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Can Compassion Become a Central Part of American Politics?

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Activists protest on the anniversary of the Supreme Court‘s ruling upholding the Trump administration’s restriction of travel to the U.S. from predominantly Muslim countries.

Health care for all. Free college. Taxing the ultra-millionaires. The 2020 campaign cycle has already witnessed an important paradigm shift in American politics and policy design. So many of the ideas that candidates like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and others are espousing on the campaign trail today—ideas that are almost “no-brainers”—were, not too long ago, perceived as impossible. More than that, they were seen as an affront to what many believed to be one of the United States’ most fundamental values: individual liberty.

These days, however, the disavowal of the notion that an individual’s grit, determination, and perseverance are the sole determinants of success is now central to much of the political sparring ahead of the 2020 presidential election. In particular, this challenge to the centrality of personal responsibility has underscored a broader diagnosis: that a system that should distribute power equitably—that is, U.S. democracy—is broken. The bootstrap myth, in other words, leaves out the reality that deep-seated political and economic inequalities create a lopsided playing field.

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