A New American Revolution Requires Empathy: Equity for All Means Loss of Privilege for Some
The Women’s March over inauguration weekend in 2017 spurred a great deal of activism across the U.S. and throughout the world.
However, similar to Bernie Sander’s campaign, the Women’s March exposed a problem since data on Trump’s election show that white women, who seemed to constitute the bulk of the march, voted for Trump in a majority:
Throughout my social media feeds, black women scholars and activists noted that if white women had voted as black women did, there would be no need for the march:
As well, if anyone is willing to listen and to listen seriously, racially marginalized groups have explained that this new normal under Trump is a multiple generations long reality for them; see Paul Beatty: ‘For me, Trump’s America has always existed.’
The question before us: Is the current move to resist Trump the result of a privileged class responding only when consequences affect them?
More evidence of this disturbing probability has been revealed when Trump voters continue to rail against Obamacare (assumed that is for the Others) and simultaneously embrace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), under which they are covered.
Now consider Donald Trump’s Authoritarian Politics of Memory in which Ruth Ben-Ghiat offers another incredibly damning observation:
The founding moment of this era came one year ago, when Trump declared at a rally, “I could stand on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any voters.” Trump signaled that rhetorical and actual violence might have a different place in America of the future, perhaps becoming something ordinary or unmemorable. During 2016, public hatred became part of everyday reality for many Americans: those who identify with the white supremacist alt-right like Richard Spencer openly hold rallies; elected officials feel emboldened to call for political opponents to be shot (as did New Hampshire and Oklahoma State Representatives Al Baldasaro and John Bennett, among others); journalists reporting on Trump and hijab-wearing women seek protection protocols and escorts. The bureaucratic-sounding term many use for this, “normalization,” does not fully render the operations of memory that make it possible. Driven by opportunism, pragmatism, or fear, many begin to forget that they used to think certain things were unacceptable.
Trump’s pronouncement may have seemed extreme, but it has mostly proven to be accurate.
At the core of this disturbing reality may be several factors: a cultural norm of self-first thinking, a garbled understanding of government and public institutions, and thus a poorly steered democracy that fails to function as a democracy for the equity of all.
If we return to considering who and why protests emerged after Trump’s election, and factor in how misinformed many Trump supporters have proven to be, we can conclude that being misinformed and self-first is a tragic combination.
However, the U.S. breeds self-first (and self-only) thinking by falsely claiming the country is already a meritocracy (it isn’t), and combining that with a blind commitment to competition, a society grinding up its citizens in Social Darwinism.
To view life as a competition is antithetical to democracy and equity for all.
The dirty little secret of social justice and fighting for equity is that those with privilege (and all the power) will necessarily lose their advantages when equity is achieved; in other words, there is no way to avoid the “winners” (who now believe they win because of their effort and not their privilege) viewing equity for all as a loss for them.
Therefore, the current winners-from-privilege are the most vocal proponents of universal competition and the eradication of government as intrusive and totalitarian.
The racial tension spurred by the Women’s March highlights how we have yet found a common ground to honor the plights of the marginalized, to fore-front those historically ignored voices, and then to behave with empathy for anyone, regardless of the consequences to the self.
There is a reason the powerful elites vilify communism, socialism, and Marxism — all of which are grounded in ethical pursuits of equity, all of which call for revolution based on the exact empathy competition destroys — and conflate “government” with totalitarianism to mask the potential for public institutions to ensure equity:
I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. (Eugene V. Debs: Statement September 18, 1918)
A new American revolution requires empathy, a groundswell of people who believe and act as Debs expresses above.
If any white people, including the uprise of white women marching, fear the specter of Trump’s administration, they have now experienced the fact of life for many “deliberately silenced [and] preferably unheard” — black, brown, poor, born outside of the U.S., LGBTQ+, Muslim, etc.
A people dedicated to community and collaboration, and not competition, a people grounded in empathy and not “me first” or “me only” — these are the soldiers ready for a new revolution in which equity for all can be realized.