Hugs: The New Path to Power

Who could use a hug today?  Not the creepy doggy-dry-humping hug our president gives our flag, but a genuine loving hug from friends and family.  Hugs are, after all, a sincere expression of empathy.  I see you, I am with you, I am here for you, I am grateful for you, I love you.  But here is the thing about hugs and empathy.  When we embrace—whether a physical embrace or a verbal expression of empathy—power happens.  Empathy elicits compassion, and the resulting bonding that endows unity creates power.  The power to solve our biggest challenges—from Covid-19 to climate change—requires the empathy-compassion-unity troika on all fronts. Americans, and for that matter all of humankind, will not survive and prosper unless we come together to work for each other as one.

It is important to note, however, that empathy—as a word—is a toddler in the lexicon of the modern world.  The idea that we might recognize and feel another’s pain or challenges did not even have a name until the late 19th century when German aesthetics made einfühlung (meaning “in-feeling”) an area of inquiry in human and social sciences.  The English word, “empathy,” was later established by the psychologist Edward Titchener a little more than one-hundred years ago, in 1909.  However, the concept—a form of “sympathy”—had been around for centuries.  The 18th century Scottish philosopher, David Hume, wrote that “the minds of men are mirrors to one another” in his discussion of what we know today as empathy.[1]  Machiavelli (The Prince, 1532) and Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan, 1651), whose work remain staples in the world of international relations and leadership studies today, would not have considered proposing empathy as a descriptor of human nature or an element of leadership, but in their defense, the word was unavailable to them—in any language.

Obviously, empathy is not in abundance in our national leadership today.  Since Newt Gingrich turned the politics of Washington into a win/lose blood sport in the 1990s, empathy has been on the ebb.  Under Trump, empathy has been finally and completely eradicated from the White House as if his new discovery—Lysol—has been deployed as an empathy-killer, coursing through the ventilation system of the people’s house.  As a sociopath, by definition, Trump has no sense of empathy whatsoever.  He is unable to feel for anything or anybody but himself.  Notwithstanding his affection for flag poles, have you ever seen him embrace anyone, in any fashion?  However, this deficiency also establishes his Achilles heel.  Empathy-based unity is kryptonite to Trump’s superpower of divisive deceits, which is why he foments division—even during a pandemic—at any and every opportunity.  Divisiveness got him elected, and he is betting it will also get him reelected.  On the other hand, unity will defeat him and send him into a narcissistic spiral of self-destruction.  Indeed, if he is defeated, the most dangerous times for America in its history may well come between election night in November and the next inauguration on January 20, 2021; a smooth transition of power is highly unlikely.

Defeating Trump and the Trumplicans begins with hugs in the form of empathy.  (Note to Joe: keep your hands at your side and your nose out of women’s hair; your running for president, not auditioning for a shampoo commercial.)  Winning in 2020 will depend on who brings empathy to the table; an authentic recognition of the challenges all Americans face with equally genuine policy solutions that solve real problems confronting Americans regardless of party affiliation.  There are no “libtards” or “deplorables” in America, just folks trying to care for themselves and their families.  That’s what “We are all in this together” means.  But the popular pandemic sentiment must be actualized; rainbows that endure.  The candidates who understand this and communicate tenable hope will become the next representatives, senators, and president of the United States.

[1] See the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,