It’s OK that conservatives don’t feel welcome
As we emerge from another bad State of the Union address from an even worse president, it seems appropriate to reflect on the young members of the ideological movement that created him. Across the country at schools like ours, college right-wingers say they face social isolation because of their beliefs.
Some conservatives at Washington University feel this way. An article in the WU: In Focus issue from late last semester—which I just read last week, so maybe take that into account when you’re evaluating my credibility—profiled several conservative students who’ve experienced negative social ramifications for their politics. They feel their beliefs aren’t welcome on our campus. And I’d just like to say: That’s fine.
I’m not alone in this belief. An op-ed that followed the article responded by making the correct point that conservatives are not an oppressed group (though this is far from an endorsement of that piece). But I think it’s important to go beyond the observation that they’re not oppressed. To say that conservative students somehow deserve special consideration is to misunderstand what an academic community is supposed to be. Rather than stifling debate, dismissing unproductive conservative ideas can open up our opportunities for meaningful discussion.
It’s a logistical fact of living in human society that not every idea is fit for the public forum (Hey, that’s the name of this section!). We only have so many hours in the day. In general, it’s taken for granted that some belief systems are either unnecessary or detrimental to serious discourse, and that’s especially important in an academic environment.
We don’t make it socially acceptable for chemists to talk seriously about alchemy, for example. Our highly-regarded medical school isn’t highly-regarded because of its openness to using leeches to treat disease. This is true of political philosophies, too: Few serious people advocate absolute monarchy, and I think we’re all perfectly fine with that. We don’t feel the need to carve out a special space for Bourbon restorationists in our political science classes. Similarly, there’s no reason to actively accommodate conservatives—especially fans of the president—because their ideas add little value to our discourse.
Conservative ideas do not deserve equal consideration to that afforded liberal and left ideas, because conservative ideas are not equal to liberal and left ideas. There is no legitimate argument for supporting Donald Trump and his allies, at least not one that holds up in any academic community worth its salt. Advocating nativism, sexism, government by oligarchic graft and anything else the president represents is not productive in a space meant to contribute ideas to the world.
We’ve already reached tacit agreement on this. We’re an overwhelmingly left-leaning student body—73 percent of respondents to the Student Life survey mentioned in the original WU: In Focus piece identified as “very” or “somewhat liberal,” compared with only 8 percent who reported being any degree of “conservative.” Instead of propping up fringe ideas out of some sense of “bipartisan” openness, we should embrace the fact that so many of our students are liberal. Instead of wasting our time and mental energy on some right-wing argument no one really believes, we should spend time having meaningful conversations. How can we guarantee everyone health coverage? What’s the best way to redistribute wealth? How can we mitigate climate change, a thing we all agree is a problem?
There is only so much discourse to go around, and we shouldn’t squander any of it having a balanced discussion on “Should people have to die because they’re poor?”
Of course, we can—we must—allow conservatives to have their conservative clubs and discuss conservative ideas. It’s also fine that lefties might have conservative friends—I have a few token right-wing pals myself. But we shouldn’t create an impulse among the student body to pretend, out of politeness, that there’s anything valuable in the Republican policy agenda. The Republican Party primarily exists to enrich a small group of already-rich people, and does so quasi-democratically by scaring old white folks about people with darker skin. Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s a party or an ideological flank that I’d like to offer a whole bunch of special treatment to.