COLUMN

We Can’t Afford Another 4 Years of ‘Me Me Me’ Politics

Now more than ever, we need to embrace giving a shit about other people

Meghan McCain on “The View.” Photo: Lou Rocco/ABC/Getty Images

Earlier this week, amid the usual barrage of dystopian headlines, I was treated to a rare and unexpected bit of good news: television host and new mom Meghan McCain pushing for paid parental leave on The View. “We are the only developing nation that doesn’t supply women with paid family leave,” said McCain, who has until now remained silent on the issue. “We as conservatives have to come together and allow all women in this country, no matter where they’re from or their socioeconomic class, the capacity to have what I just had.”

She’s right to point out that it’s hypocritical for America to claim to be a country that cares about “family values” while denying the most basic support to women who have just given birth. But it’s frustrating that it took having a child herself for McCain to come out in support of something that feminists have been ringing the alarm about for decades.

And as the era of Trump ends — four years marked by egotism and selfishness — it raises a bigger question: Why are so many Americans unsympathetic to a particular issue until it affects them directly?

Parental leave and child care? Your kid, your problem. (Perhaps the biggest and most recent shift in the way Americans view parenting, for example, is that we went from “it takes a village” to the idea that moms, in particular, need to do it all.)

It’s frustrating that it took having a child herself for McCain to come out in support of something that feminists have been ringing the alarm about for decades.

But this is about so much more than just maternal leave or child care. It’s every political issue: People who rail against free health care will quietly launch a GoFundMe when faced with an unexpected medical emergency, and activists against abortion suddenly want to procure one when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. (This happens so often that there’s a phrase in the pro-choice community to describe it: “Only in cases of rape, incest, or me.”)

As we head into the Electoral College certification and, after that, a Joe Biden White House, taking on this country’s obsessive and toxic individualism has got to be a top priority — especially because of how we’ve seen it play out during the pandemic.

We’ve watched those who previously called the virus a hoax or claimed it was overblown suddenly change their minds when a loved one got sick. What’s worse, those who haven’t come around to caring about Covid-19 have tried to fashion their everyday selfishness as some kind of political statement.

Refusing to wear a mask while berating service workers about your God-given American right to sneeze in the meat aisle has nothing to do with freedom. But a country that conflates this kind of self-absorption with “independence” is going to get more dangerous the longer we let that lie flourish.

Consider anti-vaccination parents who don’t care about protecting the community of children around them so long as they get to do what they want for their own child. This is a community that surely will only get louder, and more deadly, as the Covid-19 vaccine continues its rollout.

I’m not sure what the answer is. How do you convince people that caring about others is necessary? How can we relay the idea that living in a civilized society means working for the health and happiness of everyone in it?

I’m thrilled that someone like McCain can come around to advocating for an issue that affects all Americans — and it’s true that sometimes it takes experiencing something firsthand to understand its importance. But there’s no understating how urgently this country needs empathy.

Now more than ever, we need people to embrace the politics of giving a shit about others. I just wish it didn’t feel like an impossible task.

Feminist author & columnist. Native NYer, pasta enthusiast.

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