The United States of America is currently “The Divided States of America” according to TIME. How did we get here? Part of it has to do with emotion. Much has been made about the role of emotions in the most recent presidential election. They played an important role in shaping a massive populist movement headlined by Donald Trump, one that underscored the need to retain some semblance of a ‘greater’ American past in which its foundational promise as a nation to be open-minded and big-hearted is not made. As a result, fiction, or “alternative facts” defeated facts.
Nearly three months later, these emotions have not tempered. At best, they have largely been displaced by those against President Trump. The same division wrought by his election, however, remains. With a transition period and now a presidency more closely resembling the most consequential reality show of all time with each passing day, it’s easy to see how compelling emotion can be a truly destructive force.
Emotions shouldn’t be completely condemned just yet. They don’t always create hardship:oftentimes they help people get through hardship, as many are at the moment. As unrealistic, fear-mongering policy proposals are transformed into federal policy, communities under duress are becoming increasingly tight-knit and passionate in the defense of their own rights and the rights of others. What’s largely overlooked are the particular emotions that were preyed upon during the campaign. There was hostility, anger and frustration. It was focused vitriol against people accused of taking something, whether it was jobs, morality or both. There was also widespread panic about the consequences that would result if nothing was done immediately and drastically for the disenfranchised that resonated with Trump’s message: the country’s forgotten men and women. Without a champion, they were told, they would remain an afterthought and be left to fend for themselves in an environment foreign to them, . The Trump campaign declared a cultural war between “us” and “them.”
As such, blame doesn’t lie with people whose legitimate complaints about being marginalized were heard, and subsequently manipulated into blithering cries that became voices of a movement grounded in hatred. Misdirecting resistance will only make matters worse. Culpability lies with the leaders of that movement. If anything, they should not be trusted with uniting the country after they were the ones who organized its division, and furthermore, emotion should be removed of any blame as well. In fact, emotion should not only be excused, but used as part of the effort we must take upon ourselves to reunite the country against the discriminating force of the Trump administration. Even though they are both based in raw, unfiltered emotion, hatred has always been a divisive force, and love one that unifies.
I’m not saying you should propose to the next person who disagrees with you nor that you should stifle dialogue if it means avoiding conflict. I’m saying that we are at a turning point where we can’t afford to overlook any common ground, even if that ground is purely emotional. Emotion is what this division reduces to, and in the spirit of fighting fire with fire, we need it to reduce the division itself. Political identity, or voting record for that matter, has little to do with considered reflection of and opposition to Trump’s disaffected policies. The successful appeal to emotion in strengthening support for them can be used to diminish paralyzing partisanship and unite all compassionate Americans against the President’s mandate to enforce them. We can shore up the gaps between the two “sides,” person by person, conversation by conversation. It should be an effort informed by the collective goal of respecting and seeing our shared humanity with more clarity than ever.
I have essentially described a nationwide process of soul-searching. In spite of Trump’s rhetoric today, America has been a multicultural democracy for centuries. Nonetheless, this is an uncertain time in which many are reevaluating our pride as a melting pot. In his memoir America is in the Heart, Carlos Bulosan recounts his experiences as a Filipino immigrant in the United States during the ‘30s and ‘40s. His life is one marked with restlessness and relocation, a survival dictated by a spastic labor market especially brutal for those at the bottom like Bulosan. Even though the narration reads like a series of “beatings, threats and ill health,” it also contrasts his feelings about America run with his stricken American narrative.
He strongly feels that America is indeed an ideal, albeit an incomplete one. He also feels that we should all work towards its completion: all Americans from all classes, races, religions, nationalities, sexual orientations, gender identities and disabilities. Each and every person capable of feeling emotions necessary for us to heal and live together. Compassion, empathy, love and kindness; taking heart in each other has always been effective in undermining campaigns to turn us against each other. Even with the embittered hatred Bulosan faced throughout his life, he saw the sharing of his emotions, every little moment of sadness and joy, as something towards this end.
Even though he never achieved his “most cherished dream” of becoming a citizen, his ability to connect with the reader’s emotions through his own affirms that Bulosan was, in every sense of the word, an American.