Rita Trumps the Donald by Esther Nelson

esther-nelsonThe phrase “politically correct,” words we hear over and over again these days, has a history. Some of that history, far from definitive, is captured here.

The following quote, taken from this blog, resonates with me:  “…maybe we should drop the phrase [politically correct] from our lexicon. Not because it doesn’t describe anything, but because it describes so many things that you can’t use it without worrying that people won’t understand what you’re talking about.” (I see it similarly to the word, God. I often find that in conversations about God, each participant has their own idea(s) about what God is or isn’t.)

Today, though, I’m interested in how Donald Trump uses the phrase “politically correct.”  When he says, “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap,” what is he saying?  What do we hear?  I agree with Colby Itkowitz (“The Washington Post,” 12/09/15) that the phrase “politically correct” is often “used as a put-down, a way to brush off the offended person as being overly sensitive. So while Trump is asserting his right to free speech, he is at the same time calling into question the listener’s right to complain about what he’s saying.”

The issue seems to center on one’s ability to be seen, heard, and valued in the public discourse. Do Trump and those who find him “refreshing” feel threatened by those who think differently from him? Probably so, but I also think Trump is angry, even outraged, when one dares to question the “truth” of his perspective. Powerful people (usually men, but more broadly speaking, that patriarchal system that perpetuates itself through domination by force) not only dismiss a voice that is not in agreement with theirs, but make it appear as though you, the person disagreeing and raising questions, are the problem. After all, people should “know their place” (if not, Trump will direct you) and just accept it.

What has happened to that strain of thought in our society that not only puts value on understanding people who have perspectives different from our own, but believe people have a right (even duty) to express such?  Rita Gross (1943-2015), an American Buddhist, feminist theologian, and author, was instrumental in broadening my understanding of the term empathy.  In her book, Feminism and Religion, she offers a two-step approach to empathy while giving us a vision of what empathy looks like when put into practice.  Even though she is speaking specifically about the study of religion in the academy, I think her two-step process works just as well in other settings.

First, temporarily “bracket” your own worldview, values, and preconceptions.  Approach other worldviews with an open mind.  An open mind allows for the possibility of coming out on the other side, after examining the matter, a changed person. Second, imaginatively enter into the phenomenon at hand.  Attempt to understand why people hold a perspective different from your own and behave in ways that appear foreign. Trump values only one perspective—his own. Why should he bother looking at anything through another’s eyes?

Rita gives an example of one of her all-time favorite teaching evaluations. “The problem with her is that she teaches all those religions as if they were true!” Rita was successful, at least in the eyes of this one student, to enter into the point of view of the practitioners of each religion studied during that semester. Rita took this evaluation as a compliment although it was probably not intended that way.

Many of us today lack empathy or perhaps we don’t consider empathy a valuable enough factor to include in our interactions with one another. “We just CAN’T have those Syrian refugees coming here and compromising our country’s security.” As if it would be impossible to attend to both refugees and security properly.  Trump and his supporters view the world from an all-encompassing, narrow perspective they believe to be right.  They are unwilling (perhaps incapable?) of taking off their shoes and walking in another’s.  The constraint they feel–you can’t say or do anything these days for fear of offending somebody–comes from a failure of empathy–being deaf to voices and perspectives other than their own. After all, those other viewpoints aren’t worth anything, anyway.

Because I’m convinced that everything on the face of the earth is interconnected, it was easy to integrate Rita’s concept of empathy with Jared Piazza’s article, “If Meat Could Talk, Would You Still Eat it?” (“The Conversation,” 2/10/16). The article has some flaws (from my perspective) yet it struck a chord. Do we really think that animals happily give up their lives in order to be our dinner?

Jared writes,

[A]nimals do talk to us. Certainly they talk to us in ways that matter for our decision about how to treat them.  There is not much difference in a crying frightened child and a crying frightened piglet. Dairy cows that have their calves stolen from them soon after birth are believed by some to bemoan the loss weeks afterwards with heart wrenching cries.  The problem is that we often do not take the time to really listen.

