Are You Adding to The Empathy Deficit?


I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. Here’s a quote from my friend Keryl McCord’s Facebook post that explains why:

So tonight I’m calling bullshit on progressives who still think that voting for, well, you know, Voldemort, is okay for progressives because it isn’t. You may want the system to be destroyed but the dogs of war will be unleashed on black and brown people, on Muslims, gays, and women. And if knowing that you still think that’s an option then you are not progressive, nor an ally. You’re just another foot on the neck of the people you supposedly support.

Let me be clear that it isn’t just Voldemort straight up: a vote for the Green or Libertarian candidate is also a vote for Trump, because it does nothing to close the gap between Trump and Clinton. I’m voting for Hillary because voting for Jill Stein, or any other third-party candidate whose views are closer to my own, would help elect Trump. That would be a disaster for the nation as a whole, and most particularly for the groups Keryl listed, those Trump has called out by name.

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton, and trying to wrap my mind around the political viewpoint that prizes personal ideological purity over disastrous consequences for the vulnerable. I supported Bernie. The Bernie-supporters who say they are voting for Stein or Johnson or even Trump inevitably marshal the same arguments: I have to vote my conscience, I can’t support the lesser or two evils, the system is corrupt, Bernie was cheated, and I can’t stomach being part of it.

It reminds me of a Talmudic inquiry. A question is posed: is it better to give one dollar to charity with a full heart, or ten grudgingly? The self-regarding obsession with purity that flavors so much of contemporary politics has to think hard before answering “One dollar with a full heart.” But really, there’s only one answer. Charity exists to benefit those in need. Ten dollars gives ten times more relief. How you feel about it is your problem. At bottom, it’s a simple act of empathy, valuing others’ interests—especially those who would suffer the consequences of a wrong decision on your part—as much as or more than your own.

There’s only one answer to “how shall I cast my ballot to help avoid the election of Donald Trump?” This is a real-world political decision informed by the actual impact of elections and real awareness of consequences. Whatever else is going on, voting for Hillary is a simple act of empathy for those who would bear the brunt of a Trump regime. How you feel about it is your problem.

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. All the way to the ballot-box and all the way beyond, I’m pushing as hard as I can to move her policies toward freedom, justice, and equity.

Right after Bill Clinton’s Speech at the Democratic National Convention, a well-respected activist I know (who happens to be Muslim) shared Peter Beinart’s piece in The Atlantic calling out one of the former President’s remarks:

”If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together, we want you.” The problem is in the assumption. American Muslims should be viewed exactly the same way other Americans are. If they commit crimes, then they should be prosecuted, just like other Americans. But they should not have to prove that they “love America and freedom” and “hate terror” to “stay here.” Their value as Americans is inherent, not instrumental. Their role as Americans is not to “help us win” the “war on terror.”

(You’ll find an account of other tweets, posts, and comments on Clinton’s words in this excellent Liberal Islamophobia Companion published by Imagine 2050.)

I shared Beinart’s essay on Facebook with this comment: “If this doesn’t make your blood run cold, substitute the name of any other religious or ethnic group for Muslims here. The candidate should apologize for her husband immediately.”

I got lots of comments, many agreeing. (Someone took me to task, saying Bill Clinton should apologize for himself, but I thought it would be best for the candidate to distance herself from remarks that had given offense).

But there were also long strings of back and forth with commenters I mostly didn’t know, all white men, quite angry at me and asserting Bill Clinton’s positive intentions. He didn’t mean it that way. He was only “responding to the RNC’s rhetoric of hatred.” “We don’t know his intent.” “It is inaccurate to condemn him.”

I kept replying with the same point: “What matters more? Your own judgment of his intentions? Or the actual impact of his statement on Muslims as I am hearing it directly from those affected?” The passionate defenses of Clinton’s positive motives, the repeated assertions that he was only trying to respond to Trump’s vitriol—this was so much a collective repetition of the interpersonal experience of being told “you’re just imagining it.” As a Jew, a woman, the child of immigrants, I have had so many opportunities to experience this type of denial, it rang a too-familiar bell.

It doesn’t matter what the feelings of the charity-giver are; what matters is the help given to the recipient. And it doesn’t matter what Bill Clinton’s intentions were; what matters is the impact of his words on those he was talking about.

