An open letter to progressives: defending conservatism and free speech

by Zabdi Salazar

As a rising junior at Trinity University, I have come to reflect on my own political views. I hold strong social and moral conservative views based on a Judeo-Christian morality, views that have only strengthened throughout my academic journey. As an individual who sincerely and genuinely seeks truth, I believe that debate and the free flow of ideas, basically free speech is at the core of such a journey. During my time in college, however, I’ve observed a dangerous ideology arising in academia that has led to a crisis of free speech on college campuses, especially with banning speakers on campuses such as UC Berkeley and UCLA. Many students disregard the implications and consequences of their often simplistic beliefs. Unfortunately, millennials and college students are tearing apart at John Stuart Mill’s free marketplace of ideas, in favor of a supposedly morally superior and just world that they themselves have envisioned.  

I have directly experienced the crises emerging on college campuses on the divide between liberal and conservative thought. Conservatives, even in Texas, are in the minority on college campuses. According to recent statistics, liberal professors outnumber conservative professors by almost a 12:1 ratio. Intellectual diversity is undervalued, as classes are structured to only show one side of the story. For example, a 2005 study of 11 California universities shows how departments, specifically in the humanities, lean heavily left with a ratio of 10 Democrats for every 1 Republican. Fortunately though, there are professors at Trinity who explicitly teach the complexity of issues instead of just arguing for the supposedly morally superior stance. However, in my personal experience, it is especially difficult for minority students to identify as conservative. Minority students are often automatically labeled as liberal or leftist. Such assumptions may be due to the Democratic Party’s platform rhetoric in positioning itself as the “new minority party”. Even in our country’s dialogue, there is the assumption that most Republicans are white and not racially diverse. Yet I hold many conservative values and beliefs. At the same time I don’t neatly fit into the box of the Right.

I hold different positions for many policy issues that don’t necessarily conform with the Right, but I find myself to be more centered in my political views.

Then, I asked a well-recognized and respected Hispanic retired Democrat that gave a speech at our campus on why most Hispanics vote Democrat. He responded to me proudly saying that the Democratic Party responded to the needs of Hispanics and minorities the best. I then retorted how Hispanics are a diverse demographic and how it is also dangerous for Republicans to regard the Latino vote as completely hopeless. He replied arguing that my point was true, and that Latinos are diverse, but overall, they will always be welcomed in the Democratic party. Still, I knew his answer would be biased towards his own party. Further, as a single minority student, I disagree that the Democratic party platform benefits minorities the best. Despite Obama’s great rhetorical skills and possibly good intentions, his administration did not particularly pass policies that improved the lives of minorities. At the same time, I’m not really fond of the Trump Administration taking away funding from educational programs such as McNair, which seeks to prepare underrepresented or low-income and first generation students for graduate and doctorate programs. Thus, I am highly critical of both parties, as I don’t think either truly cares or understands how these policies affects the lives of students. As a McNair scholar, this program has opened doors of opportunities for me that I would’ve never had.

This conversation also spurred in me deeper reflections, as well as analyzing the flaws within the Republican Party. Even though I identify as a Hispanic woman with firm conservative beliefs, I have been reluctant in associating myself with the current conservative student group on campus. Although political parties can never truly represent an individual’s entire spectrum of beliefs, the foundation of the political ideology must stem from solid principles. From my perspective, the problem with students on campus who identify with Republicans is that they neglect core principles of basic decency and meaninglessly seek to provoke or destroy their opponents. This is evident in speakers such as Milo Yiannopoulos who certainly seeks to provoke for show. It is this type of rhetoric or style of representing conservatism on campus that makes people like me not want to identify with them.

At the same time, because I am a proponent of free speech on college campuses, I do not think that they should be banned because of what they say or how they say things. This is a dangerous path. Instead, students should criticize the speeches and proposed arguments of speakers through media platforms and publishing outlets such as The Contemporary. This approach is at the heart of embracing a diversity of ideas and thoughts. Although I may not agree with Milo’s style of presenting conservatism and his lack of decency, as Judge Brent Khazan stated in a famous free speech case, “One man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric.” Likewise, I agree with SCOTUS ruling on the recent free-speech cases of Matal v. Tam and Packingham v. North Carolina. As the court held, “A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all.” Still, I regard decency as a valuable principle in political speakers, especially conservatives. Yet since political ideologies are never truly coherent nor pure in themselves, as they always change, they still must rest in an important foundation.