I often return to Rita’s two-step process of empathy and apply it to various aspects of the world where we live, breathe, move, and have our being.  If we put aside our own preconceived ideas (animals want to be eaten–that’s what they’re there for) and walk with bovine hooves through the abattoir (or even accompany an animal on their last walk to their “humane” death), wouldn’t that move us towards compassion? Jared writes, “[T]he whole notion of ‘humane’ killing is based on the idea that as long as you take efforts to minimize an animal’s suffering, it’s okay to take its life.”

Why don’t we heed the Syrian refugees’ cries, the political prisoners’ shouts, the frightened piglets’ squealing, and the dairy cows’ bellowing? Who goes willingly to their untimely death? How do we stand by and just watch?


Esther Nelson is an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va.  She has taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, and Religions of the World, but focuses on her favorite course, Women in Islam.  She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of VOICE OF AN EXILE  REFLECTIONS ON ISLAM and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of WHAT IS RELIGIOUS STUDIES? A JOURNEY OF INQUIRY.

Author: Esther Nelson

Esther Nelson teaches courses in Religious Studies (Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Religions of the World, and Women in Islam) at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Virginia. She has published two books. VOICE OF AN EXILE REFLECTIONS ON ISLAM was written in close collaboration with Nasr Abu Zaid, an Egyptian, Islamic Studies scholar who fled Egypt (1995) when he was labeled an apostate by the Cairo court of appeals. She co-authored WHAT IS RELIGIOUS STUDIES? A JOURNEY OF INQUIRY with Kristin Swenson, a former colleague. When not teaching, Esther travels to various places throughout the world.

12 thoughts on “Rita Trumps the Donald by Esther Nelson”

  1. Wow–thanks for writing this very wise blog! It’s being said by some of the talking heads in the media that The Donald’s supporters are “low-information voters.” It’s often unsafe to generalize, but it seems to me that most of these Trumpers are indeed incapable of, or unwilling to, take off their shoes and walk in another’s shoes, and not just for a mile, either. Hooray for Rita for writing her inspiring book. Let’s hope her–and your–viewpoint is worth a great deal to voters this year.


    1. Thanks, Barbara. No doubt there is complexity in what motivates voters to support “their” candidate. Not wanting (or being able) to empathize is one of the factors, I do believe.


  2. “Today, though, I’m interested in how Donald Trump uses the phrase ‘politically correct.’ When he says, “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap,” what is he saying? What do we hear? ”

    What we hear is a speaker who can bully, but does have a clue on how to compromise. So therefore the question arises, can he run the country and make decisions that would be reasonable and workable?


  3. Very interesting Esther. You and those who connect with the notion of interconnectedness and the idea of animals talking might find the very odd sounding concept of plants thinking that is being advocated by the very odd philosophical couple of Michael Marder and Luce Irigaray. They have a book forthcoming from Columbia University Press (Through Vegetal Being) but a Google search will bring you to plenty of information about how they first connected and what they are trying to achieve.


  4. Thanks for this. I appreciate the PC history article. Maybe we do need new terminology. Until we do, I’ll remain staunchly PC in the face of those who think it’s “crap” to want to be mindful of the identities, needs, struggles, etc. of others.


  5. I fear that when Trump says “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap,” what he really means is he’s tired of not being able to loudly and proudly voice racist views. I even heard a man call in to a progressive radio talk show proudly claiming that he follows Trump because Trump has given him back his power to be a racist. The caller said with pride that he is a racist and very glad to be in the open now.

    It is terrifying to me to see the numbers of Americans following him; to see the hate on their faces as they yell at any protesters who are bearing witness. Trump has revealed the dark, ugly core of racism still very alive in America. I hope that the light will be strong enough to overcome that darkness.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Judith. I, too, am terrified when I see the hordes of people applauding with approval at the Trump rallies. I do believe that most Americans have not come to terms with their own racism, or any other “ism” that gives them privilege over another. Shine on with the light…..


