A Politics of Empathy

We need to end environmental heedlessness and xenophobic populism. How?

Through a politics of empathy that can give hope to the least advantaged and that is ecologically sane on the local, state and national levels. The Green New Deal exemplifies such a politics. 

But that requires the ability to understand what’s going on with others more than we usually show in politics. 

Evangelical environmentalists as well as the political left all too easily dismiss “deplorables” who vote for Trump in the United States or Le Pen in France. 

But if you grasp why people are attracted to the politics of Trump and Le Pen you find, in most cases, they’re not environmentally insensitive xenophobic populists. Rather, you find people with complex identities. 

Not Trump. I’d be incapable of reaching someone who exhibits such self-absorption. But ordinary voters, like most human beings, have very complex identities. 

So, we need an anthropologist’s empathic capacity to understand other people. 

For example, Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (2016) and Robert Wuthnow’s The Left Behind: Decline and Rage in Small-Town America (2018). 

But our everyday experience of the rural-urban divide in Oregon should give us a starting point to cultivate empathic capacity. 

And we have to feed that capacity into the political process to have people capable of getting, not everybody who’s voting for Trump, but enough Trump supporters to put an end to environmental heedlessness along with the xenophobic populist threat to egalitarian democracy. 

Sam Porter