On Wednesday, Sept. 27, Human Sciences professor Dr. Carla Pezzia delivered a talk on maternal death in the U.S. titled “Live Babies, Dead Mothers.” The presentation was, excellent, as bleak as it was academically rigorous, focusing on Texas’s maternal death rate, which, curiously enough, is the highest in the nation, identifying the probable causes such as mothers — low income or elderly or overweight — having no adequate healthcare in reach due to time or money or distance, and suggested possible solutions like more clinics, more medicaid or more options generally.
Afterward, however, a friend of mine who attended the talk as well sent me a text expressing, in so many words, her disappointment that the talk hadn’t been more pointedly political. She expected, as in truth I too expected, at least a cursory mention of how the most avowedly pro-life state in the union could also be the deadliest to its mothers. Why focus on problems and policies without mention of persons and parties?
I asked Pezzia as much later that day, to which she answered, in so many words: I didn’t make it political, because it’s too important for politics; these deaths should not be partisan.
Considering the President’s response to the crisis in Puerto Rico, I find myself coming back and back to that conversation. Mr. Trump, if you haven’t heard, recently attacked Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan. After she begged him to increase the U.S.’s response to the the crisis, Trump, with characteristic judiciousness, accused her of “poor leadership,” before tweeting from his golf resort: “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” as though Puerto Rico was, rather than a province in crisis, a slothful, slovenly teenager.
That Trump would try to make himself the victim should not, at this point, surprise anyone who has watched his presidency; what is surprising, however, is that he would blame as well the Democratic party: “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”
Much has been written on Trump’s myriad vices — his selfishness, his sexism, his antagonistic relationship to the most basic and indisputable of facts — but I have yet to see anything written on his failure, his fear, of feeling. It is easy to denigrate his nearly physical inability to consider anything not immediately related to himself or his self-image, and we should — but only with the knowledge that his addiction to partisanship is only an exaggeration of our own.
How much easier is it when faced with tragedy to point the finger, to draw attention to whatever perpetrator is at hand and away from the thing itself? Hate is fun as sorrow is not. When we see another grieving over something we ourselves have never or will never endure, we are painfully conscious that we cannot enter into that pain, that we can never feel it with their force, and that at best we can only sense its shadow.
Not so with hate. Hate demands to be shared as sorrow does not; we desire to share the power we feel when we hate as potently as we desire to hide the powerlessness we feel when we sorrow.
But hate cannot move us to charity as sorrow can. If in hate we are conscious of something done unto us, then in sorrow we are conscious of something sundered from us. It is only in the latter that we are really inclined at all to look outside ourselves, even if it is only for a previous piece of ourselves.
If nothing else, we should let grief invite us to good works, rather than allowing partisanship to deceive us into an easy, fruitless satisfaction.