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Robert Rabbin: Donald's Spiritual Dysfunction

Donald's Spiritual Dysfunction

by Robert Rabbin

I believe in miracles. I believe that from somewhere in the control room of life's mysterious and inexplicable process, things are made to happen without regard for reason, logic, or cause and effect. If one were religious, one would speak of epiphanies and grace, of transformations immediate and stunning, precipitated by spiritual forces beyond our comprehension.

That is why I held hope that Donald Rumsfeld would find his truly heroic heart, that humanity and humility would suddenly awaken within him--that grace would transform his darkness to light, his lies to truth, his cruelty to compassion.

It was not to be.

While a still shocked American public joined with the world community in grief and horror at the revelations of Abu Ghraib, and the larger story it represents, Rumsfeld went to Iraq, the country he began plotting to invade only days after Bush took office. He went to Baghdad, the city into which he sent hundreds of cruise missiles. He went to Abu Ghraib, the prison and torture chamber he authorized.

Rumsfeld gave a rousing speech to hundreds of U. S. troops and military police. He said, "We care about the detainees being treated right. We care about soldiers behaving right. We are about command systems working."

That he was completely disingenuous is beside the point. He spoke to the wrong people. Speaking only to his loyal troops was Rumsfeld's missed moment of redemption. That was the moment in which he confirmed who he is, and the state of his heart.

Had he wished to court the angel of grace, he would have spoken to those Iraqis whose torture he had approved.

Had he wished to demonstrate empathy, he would have gone to a hospital to speak with and hold some of the wounded, broken children, to listen to their mothers and fathers.

Had he wished to acknowledge the human consequence of invasion and occupation, he would have taken flowers to at least some of the thousands of graves of Iraqi civilians.

But he did none of these things. He did not in any way acknowledge to the Iraqis that they exist, let alone count. And this, tragically, is the state of Donald's heart. For him, Iraqis do not count. Iraqis do not exist. Human suffering is not real, and therefore it does not need to be acknowledged.

Donald's great flaw is also the great flaw of the Bush administration. It is partly, but not totally, comprised of lies, ineptness, arrogance, ruthlessness, and ideological extremism. But the greatest part of Donald's flaw is his utter inability to feel or fathom human suffering. The barbarism of Abu Ghraib did not arise from a failure of leadership, as Maj. Gen. Taguba theorized, but from a failure of spirit.

The spiritual dysfunction of Donald Rumsfeld is the same one that characterizes the Bush administration: lack of empathy.

The "dictionary" definition of empathy is the ability to identify with and understand another person's feelings, situation, or difficulties. But on the street, where people live and work and seek to fill their soul with the treasures of meaning and purpose and the gifts of love and joy, empathy means more. Empathy is the humanizing quality; without it, we are not really human beings. Empathy is conscience, wisdom, heart, connection with others; it is the kind of bold imagination that powers grand leaps of social evolution--where ideas like racial and gender equality, social justice, non-violence, and altruism suddenly find ground to root and grow. These ideas are corollaries of empathy, and these ideas become behavioral imperatives in human beings whose empathy is alive and thriving.

Empathy humanizes human beings; Rumsfeld's spiritual dysfunction objectifies human beings. Without empathy, violence has no break: it becomes more than tolerated--it becomes natural. This presumption of violence and war as natural is in reality a deep sickness of the soul. This illness is blind to the otherwise self-evident fact that violence begets violence, that "returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars." Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of empathy and social imagination.

The "top leaders in our government" have never shown any feeling, any empathy, any understanding of human suffering, torment, and death. They have, in contrast, gone out of their way to disguise, hide, and deny the real and horrific human cost of their folly--whether it is the caskets of American soldiers or the swollen hospitals of shattered children. Or Abu Ghraib. Or the yet unrevealed secrets that would send shivers down the spines of grave robbers.

In any of the countless press briefings and public statements made by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and other administration officials during the bombardment of Baghdad, the invasion of Iraq, and the long months of occupation--was even a single word spoken about the thousands and thousands of killed and wounded Iraqi civilians? I do not remember one. In fact, many of these officials made pointed remarks to the effect that we don't count Iraqi deaths. Why would we expect those same officials to be in any way concerned about a little abuse? "I'm not a lawyer," Rumsfeld said. "My impression is that what has been charged thus far is abuse, which I believe technically is different from torture."

In these dispiriting times, we find too many examples of people without empathy, masquerading as emissaries of righteousness. On May 11, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) demonstrated a lack of empathy with astounding clarity what: "I have to say, and I'm probably not the only one up at this table, that is more outraged by the outrage than we are by the treatment. The idea that these know, they're not there for traffic violations. If they're in cellblock 1A or 1B, these prisoners... they're murderers, they're terrorists, they're insurgents...many of them probably have American blood on their hands. And here we're so concerned about the treatment of those individuals."

Yes, Sen. Inhofe, true human beings are concerned about the treatment of those individuals. True human beings, with empathetic hearts, will not cower before you, or Donald, or protestations of necessity. True human beings will not submit or succumb to fear, hatred, prejudice, or voluntary violence.

True human beings will stand, speak, and act for what makes human beings human: empathy.

Yes, we are concerned about those individuals, as much as we are concerned about you, and Donald, and George.

Though I believe in miracles, perhaps reforming Donald Rumsfeld is too great a task for the angels of grace. Perhaps they need more time than we can permit. So, while the angels develop a strategy that will test their every skill and resolve, we humans must demand that Donald Rumsfeld be removed from office.

Right now.

# # # # #

(c) 2004/Robert Rabbin/All rights reserved

Robert Rabbin is a writer and speaker whose passion for radically engaged spiritual wisdom is expressed in his lectures, workshops, and social commentary. He is the author of numerous books and articles, and the director of For more information, visit

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