by Emmet Hollingshead
I will be voting for Hillary Clinton. Not just because I support liberal and progressive values and policies, but because I find Donald Trump as a person to be absolutely insufferable. Statistically speaking, I can guess that many of The Contemporary’s readers – college students –feel the same. Voters under 30 prefer Clinton to Trump by more than 2:1, and among all college educated voters, Clinton leads by over 20 points. The academic world tends to lean left on all issues, and this cycle is no exception. Yet, polls indicate that about 40% of United States citizens will be voting for Trump. Do 40% of the people you know support Trump? Of the people you know who do support Trump, how many would you consider close friends or friends at all? It is a common talking point that the problem is not Trump but the people who support Trump, yet how often do you discuss Trump in your life, and how often is a Trump supporter part of that conversation?
The American political divide, particularly in academia, stunts the growth of ideas.
It is not a problem that our political spectrum is getting broader, but it is a problem that the ends of the spectrum are beginning to fail to engage with one another. A healthy political community is constituted by conversation and a desire to learn together. As responsible political individuals, it is up to us to actively seek out dissenting opinions and engage with them not for the sake of convincing the other person of our own righteousness and thereby saving them from a lifetime of being wrong, but for the sake of our own intellectual development. We all must do a better job of trying to understand the Other, rather than trying to get the Other to understand us.
Our modern political divide has been growing for some time, and is coming to a serious head with Donald Trump. The Tea Party movement was the first national rumbling of the new American right, and has caused unprecedented Congressional gridlock in the Obama era. Today, two major leaders of that movement, Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz, are considered too mainstream and have been cast off as political shills.
Trump is the latest champion of the right, a new conservatism which has eschewed ideals of small government and traditional values for blood-and-soil identity politics in the face of globalization and changing demographics.
Their deep and unadulterated nationalism demands a return to an imagined past of global dominance and socio-economic mobility for the white working class. Movement conservatism alluded to the same imagined past, but Trump speaks much more directly, and without any of the civility or policy details.
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While the right has been moving right, the left has been moving left. In 2008, “socialist” was a four-letter word. This election cycle, a self-professed socialist almost won the Democratic nomination for President. Even though he didn’t, Bernie Sanders gained a clear political mandate in the Senate and is currently the most well-liked nationally known politician in America. And how many times this cycle have you heard Hillary Clinton called “basically a Republican”? This is a woman who was a more liberal Senator than Obama, who came out to the left of Bernie on gun control, and who said on a nationally televised debate stage that all white people must examine our own implicit racial bias. These are not the actions of a moderate. Yet much of the left still considers her a moderate because she does not live up to the new standards for ‘progressive’.
None of this is to say that the progression and radicalization of ideas is inherently wrong. On the contrary, radical ideas are often precisely what the world needs. Diversity of thought should always be welcomed into conversation as long as that thought is sincere. I applaud Bernie Sanders for raising radical issues like free college and universal healthcare. I also applaud Donald Trump for radically contributing to a much-needed conversation about white American identity in an era of globalization and economic realignment. What is problematic about radical ideas is not that they are radical, but that they are too frequently pursued without listening to countervailing arguments. Not only does this prohibit substantive development of the idea, it prohibits the idea from joining the broader conversation and having a real impact on the world.
An age of political divergence requires a concerted effort to fully examine and understand arguments which are antithetical to our own worldview. We as college students are often told to think critically, but we rarely apply that approach to ideas and values that we hold ourselves.
I believe American society at large is in dire need of radical introspection in which all of our values and assumptions — all of your own values and assumptions, dear reader — are laid on the table.
Political cohesion is not won via shouting matches. It is won by understanding our common goals and making a genuine effort to reconcile our differences rather than eliminate them, absolutely no matter how large those differences appear to be. So my parting task for you is this: next time you meet someone who isn’t voting the way you are, don’t argue at them. Don’t try to convince them of anything. Listen, ask genuine questions, and try to let yourself be convinced.
Emmet Hollingshead is a International Studies and Political Science major from Macalester College. He is on the soccer team, a founding member of Macalester Quakers, and will be studying abroad in Buenos Aires in Spring 2017.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.
The picture above was taken by Andrew Salinero at a rally for Donald Trump in San Antonio in the Summer of 2016.