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Rachel Maddow’s on-air breakdown reveals the empathy gap in politics

The MSNBC host received breaking news during her show and ended up in tears over it.

Rachel Maddow’s on-air breakdown reveals the empathy gap in politics

Out of Tuesday evening’s vast morass of morbid cable news emerged an apex example of the empathy gap between America’s two political parties.

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On one pole, Fox News, a clash of ideas over Trump’s new child separation-based immigration policy went immediately off the rails. Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas informed Fox News guest Corey Lewandowski (you know, the Trump campaign manager who isn’t in jail right now) that a 10-year-old girl with Down syndrome was recently separated from her mother at the border. Lewandowski’s reaction was unexpected, but ultimately unsurprising. In the range of all possible responses–incredulity, feigned compassion, actual sadness followed by a questioning of one’s life-choices–few could be worse than what Lewandowski did. He made the sad trombone noise, which phonetically looks like “womp womp.”

Meanwhile, shortly afterward on MSNBC, Rachel Maddow had the diametric opposite reaction to receiving a piece of similar breaking news on air.

“This has just come out from the Associated Press,” Maddow began. “Trump Administration officials have been sending babies and other young children to at least three . . .”

At this point, she began to choke up, asking her producers to put up graphics from the story so she could regain her composure off-camera.

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The story she was reporting was about three “tender age” shelters in South Texas. Maybe it was the words “tender age” that set her off, a euphemism that sounds extra dystopian. Like, even more than the usual amount.

After the episode ended, Maddow sent out a six-message Twitter thread, explaining herself and filling in the gaps of what she couldn’t say on air.

These two reactions reveal just about everything there is to say about the ideological divide in America right now. Consider the criticisms each side could say about the other here. An all-in MAGA Dad might submit that Maddow was faking it or being theatrical, to enflame her audience’s outrage over pre-school-age children in crisis. She could be accused of what is known as “virtue signaling”–a phenomenon coined by those for whom empathy is an alien concept. So-called virtue signaling is like feeding the homeless ironically–the result is still the same.

When it comes to the other side, one need not bother speculating. Lewandowski’s reaction to the news that a child with Down syndrome was separated from her parents at the border is literally a parody of sadness. There’s no other possible interpretation, it’s all right there. Whatever he is supposed to feel, as a member of the human race, about a child with Down syndrome separated from her parents, he doesn’t feel it.

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Viewed through this cold, unfeeling lens, the actions of the current leadership makes more sense. It’s all calculation and self-preservation. When Donald Trump addressed GOP lawmakers on Tuesday to discuss the child-separation policy, he didn’t express regret over the reality of what on paper may have sounded like a good idea (to him, anyway), and he didn’t admit that the strategy was flawed. At least, not as far as we know. Reportedly, though, he did say “the crying babies doesn’t look good politically.”

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