The Foundation of Political Ideologies

The foundational principles of political ideologies are the most important. Our two parties have evolved into opposing value systems and principles because of their conflicting views on equality and liberty. This is evident on student’s stances on free speech. For example, oftentimes, it is left-leaning students that seek to ban conservative speakers from campus because they equate their speech as morally reprehensible or dangerous to their sense of identity. Essentially arguing that equality for all, achieved by almost any means, trumps individual liberty. This is dangerous, a violation of our 1st Amendment rights, and part of the reason why there are so many clashes between both parties to the point of chaos and someone like Trump was elected as President. A nation with a weak and tumultuous foundation will fall. Polarization in America has eroded the core principles that once held our nation. In the past, political parties solely focused on the nature of economics and pure policy, yet today we are seeing a culture war that has slowly been building up over time.   

Some argue that identity politics has blurred the core principles that once held our nation. Identity politics is commonly defined as “political activity or movements based on or catering to the cultural, ethnic, gender, racial, religious, or social interests that characterize a group identity.” At face value, the concept is intriguing and there is some truth to it, as I mentioned in a previous article.

What is true is that when people come together in politics it is for a common cause that reflects an important value or aspect of their identity, meaning that almost all politics can be construed as identity politics.

However my criticism lies on how when you base political alliances exclusively on a specific identity (ethnic, gender, racial…etc), then you are forcing upon your opponents a zero sum game. People begin to equate the policy with their identity, and if you are against that policy, you are supposedly against their identity, even existence. For example, what drives many students to ban conservative speakers on campus are their stances on policies that they deem harmful to certain identity groups. Then, the name calling begins, annihilating any type of meaningful debate and consensus, because apparently identity is not up to debate. This argument is at the destruction of free speech because if all politics is identity politics, then identity has always been up for debate.

An opinion piece from the New York Times concisely articulated the problems that have emerged with such ideology:  

“It’s one thing to support gay marriage, transgender rights, affirmative-action, amnesty for illegal immigrants and large-scale Muslim immigration. They’re ideas worth debating. It’s another thing entirely to write off opponents of progressive ideology as homophobes, transphobes, racists and Islamophobes. Upholding orthodox Christian views of marriage and human sexuality is not an act of hate. Expressing concern about the effect of large-scale immigration on wages and job opportunities is not an act of racism. And it turns out that people deeply resent being told they’re evil. They resent censorship even more.”    

Such dismissiveness and demonization of different views is clearly seen in our politics today. Concretely, in April, DNC Chairman Thomas Perez stated that all Democrats must be pro-choice, as it is a non-negotiable argument, essentially free from debate. Although the party later retracted such statement, it certainly suggests a myopic and exclusionary view on complex social issues like abortion. Further, during this past month of June, the Atlantic published an article with this headline: “Bernie Sanders’s Religious Test for Christians in Public Office.” Although there are competing arguments on whether Mr.Sanders really imposed a religious test, there is something asinine about Mr.Sanders accusing him as islamophobic solely based on his interpretation of Christianity and salvation. The article concludes arguing that: “As the demands for tolerance in America become greater, the bounds of acceptance can also become tighter. Ironically, that pits acceptance of religious diversity against the freedom of individual conscience.” Today’s divisive country has everyone on edge. As seen with these two examples, many democrats find themselves myopically believing their progressive orthodoxy. As a result, sincere and good people are denied their own individual conscience for fears of being called out as against women’s reproductive rights or islamophobic, basically unjustly discriminatory or evil.  

And who is to blame for the breakdown of the foundation of our nation in the political sphere?

Who began to tear at the foundations of our nation, not to improve it, but rather to destroy and annihilate it? Some blame the leftist leaning academic institutions and media. Jordan Peterson, a professor from the University of Toronto and a clinical psychologist has proposed how the postmodernist ideology, promulgated and praised in academia, is to blame. He argues that identity politics is just a masked version of Marxism due to the commonality of the discourse centered on the dynamic between the oppressor and the oppressed.

