The Death of Politics at Skidmore
Political discourse has spread throughout Skidmore in the wake of the election of Donald Trump. Everywhere a student goes, he/she will likely hear Trump’s name invoked. Unsurprisingly, the president-elect is not popular on campus. His words have drawn a negative reaction from students and faculty of every identity. Such a reaction has been warranted; Trump has made distasteful comments to the ire of individuals on either end of the political spectrum. Twitter rampages and press conferences filled with lies have become so common that it is not worth reiterating the specifics of their content. All one has to do is look online to understand why a Trump presidency will be problematic to many.
Public discussion of politics is a societal good. Lively political discussion, the exchange of ideas and the clash of minds, has been a cornerstone of American democracy since our republic’s founding. Of course, at the beginning, political discussion in the United States was not open to everybody. It is necessary to acknowledge that American democracy has, and always will be, a battle to live up to the ideals espoused in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The Suffragette movement of the early 20th century, the Civil Rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s, and the Obergefell v. Hodges decision of June 2015 are but a few examples of how Americans have fought to reshape their society and its laws for the better. From a progressive standpoint, American political discourse has advanced leaps and bounds from its exclusive past.
However, one cannot help but feel that there is still something wrong with American political discourse. On campus, there are many students that, in the classroom as well as in the dining hall, feel that they have to hold their tongues on political matters for fear of verbal retribution. There are many things that are left unsaid at Skidmore. Even in the wake of the most divisive election of the modern presidency, we are afraid to pull punches. Say something that someone else does not like and they will either glare at you and never speak to you again, or launch into a face-to-face or digital tirade about all the things that are likely wrong with you.
Try, for example, to say that – although you personally disdain Donald Trump – that you do not believe that every person who voted for him is implicitly a racist, sexist, or bigot. Maybe you believe instead that the government has repeatedly failed these people, and that it makes perfect sense for them to vote for a candidate who promised to send the whole establishment to hell. This is not a provocative statement. You have made it clear that you do not share Donald Trump's beliefs and that you are just trying to see the other side. More likely than not, however, your words will be interpreted as nothing more than giving a free pass to evil people. I have tried this enough times to believe wholeheartedly that this is likely where your conversation will head.
There is something fundamentally wrong with this conversation. If it is controversial for one liberal to try and convince another that people they have never met, whose lives are radically different from his/her own, are not bad people because they hold different political beliefs, then surely political discussion has broken down. A Manichean worldview has taken hold of the Skidmore left. Rather than focusing on understanding the other side and how best to strive towards common ground, it has become more popular to get angry and deem these people little more than deplorable. This dynamic applies to how the Skidmore left (which is the far-left) thinks of the far-right, but it also extends to how the Skidmore left now treats the center-right, the center, and the center-left. If you are not with the far-left, you are not worth their time.
It is time for Skidmore students to seriously reflect upon their personal politics. If we cannot engage in political discourse without fury, or without uniformly invalidating millions of others who we do not know, then we are failing to live up to our most precious ideals.
Editor's notes: This article has been edited to reflect changes desired by the author after its initial publication.