The 2016 presidential election results demonstrate that many Americans have lost trust in a government which has failed to address their issues and difficulties because of a lack of understanding of their feelings and perspectives.  

Donald Trump, a political outsider, expressed an awareness and understanding in a manner which deeply resonated with many, who thereby believe that “Trump speaks the truth.”

Meanwhile, on October 13, 2016, I attended a program at UCLA titled "Why History Matters—Historians And Others (Try To) Make Sense Of The 2016 Election." All five panelists and the moderator agreed that Trump is a demagogue.

A demagogue is “a political leader who seeks support(link is external) by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.”

According to the panelists, the circumstances ripe for demagogues are loss of a war, national embarrassment, economic depressions, great recessions, income inequality, and the like. Demagogues come up with simple solutions for very complex issues and appeal to those who feel as though they are the "losers" with regard to the status quo.

Regardless of whether you agree that Trump is a demagogue, “the truth” he speaks has caused many Americans to feel like outsiders in their own country. 

Unfortunately, “appealing to popular desires and prejudices” will not solve the problems of those Americans who voted for him and will further polarize our nation.

Interestingly enough, earlier this year, Dr. Lynne Reeder, Director of Australia21, “a not for profit public think tank specializing in promoting new evidence-based thinking about the big issues confronting Australia in a rapidly changing global environment” conducted a pilot study testing the effectiveness of empathy conversations as a policy-making instrument.

The study states as follows:

In today’s global and uncertain world(link is external), it could be argued that policy challenges require an ability to become more aware and sensitive to the suffering of others. For that to happen, empathy and compassion need to be intentionally included and rewarded in policy and decision making settings. However, moving towards suffering requires a high level of emotional intelligence and an ability to better understand how our thoughts influence our capacity to connect with others.”

The study queried, “Why is it beneficial to demonstrate that empathy conversations could provide another resource for policy makers?"

I am proud to state that the conclusion I reached in my article “The Power of Empathy(link is external)” was used to answer that question, which was phrased in the study as follows:

We posit that they are worthwhile(link is external) considering because using empathy conversations as a considered policy tool will deliver direct access to a range of diverse lived experiences to those in policy making positions; and that in turn provides enhanced information on which to base fully considered decisions. It is not surprising that our limited worldviews, based on our particular life experiences, inform our expectations and assumptions. If those in policy positions have not been a member of a discriminated or minority group, and mostly they are not, then what personal relationships have shaped their life processes? Consequently empathy conversations may provide one way of cultivating the awareness and understanding of the lived-experiences of individuals in financial difficulty, by those developing welfare policy who have not directly experienced poverty or austerity themselves.”

Mark B. Baer, Esq. is a mediator, collaborative law practitioner, conflict resolution consultant, co-author of Putting Kids First in Divorce, and co-founder of Family Dynamics Assistance Center. He also regularly writes for the Huffington Post and Psychology Today.