It’s noteworthy, and undeniable, that two antonyms of empathy—disdain and indifference—have become cornerstones of American politics.
When outsiders are routinely reviled, targeted for blame by an impulsive population that isn’t capable of rational thought, bad things can happen. Add doses of anti-intellectualism, nationalism (link is external), and militarism (link is external) to the mix, and you have a formula for disaster. Just ask Germany (link is external).
Empathetic and compassionate policy does not require that a society sacrifice its well being for the betterment of strangers, but it does require an intelligent assessment of what is happening internally and around the world, a minimal level of humane values, and rational attempts to apply those values. Nobody would ever claim that America has been a model for empathy—our history of slavery and racism negates that possibility immediately, as do many of our military escapades and foreign policy priorities. But nevertheless, the affirmative disavowal of empathy in America today is in many ways unique.