I ended up writing the following as my final Facebook comment on the post: “I appreciate these responses, because they have made me reflect on what feels like an important question. What is it that makes asserting the innocence of Clinton’s intentions more important than prioritizing the response of those who have good reason to fear they will not be equally accepted or granted equal human rights in this country? For me, if the people most affected by the comment feel it is necessary to speak out, that suffices to justify a correction. Positive intentions seem to mean very little compared to actual impact.”

None of the angry commenters responded. Just as with the progressives Keryl’s comment addressed, it seems the principle of considering harm—and conversely, Cicero’s ancient question, “Who benefits?”—can’t compete with the need to sustain a self-image of purity.

I’m voting for Hillary Clinton. A big part of the reason I’m doing it is how worried I am about the future of this country when I contemplate the massive failure of empathy on the part of the privileged that is becoming increasingly evident in so many political exchanges. Under Trump, political life would be about fighting to hold the line against further incursions into human rights and freedom. Under Clinton, we’ll be able to continue the great and increasingly widespread work being done to cultivate empathy and social imagination. Often, I have observed, it doesn’t take much to strike a spark of compassion. Just helping someone imagine the consequences of a world without the Golden Rule may sometimes be enough.

Think before you vote, I beg you. If you refuse to vote for Clinton, is your choice expressing the conviction that your self-image is more important than the suffering of countless others? Forget about intent. Imagine someone who belongs to Trumps’s vilified categories—perhaps you’ve brought to mind a Muslim who happens to be African American and lesbian. How might that person perceive your choice? When it comes down to real consequences, which side are you on?

Ruby Velle and the Soulphonics, “It’s About Time.”
[youtube: video=”oTR_ls5a4MQ”]

5 thoughts on “Are You Adding to The Empathy Deficit?

  1. For certain this is our worst election choice ever, but these arguments ring every time. It is this sort of thinking which keeps us locked into the two party system, which is the reason we always end up with choosing the lesser of two evils rather than having someone decent for whom we can vote. My mother gave me the same argument back in 1972 when I first voted, about throwing away my vote if I vote for a third party candidate.
    Additionally, I would ask you, are you only concerned about people of color in the US, or worldwide? I am not a trump supporter, far from it, but I believe he has said he will end the wars elsewhere. We know that Hillary has voted for war at every possible instance and is a proud and strong supporter of the military-industrial complex. And so how many will suffer at her hands when she creates reasons to war on peoples in, perhaps North Korea or in new countries in the Middle East? Are you really so certain that a Clinton, the wife of the man who shoved NAFTA down our throats and caused endless suffering as a result, will strive for justice anywhere? I’m not. I had much more hope for Obama but he turned out to be O-bomb-us with his drone warfare. Hillary will for sure continue that legacy.
    I think it is more important to work in our communities on such things as justice for disempowered people, rather than hoping anyone at the top will do anything good. Sadly, they are all power hungry and too far away from the suffering to be helpful.
    Is it better to vote for Clinton and keep Trump out? For our country’s further embarrassment, yes. For those who always come out on the short end of the stick, I don’t know, honestly. The Clintons are self-serving and corrupt, but will she also help the disenfranchised as a side effect? I guess we can hop so. But I tire of having to face this same issue at every election, voting out of fear rather than from my conscience. Especially as voting from fear really hasn’t worked very well for us in the long run.

  2. DonH
    “For certain this is our worst election choice ever, but these arguments ring every time. It is this sort of thinking which keeps us locked into the two party system, which is the reason we always end up with choosing the lesser of two evils rather than having someone decent for whom we can vote. My mother gave me the same argument back in 1972 when I first voted, about throwing away my vote if I vote for a third party candidate.”
    I think Bernie Sanders pretty much explained it. 3rd party candidates in the US system only serve as spoilers. Candidates are running in 51 separate lection, each producing electoral votes needed to win the presidential election. a 3rd party candidate only cuts into the same voter demographic he might marginally match. They are not capable of winning 270 electoral votes. Do you want examples?
    – Teddy Roosevelt in 1912 drawing votes away from Howard Taft
    – Ross Perot drawing votes away from HW Bush in 1992
    – Ralph Nader drawing votes away from Al Gore in 2000
    Sanders has been approached by Jill Stein, he said that he does not even know her and it would be a terrible mistake to support her. If you want to had the presidency tofred a very dangerous man, be my guest

