Lance Morrow on the nation’s lack of empathy: “The vivid inhumanity of social media (lethal, instantaneous, polarizing, cartooning, inflammatory and ubiquitous).”

From a Wall Street Journal column by Lance Morrow headlined “Trump’s White House at the End of the Line”:

It was dusk on Saturday, hours after the networks called the election for Joe Biden. I was on the phone with someone in the White House. The news had sucked the air out of the building, I gathered. Soon enough, elsewhere in the executive mansion, there would be rage and defiance and a convergence of dark-blue suits.

But the man with whom I spoke found that his mind had already departed the building. He was thinking about different challenges—about his future, his children, his plan to go and live somewhere far away from Washington. I’m not sure if he was actually clearing out his desk, but that was the idea. He was clearing his mind. He meant to start over and try to rethink the country and understand what it has become. . . .

We talked for more than an hour. There was wonder and melancholy in the tone of what he said. He spoke of how his own family hated Donald Trump—hated him with a visceral loathing that shocked and saddened the man. His job in the Trump White House had estranged him from some of them; they had tried to talk the matter through, but with only partial success. The man seemed to understand the Trump-revulsion (it is as common as the common cold) and yet was disgusted by the antipathy of the left toward Mr. Trump’s supporters—“fellow citizens who have clearly benefited from many of the policy changes that he promised and delivered.” History will sort out its verdict on Mr. Trump. There used to be an informal rule among historians that a president could not be accurately judged until 30 years after he left the White House.

The chief subject of our conversation—what bothered both of us the most, I think—was the incomprehension of one side of America for the other side: the irreconcilable differences, the lack of empathy. Not even in the bitterest, most furious days of the late ’60s, I said—days that I lived through, up close, and remember with perfect clarity—were Americans as alienated from one another as they are now. Back then the angers and hatreds proceeded from a premise that Vietnam (chief cause of the anger) was an anomaly, a deviation from the norms of a country that had, until a moment ago, seemed morally coherent, even virtuous. . . .

But by 2020, it seemed to me, the country believed its old virtue had been exposed for a fraud and a hoax a thousand times (”racist,” “sexist” and much worse), and reupholstered just as often (MAGA, MAGA, MAGA), so that by now the country had come to resemble a bitter marriage in a Strindberg play—scorpions in a jar. It was startling to me and to the man in the White House to realize that Americans could hate one another so intensely.

I said that I put it down, in part, to the vivid inhumanity of the screens, of social media (lethal, instantaneous, polarizing, cartooning, inflammatory and ubiquitous). I put it down to the mischief of identity politics. I put it down to fatuous, overprivileged white elites—to the woke and the politically correct and the universities (the archipelago of poisonous ideas). I also put it down, bigly, to the egregious Mr. Trump. . . .

We ended our phone call with a promise to stay in touch. Out of the blue, one of Thomas E. Dewey’s sonorous pomposities occurred to me—a favorite of mine. He would tell his campaign audiences in 1948, “The future lies before us.” That much was true. But of course the future Dewey got was not the one he expected.

Morrow is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His latest book is “God and Mammon: Chronicles of American Money.”


  1. Mark Andrews says

    It seems that we need a foe for Americans to coalesce around. If we still had the USSR, for example, we would be more able to channel our seeming need for an outlet for our anger and hatred. 1984 seems a painfully accurate analysis of the eternal human condition.

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