It’s fair to say our country is in a period of unrest; politically, we are divided. We may have thought that as a nation we were healing from centuries of racism, but what Donald Trump’s candidacy has shown us is that widespread bigotry had merely gone underground. Now, many people feel they have full permission to show hate toward Latinos, Muslims, and virtually every other ethnic and religious group who Trump chooses to attack.
Many therapists have made the assertion that Trump has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. One of the key features of Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a lack of empathy. If Trump had empathy, he wouldn’t make the statements he does. And if his supporters had any, they wouldn’t laud him because “he says what he wants.” Empathy would stop his supporters from sucker punching a protester. Empathy would steal the power of Trump’s deplorable words and actions because they would fall on deaf ears. But they aren’t falling on deaf ears. Instead, he arouses his followers to a froth of rage and violence, encouraging them to assault protesters and assuring them he’ll pay their legal fees—a statement I find hard to believe.
This may come as a surprise, but my issue isn’t with Trump. If America were built on the values of justice, kindness and empathy, he wouldn’t have an audience. He’d just be the crazy man with a sign in the town square bellowing at passersby. My concern is with his supporters. The truth is he has a sizable audience, and hateful people in large numbers have the potential to do great harm. When people listen and take to heart the words of a narcissist with just enough empathy to know how to manipulate them, they’re treading into dangerous territory.
Babies aren’t born to hate; they’re taught. The messages can be overt or implied, but either way they’re damaging. If you’re anything like me, raising a child who might someday agree with Trump’s rhetoric is your worst nightmare. Trump has opened the door for future Trumps, so I’m planning ahead now to avoid a future personal crisis.
1. Teach Your Children That Human Rights Are Not a Limited Resource
The subtext of Trump’s hate speech is fear. Trump is a deeply fearful man, and so are his followers. They’re afraid for their safety and afraid of losing power. Trump supporters seem to operate under the threat of scarcity, like if someone else is granted more rights, they will automatically have fewer rights. This simply isn’t true.
2. Encourage the Expression of All Emotions, But Not All Behaviors
Children who grow up with parents who can’t handle their emotions are constantly told not to express them. This can lead to children feeling insecure, misunderstood, and afraid of their own emotions. The truth is that all emotions are acceptable. When we teach our children to appropriately identify and regulate their emotions, the overwhelming ones quickly lose their power. It’s OK to feel angry, but it’s not OK to be violent. There’s a difference between feeling a strong emotion and acting on it.
3. Practice ‘Working With’ Parenting
It’s fascinating and entirely unsurprising to learn that the single largest factor that predicts who supports Donald Trump is authoritarianism. One article describes authoritarian parenting accordingly:
“[…] a style characterized by high demands and low responsiveness. Parents with an authoritarian style have very high expectations of their children, yet provide very little in the way of feedback and nurturance. Mistakes tend to be punished harshly. When feedback does occur, it is often negative. Yelling and corporal punishment are also commonly seen with the authoritarian style.”
In contrast, “working-with” parenting is a term coined by Alfie Kohn to describe a parenting style that is based on respect, empathy, and support for the child. It’s a collaborative approach which encourages children to openly express their thoughts and feelings. Authoritarian parents expect their children to accept rules and punishments without question. This type of parenting focuses on the short-term objective of having a quiet, compliant child but does nothing to teach life skills. “The critical question is what kind of people we want our children to be, and that includes whether we want them to be the kind who accept things as they are or the kind who try to make things better” (Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting).
4. Teach Your Children That All People Have Worth
Every person has value. It’s that simple. You don’t deserve fewer rights because you’re black or hispanic or gay or female or Republican or Christian or Muslim. All people deserve to be treated with decency, respect and empathy. Period.
5. Encourage Critical Thinking
I recently read about a group of Trump supporters who were shown clips of statements he’d made which were antithetical to their lifestyles. The crowd had been so brainwashed by Trump that they assumed the clips were fabricated. Children should be taught to respectfully question authority. Children should be curious and hesitant to take generalizations and broad statements at face value.
6. Create a Culture of Empathy
Even small children can learn empathy from the culture you create for your family. If a clerk at the grocery store is rude, model kindness. Afterward, initiate a discussion about what may have been happening for that clerk and why you chose not to reciprocate their negativity. Enlist your child’s help in picking out food to donate to the food bank. Consider discussing current events with older children in age-appropriate ways. Encourage inclusion and compassion, not just tolerance.
We can abhor what Trump and his supporters stand for. We can, and should, reject their toxic ideology. But I challenge all of us to stay unwaveringly civil and kind. Empathy is the antidote to hate, and spreading it throughout the country is the only possible road back from the ugliness Trump has created.