Days after a historic election result, many Americans can now be comforted by the fact that their next president, Joe Biden, won’t go on a Twitter crusade that denigrates everyone who doesn’t identify as a white male. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve had to watch a Black person lose their life at the hands of police or get upset over a pandemic that could’ve been contained. So for the first time in four years, I’m breathing a deep sigh of relief at the potential of our new future—but some critics believe that this exhale lacks empathy.
This past Thursday, Sara Haines, cohost of The View (and a registered Democrat), asserted that Democrats should refrain from name-calling and offer empathy to Trump supporters, saying that "we can’t expect empathy if we don’t give it as well.” Former White House Republican Press Secretary Ari Fleischer recently told Fox News that people should be patient, and “the decent thing to do is let the president himself take the time that he wants to absorb this.” This is coming from the same Republicans who just told liberals to cry harder during a global pandemic and who said, as reported by Reuters in 2016, that they would reject election results if Hillary Clinton won.
These responses seem to lack a complete understanding of what empathy is. As cited in Merriam-Webster, empathy requires a level of understanding that simultaneously allows you to experience the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of another, even if you haven’t directly experienced them yourself. However, I don’t understand anyone who gives their blessing or empathy to a man who puts children in cages. I don’t understand anyone who takes zero action when schoolchildren are gunned down in their classrooms, and I definitely don’t understand anyone whose response to violent neo-Nazi groups is that there is “blame on both sides.”
We won’t be able to look back on Donald Trump’s presidency without remembering how he deemed majority Black countries shithole countries, collectively referred to people of Mexican descent as criminals, and told a white nationalist group to “stand back and stand by.”
While I can empathize with the struggles of working-class Americans—nobody should have to struggle to put food on the table for their children—it would be disingenuous for me to purport that white superiority will solve this economic issue. Not to mention that working-class Americans are not a monolithic category, and many Black, Latino, and Indigenous people are also part of this group.
Many on the right operate under the belief that people of color and immigrants are to blame for their economic struggles. According to a 2020 Pew Research study, 42% of Republicans think that legal immigrants take jobs away from Americans. However, only 14% of legal immigrants work in manufacturing, with the majority of legal and illegal immigrants in the U.S. working in agriculture, an industry that makes up only 2.6% of jobs in the U.S. The real culprit behind the challenges rural communities face is wage stagnation, automation in the agricultural industry, and a retail apocalypse, not people of color.
That's why it’s important to remember that there can be no unity without introspection. Nobody is immune from this; Democrats and Republicans will both have to look inward to bridge the divide over the next four years. However, our economic issues, personal problems, and self-identity can’t be remedied by supporting policies that tear civil rights away from female, queer, and racialized people.
If you’re a Trump supporter who believes that women, racialized people, and LGBTQ+ people shouldn’t have the exact same rights as straight white Americans, then I can’t claim to understand the feelings that fuel your sense of what’s right and wrong. Calling out actions that are directly linked to adherence to racial superiority is not name-calling, and using the word racist is not the same thing as tossing out a playground pejorative. Anybody who believes in racial superiority is a racist, full stop, and doesn’t deserve empathy. And if you believe this, then you need to ask yourself some hard questions.
Some could make the argument that it’s only respectful to have empathy for people on both sides of the political aisle. But it’s important to note that Trump supporters are very different from their 2004 Republican counterparts that gave George W. Bush the election. Trumpism has become a political identity all its own, separate even from default Republicans. After all, there are many Republicans who don’t like or support Trump, and some of his biggest right-wing supporters will tell you that they are less smitten with the overall Republican party then they are with their leader’s demagoguery. If you identify as a Trump supporter, a person could only take that to mean that you buy into Trump’s ideology rather than a specific political party.
Donald Trump will not have the final say on what it means to be an American, and he cannot solve this identity crisis for you. Instead of arguing about empathy or who deserves our tears, the better question is: Are you American only in name, or are you committed to creating a better America?