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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dixon: It's Not A Crime To Be Conservative

There needs to be renewed political dialogue at Dartmouth.

I grew up in a liberal area of Maryland. I was raised by two liberal parents. I went to a liberal school. You get the idea — a young liberal man raised in a cookie-cutter suburban neighborhood. My first experience with true, cold-blooded conservatives was when a bunch of 7-year-olds ran by and screamed “Fuck Joe Biden” when I was hosting a Democratic booth at the state fair. Really transformative stuff.

I came into Dartmouth an impressionable teenager, drunk on the romantic idea of open debate at a liberal arts school. I even toyed with the idea of creating an informal political discussion club, as I spent days arguing with my friends about economics, politics and religion. And yes, I shunned those who held views different from my own. Especially those god-forsaken Trump supporters. I, in the start to my bright career as an activist, spent hours roasting Trump supporters on Twitter.

Believe it or not, it took rushing a fraternity for me to snap out of my echo chamber (yes, Dartmouth administration, Greek life is useful for things other than partying!). I jumped into a new social space and learned to like people without knowing their politics. Over time, I learned that many disagreed with my politics. However, even these relationships remain meaningful. The most fruitful conversations I have are with those friends who categorically disagree with me on most issues. That is, assuming I manage to rein in my sarcasm. Our discussions are at times frustrating, and at times passionate, but what is life without a little healthy debate? I’ve found that the best way to clarify my views, and practice empathy and patience, is to open my mind and try to understand the views of others.

What I’ve come to realize as a cynical sophomore is that students on campus talk and talk about politics without truly debating. We discuss everything from gun control to abortion to voting rights and climate change; we protest for certain movements with no counter-protests. What is the point of a debate if everyone agrees? We are so locked into our political views that debates are just discussions concerning the degree to which everyone agrees with each other. 

Let’s look at the facts. 46.1% of the country voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Yet, as of Aug. 3, the Dartmouth Democrats dwarf the Dartmouth Republicans on Instagram, 1,052 followers to 52. I know about three million outspoken liberals, yet only one or two outspoken conservatives. For some reason, I really doubt that the distribution of political views on this campus is that lopsided. The only way I hear the views of all the other conservatives on this campus is in furtive snippets, their eyes downcast. As if being conservative is something to be ashamed of. 

The issue begins with political parties. Membership in a political party encourages the development of “in-groups” and “out-groups.” In 2015, researchers found that implicit partisan attitudes cause people to be nicer to those in their political party, and to despise the other political party. Research indicates that politically active citizens tend to use elite cues from their party to make decisions, rather than considering the pros and cons of policies. Citizens choose policy stances based on the party proposing them, not the policies themselves. Seems logical.

The partisan gap even affects romantic relationships. A study in 2017 found that political identification is on par with education level when screening a potential significant other, especially when on dating apps. In 2022, Tinder now has the option to use a “Pro-Choice” sticker and Hinge lets people put their political views in their profile. Can you count on one hand how many times you have swiped left because someone had a Trump flag in their profile, or a picture with a gun? I can’t. Move over mismatched socks, being conservative is the newest “ick” of Dartmouth dating. 

So, where are the conservatives on Dartmouth’s campus? They’re hiding. From us. From the majority, full of supposedly “inclusive” liberal Democrats. The harsh truth of our society is that some people are scared to speak up about their views, for fear of being shunned by the majority political group. In my desperate search for some kind of legitimate debate, I often pretend to be a Trump-supporting, gun-toting conservative. Gotta do what you gotta do.

Just as there is nothing inherently wrong with believing in big government, climate change action and social spending, there is nothing inherently wrong with believing in a small government, individual freedom and the right to bear arms. All are legitimate views. Shunning people because they voted for someone you don’t like, say, Donald Trump (a man who stared directly at the solar eclipse), is ridiculous. Politics shouldn’t define a person. People can and should compromise on most issues.

Some may argue that these conversations won’t change anyone’s minds, or would only lead to corrupt, inefficient and immoral compromises. I challenge them to find a political issue that would not be improved by a little compromise. Of course, some disguise discrimination as political views. Homophobia, transphobia, sexism and bigotry are unacceptable. On these issues there can be no compromise. However, we still need to talk to people who hold such views. How else will they learn the errors of their ways?

Others will assert that there is no point arguing with illogical and immoral views. However, we call those views immoral and illogical because we approach them using our internal logic; we can’t know the “out-group’s” justification for their views without talking with them. We all choose a set of beliefs to help interpret our path through this chaotic world. We respect the religion our peers follow, whether it be hardcore Roman Catholicism or the spirituality of mood-changing rocks and astrology; we must also respect our peer’s politics. 

I challenge every student to take thirty minutes every week to talk to someone you disagree with. The options are endless—argue with your outspoken grandmother about the war in Ukraine, talk with a Republican about America’s obsession with guns or discuss classical economics with a self-professed socialist. Respect their rights to hold those views. Challenge them. The topic does not matter; what matters is that we reopen political dialogue.  

The seventh point in Dartmouth’s core values on its admission website states that Dartmouth promotes the “vigorous and open debate of ideas while encouraging mutual respect for diverse opinions.” What a wonderful idea, in theory. In practice, however, Dartmouth fails to live up to such an ideal. For a campus that prides itself on open and honest conversation, we fail miserably at including all viewpoints.

Ethan Dixon is a member of the Class of 2024. 

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