Race, Religion, and Empathy

Donald Trump at his June 20 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The National Catholic Reporter reports that Trump support declines among white and Hispanic Catholics. From my perspective, that’s a good thing. This indicates that the president’s support among Catholics is trending in the right direction. But … and there’s always a “but” … that story’s sub-heading is not so positive: But poll finds he would still win the white Catholic vote. Based on a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, it seems that 57% of White Catholics still say they would “vote for/lean toward voting for” Trump. Though different conclusions may be drawn from the same data, these data continue to paint a picture that says this: White Catholics tend to value their “Whiteness” more than their “Catholicity.”

As a White Catholic who is also gay and of Irish heritage (today would be the 108th birthday of my Dublin-born maternal grandmother!), this is what I find so troubling: I and those who came before me know what it feels like to be “othered,” to be excluded, to be on the outside looking in. Thankfully, great progress has been made for Irish-Americans, though there was a period not too long ago when there was significant anti-Irish sentiment in America, and “NINA” (No Irish Need Apply”) signs often accompanied employers’ Help Wanted advertisements. Even more recently, the increased acceptance in American society of LGBTQ people has been a beacon of hope for those who, less than a generation ago, were often compelled to remain closeted about a fundamental aspect of who they/we are. The great promise of America is that there is no such thing as the “other.” Our national motto — E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One) — enshrines the more folksy sentiment that in this country, every stranger is simply “a friend I haven’t yet met.” Americans’ greatness becomes real when we practice what we preach, when we welcome with open arms the world’s tired, poor, and huddled masses “yearning to breathe free.”

And yet … when we look at our current president, and especially at our fellow citizens who so vocally support him at his rallies and online, we hear nothing but “othering” language which tries to build walls between the false dichotomy of “us and them.” Trump’s entire presidency (some might say his entire life) has been marked by using race, religion, sex, gender and ethnicity to “other” any and all who might challenge him, disagree with him, or see things differently than he. As humans, the experience of having been “excluded” is an experience that should increase our empathy, not propagate discord, disdain, and division. Empathy is the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes, to see the world through their eyes, and recognize that their experience is valid and valuable. Empathy opens my mind and my heart, and leads me to embrace more deeply the truth that we are much more alike than we are different. Empathy — and my faith — tell me that, deep down, there really is no “us and them,” there’s only US.

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