Trump’s lack of empathy is pathological

Picture, if you will, four Russian nesting dolls, each roosting inside another.

Imagine the largest figurine is of President Donald Trump, and gestating inside are dolls representing the civil rights crisis, inside a financial disaster, inside the coronavirus pandemic.

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All of these calamities, in my opinion, are made worse than they should have been by Trump’s ill temper, keen self-interest and inability to show empathy for others. Why? Because the president suffers from low emotional intelligence, or EQ.

Yes, there is such a thing, and it’s the subject of a course I teach at the University of California, Riverside Extension. The foundation for my class is the research of psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman. EQ, as he explains it, is a measure of a person’s ability to perceive, control, evaluate, express and control their emotions. Such leaders are “resonant.”

Research by Goleman and others shows that leaders with high EQ thrive during crises because they are good at creating trust, building relationships, motivating others and reducing anxiety and stress.

Leaders with high EQ are highly self-aware, which means they understand their own emotions, strengths and weaknesses. They have the ability to control one’s emotions and act with honesty and integrity in a consistent and adaptable manner. They are socially aware, meaning they have empathy for others and intuition about organizational problems. And they are able to spread enthusiasm and solve disagreements, often with kindness and humor.

President Trump’s response to the pandemic is devoid of any of these traits.

Instead, as Christian Paz noted in a recent article in The Atlantic, the president’s response to the pandemic has been to “sow doubt” about the existence and severity of COVID-19, even as deaths related to the pandemic have risen ever higher.

Trump has claimed, among other lies, that the coronavirus would disappear like a “miracle,” and that it “is going to go away without a vaccine.” These fibs created false hope and likely changed people’s behaviors for the worse.

Does an empathetic leader looking to create trust, build relationships, motivate others and reduce anxiety and stress stage an indoor rally during a pandemic? Trump’s rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, however poorly attended, put his own supporters — and countless others with whom they will have contact — at risk of severe illness and even death.

And what are we to make of Trump’s comment at the rally that he told his team to “slow the testing down please?” (His staff claimed he was joking, which he did not confirm.)

The truth is the coronavirus is rapidly spreading around the globe. During the first two weeks of June, new cases rose in 81 countries and fell in just 36. In the United States, new cases hit their peaks in Oklahoma, Florida, South Carolina and Arizona. In Texas, the number of confirmed cases doubled this past month.

Many of these cases, and the deaths they will lead to, could have been prevented by wearing masks, social distancing and adopting other strategies to prevent spreading or catching the disease that Trump has not only refused to model but pooh-poohed.

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Trump’s prevarications and actions throughout the pandemic are tragic and immoral, and negatively affect the other crises nesting inside him. Scrutinizing the president’s antics within the EQ context is helpful, if not reassuring.

Bill Ballas of Palm Desert, California, is a teacher, writer and health care CEO with a Master of Science in management and leadership. This column was produced for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.

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