Will the 2020 Election Hinge on Empathy?

Former Vice President Biden and President Trump were both, in their own unique ways, addressing the biggest story of the past few weeks.

It was Tuesday, June 9, and Joe Biden was speaking—virtually—at the funeral of George Floyd, the black man whose death under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin tore the Band-Aid off the racial wound in America that all too many had been all too willing to ignore. “To George’s family and friends, Jill and I know the deep hole in your hearts when you bury a piece of your soul deep in this Earth,” Biden said in a video that played over the faint tickling of piano keys in Houston’s Fountain of Praise church. “We know you will never feel the same again. … Unlike most, you must grieve in public. It’s a burden. A burden that is now your purpose to change the world for the better, in the name of George Floyd.”

That same morning, Donald Trump’s attention was focused on the widespread protests and unrest that had beset the country in the wake of Floyd’s killing. “Buffalo protester shoved by Police could be an ANTIFA provocateur,” he tweeted, referencing a viral video in which a 75-year-old man was pushed to the sidewalk by police and could be seen bleeding from his ear. “He fell harder than was pushed. Was aiming scanner. Could be a set up?”

This is not to say Trump hasn’t discussed Floyd’s death—he has. “The death of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis was a grave tragedy. It should never have happened,” he declared on May 30 after the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “I understand the pain that people are feeling.” But off-prompter the president quickly returned to his preferred “law and order” message on the demonstrations, and a week later was in the Rose Garden imagining Floyd “looking down” and saying of what had happened in his name since his death, “This is a great thing that’s happening for our country.”

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