Thursday, November 3, 2016

Researcher: "Empathy" Needed for Conservative White Feelings

What sweet fresh navel-gazing hell did I just read at The Washington Post?

Title: "What is this election missing? Empathy for Trump voters."

In it a liberal Berkeley professor assumes the role of explaining to us(?) the white working class conservative in its natural habitat. She strove to understand, to really understand, this population, ultimately arguing that our (liberal? elite?) lack of empathy is driving us apart.  And further, if we liberals want to re-capture this population as political allies, the onus is more on us to understand them, then vice versa. Even if they are extremely hateful to us.

A few things.

One, yes, understanding is good. I've written a similar argument about the importance of understanding those with whom we disagree politically. The context of this piece was my, I guess I'd call it, attempted civil "mixed-company" conversations about marriage equality with people opposed to my full legal equality, some of whom devoted their professional lives to my inequality.

Which brings me to two. For civility to occur, I think that the empathy has to be multi-directional.

This piece isn't the first I've seen seeking to humanize, empathize with, and understand Trump supporters. Perhaps I've missed them, but have there been many conservative-written or mainstream-published think-pieces urging Trump supporters to extend their empathy to Clinton supporters or, say, to Black Lives Matters activists?

If the onus is "more" on liberal to to be the empathetic understanders, as this particular researcher suggests, my life lesson with such things is that many conservatives will take and take and take from us, just like the emotional-vampire MRA who comes to a feminist blog to talk about nothing but men, without reciprocating the empathy. That hardly seems fair, sustainable, or healthy.

Three, and also related, nearly all of these let's-empathize-with-Trump supporters pieces have elided the very real bigotries displayed by many Trump supporters. They litter rallies and social media sites with "Trump that bitch" messaging. They call for the imprisonment and/or execution of Hillary Clinton. They think Black Lives Matters activists are violent radicals. They hate-fear Muslims. They're set on electing a sexual predator, a misogynist, a racist, a xenophobe, and someone who said he'd elect anti-choice Supreme Court justices who would limit reproductive rights for generations.

It is explained to us, non-academics who actually have interactions with the white working class (who might even be part of or have come from the white working class), that these white working folks "just" feel left behind. They have economic anxiety. How these anxieties explain, let alone justify, say calling for Hillary Clinton's execution isn't explained quite as much.

And, because the empathy only works in one direction, because we are implored to center white working class fee-fees, their bigotries remain unchallenged. How we're supposed to co-exist with people who we fear and who deny our full humanity, dignity, and equality, while maintaining our own preservation and well-being, goes unaddressed.

In a bizarro way, these humanizing narratives of Trump supporters offer their own soft bigotry of low expectations for conservative whites: the belief that they can never be better than what they are and that it's up to we enlightened liberal elites to tolerate them.

On the upside, Election 2016 is really helping define my own personal boundaries of progressivism. We really aren't a monolith! Take that.

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