• Nancy Dafoe

Rook, Raven, or Crow on Trump



Trying to get away from the daily assault on the senses and outright horror of our current political scene under the Trump/GOP cabal, I started reading a book about birds. I had been carefully observing birds of late—nesting birds, courting birds, and hatching chicks during the early months of our COVID-19 self-quarantine. Spotting Jennifer Ackerman’s book The Genius of Birds, I began reading her New York Times Bestseller, never expecting my mind to return to politics during the experience.

However, as I read about biologists’ recent discoveries that some birds appear to demonstrate sympathy, even consolation, my mind returned to the Trump administration. Deeply immersed in science as I read, I was profoundly struck by Ackerman’s revelation of research discoveries made by scientists regarding ravens, rooks and crows: When discussing bird behavior, Ackerman wrote, “consolation is of special interest, say the researchers, ‘because it implies a cognitively demanding degree of empathy, known in humans as sympathetic concern.’ Consoling a victim means first recognizing suffering and then responding in a way that alleviates it for the sufferer. This requires sensitivity to the emotional needs of others—a trait once thought unique to humans and their closest relatives, chimps and bonobos.” Ackerman is startled as I was to find that some species of birds exhibit sympathy for a victim and attempt to console a distressed bird. Empathy, sympathy, and consolation are prized human social and emotional capacities that indicate a higher level of functioning, one not believed possible in birds until recent studies.

Well, there it is, I thought. Donald Trump, lowercase office holder of the presidency, is actually lower on the biological scale of development than a variety of birds. His inability to demonstrate sympathy, empathy, and certainly exhibit consolation are visible to even the most casual observer, let alone the scientific researcher.

Setting down Ackerman’s highly entertaining book for a moment, I considered the fact that we would all be better off if the current office holder of the American Presidency was either a rook, raven, or a crow rather than a Trump.



Painting of Crows is in Nancy Dafoe's collection and created by artist Barbara Baum.

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