  3. I think it’s a mistake to assume that those who are considering voting for Jill Stein are on a “purity” kick and/or are lacking in empathy for their less fortunate fellow human beings. Personally, while I agree with what I take to be Ms. Goldbard’s basic argument (We simply cannot have Trump), I can also understand the feelings of those who say that in these extremely perilous times we need radical and immediate change. The reports of, for example, scientists studying the Arctic and Antarctic (our planet’s increasingly rapidly shrinking cold-storage centers) strongly suggest that we haven’t got time for the incremental approach that “pragmatists” such as Hillary feel is the only way things can get done.
    Trump is unspeakably dangerous; enormously ignorant, emotionally weak, and utterly self-centered. It would be disastrous to have him as President (the really horrifying thing is the number of American citizens who don’t seem to realize this). The Republican Party has disintegrated; all of its other candidates for the Presidency would also be dreadful. BUT. The Democratic Party, while clearly better, is nowhere near what we so desperately need at this critical juncture.
    There are three issues that we now face that are of such compelling importance that they should be at the very top of any real candidate’s list of “must do” items: Climate change, the takeover of our democracy by a corporate oligarchy, and the empire building and sustaining activities over the last several hundred years of the United States and Europe (think, for example, “regime change”, and oil).
    Hillary Clinton gives these matters nowhere near the emphasis they must have. It therefore seems clear to many of us that neither the Republican nor Democratic party will adequately address the literally life-threatening problems we now face; in fact, they will both allow them to become worse. Two evils, either of which it would seem could actually kill us (failing to deal with climate change could do it by itself; think food alone).
    Jill Stein, on the other hand, has a very good understanding of the nature and the extremity of the threats we have brought upon ourselves, and she offers realistic ways to approach them. Her ideas are by far the best of any candidate in this election, and it is for that reason (not lack of empathy) that so many of us want to support her (for one thing, how will she know how much support she has if people who support her can’t vote for her?!). BUT. She hasn’t got a chance of winning the election. The Duopoly Party has it locked up. Jill can’t even get into the debates since they took them away from the League of Women Voters.
    I think that there are extremely strong arguments to be made for the apparent necessity of voting (as usual) for the lesser evil, especially with Trump on the ticket. But I think there are also valid arguments to be made for saying that a lesser evil is still intolerably evil at such a critical time, and that it’s time to put our vote where our heart is.
    Does anyone really believe that the Democratic Party will be brought around in the foreseeable future to where the Green Party is now? Does anyone find it strange that Hillary, who should be WAY ahead of Trump, is virtually tied with him? If she can’t beat THIS guy… I live in California; I plan to vote for Jill unless the race looks close in CA, which I do not expect. If it is, I’ll grit my teeth and vote for Hillary because I do agree that the bottom line this time around is that Donald Trump must not be elected. But this is one hell of a strange position to be in.

  4. I start my comments with the fact that the repebulicans stole the election at least three times through acts of treason and/or blocking votes and/or, not letting the votes be counted, as the Supreme Court did for GWB. We have been suffering economically since Regan stole the election and are now much more insecure as the results the Bush wars. I think most of the above commentators agree with these facts which brought us to where we are today.
    Why Obama was unable to complete his agenda due the the failures of the republican leaders to engage in resolviing the differences between their point of view and Obama’s efforts to not only identify the seriousness of the problems like climate change, gun control, immigration policy, and appropriate medical care for all of us, for example. I have to ask why on earth would anyone who supported any one else in the recent democratic primary of than Hillary, not accept and support the winner of this primary?
    For me the reasons given for votng for anyone other than the Democratic canditates as stated above, simply do not measure up to our duty to protect ourselves, our loved ones, our courntry, and our world!
    In my view, as one who was a Great Depression and Dust strom child, can still remember what enabled President Rosevelt to get the New Deal enacted and enforced because we the people pushed him into doing so. And we became unified enough to win WWII, wherein I served as an Army Air Force pilot, while restoring our economy and our balance.
    I just can not imagin any issue of importance to those who vote for anyone other than the winner of the 2016 Democratic primary for the selection our candidate of having any chance at all of being able to exert any force on the slipery slidy con man that the other party was tricked into selecting by the relgious fundamentalists , such as their canditate for vice-president, in coots with the corporate lobbyist and their finacial supporters.
    Please join me in pushing Hillary Clinton into leading us away from the mess created by the republicans in office since the Reagan years. To start all the reforms necessary to restore the Middle Class and provide support for those who are trying their very best to be a part of the Middle Class, to restore stablility in our relationshi;s with all the other nations on this earth. To do what all we can now do to reduce global warming. And to end GUN VIOLENCE. And to estabish an immagration policy which protects the immagrants and our security. And, all the things that on your list of to do-s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *