Now that the Election is over, Empathy is the key to moving our country forward
President Donald Trump! A year ago, such an outcome would have seemed incredibly farfetched. His victory flew in the face of the polling and the prognostication of the pundits. It has likely panicked the political elite and initially shook the stock market.
The real question is how this seemingly impossible event could occur. The answer lies in the utter dismissal of the undercurrents prevalent in much of the country, outside the earshot of those who have influenced and run this country in the past. This should be a sounding of the tocsin-the alarm bell, further ignored only at one’s political peril.
The conservative “right” is often singled out for what is viewed by the media as extreme and prejudiced positions on traditional values, security, gun control or protected class rights. This seemed inevitable given the perception of a general shift in the society’s sentiment towards the “left.”.
In this respect, the so-called “progressive” community does not, nor has it substantively tried to, understand, the people who represent the central core of Trump supporters that in fact make up a significant portion of our population. Because they could not understand the cultural and philosophical underpinnings and motivations, it was easier for them to simply drop those who do not adhere to their orthodoxy into the “deplorables” bucket and ignore them.
I certainly understand the emotions behind many of Trump’s statements (even if I often cringe at his articulation). Those sentiments were very poignantly expressed in Arlie Russell Hochchild’s recent article about his time spent embedded with the ordinary people of rural Louisiana.
“You are patiently standing in the middle of a long line stretching toward the horizon, where the American Dream awaits. But as you wait, you see people cutting in line ahead of you. Many of these line-cutters are beneficiaries of affirmative action or welfare…Then you see immigrants…As you wait in this unmoving line, you’re being asked to feel sorry for them all. You have a good heart. But who is deciding who you should feel compassion for?… As you wait your turn, Obama is using the money in your pocket to help the line-cutters. He and his liberal backers have removed the shame from taking. The government has become an instrument for redistributing your money to the undeserving. It’s not your government anymore; it’s theirs.”
Whether or not those words represent objective reality, I think they very succinctly capture how much of middle America (in the “fly-over” Red states) viewed the policies of the past quarter century. The very mechanism by which the citizens can redress their concerns, the freely elected government, now no longer belongs to them. The political system, our government, is inexorably slipping away from us all.
In that respect, rural whites are now feeling the same worries as urban minorities, that the system is unfair and discriminatory. They believe that jobs and prosperity have been taken away by government policies that in their mind were deliberately designed to undermine their future. Their American Dream is receding out of reach.
It has now come to the point where the entire population (except for the political elite) feels disenfranchised and everyone believes it is the other group’s fault. The belief is now, “they” are taking what we feel is rightfully ours and the government (whether it is police or the IRS) is the engine of injustice.
Under such circumstances, we lose empathy for others be they from another race, religion, country of origin or political party. Unfortunately, empathy, the ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from their perspective, is the very foundation of the compromise so necessary for a functioning democracy. Unfortunately, compromise has become a four-letter word.
However, without compromise it will be difficult to create coherent policy or a reasonable budget. If this continues, we will see more dysfunctional government for the next four years. We need to regain balance, where everyone sees something in it for them, not just for the winners and that requires compromise.
What is the solution? How do we begin the process of reconciliation?
The first step is to understand that there are legitimate differences of opinion and that we are stuck with each other as a nation. Each citizen is important in a democracy and worthy of respect. We cannot continue to alienate groups different from ourselves, even if we disagree with their point of view.
We are all depraved and sinners. None of us has the moral authority to cast stones. If we can accept our own failings, perhaps we can start to relate to those of others. Once we do that, we can begin to treat each other in a civilized fashion. Our “tribe” is fundamentally no better than theirs.
Furthermore, it will do our country no good to spend the next few years crucifying our national leaders. The winners must not seek retribution, regardless of the temptation to do so. Given the current state of affairs, I have doubts that clear and convincing evidence will come forward to convict Hillary Clinton. Regardless, continuing our national self-flagellation will only degrade our country’s ability to influence the rest of the world and engender further animosity within our own borders.
Finally, we must put the good of the whole ahead of our personal, sometimes petty, beliefs. Not everything is an assault on our core values. Start with the things upon which we can agree. For example, we all understand that national defense or interstate infrastructure must be maintained. Surely we can fund those without dragging inflammatory social policies into the debate.
If we can agree on one thing-solve one problem-create one small success, perhaps we start the process of healing. The question is whether each of us can step beyond our blind pride, to humble ourselves for the sake of our country and our children. If we can, perhaps there is hope yet.
I did not think I would say this at the end of this election, but I am cautiously optimistic. Time will tell if I am a fool.