Last week, this seemed like a place of mourning — long faces, muted conversations, sad glimpses. Thankfully, no tragedy was behind the campus melancholy — in fact, what brought sorrow to so many brought joy to a limited few.
At Yale, that is. Outside of these ivy walls, the victories that gave the Republican Party control of the White House and Congress were cheered, not lamented. Perhaps this explains some of the widespread shock that went along with last Tuesday’s electoral results. How could that bastion of evil (the GOP) and its demonic foot soldiers (everyday American conservatives) possibly have won?
But to the rest of America, this rhetoric sounds bizarre, paranoid and completely out of touch with reality. Therein lies the problem: Yale’s uniqueness among elite educational institutions stems from her purpose of producing not only intellectuals, but leaders. And while Yalies come from many different places and enter many different fields, several hope to be leaders in American politics.
That said, what does it mean when most Americans think the election last Tuesday helped restore America to her true principles, while their future leaders view it as a perversion of those principles?
It tells us that Yale’s politicians-to-be need to wake up and stop isolating themselves in extreme leftist paranoia. Perhaps they should take some of their own advice to conservatives and “talk to the people” — and not just in New Haven, where the one-party Democratic rule rivals Ba’ath control over Baghdad. After all, can the majority of average Americans be so wrong? For Republicans to have achieved last week’s fait extraordinaire, support had to have come from beyond the hated stereotypes of American conservatism.
Maybe it was the Midwesterner who thinks the country is in decline because it is hostile to religion. Maybe that person thinks we should keep the current Pledge of Allegiance, because freedom of religion doesn’t preclude trust in God.
Maybe it was the immigrant pursuing a better life in California. Maybe, instead of buying into the Democrats’ rhetoric, she realizes that her children need to speak English to pursue the opportunities she never had. Maybe she realizes that immersion is the best way to learn a second language and she supports a conservative vision of the American Dream.
Maybe it was the soccer mom. The one who thinks that the right to life outlined in the Declaration of Independence is important — enough so to stand against late-term abortions, because killing almost delivered, viable infants counts as murder in any civilized moral code.
Maybe it was the socially liberal, gay New Yorker. Maybe he does think that homosexuals should be better protected but realizes that gay rights mean less when lives are at stake. Maybe he supports a stricter vision of national security and realizes that civil liberties take a backseat to an essential struggle for the freedoms that afford us those luxuries.
Are these people monsters? Are they fundamentally opposed to the principles on which America was founded? Of course not. They’re normal citizens from diverse backgrounds, united by the belief that certain elements of a conservative vision are good for America. They may not agree with everything all Republicans or all conservatives have to say, but they are willing to take the good with the bad. They’re willing to take a rational, prioritized approach to politics and to avoid the sweeping emotional view that all conservatives are backward and evil.
When leadership-oriented Yalies are unable to do the same, it points to a disappointing flaw in Yale’s political environment. Instead of promoting a political discourse where ideas are exchanged and challenged, Yalies instead take refuge in a leftist domination that affords them the luxury of not having to defend their views. They can resort to their victim status or the lexicon of nearly universally approved liberal rhetoric (“social justice,” “oppression,” “sexism,” “racism,” “class struggle,” etc.). They can wave posters, get arrested on College Street, and stop pedestrians at Porter Gate. But by dodging the free discourse and open-mindedness they prescribe for everyone else, they prevent themselves from understanding the political reality of the mainstream Americans they hope to someday lead.
This argument on behalf of majority American opinion is not meant to praise mob rule, or to say that what is popular is right. It is meant, however, to identify a troublesome reality gap at Yale, and one that needs to be resolved if the University wants to keep providing America’s leaders. Until Yalies can break out of their exclusively liberal mold and start engaging ideas beyond the prescribed set of socially acceptable left-think, the divide between Yalies and the rest of the country will continue to widen.
In the meantime, here’s some advice for those left-leaning students who really do want to understand the people and hope to take a leading role in American politics. Have a challenging discussion with a Republican or two — it does a liberal good. And despite what your friends tell you, they don’t bite. I promise.
Meghan Clyne is a senior in Branford College. Her column appears regularly on alternate Wednesdays.