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I welcomed the editor's reverse pitch: She was struck by my "magnanimous attitude in the face of victory" in a Radio Boston interview the day after the election. Could I write a column about the Trump/Clinton contest and empathy for the Clinton supporters?
My response: a resounding yes.
After cleaning up the parts of life that go untended even as a bit player in a presidential campaign, I set about thinking about empathy and elections. I had some great teachers — religious sisters and the Brothers of the Sacred Heart in a few classrooms — so I knew the definition of empathy: a function of the virtue of charity by which a person enters into another's feelings, needs and sufferings, from the Greek en + pathein, to suffer.
When a Republican candidate for state office walked by with a tray of coffees and didn’t offer me one, I knew it was going to be a long day.
I’m not a professional politico, campaign consultant, fundraiser or pundit. I'm a volunteer, and no matter which side of the partisan divide you stand on, you know me. I’m just like your friend, brother, sister, aunt, cousin, coworker, boss or neighbor who was all in for Hillary Clinton. Those willing to help at church or bake for the bake sale. The easy marks buying boxes of Girl Scout cookies, or holding the ladder while you attack the ice dams — even if it’s during the second half of the Patriots game.
In my experience, political volunteers are good folks. I’ve always considered us part of the same fellowship. The amalgamated bumper sticker pushers, signature gatherers, button wearers and phone callers. We have the earnest energy of picnic ants and the rhino skin of the Fuller Brush man. We are afflicted with a love for our country, states and towns. We just disagree on our plans to make these places greater, and on who decides the plans.
Over the years of door knocking and holding signs at polling places, I have always tried to maintain a professional respect for my opponents. Like the sheep dog and Wile E. Coyote meeting at the punch clock next to the sheep meadow in those old Warner Brothers cartoons. There is a lot of “Mornin' Ralph,” “Mornin' Sam” going on between the Rs and the Ds in my community.
But holding a sign for Donald Trump in Boston’s Ward 20 was tough sledding this year. Voters' incivility reached new depths. Even the other Republican sign holders moved about 50 yards away from me. When a Republican candidate for state office walked by with a tray of coffees and didn’t offer me one, I knew it was going to be a long day.
I was standing next to a couple of nice women who were part of a teacher’s union holding signs against Question 2, the ballot question that, if passed, would have raised the cap on charter schools. It was through them that I experienced empathy. After a couple of hours of getting sworn at, spit near, flipped the bird, taunted and other assorted acts of desperation that I hesitate to describe in a family forum, one of the union women asked if she could take my picture for a tweet.
"Why would you ever want to send out tweet of a Trump supporter?" I asked.
"I really feel bad about the way my people are treating you, but I respect that you are here standing out for what you believe in," she said.
In that moment, the coffee snub, the insults and the middle fingers for my Trump sign all went away with a small act of love.
As a Republican in Massachusetts, I have had the terrible misfortune of backing more than a few losers at the two dollar window. I know the pain of the Clinton partisans who ran up the rail clutching their betting slips urging their horse on as the early states looked blue, only to turn away for a few hours of sleep and awaken the next day to learn that Trump had fired on the turn and won the race by several lengths. One look at the tote and instantaneously, the impenetrable skin of the Clinton Fuller Brush men had become the pale, poxied, lonely hide of the Maytag repairman.
When you have captured a bottle of smoke and your horse comes into the winner’s circle, there is no greater joy. On the contrary, the smashed hopes of political misfortune are a grief multiplied.
In 2012, I was left on the apron staring at my betting slip nearly hyperventilating in pain, exhausted and unable to sleep. I was volunteering on two campaigns and managing my brother’s race for Carroll County attorney in New Hampshire. Once the ballots were tallied, I was in absolute disbelief. Sen. Scott Brown had lost; Mitt Romney’s ORCA get-out-the-vote computer program turned out to be the S.S. Minnow; and my own brother’s race had finished in the margin for a recount, but a loss nonetheless.
When you have captured a bottle of smoke and your horse comes into the winner’s circle, there is no greater joy. On the contrary, the smashed hopes of political misfortune are a grief multiplied. Months of work, vacations days taken for canvassing, slammed doors, rude comments, threats, missed dates, donations wasted and family outings unattended — these are the unspoken calluses that you find on the fingers of campaign volunteers. For the losers, those calluses get recounted like rosary beads for a few weeks, but then the pain subsides.
Putting away my MAGA hat, my Trump hoodie, my yard sign and my bumper sticker was an easy chore in the early hours of Nov. 9. Praising the Clinton campaigners for a well fought fight and acknowledging their disappointment was the least I could do. I knew that empathy was the first step to making America great again.
Lou Murray was a delegate for President-elect Donald Trump and a member of the National Catholic Advisory Committee for Trump/Pence.
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