With greater and greater frequency lately, the right wing is using one-offs to move public opinion. They are using stories and anecdotes appealing to our emotions and focused on a single person or incident in an effort to stop us from making higher and better choices for all of us.
A case in point — undocumented immigrants. A higher and better analysis would take into consideration all of the many positives that come from “illegal” immigration, positives such as economic stimulation, better lives for all who flee horrendous situations in their home countries, and the jobs and services performed by a willing migrant workforce that would remain unfilled without these individuals. The right wing counters all of this with one anecdotal account — a violent act, say, such as an assault committed by one migrant — while the overwhelming majority of undocumented immigrants contributes very positive things to society.
CBC Radio’s The Current recently featured a fascinating interview with Paul Bloom, professor of psychology and cognitive science at Yale University. His book, Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, is all about the need to think and reason clearly about the problems we face, and base our decisions and policies on compassion and, most importantly, facts. We need to rise above empathetic, emotional reactions whenever the right, or anyone, pushes our buttons with simple, one-off stories and narratives.
As we look south of the border to the year about to unfold, let’s hope that popular mass action based on rational thinking and compassion will not just slow Trump down but stop his agenda in its tracks.
I’m already heartened to hear about the sit-in in the office of Trump’s pick for attorney general, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who has taken action in the past that is obviously racially biased. Dignified in demeanour and dressed in suits, the protestors, who included Cornell William Brooks, president of the NAACP, were determined to sit in Sessions’ office until his nomination was withdrawn or they were arrested. Unfortunately, the latter came first.
I’m equally heartened by the huge march for women’s rights on Washington DC January 21, the day after the president’s inauguration. With women, men and young people signing up daily, it may be the largest inauguration demonstration ever. “Sister” demonstrations are springing up across the US and Canada, including Vancouver.
By coincidence, the march and inauguration happen just days after Martin Luther King Day this year. Already more than 150,000 people are registered. Could it be that the numbers will swell to even more than Martin Luther King’s 1963 march on Washington when he delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech — the largest demonstration in the nation’s capital so far?
I am not just optimistic — I’m predicting that we will witness in the coming months the awakening of progressive consciousness on a scale not seen in decades.
The silver lining to Trump’s election will be the convergence of the kind of rational compassion Bloom advocates and the activism for justice we’ve been witnessing lately. It will be the North Dakota water protectors, the Black Lives Matter and Idle No More people, and all the environmental activists we’ve been seeing in the streets coalescing times 10.