Empathy and Failures of Democracies What is the Role of Empathy in Political Discourse?

Matthew Eric Bassett:

This is a meandering discussion about empathy’s role in public policy debates and popular culture’s role in affecting empathy. So can popular culture help to nurture or destroy empathy in politics? I try to set up a framework for exploring this, but raise more questions then I answer.

While driving between Atlanta and Asheville I turned into conservative talk radio. It was a replay of a show from September discussing Portland State University’s doubts about hiring armed campus policy officers 1. The discussion wasn’t about the pros or cons of the policy, or why someone might take a position so antithetical to conservative principles. Rather it was chiefly of callers taking turns in new ways of dismissing the views of Portland’s liberal politicians and residents by accusing them of lying, being stupid, or having malicious motives for all of American society 2. Such a callous discussion of a policy decision by political opponents isn’t limited to American society. Following the Brexit referendum the Remain-friendly media could hardly contain their low opinion of Leavers while they were penning articles suggesting that their opponents did not know what they were voting for 3.