Opinion: Empathy on all sides is key to progress

Nicholas Hunter

The past six days have been some of the most intense and emotionally shaking times in my life. A man who, to many (including myself), represents a reversal of all the social progress that has been made over the past eight years in the United States, has just become our president-elect.

Personally, I have a point of view that is not necessarily unique, but gives me an insight in a valuable way.

While I am in Kent, I generally speak to very liberal people. They are pro-President Barack Obama, pro-Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and either pro-former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or indifferent to her; however, they are all unequivocally anti-Trump. Whether it be about his social stances, his lack of policy details or his lack of experience, he embodies what every liberal whom I’ve spoken to fears in a conservative politician.

On the other hand, many people I see on social media are pro-President-elect Donald Trump. They would post many pro-Trump and anti-Clinton memes, share videos of Clinton’s flubs and Trump’s successes and occasionally call upon their followers and friends to show solidarity in support of Trump.

What I did not see were excuses for his racism, sexism and xenophobia. The Trump supporters I know didn’t share the video of Trump mocking a reporter with a disability. They didn’t share the videos of him calling Mexicans rapists and criminals. That was because they didn’t have excuses for those things.

What many eventual Trump supporters did have was fear and anger towards the system.

I know that they do not face the threat of police violence, public displays of hate speech or historic discrimination that many of the people who have been attacked by Trump’s words have. But what they do face is another variety of systemic oppression that many who are angered by Trump feel.

Many of Trump’s supporters feel like they have been ignored by the government, that they have been left behind while Democrats tout all of the social and economic progress that has been made.

The change that has occurred over the past eight years have made them feel as if their voice is not heard. Whether they have flawed beliefs or not, attacking someone’s beliefs without an explanation is ineffective in getting everybody on board.

The result of this alienation was an urgent desire to buck the system. To many eventual Trump supporters, that meant choosing an overwhelmingly controversial candidate was worth it — as long as another career politician wouldn’t be the next president.

My intention is not to excuse Trump’s rhetoric. It is not to dismiss the very real concerns of the people — including many of my close friends — who feel their life is threatened by Trump’s emboldening rhetoric. It is simply to explain a side of the coin that has been long ignored. A side that — if it had been heard from jump — would have never felt it necessary to elect Trump.

There are some supporters of Trump who do so because they believe in the racist, homophobic and sexist rhetoric he used throughout the election. Those people are not the overwhelming majority in this country.

After seeing such a gritty and divisive election, I truly believe that, even if you truly believe the other side is wrong, nothing will get accomplished without the use of empathy and meaningful conversations.

And as those conversations occur, and the country looks past the last 16 months of divisive politics, help one another. Show love and empathy. Provide comfort to those who need it. It’s the only way we can unite and move forward.

Nicholas Hunter is a columnist, contact him at [email protected].