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The politics of caring: what this election can teach us

We awoke ‪the morning after the presidential election to a festering wound made raw by the long campaign and, for some, split open by the results of the election. It is a wound of fear — not just any fear, but fear of people on the other side of the political divide.

Some supporters of Mrs. Clinton, for example, fear Republicans putting in a conservative Supreme Court justice. They fear this will tip the balance of the Court in favor of restricting a woman’s right to choose.

Meanwhile, some supporters of President-elect Trump have feared the policies of Democrats. Along with the loss of their jobs, coal miners, for example, fear losing their centuries-old way of life—the Appalachian hamlets in which they live and sing the hymns of their ancestors who are buried on the hills. “Will the circle be unbroken?” they ask in one of these hymns—unbroken in heaven, but broken here on earth through their government’s inattention to their economic realities.

Government can work to improve the economy, and it can ensure rights. But government cannot be the salve for the wound of fear. The only salve for that wound is caring for those on the other side.

To apply this salve, we must imagine the source of the wound for each other. We do not have to agree on the complex reasons for the changing energy economy to imagine coal-mining communities’ fear of losing deeply cherished ways of life. Nor do we have to agree on the interpretation of the Constitution to imagine the fear of having women’s rights undone.

Election By tstrong20 CC0 Public Domain Via Pixabay
Election by tstrong20. CC0 Public Domain Via Pixabay.

But this imagination is not merely for the sake of understanding. It is so we can act. Caring requires that we work with others unlike us to preserve that which they fear losing. One of this election’s great lessons for our politicians is that they should care enough about those on the other side to work with each other to ensure that that which we care about is preserved and protected. After all, isn’t our government to be concerned about the welfare of all? Should it not protect our individual rights? Government can only do this when those governing care about all of us.

Some voters voted out of fear of people unlike them, people with different countries of origin, people who speak different languages, and who worship different gods. Some voters voted out of fear of people who come here seeking a better life—undocumented people who try to improve their circumstances through the back-breaking work of picking produce as day laborers, their working conditions and their pay uncertain. Some voters voted out of distaste for the voters who fear people unlike them, unable to understand their fear’s source: their own poor pay and working conditions—or no work at all. Yet when we care for voters unlike us, we also help them to see that this country holds a special place for immigrants who come to escape war and violence, poverty and hunger, and who come to give their children a good education and a chance in life. When we care for voters unlike us, we help them to see that this country has a large enough heart, plenty of land, and an economy that can help them and immigrants. After all, our incoming first lady came as one herself. When we care for voters unlike us and help them improve their circumstances, we help them overcome their fear of others.

Maybe the greatest lesson from this election for all of us has to do with the kind of society we want. We have to care about the freedoms ensconced in the First Amendment—freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. And we have to care about justice applied fairly to all, including caring about the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. For when we do not care about a free and fair society, we cannot freely and fairly care for others. Yet when we freely and fairly care for others unlike us, we come together as one nation.

Caring for others is a powerful mendicant, which we all must now apply across the divide if we are going to heal the wound of fear.

Featured image credit: 2020 Senate Election Map by Orser67. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Recent Comments

  1. Siobhan

    The president elect is a sexual predator, a bigot, a misogynist, a demagogue, and the most divisive dangerous presidential candidate in living memory. He has massive conflicts of interest, he has hired a white nationalist to advise him, and he has threatened to jail his political opponents. “When people show you who they are believe them.” Stop trying to normalize a fascist, and do not use your outsize moral microphone as a nurse and a professor of nursing to make calls for a false “unity” with an authoritarian kleptocrat. What is happening is NOT normal, it is NOT politics as usual, and it is incumbent upon those with moral authority to denounce hate and advocate for the vulnerable among us. This is our role as nurses.

  2. Thomas

    “Caring for others is a powerful mendicant…”
    Can you explain this, please?

  3. Ian M. Evans

    I could not, as both an observer and a clinical psychologist, agree less with this commentary. I was in Wisconsin just before the election and saw the neat, well-kept homes with large yards with Trump signs on their lawns, with riding mowers, leaf blowers, flag poles, boats parked in the drive with a large black pick up truck in the spacious garage. These people were not fearful, nor were they suffering because of NAFTA, nor did they really fear their 2nd Amendment rights were at risk. There is no reliable sociological research/survey evidence that people voted for Trump out of fear. So my assessment, that they voted out of hate and hostility, is just as likely to be accurate as the suggestion in this commentary .

  4. Mark Lazenby

    Indeed, the times are not normal, nor are the politics. As nurses, we have a far greater political power than using ad hominem vitriol, as Mr Trump does. Our power is to heed the sayings and actions of great people: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your enemies. And of course, Dr Martin Luther King Jr taught and showed us how to respond to ad hominem vitriol, as well as to racism, sexism, xenophobia, violence, and all the hatred and fears of those who wish to make the world a hateful and riven place to live: Peaceful resistance. As nurses, we have a duty to care for all people who need our care. But when we care for people who hate us, fear us, do not want to make room for us in the world, we peacefully resist their hate, fear, and division. We show them a still more excellent way: Acts of caring subdue hate and overcome fear. Acts of caring for all people as people undoes racial, sexual, and homophobic discrimination. Nurses, after all, apply nursing care regardless of who the person is. Caring for all is radically inclusive in the face of hateful division. The politics of caring will always win over the politics of hate, fear, and division. We nurses can show the US this more moral and profound way to live and be in the world.

    If these times are post-factual, when people vote off emotion (mostly hate, fear, and racial attitudes), then facts cannot change them. Moral acts of caring can, however. Care, not argument nor politics, has the power to triumph over hate, fear, and division.

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