April 9, 2017

SCHULMAN | Showing Empathy (Better Late Than Never)

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I saw Newt Gingrich speak before break. This was my first real political event at Cornell (technically I saw Jeb Bush, but I only went for a class) and I’ve been meaning to write about it. Better late than never right? Listening to Gingrich speak said a lot about American politics these days. It made you feel like so many different life styles in this country are out of touch with each other.

The divisiveness of the event was palpable. There were a handful of protesters outside; a ton of police presence; and you had to get tickets two days in advance (because of the heckling we gave Rick Santorum this fall). You could tell a few people came out to see a confrontation rather than what was in Gingrich’s speech.

Gingrich and his supporters’ lack of empathy towards the things this campus seems to value caused that tension. It’s related to the growing gaps between rural and urban; old and young; and educated and non-educated. The lack of empathy between different demographics comes from an ignorance about how the other half lives. Maybe it’s a willful ignorance, but I have faith in people.

Gingrich and his supporters made me question that faith a little bit. Their lack of empathy towards gender equality shocked me. In the most confrontational part of the event, someone asked whether women get respect in Washington (considering the current president’s record on respecting women). He wrote off the concern with a joke about locker room talk to which the audience chuckled. It was uncomfortable.

The ignorance displayed between Gingrich and his supporters and the majority of campus goes both ways though. He came to sell a book and talked about American rust belt workers’ frustration with politics as usual. It’s a tired narrative and nothing you couldn’t see on Bill O’Reilly. But, I wonder if it sunk in, considering how this fall’s election blindsided so many people at Cornell. A lot of people on campus don’t empathize with Gingrich’s points about American manufacturing’s struggle.

I think there’s hope though, because the people who came for a confrontation were disappointed. Gingrich hung out an extra half-an-hour because we were so welcoming. I can’t tell why we were so calm. Maybe it’s because Gingrich doesn’t wear his more radical attitudes on his sleeve. More likely it was the police presence, limited entry and lower political tensions compared to the fall.

I think our campus tried to empathize with Gingrich, and he tried to empathize with us. A surprising number of liberals came out to hear him talk (I know because the crowd went wild when he pointed out that that Bernie almost won the democratic nomination). More importantly, Gingrich acknowledged the criticisms of the welfare reforms he pushed through in the 90s. His policy was pretty devastating for America’s inner cities. After 30 years later, Gingrich seemed to admit it.

All this to say there’s hope we teach each other about the things we find important so we can empathize with each other. Although the tension when Gingrich spoke was palpable, I think he learned from us and we learned from him. I think it says a lot about politics these days. Perhaps the election wouldn’t have ended so regrettably if liberals showed more empathy towards the things that made Trump so attractive to the rust belt.  That’s my schtick this week. Tune in next for more.


Eric Schulman is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]Schulman’s Schtick appears alternating Mondays this semester.