I haven’t been writing much, if at all, in the past month. If you were to say it was due to this whopper of a presidential race, then you would be much correct. But it’s not just because people on one side believe I should blindly follow one candidate and not question her past statements, including those in which she openly bragged about building private prisons. It’s not even about others fervently backing a man who is perhaps the least qualified person to ever file papers to run for president. Actually, that last part has something to do with it. But something deeper is at play here.
Donald Glover’s new, absolutely brilliant show “Atlanta” recently aired an episode where one of the main characters, rapper Paper Boi, goes on a fictional Tavis Smiley-like talk show. On this talk show, which lasts the entirety of the episode, Paper Boi was being grilled for comments he made against Caitlyn Jenner, while defending himself by defiantly saying he’s not interested in the LGBT movement because of their disinterest in his own struggle as a black man. All in all, the message this episode tries to put forth is that it’s fine for people to have their own beliefs and movements, but if they, in turn, can’t support other movements, then they don’t really have a right to have others be receptive to their own concerns.
This, I believe, is what is truly so awful and off-putting about this election cycle. We as Americans have lost our ability to be a politically empathetic society. What was once spirited, respectful communication has devolved into caps-lock abuse, half-true memes and disparaging names for our political opponents so immature and petulant that only the youngest among us actually find them clever. While Hillarys and her supporters have been guilty of this (think: basket of deplorables), the vast majority of what I refer to is so explicitly seen in those who support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. It’s even embedded in his slogan, “Make America Great Again!”
“Taking into account how others are impacted by certain decisions while alternately making other decisions means that you can understand the concerns other groups have, and be trusted enough to continue to make decisions with them in mind. Nothing that Trump nor his supporters have said and done in the past year and a half show me that they have what it takes to make politically sophisticated decisions that positively impact all Americans.”
People gravitate toward slogans like that because they lack the empathy to see that America was not and still is not great for a lot of groups, namely black people, immigrants and Muslims, all of which Trump has denigrated at some point in the course of his campaign. The way he disregards people who are not straight white males really harkens back to a time where these people didn’t have to consider the impact of their decisions on others. Things were much, much simpler back then. Trump voters don’t want to have to empathize with those marginalized groups, so therefore voting for Trump is a way out of doing this, at least for the time being.
But one can only attempt to run the clock out for so long before reality sets in. A consequence of this total lack of empathy for others in the political process is that it leads to a lack of political sophistication when it comes to decision-making in most, if not all, of the issues we face as a nation. What people don’t realize is that empathy and great political decision-making go hand-in-hand. Empathy allows for one to become politically sophisticated. Taking into account how others are impacted by certain decisions while alternately making other decisions means that you can understand the concerns other groups have, and be trusted enough to continue to make decisions with them in mind. Nothing that Trump nor his supporters have said and done in the past year and a half show me that they have what it takes to make politically sophisticated decisions that positively impact all Americans.
With demographics swiftly changing, this is not how you run a national campaign in 21st-century America. You can no longer have a one-size-fits-all plan to engage the electorate, disparage other parts of the same electorate and still expect to win big nationwide. Some people are fine with being marginalized, and think that if we just can handle a little bit of marginalization then overall we will be okay. Others may call this identity politics or pandering. But in politics, it should be a top priority to talk to and understand new groups so that you can figure out a way to best help them. It’s only pandering if you think of empathy as a four-letter word, as is the case with so many of our politicians today, especially Donald Trump.
This world and this political climate both are perpetually changing. Thankfully, more people from traditionally marginalized backgrounds have a seat at the table. This has allowed us to learn different perspectives to ensure that everyone is heard and their concerns are acknowledged and addressed. Unfortunately, throughout this campaign, there has only been one side so passionate about suppressing voices of color and their concerns, and this dubious honor resides with the GOP and their nominee for president. I know the same thing was said in 2012. But, seriously, this time, if the GOP doesn’t adapt, turn on that empathy switch and reach out to groups that didn’t have voting rights in 1789 America, then the party will go the way of the Whig and the Dodo bird.