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The Rise of the Age of Hate or Moving Towards Empathy

Craig Zelizer

November 9, 2016

I woke up this morning to see the announcement of the Trump's victory as President. I can say personally I am horrified to see this result for both the US and the world.  It is clear that in the US and in many regions of the world, that there is an growing distrust in political, economic and social systems.  Unfortunately the current trend towards change is not an approach based on empathy, humanity and justice, but more towards conservatism, hierarchy and fear.

I think when Trump first started to go from businessman to TV star via his show the Apprentice, that few could've imagined that a decade later he would be elected president of the United States. In looking at the show (which I am embarrassed to admit I did like for the first year or two for the business aspects, but not for the treatment of candidates), I am concerned that the way the show ran is the same way we will see the next four (I hope just four) years in the US.  Instead of an age of supporting and engaging one another as people living in the same land, with respect, admiration, curiosity  about our differences, it is likely to be the age of fear, disrespect, and instead of engaging with difference, pushing away anything seen as "the other."

What does this mean for the millions of people who don't look like Trump or the overwhelming majority of the republican party? It is hard to say, but when a candidate talks about targeting people based on identity it certainly isn't likely to positive. As a white Jewish male, at least for now I don't fit in any of the targeted "categories" that may emerge from a Trump administration. But I have an incredibly responsibility to speak and work to ensure a more welcoming country. If the space for civic interaction and humanity does become much more narrow in a Trump administration, what will this mean for my friends, colleagues, peers and my country?

As someone who has lived in Europe (including London), is married to a wonderful woman from Colombia and a citizen of the US, I was hoping that the US wouldn't follow the global trend that seems to be taking place.  It was hard to fathom the pro-Brexit vote, and the implosion of the political leaders who led that campaign. Even sadder to see Colombians vote no to the current peace agreement (by  .5%, although I'm optimistic based on my trip last month that there will be a revised agreement developed in the next month or two. The key question will be how to move this forward in that the public supports and can be implemented. It is hard to fathom voting no to peace, after  50+ year war that has caused unspeakable suffering for generations.)

But it is even more difficult for me to understand how the US could've chosen Trump as president. I do have friends who like or love Trump and we enjoyed teasing each other during the campaign and challenging our beliefs. The good news is that although we each perceived the other as completely delusional in our political beliefs, we were able to maintain friendships. Thus I know it is possible to have interactions and find common ground on some areas.

What is the increasing backlash against the political status quo? There is no single explanation, but it is clear that many people are being left out in the age of globalized capitalism, that inequality is increasing in many areas, that although there is increasing interaction of people across cultures, languages, identities, there is also a strong "fear of the other" among segments of society.  I do personally think there are four main reasons for the election of Trump.

1) First while white people (although clearly a minority in the world) still make up the majority of the population in the US, in the next 20-30 years they will become a minority (see this very interesting report on demographic trends in the US and the world http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/03/31/10-demographic-trends-that-are-shaping-the-u-s-and-the-world/). There are quite a few people who are scared of this trend and what this means for identity. Van Jones, a leading activist, powerfully said on CNN That this election was a "Whitelash." Race, inequality and difference are huge parts of the result. We need to take proactive and creative action to look at the very harsh reality of race and injustice in the US, and find ways to bridge the huge gap.

2) Second, that a big part of the election was due to economic issues, even more than race. There are huge segments of the US (and of course the globe) that are suffering under tremendous economic stress, and that for many Americans it is very challenging to make ends meet. Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be a strong push for changing our priorities in the towards putting people first and investing in education, health, international development, instead we put inordinate amount of funds in war/defense. The economist Jeff Sachs has written a wonderful piece in the Boston Globe, about how we can apply the Sustainable Development Goals to the US, see http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2016/11/06/prosperity-sustainability/z7vNoiT4LRILz9REeN4bWN/story.html

3) Third, that globally political institutions are losing status and trust of the very populations they are claiming to serve. Thus, the call for radical change sounds attractive, although in reality what this means in many countries to date where there has been this push is a retreat to the past conservatism,  repression and not  incredible explorations of new forms of organizing and policymaking.How can we remake our institutions to use 21st century tools of engagement but ensure it is based on empathy? There are many interesting experiments taking place in the sphere of civic tech, but we need much greater vision and action.

4) The EchoChamberization  of Media - Increasingly media is becoming fragmented and personalized. This has many positive aspects in that anyone can be a media producer, an incredible diversity of voices, etc. However, this also means that many people are only consuming media (and seeing in their social media feeds) sources that reinforce their own beliefs. I can say this from the conversations I've had with friends who are Trump supporters and they incredibly divergent view of the world and even more so the facts. What can we do to create more empathy and interaction across an increasingly fragmented media world that in many cases doesn't inform and question, but reinforce and divide?


One good point that has resulted from this election, is many Americans have a fundamental belief that somehow our country is better than others and that we can teach the world how great democracy or the free market is. Of course there are many great things about the US, in particular our diversity, innovation and spirit of service. But we also are a nation fraught with contradictions, inequality, incredible racism, dysfunction, a mismatch of global idealism but often policies that cause great harm, etc. We are also free to walk into our mess as we are doing right now.

It is clear that the next four years will be a time of change, I am deeply concerned of the vision of the US and world, that promotes fear, instead of love, closed-mindedness instead of empathy, hierarchy instead of equality, conflict instead of peace, extraction rather wholeness. As a human being, peacebuilder and entrepreneur I will continue to work for empathy, understanding, justice and humanity. I know there are millions and millions in the US and around the world who are striving to foster positive change and hope.

The challenge is can move past the age of hate? How do we engage with the "other"? How can be move towards an age of empathy? Is that naive and unrealistic.   How do I explain this to my son? Van Jones a leading activist for social justice and someone I greatly respect,  stated..."It's hard to be a parent tonight. ... You tell your kids don’t be a bully (see below)". It will certainly be an interesting time, something I certainly didn't want to see happen. Do we respond with empathy, hate, a fight for justice, understanding or something else? The choice is ours.

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