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How Empathy, Not Protest, Can Defeat Trump and Right-Wing Extremism


How Empathy, Not Protest, Can Defeat Trump and Right-Wing Extremism

George Lakey

In Orson Scott Card’s great 1985 strategy novel “Ender’s Game,” a boy named Ender enters a training school where students learn skills for outwitting an opponent. They play computer games that become ever more challenging. The stakes in the training are high because their world is threatened by an alien force, and the aliens are winning. Among the trainees young Ender stands out, so his computer is patched into the actual global security system in real time to lead the defense. Spoiler alert: Ender’s world defeats the would-be conquerer.


Contrary to the typical historical narratives written for, by, and about the Dominators, most human beings don’t act like dominant baboons. The Trump rallies, in contrast, attract that ilk.

That’s why these numbers are very important:

“It helps to remember that Trump has been winning about 40 percent of the voters in the Republican primaries, and Republicans are about 20 percent of the American electorate. That amounts to Trump gaining the vote of about 8 percent of the entire primary electorate. It’s a bit early to panic.”

This 8% hardly defines the whole of the nation given its diverse numbers and equally diverse sects… each with its own character.

However, those who post frequently and stay scripted to the Talking Point that human beings are flawed, or that human nature is flawed, or that most U.S. citizens are sheeple… base their analyses (a/k/a indictments) primarily on what is true for this 8%.

A good deal of perception is itself based on projection. Therefore, those constantly insisting on some ubiquitous moral and/or intellectual flaw in the U.S. citizenry are largely making these determinations on the basis of their own wounded self-appraisals.

“The Course in Miracles” says there are only 2 driving emotions: Love and Fear.

Love calls to itself and is empathy-based while fear works to cause separation and through separation, incite violence.

There’s a real Yin-Yang to all this that is completely missed by Mr. Lakey. Like so many intellectuals, he bypasses gender altogether as if violence and aggression are as existent among females as they are among males.

Almost all of the world’s wars and soldiering were organized by males… for centuries.

By not wishing to understand the pressure on males to demonstrate macho force within top-down patriarchal hierarchies that resemble the social structures of dominant baboon societies, he misses what should be the root of his own thesis.

Why are boys called sissies for showing empathy at a young age?
Why are boys shamed if they play with girls?
Why do today’s most popular video games (which are used just when adolescent boys would be developing a would-be healthy sexuality) feature gang bangs and cutting the throats of female avatars?
Why are women kept under virtual house arrest throughout the Muslim world?
Why is rape so common on college campuses?
Why is pornography so widely “consumed” with its images all about degrading women?

The cultural rites that devalue females and all that they represent in NOT being hard, firm, or tough… but rather soft, caring, and empathetic (and granted, these qualities HAVE been socialized out of some females) are precisely what makes for cold, hard males. Men growing up in this compromised cultural climate fear that any shows of gentleness will make them seem like less than men within a culture that prizes war, macho (football) shows of force, homage to guns, and a general attraction to violence (as entertainment).

Sorry, Mr. Lakey… until you dare to cross this 3rd rail (specified by gender), you present a VERY shallow analysis.


Dialog is better than confrontation. Confrontation cements people into an ‘us vs. them’ attitude.

Both Trump and Sanders supporters are angry about being sold out by the establishment. Both Trump and Sanders supporters are angry about the impact of economic inequality - although we attribute it to different causes.

If we can talk with them we may be able to change their minds - at least about us being the enemy.

The problem is many of them are anger addicted. For years Sean Hannity/Rush Limbaugh/Fox has been feeding that anger, telling them liberals and Democrats are to blame. Trump’s popularity is in large part fueled by the idea the Republicans in office have compromised with the Democrats too much - that they haven’t been true to ‘conservative’ ideas.

I don’t think those people will easily give up their anger fix. So even if we try to talk with them, it will lead to confrontations.

But at least we can try.


Good points but again, a certain quantifiable statistical reality is evaded. And it’s that mostly those who listen to Hate Radio ARE white guys.

And it’s largely blue collar white guys who gravitate to Trump.

White males, even without financial power or prowess STILL held more status than women, Blacks, Latinos, and the waves of immigrants… within American society.

The various movements pushing for greater equality made a lot of these males feel displaced.

They don’t have a lot of $ (many of them) so they feel disempowered.

They resent it tremendously if a Black family can afford to live where they live. And they resent it more if said family should receive food stamps.

