Predictably, the calls for empathy for “the other side” have already begun. This tweet from Ian Bremmer is one example:
Now is the time for every Biden supporter to reach out to one person who voted for Trump.— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) November 7, 2020
Empathize with them.
Tell them you know how they feel (you do, from 2016).
Come up with one issue you can agree on.
While I understand the sentiment, I find these demands for empathy to be premature. The speed with which these demands have come (and the people they tend to come from) tell me that they do not know anyone who has been hurt by the effects of Trump’s policies–much less have been hurt themselves.
One of my former co-workers had his wife prevented from joining him here because of the Muslim ban. He and I were working on a contract at the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service at the time. Another co-worker from that time was married to someone from one of the banned countries. Imagine trying to explain to your child what the president said about the place you come from, and your faith.
For years I have listened to Trump and his supporters attack birthright citizenship–the very thing that makes me an American. I’ve seen his administration make it harder to become a citizen legally and try to strip citizenship from naturalized citizens like my parents. I have quite a few friends from the places Trump called “shithole countries”. I’ve stressed out along with my staff and friends at work about whether or not their visas would be renewed as they navigated a process made deliberately harder by the Trump administration.
The people who voted for Trump–twice in some cases–meant for us to endure another 4 years of these assaults on citizenship, faith, and dignity. Even as I write this, some of his supporters are amplifying Trump’s baseless charges of voter fraud. To ask those who opposed Trump to show empathy to his supporters now shows a real lack of understanding for the profound harm Trump’s presidency has inflicted on marginalized people (and likely will still inflict because his presidency doesn’t officially end until Inauguration Day in January 2021).
Sympathy may be possible later, perhaps even empathy–even though his supporters certainly displayed none who disagreed with them in 2016–because those of us who at least attempt to take our Christianity seriously believe Matthew 5:44 to be a command, not a suggestion. But it will not be on anyone else’s timetable.