The most alarming aspect of the American political climate today is a failure of empathy.
Of the many alarming aspects of the current American political climate, perhaps the most striking is the frequency with which politicians, political commentators, and the electorate have taken recourse to emotional abstraction. This may seem an odd assertion, given the more obvious invigoration of the alt-right, the continuing financial pollution of representative government, and the ferociousness of debates about race, faith, and belonging in American society.
Much has been said about the perversion of history that allows some to suggest that this country should implement blanket exclusions, large-scale deportation, or even mass imprisonment based on geographical origin or religious affiliation. As many people have noted, such views warp the shameful history of this country’s behavior toward marginal groups. Among other things, those views obliviate or even deny outright the Constitutional, economic, and political damage done by Executive Order 9066, which saw over 110,000 people of Japanese ancestry forced from the West Coast and relocated to what Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself called concentration camps.
Much has been said about the perversion of history that allows some to suggest that this country should implement blanket exclusions based on geographical origin or religious affiliation.
Criticisms of this sort are entirely valid, but they raise another question: What allows such sentiment to reach critical mass? This is an easy question to miss, particularly when the election cycle asks us to identify our political hopes, fears, dreams, and resentments with one or another person, rather than with the people and policies associated with that person. The risk in this is that we will ignore the engine of that person’s candidacy. And to ignore that engine is to ignore a vital, if elusive, part of what allows reactionary sentiment to gain purchase in the first place: emotional abstraction, which is in truth a failure of empathy.