Jef Rouner
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The Right Doesn’t Want Empathy. They Want Forgiveness, and They Can’t Have It

The Right Doesn’t Want Empathy. They Want Forgiveness, and They Can’t Have It
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Photo: Gage Skidmore


The election of Donald Trump sparked a lot of soul-searching in America, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is often a stupid thing. A lot of folks search their souls the way my seven-year-old searches for a favorite toy she’s lost; haplessly, and positively allergic to the concept of lifting up piles of things to see what might be underneath.

Since last November there have been a lot of think pieces written about the “hidden” or “forgotten” America, the rural whites just expressing their dissatisfaction with their prospects. So many of them want the “elites” to know that they were forced, yes forced, to vote Trump because no one would listen to them.

Now, Charles S. Pierce already wrote a fantastic piece on why all those people can go pound sand, so I won’t tread over a path already so eloquently laid. Instead, I want to talk about the call for empathy from the left. I can’t seem to go a day without hearing how the answer to our current predicament is to reach out and understand the Donald Trump voter. Like, as if racism and a complete lack of a social conscience is a hard concept I just haven’t grasped yet, or something.

I have empathy for the Trump voter. Really I do. I am a cishet white dude who grew up in the East Houston barrios. In my youth I was way racist, believed men’s rights talking points, was homophobic to the point of violence, and, what the hell, a rape culture apologist on top of all that. These days, I too work in a dying industry and wake up every day wondering if I’ll be able to afford college for my daughter or to ever retire. I get it, okay? I know where the feelings come from.

However, it’s not empathy they really want. What they want is forgiveness, and they can’t have it.

There was never a good reason to vote for Trump. His record as a businessman made Carly Fiorino look like Henry Ford, what policy ideas he had were all laughable or awful, and he’s as unchristian as a kosher deli. Spite against Hillary Clinton, or the system, or political correctness seemed to be the only legitimate emotion that spawned a vote for the man. The term pyrrhic victory was invented just for this moment in American history.

Now that things have settled into this terrible new normal, Trump supporters are demanding tolerance from the left. Thing is, tolerance from the left is the trap that we constantly fall into because we keep mistaking the asking as an act of good faith. It’s always a one-way street, where the right demands we reach out and then does absolutely nothing on their side.

That’s why I call their plea for empathy a plea for forgiveness. When, for instance, trans people have the right to use the bathroom in accordance with their gender identity, absolutely no one opposed to the idea is harmed in any measurable way. You will never find a conservative actually trotting out a real-world example of a child molested in a bathroom by a trans person. It doesn’t exist. It’s just fan fic.

However, you can trot out trans people who have been harmed by these policies. We could have the world’s saddest parade if we were so inclined. And this is just one example. Women harmed by anti-Planned Parenthood witch hunts, minorities killed by the police state, babies in Iran who will not be getting life-saving surgery thanks to the ill-conceived Muslim ban. The right hurts people. The left hurts feelings. The two are not equally relevant.

This is why I my forgiveness isn’t forthcoming. It’s not that I’m incapable. Voting Trump didn’t burn an X in anyone’s head, and we can sit and have a long, loooooooong talk about all the stupid things I’ve done in my life whenever you like. Here’s the thing, though.

You have to stop doing them.

There was a viral TED Talk a while back from a woman and the man who raped her. This couple tours the country and wrote a book about the experience, and you can have all the thoughts you want on the subject, but part of the story is that this guy learned something he thought was okay was actually wrong. In doing so, he became an advocate for betterment in the world. Is he still a rapist? Yep, but he’s trying to reduce the overall level of rape in the world, and that’s a hell of a lot more than most people are doing.

Forgiveness is a thing that happens on the other side of sin. An alcoholic can be forgiven after he finds a way for alcohol not to destroy the lives of those he loves. A president can be forgiven for terrible acts when he stops doing them. A core part of forgiveness is impetus on the part of the sinning party to reduce the damage done for their transgressions.

Any Trump voter that comes to me and says, “I was wrong, and I’m sorry” will find nothing but open arms and warm regard. I’m a religious Whovian, and I’ve forgiveness coming out of my pores. But you have to stop hurting people. You have to stop making the world a shittier place to mitigate your own unhappiness. Otherwise any show of empathy is just enabling. The right needs to do the reaching at this point. They’re the lost ones.