Either you sympathize with other people.
Or you don’t.
That’s our entire political moment right now.
The rest, as Hillel said, is commentary.
So here’s mine.
The key word in the first sentence is “other.” Other people, different than yourself. Because empathizing with yourself and those exactly like you is easy.
Tribalism was fine when humans lived in tribes. Building the modern world required putting aside prejudices and working together. Those who found it within themselves to say, “You know . . . this guy might be black . . . but he could actually be a soldier, a professor, a quarterback. Let’s give him a try” did better. Societies that made the leap did better.
Lose sympathy and you suffer. Britain fled the European Union because enough Brits were convinced that membership meant a Turk might move in next door and, oh I don’t know, do Turkish things. Smoke a hookah. So they blew up their own economy.
We’re next. The Republicans are at war with The Other: immigrants, Muslims, gays, Jews, blacks.
Anybody who doesn’t meet their hidebound notion of what an American should look like.
The truth isn’t on their side, so they lie, rationalize and blame-shift, while drumming up bogeymen to distract voters. It’s happening in every race. Pick one:
The 6th District, Republican Rep. Peter Roskam against Democratic newcomer Sean Casten. Once, Roskam would be merely a bland GOP non-entity, endorsed by the NRA, calling climate change “junk science.” The usual.
Now the stakes are much higher. Roskam is exactly the kind of moral void content to sit on his hands while America is ruined by Donald Trump.
Earlier this month, Roskam went after Casten for whom the Democrat admires. A Wall Street Journal reporter asked him to name “one current leader who most inspires you” and Casten cited sex columnist Dan Savage.
“He has this combination of completely righteous indignation, and an awesome sense of humor,” Casten replied, referring to Savage’s successful 2003 campaign to name a revolting byproduct of anal intercourse after then-Sen. Rick Santorum, to highlight Santorum’s revolting hostility toward gays.
Roskam didn’t like Casten’s choice: “He bound himself to some people who were advocating political blackmail and political slander. And I think he should distance himself from these people.”
Said the man who voted 94 percent with Trump.
“Blackmail?” For finding a clever way to urge Santorum to abandon his disgusting dismissal of fellow citizens by tying him to a disgusting image? That’s genius.
Casten didn’t back down. Savage is the most significant Chicago writer today. Don’t be deceived by his years in Washington State. He grew up in Rogers Park. His dad was a cop, his mom, a waitress. Good Catholic upbringing, one of four (his brother Bill is a literature professor at Northwestern and, I should point out, a pal). Savage went to St. Ignatius and St. Jerome’s.
Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign brought hope to countless young Americans coming to terms with their orientation within a vindictive culture where alleged Christians heap their fury upon God’s handiwork.
Savage would be my hero just for his pair of honest, funny, marvelously-written memoirs, “The Kid” and “The Commitment.” The first about the joys and terrors of adopting a child. The second recounts the parents of that child navigating the shoals of marriage.
To Roskam, Savage’s gayness negates all that — he’s marrying another man! It voids his humanity and puts him beyond the pale of sympathy, never mind admiration. Dan Savage can’t be your hero; he’s gay. And he made fun of a bully.
Tossing out the collaborators and quislings who make Trump possible, giving Peter Roskam and his ilk the heave-ho on Nov. 6, is all that matters now. If it happens, life in America might start to get better. If it doesn’t, things will certainly get worse.
My former colleague, Dave Hoekstra, posted a photo of himself on Facebook with his “I VOTED” sticker, noting: “Voting for empathy. Veterans. Union workers. My parents. The future. We can do much better than this.”
That’s it. The Republican Party is turning our country into crazyworld, where Americans who embrace our traditional values — freedom, equality, liberty — are unwelcome because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or just because they believe some things are true and others false. We can do much better than this.