One of the dominant themes of the Democratic Convention has been Joe Biden’s natural empathy. It flows from his faith, his humanity, the grief he has suffered in his life, and it’s been evident throughout his political career. A big reason why it’s being mentioned now is that empathy is so absent in the current White House that it’s starting to feel like a relic from the past. Some of the components of empathy are respect for others, and the grace of treating one’s fellow human beings with dignity. Attributes that would never be included in a resume of Donald Trump.

There has been much written about how my father and Tip O’Neill locked horns on policy decisions and legislation but could then sit back with martinis and swap Irish jokes. But here are two stories you might not have heard.

When my father was shot by John Hinckley on that cold March day in 1981, when a bullet fragment came so close to his heart it was a miracle that he lived, Tip O’Neill went to the hospital. My father was still groggy from anesthesia, but he was awake. Tip knelt beside his bed, grasped my father’s hands in his, and prayed the 23rd Psalm. Then he kissed my father’s forehead before walking softly out of the room. It seems like a story from an ancient time, because we have grown too accustomed to vitriol and ugliness spewing out of Washington like some out-of-control geyser. It seems like something we have lost our grip on…because we almost have.

Later in my father’s presidency, he sent Tip O’Neill to meet with Gorbachev and pave the way for the nuclear talks he so desperately wanted to have. Tip told Gorbachev that Reagan was sincere in his desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons and he was vouching for him. At that time, it was understood that when an elected official travelled abroad, political party was left behind. That official simply represented America. Another piece of ancient history. Donald Trump doesn’t even speak to Nancy Pelosi; he certainly wouldn’t send her on a foreign mission.

One of the dangers we face right now – and there are many – is that we are apt to forget what simple human decency looks like. For the past four years we have been fed a steady diet of calculated cruelty. Nothing is too low for Donald Trump, whether it’s telling certain members of Congress to “go back to the countries from which they came” or flicking off more than 170,000 deaths from Covid-19 with “It is what it is.”

For those who still think that Donald Trump has been a good president, I would beg them to consider this: Has he been a compassionate leader? Has he shown respect to others? Would you want your kids to speak and behave the way he does? Is he someone you would want at your side if you had just gone through a tragedy?

This election is about more than politics. It’s about who we are as human beings and whether cruelty and a competition of heartlessness is more important than kindness. Thirty-nine years ago, the Speaker of the House, a Democrat, rushed to the hospital to kneel beside the bed of a Republican president who had just been shot. He knelt in prayer. He shed tears. He was guided by his heart, not politics, and by the awareness that human life is fragile and must be tended to. Contrast that with Donald Trump who wouldn’t even go to John Lewis’ funeral


  1. thomas says:

    I would like to know if it is true that when your father was shot that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wrote your mother a very heartfelt letter expressing her prayers for your father?

    I have heard this but never been able to confirm it.

  2. Deb Kim says:

    Wow thanks for these “behind the scenes” stories. Really puts more of a spotlight on the #trumpvirus

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