When the nation elected Donald Trump to the presidency last November, it was the first election in recent memory that inspired such monumental emotion. At USC, when students streamed directly to Tommy Trojan in the heart of campus, a sense of community felt immediately necessary. The next morning, there were tears, and in the months after, there were peaceful protests and think pieces fruitlessly attempting to understand what happened, and how it changed everything. But the uncanny thing about a disorientation so constant is that it becomes the new normal. So when almost a year later, Trump and the Republican Congress continue to wage injustice after injustice, it does not feel like Election Night 2016, when students allowed their voices to be their hope. It feels like every day brings a new, more horrible battle. And yet, the test is whether empathy, advocating for communities even and especially if they are not one’s own, can last past the initial disillusionment.
And yet, the test is whether empathy, advocating for communities even and especially if they are not one’s own, can last past the initial disillusionment.
As long as there are those who remain disregarded by an administration that refuses to see their humanity, it is a moral imperative that students not let catastrophic moves such as the multiple travel bans or the uncertainty surrounding the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program feel routine. These life-changing, family-changing decisions must be protested, or at the very least, spoken about — and not only by those who know what it is like to feel politically oppressed. Simply put: The trait of being “political” nowadays is no longer a personal decision. It is a humanitarian one.
In August, when Trump equated neo-Nazis with the protesters who marched against white nationalists, it was not just the right versus the left. When he threatened the futures of undocumented young people, it was not just the right versus the left. His rhetoric and policies have fundamentally transformed the American political climate into one of progress versus pain. And that is not an exaggeration — though it’s perfectly clear that there are those who take it as such, and who will laugh in this article’s face because of it. Already the counterarguments are waiting: Don’t be overdramatic, don’t be so sensitive. If only it were that simple.
One of the facts that has become increasingly clear in the past months of political turmoil is that the vocally hateful rely on a very specific group of people to maintain their own voice — the ones who don’t care. If enough people participate in discriminatory behavior and enough people don’t think twice about it, then that behavior is normalized. Apathy and passivity go hand in hand; one cannot exist without the other. And though that may sound false, because not doing something doesn’t necessarily mean that one doesn’t care about the outcome, it simply means that the people who can afford to do nothing about oppressive systems are also the ones who remain unharmed by it. These are the people who — in the long and invisible run of things — actually benefit from them.
One of the facts that has become increasingly clear in the past months of political turmoil is that the vocally hateful rely on a very specific group of people to maintain their own voice — the ones who don’t care.
This article would be remiss not to mention the Huffington Post story that broke through the surface of simmering, righteous, exhausted thinkpieces that have come to populate news outlets’ opinion sections of late: “I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People,” read contributor Kayla Chadwick’s headline, above her article published last June. In it, Chadwick explains how paying a little bit more to help save the lives of strangers is worth the personal sacrifice, saying, “I don’t know how to convince someone how to experience the basic human emotion of empathy.” According to Chadwick, a moral barrier supersedes political difference.
And if it is, indeed, a moral segregation that pushes Americans in different directions, then it is disconcerting that the contradictions disproportionately exist on the more conservative end of the spectrum: Those who push patriotism and citizenship as the highest American values cannot seem to unequivocally state that it is wrong and obscene for people to own guns that can wreak mass destruction on other Americans. Those who claim to believe in the promise of unborn children’s lives — but who did not say “enough” after 20 children died in a 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Those who are ready to deport undocumented young people who were children when they arrived in the country, who allowed the Child Health Insurance Program to expire earlier this month at the expense of 9 million low-income children.
For many, renewed and heartbreakingly familiar conversations about gun control and how to prevent more tragedies after the Oct. 1 massacre in Las Vegas embedded a growing hopelessness and resignation that nothing would be done. On his HBO program, late-night comedian Bill Maher decried the rhetoric utilized by Republican leaders after tragedy — “thoughts and prayers” — as empty words, a cheap and inconsequential substitute for effective change.
Because, strip away politics, strip away allegiance, strip away patriotism, strip away race and gender and age and geography, and it becomes abundantly clear that the attempt to pass gun control legislation is — and is only ever — a testament to the sanctity of human life.
And yet, this resignation at the prospect of inaction was just half of the frustration. There is also the unthinkable prospect of anyone having a differing opinion on the need for gun control at all. Because strip away politics, strip away allegiance, strip away patriotism, strip away race and gender and age and geography, and it becomes abundantly clear that the attempt to pass gun control legislation is — and is only ever — a testament to the sanctity of human life. It is the right to live and to not be afraid of living.
There is no law or other man’s moral value that supersedes this fact that a person’s right to life should never be measured or brushed aside or put under another’s — or, worse, put under a political ideology. It is one of our nation’s greatest shames that this is seldom applied to today’s politics. And it is confounding that some people pretend to be blind to the injustice apparent in politics today, because they do see it. It is confounding that they do nothing about it. It is confounding that they are quiet. It is confounding that anyone — artists, business people, writers, engineers, doctors, average citizens — can live their lives, in the presence of oppression, and decline to speak up or take any action for fear of “dragging politics into it.”
In a Jezebel article titled “All the Greedy Young Abigail Fishers and Me,” writer Jia Tolentino dissects the increasing scrutiny over affirmative action after years of counseling affluent white students through their college application processes. In her article, Tolentino characterizes the embrace of colorblind admissions policies as “generally associated with the type of person who has only ever thought of race as something (1) bad that (2) belongs to other people.” This reference to “other people” is crucial. It ties into what Chadwick was talking about in the Huffington Post, about empathy and how it exists in an entirely different place from the political realm.
It is not hard to empathize. It is basic human instinct. What makes it so difficult, then, for progress to be achieved when so much of it is clearly wrapped up in seeing the worth in other people’s lives? In his New York Times article, “Why Rural America Voted for Trump,” writer Robert Leonard quotes former congressman J. C. Watts: “The difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Republicans believe people are fundamentally bad, while Democrats see people as fundamentally good.” Clearly, though, both sides recognize that not all people are fundamentally good. There are those who don’t see the value in other people’s lives, and who commit actions so unprecedented and unnatural that it forever shifts the way we talk about evil in the modern world.
Maybe what separates these political sides isn’t an inherent, inflexible worldview. Maybe what so-called liberals see — instead of a stagnant and fixed present — is a future that can be different.
Maybe what separates these political sides isn’t an inherent, inflexible worldview. Maybe what so-called liberals see — instead of a stagnant and fixed present — is a future that can be different. One that lies perhaps out of reach, for now, but that has always held its promise of peace. And there is goodness in this future, where people are worthy simply because they are people. This point can only be reached through marching in the streets, educating friends and family and listening. The issue is simple. There is nothing that connects the human race but empathy, the ability to think beyond one’s own body and walk of life. And across all political issues in which the promise of people’s lives are put at such high stake, empathy is the only thing worth considering. It can and one day will heal this political rift.