From New York to Maryland to Chicago to Houston to Los Angeles, students at more than three dozen college campuses have been protesting since Donald Trump won last week’s election. These protests aren’t limited to students. Protests—from dozens of people to thousands—have broken out in San Francisco, Portland, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Oklahoma City, to name just a few.
The reasons for these protests are myriad. Some are protesting the result of the election in general, arguing against the Electoral College system that gave Trump his win despite losing the popular vote. Some are protesting what they see as the bigotry and intolerance that might well characterize a Trump Administration. Some are protesting against Trump’s promise to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. Some are protesting Trump’s positions on health care, on climate science and the environment, on LGBTQ issues, on women’s rights … the list goes on and on.
During the past week, protesters have come out in the thousands—and so have the detractors, who describe these fellow citizens, their neighbors, as cry-babies, degenerates, and sore losers. They say things like “Where were all these protesters before the election?” and “How come these people weren’t out there protesting for the past year and a half?” and “Why didn’t all of these people take their protest to the polls?”
Of course, there are a lot of people on the other side of the political spectrum—people who did vote for Trump—who did take their protest against the status quo to the polls. In voting for Trump, many of them were protesting what they see as anemic job growth, a dearth of financial opportunity, classism, globalism, progressivism run amok. These concerns are no less real to them, no less legitimate.
But, regardless of what or how any of us protests, chastising protesters on either side shows a clear lack of spirit. Indeed, those who continue to complain about the protesters, who call for them to give it up and go home, aren’t making things any better.
Some of these detractors have mocked the protesters on the left, telling them to shut up and suck it up, to get over it. They create and share and like memes that accuse the protesters of ruining America. They argue that these protesters, some of them students at the country’s most prestigious—and most expensive—universities, should quit their whining, that they should be grateful for what they do have, that they have little to complain about, living here in America, where so many of us have so much, much more than we could ever want, much more than we really need.
There may be some truth to all of that. Certainly protesters and detractors alike are both partly right and partly wrong. Each side has valid concerns.
But I do wonder if the argument that protesters should just shut up and rejoice in their own abundance isn’t much too facile. Because although abundance refers in many ways to fiscal wealth, there’s much more to it.
So let’s look at that.
In terms of financial abundance, we are, as a nation on the whole doing better than we have for the past several years. For the most part, the poverty rate is down (YOY). This is true in terms of percentages and in sheer numbers. It’s also true among all groups, regardless of age, race, or gender. But that doesn’t mean that abundance in terms of dollars is something everyone in this country feels secure about: In 2015, 43.1 million Americans were living in poverty. In addition, those at the bottom are feeling much more isolated from those at the top: Income inequality has grown by 5.5 percent since 1993. It’s also important to note that CEOs at S&P 500 companies make, on average, 204 times what the average worker at the same company makes. Indeed, researchers note that “CEO pay in the U.S. has grown exponentially since the 1970s, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), rising almost 1,000 percent compared to a rise in worker salaries of roughly 11 percent over the same time period (adjusted for inflation).”
Bernie Sanders supporters are probably all like, “uh, yeah, what’s the news here?” because income inequality was on their radar in a big way. The same might be said of many Trump supporters, especially those who have seen incomes shrink and job opportunities disappear. Clinton supporters have heard the call, too, especially those who are concerned about fellow Americans who have felt left out and left behind.
So, although plenty of Americans are feeling better than they did when we fell into the Great Recession, plenty are still feeling the pinch. Financial abundance is not something many of us are lucky enough to enjoy. This lack of parity, this lack of equality, this lack of abundance—perhaps that’s what’s driving some protesters into the streets.
But abundance isn’t just about income. Many people feel like there is a distinct lack of abundance in spirit these days. Many would argue that there is a lack of abundance in compassion, in tolerance, in generosity. That’s not to say that people aren’t generous—at least with their pocketbooks: Americans gave an estimated $358.38 billion to charity in 2014, up more than 7 percent (YOY).
In addition, a sizable number of Americans tend to be generous with their time, too. About a quarter of U.S. adults volunteer more than 7 billion (yes, “billion” with a “b”) hours annually. That number is falling, though, as fewer of us make the time to help out organizations in our communities. Perhaps there is a lack of abundance here. Perhaps more of us could do more to do more. Perhaps, as Hillary Clinton has often said, we should do more to “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Perhaps we could do more to share in the abundance of time and generosity with our neighbors.