  6. Political correctness often leads wrong especially when people are not able to think in many steps. Also aggressiveness leads wrong and bypasses logical thinking.

    The best way is emotional correctness combined with logical thinking in many steps. Most of the time there are no simple easy solutions for anything. We have to think deeply and express ourselves emotionally correct and that may not be politically correct always, but that is not important.

    Communication has been created so that we can understand each other better. We should use our communication skills wisely.

    Countries have borders and laws. Should they be respected? Of course. Should a country flood itself with terrorists? Of course not. Should a country protect its borders. Of course. Trump is right. Should we not help the people in need? Of course w should. The question is how we can do that effectively without creating problems.

    And how do we express it in an emotionally correct way? That is the question. At the same time, people feeling hate and fear, will find hate-speeches and fear-speeches emotionally correct.

    So. What can we do? Can we meet half way? Can we find solutions that most can agree on? Yes we can. And that is emotionally correct and in the end will become politically correct too.

    All we have to do is to be emotionally correct and address the fears, accept them, respect them and try to present the facts that can remove fear, but also not remove fear that is relevant, and accept this as well.


  7. Dear intelligentchild–Am quite sure I don’t understand exactly what you are saying in your response; however, I AM quite bothered by what I see when I click on intelligent child:


    Make an intelligent child!

    Skip to content


    Get an intelligent child

    Sperm donation links

    “Intelligent Children” moves to “Insemination Fuerteventura”

    Posted on June 25, 2012 by intelligentchild

    A new name was invented for my home page to locate my seamen better for the ones in need.

    So to inseminate get a ticket to Fuerteventura during ovulation!
    Read more here: https://inseminationfuerteventura.wordpress.com/bruce/
    Best regards

    Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged children, Gran Canaria, insemination, Intelligence | Leave a comment

    Sperm donation links

    Posted on June 19, 2012 by intelligentchild

    Links of interest for people looking for sperm donors and people who would like to help them out:



    Interesting blogpost:

    Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

    Hi Guys at Basic Eugenics!

    Posted on June 2, 2012 by intelligentchild

    Thanks for a good article, guys. I would like to inform you of something very important.

    A movie to watch for people with high IQ believing in Eugenics:
    Youtube – The most important video you will ever see

    After that read Jared Diamond Easter Island’s End.
    and Julian Cribb the coming famine pdf

    Because of the above facts I just gave you I suggest that the numbers in your article be changed to strict one child policy, for at least 100 years, unless high IQ where 2 children are allowed above IQ 120 and 3 above IQ 130 and 4 above IQ 140. …or else agressivness might be a useful thing…

    …and until that down-growth start to happen people with high IQ altruistically grow in very large numbers and make the less fortunate realize all the benefits of remaining childless using NLP, horror images and other kinds of tactics. Removing religion or changing religious practice step by step or at least making it extremely secular.

    And I also suggest that all you who are intelligent enough join politics to make it more clever than it is today, live far away from the sea because of the tsunami risc, preferably on a mountain side, get bunkers with breathing protection against ash clouds because of large volcano eruptions in the future, arm yourselves against looters and also store food supplies lasting at least 10 years and also store seeds from all plants in your area.

    Best regards
    Bruce the celibate inseminator, IQ 135, Calm as the Buddha himself
    Politically active to create more intelligent politics and actually save this world from complete self-made destruction and raise intelligence to higher levels.

    Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged babies, children, eugenics, insemination, intelligent | Leave a comment

    The father of 600 intelligent children

    Posted on May 16, 2012 by intelligentchild

    Looking on the Internet for sperm donation sites I found some interesting things

    Scientist fathered 600 children by donating sperm at his own fertility clinic.
    God job! Congratulations to the scientist making the world more intelligent.

    And to the child of a stranger who was the result of an insemination I just want to say that we are all one anyway. Enjoy life and take care of us all with all your intelligence!

    A horror story about donation of sperm. Does not seem to be very intelligent donors in my opinon. Be careful when you chose!

    Pure Love

    Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged children, insemination, intelligent, sperm donor | Leave a comment


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