Instead of recognizing what trade treaties, automation, and deregulation have done to cripple the U.S. economy and thereby downsize its job options and associated salaries, they blame the Hispanic Guest Worker.

The anger is mostly emanating from THIS group.

The Sanders camp attracts more spiritually mature people… people who want a society that works for everyone.

The Sanders came is full of diversity.

One could say that there’s a double “Yang” operating in that the most gun-loving, “kill 'em all” foreign policy advocates, “build a wall” separatists who gravitate to Trump are trying to show muscle in a world where they feel powerless.

The other Yang is the woman who worked her way up the MALE totem pole being told that she could be President. But instead of upholding values that are consistent with that Great Society where privileges and opportunities are really spread around, Mrs. Clinton is 100% identified with the Wall St. (war by economic means) and MIC (war by violent means) apparatus.

The nation’s powers will accept YANG… it’s Sanders who is doing YIN and YIN is the thing that is terrifying to all those bad boys (and their female cohorts) who know that an egalitarian society is anathema to their dreams of power, dominance, control, and pseudo-Democracy tied to whatever “freedom” one has the purse to purchase.


Rush Limbaugh and other right wing talk show hosts have given these people a voice in politics. Pat Buchanan gave them a presidential candidate to support in the past and before that they had George Wallace. I think it makes sense to protest outside of rallies. Trying to actually shut down the rallies is not a good idea. I think Trump has been successful because so many right wingers have given up on the Republican Party establishment to advance their agenda. They are sick of the promises by the politicians not resulting in anything. Now they believe a tough-talking outsider who has never been a politician is their best chance. It is the political equivalent of throwing a Hail Mary.


Empathy is everything. It is the most difficult skill (for want of a better word) a person could employ to bring about a desired effect, and the desired effect is realized when everyone feels good about it. All people are of the same value and importance, have something to give and have a reason to be loved. Humans also have flaws and that’s why empathy is so important. While recognizing how damn difficult it is to have empathy for someone who is loathsome in your eyes, I know we will never have peace or be able to save humanity without it. And we need to push through our aversion to it and learn it, practice it, use it. It needs to become a way of life that is so obviously essential and unquestionable. I get so frustrated with all of the posturing, bullying, bigotry and hatred that is part of anybody’s (or any country’s) protective behavior. As our world becomes smaller, people become more fearful and protective. We’ve seen so much of this these days – people are unhappy and want to scapegoat. We don’t try to understand why people do the things they do, or react the way they react…we just hate them or push them back. Don’t want terrorism? – Then just hunt them down. Don’t want war?-- Then bomb them first. You hear so much of this rhetoric in our presidential contest, whether it’s Trump or Clinton. Maybe the first revolution we need to have is the empathy revolution. We need it now.


“As Ender discovered, a resource for practicing the art of polarization is empathy, but where is that honored in our culture? When our nation’s leadership asks why terrorism continues to grow despite massive firepower, it rarely tries to get inside the worldviews of either leaders or recruits of terrorist groups. Institutionalized racism, classism and other oppressions flourish with the scarcity of empathy.”

This reminds me of a conversation amongst supposedly well-informed, elite-educated (Harvard)) clustered around age 50) people about responding to the 911 attackers. The conversation took place about 2 days after 911. The conversation was all about accomplishing vengeance and retaliation. I spoke up and tried to point out that if we wished to halt such activities like those that had just occurred, we need to understand the minds of the likely terrorists - that they were most likely young people who had been brought up extremely strictly to believe that the greater their anger and violence and self-hurt, the greater would their acts be perceived as noble, and that accordingly vengeful and retaliatory responses would only encourage more of the same - response with violence and hatred would only be perceived as vindication. All those who were vocal in the group stood up against me and allowed that I was giving sympathy and succor to “the enemy.” I said no, we just needed to understand likely responses. Afterwards, one individual who had NOT spoken up wrote to me outside the group and thanked me for what I had said, apparently afraid to do so in public.

So much for empathy in a society that hardly knows the word.


The USA, and maybe the rest of us, needs the destruction that Trump will cause. Nothing was going to happen in the near future without it. Only a major collapse, which is going to happen, but uncertain in its timing, would have made a difference. Hillary is just another stooge for the ruling elite, a torchbearer for more neo-liberal social destruction.
Just possibly the Republicans can re invent them selves to be the party they were under Eisenhower.
The Democrats also need a good overhaul. no less so than for the GOP.


