Can I make sense of Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) resigning his leadership position in the House of Delegates Democratic caucus? No, I can’t.
Sam said the action would allow him to “listen to…constituents and treat them with respect.” He stated that he wanted to focus on strengthening the party and connecting with average Americans. Ever since I have known Sam, he has listened to constituents and been focused on strengthening the party. I’ll bet the rest of the Democratic caucus also has listened to constituents and wants to strengthen the party. Nothing that happened Nov. 8 changed that.
I’ve known Sam Rasoul ever since 2008 when he ran against Bob Goodlatte as a young man barely 25 years of age. I respect him greatly. He was so energetic and effective as a candidate back then that the 6th District Democratic Committee gave him our grassroots award for party building that year. Sam is a consensus person. He’s no firebrand or political brawler, but his latest iteration is absolutely confusing to me.
I was at a Nov. 20 Roanoke meeting of Our Revolution, a grassroots group that sprang out of the Bernie Sanders campaign, and I still haven’t figured out the reason for the event, which was very well attended by several hundred people. Sam was the moderator (see his intro below). I guess I was expecting a gathering to help us get over the Electoral College defeat of Hillary Clinton and get on with the business of electing progressive Democrats in the state elections next year. That’s not what I got.
Instead, Sam gave us a presentation on how to have “radical empathy” for those who voted for Donald Trump. I agreed with him that it was a strategic mistake on Clinton’s part to use the word “deplorables” to describe half of the people who were supporting Trump. I also agreed with Sam that the second half of the Clinton campaign focused mainly on the reasons we had to fear a Trump presidency and failed to give voters a reason to vote for her. However, I didn’t see why I need to have “radical empathy” for Trump’s voters.
To me, empathy is something that isn’t that hard to feel. I understand exactly why people in the Rust Belt feel they have been left behind and voted for change. They have been left behind in this spotty recovery. But, the people in inner city Detroit have been left behind as well. I know that there are large swaths of America that have not recovered from global capitalism and the Great Recession, but that’s not unique to Trump voters. The problems that led people to vote for a change, no matter how frightening, also caused them to overlook dangerous signals in the Trump campaign that caused some of us to cringe at the thought of what Trump and his minions could do to the nation in four years, with a compliant Congress and the ability for Trump to nominate Supreme Court justices.
I can’t feel “radical empathy” for people willing to overlook the failings of a man who bragged about getting away with sexual assault against women. I can’t empathize with those willing to overlook the fact that a man of 70 would ridicule a reporter with disabilities because the reporter had upset him by what he wrote. I can’t empathize with those who knowingly voted for someone who will put a person in charge of the Justice Department who will persecute my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I can’t empathize with those who could vote for a man who is only interested in himself and his immediate family.
I empathize with those who have been left out as our economy has changed from an industrial one to a knowledge one. I empathize with those Bernie supporters who tried to drag the Democratic Party back to its roots as the party of the working class, not the party of Wall Street. However, I believe those on the winning side need to give to us – whose candidate won the popular vote by almost 2 million votes – some empathy for our loss, too. Trump is a minority president. Why should I behave like he won a landslide?