Verbum Ultimum: One Year Later

Activism of all stripes is critical for our nation — and our campus.

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 1/26/18 1:30am

Last Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump’s first year in office has been marked by an aggressive agenda of attempted policy changes, some sweeping and others less so, some successful and others defeated. The political turmoil nationwide has inspired a similar — if somewhat subdued — change in Dartmouth’s campus culture, an effect that supports the notion that universities are microcosms of society.

As students become more aware of how national politics affect their daily lives, their personal engagement with politics increases, leading to a tangible increase in political involvement and discussion that reflects the country as a whole. As the country enters Trump’s second year in office, students should continue to grow this culture of discussion and activism while engaging more with people who have different priorities from our own. Strong democracies require strong citizens, and strong citizens must be informed, involved and ready to act.

Much of the campus dialogue has revolved around the promises Trump made while on the campaign trail, many of which he did not attempt to keep. Other initiatives, however, he has worked hard to enact. In February 2017, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as Secretary of Education after Vice President Mike Pence cast a tiebreaking vote in the Senate. In September 2017, Trump called to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, put in place under former U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. In October 2017, despite a Republican failure to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act the previous month, Trump announced plans to take away subsidies that helped low-income people pay out-of-pocket costs to health insurance companies.

In the past year, Dartmouth students have seemingly become more aware of and active in responding to current policy issues. This shift became noticeable immediately after Trump’s inauguration. That afternoon, Timothy Messen ’18 held a discussion on flag burning with a group of student demonstrators as well as counter-demonstrators, including members of Rolling Thunder New Hampshire Chapter 2 and the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association. Messen’s discussion, which was planned as a follow-up to his Nov. 19, 2017 column, initially focused on the idea of flag burning, but he also read his critiques of Trump and invited onlookers to continue the discussion over email. The demonstration was the first of many at Dartmouth over the next year.

The campus response to Trump’s proposed end to DACA is another illustrative example. Ending DACA would have potentially led to the deportation of 800,000 people brought to the U.S. as children who do not have citizenship or legal documentation, some of whom are Dartmouth students. Perhaps because its impact is so direct, and the magnitude so large, members of campus rallied to protest and hold Dartmouth accountable for helping its students. A group of students picketed the Homecoming bonfire in response to College President Phil Hanlon’s statements on DACA, which they considered insufficiently supportive of DACA recipients’ rights. During the Homecoming football game, cheerleaders protested by taking a knee during the national anthem.

Beyond the flag burning demonstration and protests of DACA at Dartmouth, students have weighed in on issues from the Trump administration’s tax bill, which affects Dartmouth’s endowment, to environmental concerns. This increased political engagement and discussion, arguably spurred by the controversy surrounding Trump’s campaign and election, has moved beyond the Trump administration into other areas of life at Dartmouth and nationwide. Students responded, both in their personal lives and through campus publications, to the sexual assault, harassment and rape allegations against individuals such as Harvey Weinstein, as well as the investigation into sexual misconduct allegations against three Dartmouth professors.

Dartmouth students’ increased political activity may be part of a larger trend, but this administration’s policies continue to drive student engagement. A significant number of students turned out to vote in the last election cycle in 2016. Trump’s time in office, at the end of the day, has increased discussion and engagement with politics. Some Dartmouth students are enraged by Trump’s policies and proposals that have the potential to quickly and devastatingly impact students, whether directly through the removal of programs like DACA or indirectly through proposals that would benefit businesses at the expense of the environment. Others are supportive of Trump’s policies, and their activism and engagement reflects that.

Ultimately, all this is good. America thrives when its citizens, particularly its young citizens, are engaged with current events. The nation is undergoing a trying time, yet it also has an opportunity to seize upon increased political engagement and become better for it.

During and after their time at Dartmouth, students should continue their discussions and critiques of policies and national changes that can make an impact, whether direct or indirect, on their lives and the lives of others. Regardless of one’s view on Trump, it is hard to argue that he and his cronies have contributed to and accelerated a culture that emphasizes discussion and debate. However, this culture has grown over the course of one year. With respect to the importance of this debate, we must be careful not to fall into our own echo chambers and denounce others’ opinions. Engaging in good faith across ideological lines is vital to our success as individuals. As a society, though, we must keep discussing, keep listening and keep fighting for the policies we believe in.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the associate opinion editor, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.