Before fall term started, the Yale College Republicans endorsed Donald Trump for President. Half the organization’s board resigned in protest, creating a group intended to support only Republicans who are also conservatives.
The YCR should be ashamed of itself. Presumably its members are aware of Trump’s misogyny, his many bigotries, his mercenary history in politics, his contempt for the rule of law, his thin religiosity, his demagoguery, his materialism and his ignorance of basic policy and history.
The YCR excused itself because it is a Republican organization, and so must support Republican candidates wherever they are found. Folderol. It needn’t and it shouldn’t do anything its members think is wrong. Organizations do not make decisions — people make decisions.
If a notion of fidelity to the organization required the YCR board to do an immoral thing, its members might have changed their constitution. Or joined their more principled colleagues in resigning. As the resigned grasped, a political party is an instrument of convenience for those with views enough alike that common action makes sense. When the party goes far one way, and you stay put, it makes no sense — it is dishonest — to simply follow it. By endorsing Trump, the YCRniks have forgotten that ideas should determine party affiliation, not the reverse.
A final defense of the YCR, and other pro-Trump Republicans: Trump is the lesser evil. This objection makes, I think, only apparent sense. Trump is awful, Hillary is awful, and you can stay home and not vote. What’s the issue with abstaining or voting in protest for Gary Johnson (or, what the hell, your phrenologist)? Is there a metaphysical obligation to vote? I haven’t found one. Some civic obligation? Not in America, in which voting is only (thankfully) permitted.
But, you say, there is an obligation for all members of every community to do what they can to improve things. I reply that the goal of the community is to make men moral, and that one cannot become moral by doing something immoral. But one of them will certainly be elected, you say. So you’re going to contribute to one evil or the other because inevitably one will be put into effect? But, you protest, we must stop Hillary! Equally, I reply, we must stop Trump, and again, it is unacceptable to will something immoral as a means to something moral. The unwillingness to do so distinguishes the merely prudent from those who see prudence as the devoted servant of virtue.
The “Responsibility of Intellectuals” is the title of a 1967 essay in the New York Review of Books by Professor Noam Chomsky. Criticizing the duplicity of Ivy Leaguers in the Kennedy Administration, Chomsky writes: “it is the responsibility of intellectuals to speak the truth and to expose lies.” It is precisely not their job to make “a people certain, clear and strong in its action and knowledge,” as Chomsky quotes Martin Heidegger as writing in 1933. Though Trump is no Hitler, Heidegger’s doublespeak (what is “strength in knowledge” other than the rejection of actual knowledge in favor of the party line?) embodies just the attitude of conservatives who’ve swapped their integrity for a spot in a mob. They would rather apologize for a Trumpist Republican Party than salvage American conservatism from the worst of its erstwhile political home.
A Yale education ought to impart a healthy contempt for fads, of which today’s political passions are one sort. Trump is an especially lurid, dangerous fad. His opinions are produced by his latest grudge, not by reflection. Like his supporters, he cannot see past his next chance for conquest. He was nominated by anti-conservative emotions: anger, resentment and despair — sounds and furies signifying the death of clear thinking. His victory would be a cheap, fleeting palliative for a bad mood, not a cure for an ill society. Yalies should struggle with the question of the good society, and while America debates dollars and cents, Yalies should inject something more meaningful and less contingent into the discussion. If Yale students become just the cleverest slaves to the most chic, marketable versions of their beliefs, their educations will have failed to elevate their minds.
Fortunately, the YCR is not where Yale’s best conservatives are found. The Yale Political Union has three impressive parties on its right – the Conservative Party, the Party of the Right and the Federalist Party. Members of these devote themselves to politics in its highest sense. Each is the site of robust debate. The members of the YCR should unshackle their minds and efforts from the transient immoral majority. They should join those who, while they vote red most years, think and act always as conservatives — especially when there’s a sociopathic ogre at the top of the Republican ticket.
Cole S. Aronson is a junior in Calhoun College. His column usually runs on Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .