Joe Biden recently addressed a panel of healthcare professionals in a Zoom conference call. One of the members, an ICU nurse named Mary, spoke of her heartache in dealing with coronavirus patients on a daily basis, the poignant heart wrenching of watching helplessly as patients on ventilators died without her being able to save them, and how she and her colleagues had to take to the streets in protest to beg for protective equipment to keep them safe. Biden expressed shock when she said that she had not received a single coronavirus test to date, and she had been on the front lines since February. The President-Elect discreetly wiped tears from his eyes.
Then the President-Elect related a story to the nurse about how, as Vice President, he would occasionally bring dinners to the night shift at Walter Reed Medical Center “and hang out with them.” He recalled from his own experience back in 1988 when he spent seven months in intensive care at Walter Reed (Biden had gone in for corrective surgery on a brain aneurysm) and he remembered that patients leaving seldom returned. Either the experience was so awful for former patients that they never wanted to come back or they couldn’t come back because they died there. Biden saw clearly what many missed, that the work of the doctors and nurses and support staff in the ICU was for the most part thankless, however heroic.
This is reasoning from compassion, and it only ever springs from compassion, it cannot be worked out with the cold logic of the sociopath. People without compassion cannot understand it. When people are sick or dying and their caregivers work thanklessly for them the only emotion the compassionless have is they’re glad it’s not happening to them. To the compassionless, the dead and dying, the poor and voiceless, those courageous few who gave their last full measure of devotion on the field of battle, are losers and suckers. For such people there only lives a void in the place we call empathy.
Compassion is an essential component of what we call character. A man or woman of good character possesses not only compassion but courage, honor, truthfulness, a strong work ethic and a recognition that, however old-fashioned or corny these virtues may seem to some, they are essential to the foundation of a worthwhile life.
Good character is essential to good leadership. We have too often done without it to one degree or another in our nation’s leaders. But there’s no getting around it: good character trickles down from the top in any business (or administration) precisely the way, in any trickle down theory of economics, money does not.
We have stood by these last four years and watched lies, bigotry, lack of compassion for the immigrant and undiluted contempt for the masses ooze like a sewer from the spokespeople and press secretaries for this most recent administration. We have seen how many in the rank and file somehow see Trump’s flaws as virtues to be imitated. Where he is small, they are small. Where he is vulgar, mean-spirited and rude they are vulgar, mean-spirited and rude. Poor character is just as toxic as good character is beneficent, and sometimes twice as contagious.
We have gotten so used to shrill, hate-filled, divisive tweets coming from this toxic menace called Trump we have almost forgotten that we are Americans, and America is supposed to lead the way as a calming influence in the world. America used to be the exemplar, not the cautionary tale.
It will be a shock at first. It already is a shock — hearing words of unity from the President-Elect, a man who repeats again and again, for those who missed it, that he will be President of all the people, not only Democrats or Republicans, of all the states, not just blue ones or red ones. Joe Biden ran as a Democrat. He will serve as our President. He will serve as our example. It’s time once again for us to be who we are. It’s time for us to be Americans again. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.