responsible for the effects of the crisis.

But more important is the fact that Trump, even now, struggles with the very idea of empathy. It would've been easy for the president, in either of these interviews, to acknowledge the suffering so many American families are experiencing, and say his heart goes out to the many who've lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and their businesses.

Except, Trump's instincts seem to take him in a very different direction. His top priority seems to be avoiding blame, not acknowledging pain.

I’ve long been fascinated by the limits of the Republican’s capacity for empathy, but this is a rather extreme example of Trump prioritizing Trump, even when it'd be in his interests to think of others.