Dismissing legitimately held ideas is an impediment to discourse

Drew Gumlia

Last week’s Mac Weekly featured an article that responded to Cody Olson’s call for more conservative voices at Macalester. My guess is in many years at Macalester, there have been many articles that have featured the same conversation, but to no resolution or end. I write today with the hope of expanding on, and providing actual solutions to the lack of dialogue on this campus. The problem is perfectly summed up in a sentence from the opinion piece by Quinton Singer: “Is this nebulous language intentional, to cover up that the conservative ideas Mr. Olson refers to are in fact homophobic, racist, xenophobic, etc. in nature?” This statement is irresponsibly assumptive and frankly disrespectful to the millions of Republicans in the country and the small few on our campus. It says that Republicans are basically pieces of cardboard who are incapable of differing opinions and filled with hate. What if I am pro gay marriage, but believe the ruling on Obergefell v. Hodges was outside the bounds of how the Supreme Court should be able to enact state policy? On the campus envisioned by the opinion piece from last week, there is no room for that sort of intellectually conservative discussion. There is no respect for differing ideologies. If you disagree, you best keep your mouth shut. During the French Revolution, the liberals were the ones chopping off the heads of those who disagreed with them. Obviously we have since changed, but we still immediately discredit and characterize people with opposing views to our own as wrong or simply bad people. But this is a pattern that has to change—not only at Macalester, but at college campuses across the nation.

I not only characterize this as a problem with the student body, but I believe it comes from the top down. When Brian Rosenberg gave his convocation speech this year, he bashed Donald Trump repeatedly, even using an expletive in his description. While Mr. Trump is not a typical conservative nor a typical Republican, he still is the standard-bearer of the American right. How can we expect to foster discourse, or be an inclusive campus when our college president did his best to eschew any legitimacy of the Republican nominee in a speech designed to inspire personal challenges and learning, and welcome a new cohort of students? We become so angry with Brian Rosenberg over everything to do with Wells Fargo, but where is the outrage when he crosses the line by offending a group of people in our community?

People argue that it is unfair to draw comparisons between Donald Trump and the Republican Party. I think, though, that this is a dangerous thought process that leads to denial. I certainly do not agree with him on everything, and I definitely find some of his statements out of line. What I think people at Macalester fail to understand is the true following that Donald Trump has, though. We don’t give enough credence to the support of his ideas. For example, his proposed ban on immigration from the Middle East saw support from 61 percent of Americans according to an NBC News poll. What we view as a policy so extreme that it can’t possibly be true sees support from a majority of people in the United States. Regardless of how hateful we find his rhetoric to be, we need to converse about it seriously. This is beyond a simple roundtable where we lament the views of a perceived small fraction of this country. At one point, Donald Trump was forecasted by Nate Silver with a 51 percent chance of winning the election. It is obvious that the progression of these policies is more than just a fluke. Maybe our standards of policy and the ideas that are popular in our country are wrong. But as long as we continue to deny that Donald Trump has a large and legitimate following, we set ourselves up to live in denial about the world.

I think it is very simple, actually: dismissiveness begets lack of discourse, lack of discourse begets denial, denial begets a false sense of the world outside of Macalester. We are all intelligent at this school, but maybe we aren’t actually right every time. College campuses have become more and more polarized and as a result, the environments we use to develop ourselves have merely become echo chambers. While it is comfortable to be in an environment that is free of ideas that are difficult for you, it does nothing to prepare you for life beyond college.

This is not a problem only with liberal thought, though. The intolerance goes both ways. Changing the rhetoric and standard of beliefs at our school only serves to give us a better education. Therefore, I posit that if we were to change the national conversation on college campuses, we would come closer to ending the divide between our ideologies. What is to say this change can’t begin at Macalester? It will take a lot of work and introspection, but at the end of the day, we do ourselves an incredible disservice and ultimately fail ourselves when we deny and dismiss what someone has to say because it is rooted in conservative thought or grounded in conservative evidence. I am also not saying that what they believe is right and what we hold true is wrong. I mean to argue that we should be more objective in our thoughts of Republican and Democratic ideas and liberal and conservative thoughts. Both parties have their flaws and we can accept that. But it is unfair and incredibly irresponsible to cast aspersions on an entire party based on a faulty assumption, or the misdoings of a few. Beyond our campus, the majority of office holders in this country disagree with sentiments popular at Macalester and the first step for us is to accept this. Because in reality, we do not need to drive far down University Avenue to find a place where a Republican sits in the speaker’s chair.