Empathy Lost

By Henry Lynch (Harvard College Undergraduate)

This week has made me think a lot about my late grandfather, a staunch Republican whose views differed from mine in almost every way. However, I remember many times sitting down to watch Fox News with him late at night when all my other relatives, who carefully avoided politics in conversation, had gone to sleep. He would tell me about his views on voter I.D. laws, and taxes, and tell me about the backgrounds of the Republican leaders and reporters we were watching. He helped me see the reason and intelligence behind many ideas that baffled me.

These evenings came to mind in the days preceding and following the election, when I spoke with classmates and friends who decided to vote for Trump. Or with those who have since chosen to look at his election as something positive. I listened to them, and let them know that I would respect their opinions and their choice to support a divisive candidate anonymously. In doing so, I heard not the angry, bigoted rhetoric that defined so much of Trump’s campaign, but the same reason and intelligence that I heard on those nights with my grandfather. But just like then, I found I could not reconcile their opinions with my own views.

I look at the four years ahead of us, and like many people who voted for Trump, this outcome will most likely have little affect on myself directly. I am a white, straight, cisgender, reasonably well-off male at an elite private university. There is nothing about my person that is being targeted by either Trump, or any of his supporters. Yet I am afraid. From the moment I saw there was a possibility of Trump winning, utter fear consumed me. I feared for my sister, and I feared for my mother, and I feared for my girlfriend, and for my LGBTQ friends, and for my Black friends, and for my father’s Muslim colleagues, and for every person I’ve met who may have came into this country illegally. In essence, I feared for the future of my country.         I empathize with every person whose life may radically change due to this election. 

But I also empathize with every person who felt so lost within our political landscape that they saw no option other than to vote for someone who disgusts them. And despite how hard it is, I understand and live the privilege they use to feel safe with that vote. And just like them, I could choose to block out the fear felt by my fellow Americans and rest easy in my privilege. But I refuse to do so, and everyone who is afraid with me must let their fear be heard.         Those who see no issue with a Trump presidency may not understand why we feel afraid. The only way they will understand is if we let them. If we want anything to change, people need to put aside their differences and truly listen to one another. Empathize with someone who is different from you, so we can all understand why so many are hurt and why others let this pain happen.         Trump is our president elect. The time for preventing that is over. Now is the time to come together with those who believe in basic human rights and make sure that the poisonous rhetoric that has defined Trump’s campaign never comes to fruition.

Hillary did not lose. Empathy lost. And we need to make sure that never happens again.