Bach: The Cornerstone of Liberty

Dissent should be welcomed, not condemned as dangerous discourse.

by Jinsung Bach | 1/10/17 12:17am

In the wake of such a contentious election, it is easy to lash out and be afraid. It is perfectly understandable that one might feel apprehensive about the future of American politics, or fear for what may follow in the years to come. Nonetheless, it is inexcusable to unfairly brand an entire voting demographic as a force of oppression, and I will not remain silent when my fellow students insist upon doing so. In that regard I must write in fervent opposition to Michael Mayer ’17’s guest column, and in defense of Tyler Baum ’20’s guest column.

Like many of my fellow Americans, I retain many deep concerns regarding President-elect Donald Trump, and I remain unconvinced that he will bring about the sort of change that the nation sorely needs. I do, however, speak with an open mind and a belief in the goodwill of my fellow citizens. I am willing to do that which Mayer is not: engage with those who I disagree with and talk to them, instead of casting them aside as violent racists.

Mayer is quick to leap into the charged hyperbolic language so typical in academia today, complete with exaggerated claims of various “-isms” and “-phobias” for which he has provided no evidence or analysis. What Mayer fails to understand is that such language does not convince people to change their minds. However distasteful one finds the notion of a Trump presidency, the fact is that hollow appeals to emotion simply don’t work. Insults and labels do not bring about desirable change; they only foster the resentment that elected Trump in the first place, and it is resentment well earned. It is impossible to claim any moral high ground if one refuses to see the opposition as anything other than evil and violent, and the hypocrisy of such a mentality must not go unnoticed.

I say hypocrisy because the very same intolerance fueled America’s most shameful moments — the same moments that Mayer points out in his column. It was from hatred and a refusal to reconcile differing opinions that slavery and the Jim Crow laws were born because their followers refused to see the good in the other side. Yet Mayer would have us believe that the only way forward is to label our own countrymen as violent or backwards. On this he is gravely mistaken. Instead, we must have the strength to reach out to those with whom we disagree, even if — and especially if — the other side refuses to do so.

Rather than engaging with Baum’s argument on its own merits, Mayer has chosen to distract from it by claiming it is not “morally acceptable” to believe in Trump’s positions. Unfortunately, being “morally acceptable” has nothing to do with it. It is because of this very sort of haughtiness and obsession with identity politics that so many people turned away from the liberal left on Election Day. We live in a paradigm without room for alternative perspectives, where dissent is unacceptable. Those with the courage to voice unpopular opinions are immediately shot down with no attempt at proper discussion, just as Mayer has elected to do with Baum’s opinion. In this culture of ours, where victimization is worn like a badge of honor and skeptics are branded heretics, can the latter really be blamed for choosing to rebel?

Indeed, the only “dangerous discourse” here is that of labeling a political opinion as violent when it is no such thing. Not once has Baum ever indicated any support for violence or oppression, yet Mayer insists that he is a subscriber to a “violent ideology.” Even putting aside the fact that the vast majority of Trump voters are genuinely good people without racist beliefs, it is not possible to take Mayer seriously when he chooses to designate such a broad swath of people as so irredeemably evil. By relegating political ideologies to such simplistic terms, one only makes unnecessary enemies. And on whose lofty moral authority can any one of us judge the philosophies of others so harshly? Show me anyone who regards a mere difference of opinion as dangerous, and I will show you a tyrant.

The choice to engage with our dissenters and speak to them directly is made consciously and forms the cornerstone of liberty. It is counterproductive to refuse such dissent, and even more so to dismiss it as “dangerous discourse.” Trump’s supporters are no less human, no less intelligent and no more evil than the rest of us. They too have concerns and fears, each of them as valid as those of their liberal counterparts. It is in assuaging these fears and building a better future together that liberty prevails, not by treating our own brothers and sisters like enemies.

For too long have we Americans chosen to hate and fear one another over philosophical differences. We must learn to abandon the self-righteousness that Mayer’s column celebrates and instead open our hearts and minds to one another in good faith.