Interesting story. I agree, empathy is not a widely understood concept, it seems. As a technician by trade I was well taught that you can’t fix something if you don’t understand how it works first.


Nobody exemplifies the adage THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BAD PUBLICITY more than Trump. He turns bad PR into energy better than anybody. Therefore the only people that should be protesting a Trump event of any kind are people who want to further empower Trump.


Empathy has long been rooted out of our culture. Even liberals are quite particular about whom they claim to empathize with. You wouldn’t know it from media, but we have a poverty crisis. Not just a low wage problem, but a poverty crisis. Out here in the real world, not everyone can work (health, etc.) and there aren’t jobs for all. It’s odd, really – we can acknowledge that there are 7 jobs for every 10 people who urgently need one, yet insist that there is “no excuse” for being jobless and in poverty. The US shipped out a huge chunk of our jobs since the 1980s, ended actual welfare in the 1990s, and liberals can’t seem to grasp the obvious consequences.

Stand in Solidarity with low wage workers – but until they are phased out of the job market. Liberals continue to implicitly preach that our corporate state is now so successful, that everyone is able to work, and there are jobs for all. They are wrong.

Ever wonder why rage against the bourgeoisie, our middle class, only continues to grow? (note: It’s not out of jealousy.)


Is hacking and publishing Trump’s social security number part of the empathy approach? How about threatening the lives of Trump’s family members? Is that the kinder, compassionate response of the self proclaimed elite left?

As a nation are we not supposed to be outraged that someone did these things to Trump simply because the elites of our society don’t care for Trump’s political views? (apparently threats are righteous if the political ideology is at odds with yours)

Can you step out of your comfort zone and see that people like you are the problem? People are sick of dealing with political correctness (a.k.a. the confining of free speech). We’re sick of elite liberals telling us how wonderful poverty is and everything will be better when we can impoverish the rich. We’re sick of listening to long talks about how people’s choice for a candidate shows our ignorance. We’re sick of listening to you tell us that our keen observation of the failings of this president is clouded because we’re white, all while the brilliant elite leftist ideas continue to fail the poor, minorities, the working class, and every section of the population.

It is time for a change and smugness isn’t going to deter anyone.


ps. If empathy, not anger, was such a great approach why is Mrs. Clinton already resorting to hate campaigning and attack ads?


I agree JD, 100%. And I keep thinking, wondering about the backstory on the Trump thing. Love him or hate him, he thus far has played the system brilliantly. For better or worse, he seems to have almost singlehandedly pulled a coup de grâce what others before have only dreamed of doing. On the other hand, lots of “brilliant” people (and we know who they are) played their systems as well and we know what happened those times. Yikes!


You give the President far too much credit when it comes to authority. He (or she) is only a figurehead. You don’t really think Bill Clinton, or god forbid, GW Bush, had the brains (or access) to start a nuclear war? Those decisions come from deep within the MIC.


Nice piece. Good to hear words like this. A bit different than the usual trash-talking & hating & blaming poor, uneducated white guys.

We win this together we don’t win at all.


So should we cancel our anti-AIPAC protest in DC this Sunday so we can be “nice” to our opponents?


Lakey is a Quaker and does not realize that until we transcend the human ego there is no chance for empathy?


I wish the author had presented a narrative that would show the use of empathy and how it would be received by the other side. This would have gone a long way toward getting the readers to understand why an empathetic approach would win the day.

As it is I don’t see how it would work or even how to begin and proceed with an empathetic engagement.


But what did the (pro-military-indistrial-complex Card’s) Ender do with the empathy? He physically slaughtered “The Enemy”. “Enders Game” is mandatory reading for every US Marine recruit!

But yes your story about the days after Sept 11, 2001 brings back memories of my own. My own take on it was a bit different - I strongly opposed invading Afghanistan or ANY country, but rather implored people to regard it as and act of criminal individuals to be apprehended though bargaining and understanding with the (unsavory - but not terrorist) Taliban government of Afghanistan. I would point out that the little-reported fact that the Taliban stated that the destruction of those historic Buddhist statues was in protest to the west’s refusal to provide aid for a famine sweeping Afghanistan, and that bargaining with them would delver the perpetrators to us much faster and with a minimum of bloodshed. Few who I brought this idea up with were sympathetic to it - to say the least.


Put yourself in the other guy’s shoes.