Political analyst E.J. Dionne Jr. spoke about the American electorate under Trump’s presidency on Monday, discussing key points from the book he co-authored, “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported.”
Dionne began by answering his own rhetorical question: “How did we get here?” He explained that for the past 30 to 40 years, Americans have developed a “contempt for government” and the electorate has “turned the word ‘politician’ into an epithet.”
“When it comes to government, there’s a popular assumption that those who spend their lives mastering the arts of administration and policymaking must be up to no good,” Dionne said.
According to Dionne, in the post-election debate, Democrats, progressives, and liberals often mistakenly argued that America faced a choice between two strategies: to forget about identity politics, which concerns minority groups such as the Latinx and LGBTQ+ communities, or to forget about the white working class. Dionne said he rejects both strategies.
“We need a new spirit of empathy in our nation that grasps the equities of our society in both class and race,” said Dionne. “We need politics that do not cast one group’s pain against another group’s pain.”
It should not have taken Trump’s election to remind the electorate that there are some Americans who have not shared in the national growth in wealth, Dionne added. He referenced Martin Luther King Jr.’s belief in the “conversion of adversaries,” meaning that racial and economic justice go hand in hand. Dionne explained that King was killed in Memphis fighting for striking sanitation workers and that the slogan for the March on Washington in 1963 was “jobs and justice.”
Dionne asked the audience to state the first word of the Constitution. A booming, collective voice echoed the word “we” throughout the auditorium.
“I think we need a politics rooted in a commitment to equality — equality of opportunity and of treatment — [so] that way it is a politics committed to fairness,” said Dionne. “We need to reclaim our right and duty to say ‘we’ again.”
A politics committed to equality is developed through empathy and the celebration of cosmopolitanism, Dionne added.
He emphasized that empathy should not be misinterpreted as pity or sympathy, but rather the “mutual obligation to understand situations that others find themselves in and the complexities of their thoughts and feelings.”
Dionne stressed the importance of empathy multiple times and shared that he has highlighted the same theme at previous events. In a 2016 event at St. Louis, Michigan, Dionne half-jokingly blurted out his idea for a “Make America Empathetic Again” hat. Three weeks later, a perfect replica of the Trump MAGA hat arrived in Dionne’s mailbox, inscribed with the slogan he had proposed.
Regarding cosmopolitanism, he referenced two ideas from former University philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah. The first is the idea that individuals have obligations to others that are greater than just sharing citizenship. The second is that individuals should never take for granted the value of life but rather seek to become informed of the practices and beliefs of others.
Dionne celebrated the diversity of the American electorate in his talk.
“Until recently, we have always ended up telling ourselves that we are better off as a country of many different peoples,” he said.
Dionne also spoke about “new democracy,” the topic for the fourth chapter in his book. He acknowledged that compulsory attendance at voting poll stations, with a small fine as a punishment, is one of the most controversial ideas in the book. Nevertheless, he justified his stance by arguing that voting is “as much of a [civic] duty as is serving on the jury,” and that the obligation of elected officials should be “to allow people to perform their civic duties and take part in politics,” not to prevent individuals from voting.
Although he expressed plenty of criticisms of the electorate, Dionne also complimented the “extremely promising” nature of the younger generation, saying that they are “among the most tolerant, most progressive of our electorate.” He believes the younger generation will change the country because they will fulfill their civic duties.
“It is our job to protect our rights, to protect our democracy,” said Dionne, “because we are Americans.”
The lecture, titled “One Nation After Trump,” took place in Robertson Hall’s Arthur Lewis Auditorium on Monday, March 5, at 4:30 p.m.