By Ryan Quinn
The 58th Secretary of State Ed Muskie once said, “Americans like to believe that they are decent, and most of them are, nevertheless they find it easy to persuade themselves that there is too much risk, too much danger, in trusting Americans who are different.”
We continue to see this attitude polarize our nation, especially in light of the recent election. Today’s political climate is a personal one. However, I experience a type of fear that has yet to be adequately addressed.
Imagine living in a world in which nobody agrees with you, a world in which you are embarrassed by your fundamental beliefs. That is the way many liberals have made conservatives feel on college campuses. The most vocal voices are those on the left, and conservatives are not invited into dialogue. Conservatism has become a dirty word, stripping right-leaning college students of their freedom to speak their minds.
Liberation theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, defines a “poor” person (in regard to the preferential option for the poor) as a “nonperson,” or someone who lacks a voice. According to Liberation theology, I am a nonperson.
Yes, I have a voice. I am blessed with an education. I am by no means invisible. I am a straight, white, cisgender male. I have a platform on which I can project my thoughts and people will listen to me — but only if I say what people want to hear. As a conservative on a college campus in New York City, I have spent the last three and a half years in fear that my views will single me out as a hateful, close minded conspiracy theorist.
But this fear, unlike other fears, is ignored. If a Muslim mother asks her daughter not to wear her hijab in public for fear of discrimination, everyone’s heart breaks. But when my conservative mother asks me not to speak my mind in class for fear of discrimination, nobody knows. Recent physical attacks on Trump supporters legitimize this fear.
Conservatives have been silenced. Pop culture makes a mockery of conservatism. Academia pushes liberalism. We are embarrassed, not by our views, but by how our views will be interpreted. When I say that I am pro-life, people hear “anti-woman.” When I say that I believe in the second amendment, I am a callous enabler of gun violence.
We are attacked and shamed for our views, so we grow silent. Because of our silence we think we are alone. Our silence leads to silence from other conservatives. But we raised our voices through the ballot, and the left is shocked by the number of people who disagree with them. However, so far, the response from the left regarding these digressions has been uninspiring.
For example, a November NPR article entitled, “One Way to Bridge the Political Divide: Read The Book That’s Not for You,” encourages readers to expose themselves to political thought written by people that they disagree with. I was amazed that this was a new concept to people. I assumed that people regularly educated themselves on both sides of an issue. Of course we should engage in thought from across the aisle! It is something I have done — forced and voluntarily — for my entire life. It is astonishing that this is a novel idea for some people.
After the recent election, students in my classes started to toy with this idea of reaching across the aisle. However, a common narrative is that the political divide is based on the level of formal education of voters, so my classmates thought that there were no conservatives sitting right next to them in class. Maybe, just maybe, there was a Libertarian.
I quickly realized that any effort to understand the opposition was not motivated by the intention to learn anything and broaden horizons. It was clear that understanding conservatism was only a means to explain why conservatism is wrong. This is not even conjecture. Students openly admitted that they want to understand conservatives so they can explain why their beliefs are old fashioned.
I realize that my observations of liberals are not representative of the entire left, but rather just the loudest ones. They produce the visible trend. In most cases, perception is not as important as reality, but perception here is what causes conservative fear. If the loudest voices are the ones that are condescending, and those that truly want to understand the right are less vocal, then that is useless. The existence of open-minded liberals is irrelevant. They need to be vocal and seek out conservatives.
Now, I would like to directly address my liberal friends.
To my liberal friends:
First, I would like to say that friendship is not contingent on political views. Enough people, on social media and in the classroom, have expressed concern over whether or not they can be friends with someone who voted for Donald Trump. This is not only a manifestation of the silence imposed on the right, but will perpetuate that fear in the future. The media spent countless hours on coverage of Donald Trump’s infamous tape. That is a good thing. Such speech should be condemned. However, few students in my classes heard about Clinton’s arguably equally abhorrent tape. This was a recording of her laughter allegedly over the acquittal of a man who raped a 12-year-old girl, with heavy implications that she knew he was guilty. This unequal portrayal of the candidates trickles down to their supporters. This tells conservatives that we are unvalued and that our beliefs automatically disqualify us from a place in any given person’s life. Liberal students do not feel this way.
Second, check your privilege. I have checked mine, and I hope you will too. You probably will not know what it is like to look at a professor, who has years more experience and education, and say the words, “I disagree with you.” Worse, you may never know the experience of lying to a professor and saying “I agree with you,” suppressing your views out of fear that your grades will suffer and your character tarnished. If you have had to do this, I highly doubt that you have had to do this in four out of four classes in any given semester.
You are, simply, more comfortable sharing your ideas in class. You have a sense of intellectual freedom. Conservatives are outnumbered here at Fordham. Even if we are not outnumbered, we certainly feel as though we are. You are louder than us because you can be. You can count on the administration, all of academia, all of Hollywood, the media and countless Buzzfeed articles to back you up.
You are encouraged that your views are correct, and that my conservative views are antiquated thoughts fueled by hate. Or, you trust my morals and expect my views to evolve, and that one day I will look back on this period of conservatism as a mere phase.
Finally, I would like to ask a question. Have you ever assumed people agree with your politics? Don’t. It suppresses dissenting voices and inhibits your own growth.
Dennis Prager, conservative radio talk show host, suggested that conservatives in liberal schools are some of the most intellectually open minded people. We have our views, and we are forced to understand yours. Conversely, you have your views, and are constantly reassured as to how correct you are. One cannot adequately grow in an environment like this. Check your liberal privilege out of love and respect. If love and respect is too much to ask, do it for yourself. Realize that you have so much to gain from the ideas of others. Do not just try to understand the dissenting point of view so you can more easily argue against it. Ask questions. Analyze the answers and think, “could I possibly be wrong?”
Ryan Quinn, FCRH ’17, is a history major from Queens, New York.