If there is room for improvement when it comes to the abundance of time and generosity of giving, perhaps there are also ways we could do more when it comes to abundance of tolerance. Protesters, for instance, have been voicing their concern about bigotry and racism. And, it seems, they have reason to. The FBI recently reported that hate crimes were up by 6 percent in 2015. More than 7,000 victims reported hate crimes. About a third of those were against African Americans. About 10 percent were against Jews. More than 17 percent were against members of the LGBTQ community. Attacks against Muslim Americans jumped by about 67 percent. Furthermore, The Southern Poverty Law Center reported more than 300 incidents of harassment or intimidation in the week since Donald Trump’s election. And, the KKK is planning to hold victory parades to celebrate Trump’s election.
Intolerance and hatred of others is coming to the fore, and it sure seems like we as a nation are lacking when it comes to an abundance of tolerance. Many of those who have taken to the streets in protest of intolerance and racism and bigotry certainly feel like these are legitimate—and pressing—issues. Perhaps we could, indeed, do more as Americans to demonstrate an abundance of tolerance.
The lack of abundance in tolerance is akin to the lack of abundance in compassion. We see this, especially, in the internet, with nasty comments on social media, with trolls harassing people whose views are in opposition to their own, and with bullies tormenting their subjects. A definite lack of compassion—and a lack of mutual respect—is clearly evident online. By some measures, up to a quarter of American adults have been bullied, harassed, or threatened online or know someone who has. In addition, nearly two thirds of Facebook users have reported being harassed. Some researchers blame this “cyberbullying epidemic” on “a lack of empathy and compassion.”
Of course, bullying doesn’t happen only in the virtual world. Bullying is a huge problem at schools and colleges, too. Indeed, nearly one in four students report being bullied during the school year. Bullying is a complex issue, but many professionals agree that a lack of compassion and a lack of empathy plays a big part (but only a part) into whether someone participates in bullying activity.
With bullying and hate crimes on the rise, it’s clear that we could do more to show an abundance of compassion. We could do more to show an abundance of tolerance. We could do more to show an abundance of generosity.
In 1937, in giving his second inaugural address, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that “[t]he test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” His speech came in the midst of the Great Depression, when as many as 25 percent of Americans were unemployed and when millions more were struggling with hunger and homelessness. But, in speaking about abundance, FDR was not speaking only about money. Certainly he was addressing poverty and unemployment, but he also was referring to the lack of abundance in education and in opportunity. He was talking about poor working conditions. He was talking about the lack of access to safe and family-friendly places of recreation. He was urging all Americans to share in each other’s abundance, to further abundance across the country so that each of us—all of us—could have access to all that the United States has to offer.
Today’s protesters are in many ways taking to the streets in search of that same abundance. They are seeking the abundance that will grant them equality, abundance that will allow them to make the most of opportunities, abundance that will allow them access to quality, affordable education. They are seeking abundance in compassion, in tolerance, in generosity. They are seeking an abundance of spirit in their fellow citizens.
Although some would simply dismiss the concerns of the protesters who today are taking to the streets in the wake of Trump’s election, doing so not only mocks their First Amendment rights, but also derides their concerns and scoffs at their desire to bask in the abundance that they see in America but feel they can’t reach.
We have choices here. We can choose to mock, to scoff, to deride, to ignore, and, ultimately, to deny the other half the opportunity to share in America’s abundance. We can refuse to share an abundance of spirit. We can refuse to share an abundance of compassion, of tolerance, of generosity.
Or, we can choose to share in the abundance. We can choose to demonstrate an abundance of compassion, tolerance, and generosity to our fellow Americans. We can choose to embrace our neighbors in an abundance of spirit, regardless of their political views. We can choose to offer an abundance of empathy as we listen to—and hear—their concerns.
I choose the latter. In actuality, doing so costs me nothing. Because the bank of compassion, tolerance, and generosity never runs dry. Because sharing an abundance of empathy pays off in spades. I choose to share the abundance. I choose to do what I can to provide abundance for those who have too little of it.
Will you join me?