He also criticizes these theories by noting their own propensity towards self-destruction. The problem with the ideologies of postmodernism and Marxism is the obsession of power that drives them. For example, postmodernism is a worldview that argues the inexistence of an objective truth, which has set forth a watershed of relativistic thought. The “‘Deconstructive postmodernism’ worldview concludes that all ‘comprehensive world-view[s]’ allegedly have the ‘underlying political agenda’ of justifying ‘the power of a dominant elite’… (Callicott 1994:185-86)” (Zaleha 2015). In relation to identity politics, the narrative of power and oppression has only furthered division among different social identities that has lead to less meaningful dialogue and consensus among groups. In regards to Marxism, history proves how it has failed nations horribly, such as Joseph Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China. The next few questions rest on why do they seek to destroy it and whether, as a society we are allowing for that to happen.

Jordan Peterson also argues that the belief of debate being futile is further supported by the postmodernist ideology. Reflecting on the nihilistic conclusion of such view, we will hopelessly remain divided forever unless people conform to the new postmodernist worldview. On a personal account, I’ve had experiences with students on campus who do not wish to deeply engage with an issue that they staunchly support because they believe that our conversation would be pointless and that we would never agree. This is an incredibly dangerous position, since their sense of moral superiority prevents them from hearing other views that do not conform to their orthodoxy. As a believer in the free marketplace of ideas, I would force myself to come to a compromise with someone. I believe that is what politics should be about– consensus building and compromise.

Moral Conservatism

The foundation of my morality rests on a Judeo-Christian value system, which in truth, is essentially morally and socially conservative. However, I will first note that at some point in our nation’s history, my own social and moral views were somewhat the norm. As an individual who sincerely believes in personal responsibility, self-control, and an objective moral truth, our youth culture today would rather celebrate the exact opposite such as moral relativity, impulsive pleasure, and a contempt for the consequences of their actions. For example, the traditional values of chastity and the nuclear family have been eroded in the minds of many youth. Instead, college classes on gender and identity promote the idea that inclusivity means not just tolerating but accepting and celebrating other ways of life that for centuries many individuals have regarded as immoral. The underlying ideology is at the root of their claims, as it is found that courses such as Sociology in California universities lean by far the most left at a ratio of 44(Dem.):1(Rep.).

After deep reflection on the two paths I could lead my life both with clear trade-offs and consequences, I still find great wisdom and value by authentically adhering to morally conservative principles. I do not agree with the new social values created by our society that are definitely antithetical to many orthodox Judeo-Christian values.

I find happiness by restricting my own freedom to a value system that I find meaningful and good.

The scary thing about personal responsibility is accepting that it is your decisions today that will determine your destiny. Basically acknowledging that you are responsible for your own fate. As a believer of free will, we all can choose whether to do right or wrong every day. There are certainly some people in our country that are now afraid of being silenced because they hold traditional moral value systems with a strict code of right and wrong. Even worse, many are no longer allowed to dissent in their own consciousness and beliefs, and even less in their actions. If you also find yourself with these concerns, please fill out this survey to share your own experiences and thoughts.

Neither political party is free of sin, but as a morally and socially conservative individual, I am concerned with many in the left mainstreaming their progressive orthodoxy through their dedication in silencing conservatives and then demonizing them through name calling. The truth is that conservative thought leaders will always exist and they will never go away. We will continue to proclaim our own happiness and liberty through our way of life. And because this is America, anyone can live out their lives however they want. Yet, we will not join in celebrating a way of life that we don’t agree with. You can criticize the foundation of the source of my morality as I can criticize yours, yet no one will ever destroy it as long as people like me exist. And this is okay because respect and decency is what should continue to unite our nation.

That is what makes America so great: our true dedication to free speech and in building a diverse nation of many into one.   

Beyond Tribal Politics

Fortunately, amidst these politicized culture wars, there is still hope to rescue John Stuart Mill and our founding fathers’ Judeo-Christian morality from the abyss. The hope that exists for college students is to transcend their tribalistic tendencies by respecting legitimate liberal and conservative arguments without any name calling. By prioritizing the values of decency and free speech in all of our conversations, we can find common ground and consensus.

A personal experience of mine centers on my evolution in becoming involved with San Antonio politics and confronting my own political beliefs. I realized that I must critically re-evaluate my beliefs constantly and learn to apply them strategically in new situations. Most importantly though, through my experiences with San Antonio politics, I learned that it is important to not be blinded by tribal politics. This is what members of both the left and the right continuously fall victim to.

My journey began by reading the autobiography of Maria Antonietta Berriozabal, which my McNair mentor had recommended to me. I admired Maria’s character, which I believe is a key reason why she achieved many accomplishments, such as becoming the first Latina to be elected into city council in San Antonio. While reading her life story, I loved her faith, sincerity, and wisdom. I realized the importance of a strong character in our representatives and the influence this has on the policies in our city.

At the cultural event that I attended and spoke with Maria, I met with then District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg, a Trinity alum. I admired that Nirenberg practiced what he preached. After meeting with Ron, Maria connected me with many influential and admirable women, many who are greatly involved in the community. From her, I gained a network of professional friends, many who were a part of Ron’s campaign. She had also been keeping me updated on many events they hosted for Ron’s campaign, and I attended. Each event furthered my connections in the city, and I met Ron many other times as well. In all of these people, I found a sincere passion to make a difference in the world. Further, a senior at Trinity who was also my tutor for a political science course, was also involved in Ron’s campaign.

With all of these connections that I made by just reading that single book, I was grateful. So, when my tutor at Trinity invited me to block walk at 6am for Ron Nirenberg’s campaign, I happily agreed. As I had already gone through Ron’s plans for the city of SA, as The Contemporary had interviewed him on his policies, I agreed with many of his priorities. The city is in desperate need of a much more comprehensive and well-funded Metro VIA system. Further, Ron considers himself as an independent, and even though many people relate to him as a progressive or democrat, his policies are not polarizing.

As a busy college student, I am always stretched for time. It definitely helped that there were people that I met who kept me informed of opportunities to be involved. In contrast, I never knew anyone working for Ivy Taylor’s campaign, and it was very hard to even approach her and engage in a conversation, unlike Ron Nirenberg. Truthfully, even if my conservative views may align more with Ivy’s, I didn’t see her campaign work for my vote. As argued before, fundamental principles are important, yet they are very fluid in politics as political ideologies are never coherent in themselves. Thus, looking at Ron’s specific policy positions, I agreed with his priorities. Further, I think there is a need for Republicans to improve their outreach strategies at the grassroots level.  

My decision to block walk for Ron’s campaign centered on how I actually got to speak to him, learn about his policy priorities for bettering San Antonio, and how I found his character to be sincere. People may criticize me for not staying true to our conservative party, but I am past tribal politics. Character, sincerity, and values matter in all of our political representatives no matter what side of the political spectrum they stand. He also holds values in politics that I agree with such as transparency in government and fiscal responsibility. His slogan also resonated with me on “listening better, working harder.” We need representatives who make time to listen to anyone no matter their political views.

Still, we must also continue to remain critical of all of our representatives and hold them to their word. I will definitely hold unto Ron’s words on his statement that: “(The voters) said we don’t have to choose between Democrats and Republicans. We don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment,” he said. “We don’t have to choose between respecting our faith and giving dignity to all people.” This rhetoric is quite appealing as he seeks to be a consensus-builder for all people.

Time will only tell whether our new mayor can truly prioritize the concerns of both Democrats and Republicans.   

Concluding Thoughts

Reflecting on how I still have two more years of college ahead of me and my entire adult life, I still have much to learn about politics and public policy. However, what I am certain of is my determination to proclaim the wisdom of free speech as argued by John Stuart Mill, and the value of a Judeo-Christian morality as the foundation of our society. If college campuses truly seek to adopt diversity and practice what they preach, they must not forget the wisdom of conservative principles or what has held our nation together for hundreds of years. As long as people like me exist, our values will not be destroyed nor will they conform to what a rapidly changing society believes is morally correct. At the same time, I will humbly continue to be critical of all political ideologies and continue living a life based on truth. Although power can be determined as the driving nihilistic tendency to destroy certain political views, our society must learn to transcend such tendencies and look for an inner truth that is focused on finding real solutions to real problems through consensus and compromise. Any other alternative is insufficient and will surely fail.   


Zabdi Salazar is a sophomore Political Science and Business Administration major, as well as the Director of Business operations for The Contemporary. Email Zabdi: business@thecontemporarygroup.com


The views expressed in this article are those of the interviewers or interviewee. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.


The cover photo above was taken by Joe Parks of protests in Berkeley, California. It is under a CC BY-NC 2.o license and be found here.

Leave a Reply