Some weeks ago, the Yale community reacted strongly to some startling statistics. According to a campus survey, 75 percent of undergraduates reported that they believed that Yale was an unwelcoming environment for politically conservative students. Among self-reported conservative students, the number who find Yale intellectually hostile skyrockets: A whopping 95 percent think their beliefs aren’t welcomed. Despite the flashy headline (Election 2016: Conservative views considered unwelcome at Yale), the numbers came as no surprise to Yale’s conservative community. The stereotype of the “left-liberal campus culture” is such a tired cliché that if any Yale freshman arrived on campus expecting anything different, it’d seriously call into question their preparedness for any university experience. In actuality, the individual campus has nothing to do with it. Yale conservatives feel unwelcome not because they’re at Yale, but because they are conservatives.
For all their complaining about the sensitivities of the left-liberal college student, conservatives come with a rich, adaptable tradition of imagined persecution and tireless entitlement. This inversion of social relations, whereby the most privileged fancy themselves victims of deep-seated societal prejudice, is as important to the conservatives as the free market, “locker room humor” or bowties. And there is perhaps no man more skillful or more brazen in his invocation of this conservative impulse than the man who, once the polls close tonight, might find himself president-elect of the United States..
Donald Trump’s fusion of performative machismo and ceaseless self-pity is a textbook example of the conservative victim complex. For months, he has decried how unfairly the media treats him. He whines that they’re tipping the scales in Hillary Clinton’s favor, implying that if the media had just treated him fairly, he’d have it in the proverbial bag by now.
This is a delusion. All of the most damaging blows to Trump’s chances have come from within — a political self-annihilation at each step. The liberal media didn’t force him to brag about sexually assaulting women. The liberal media didn’t force him to repeatedly evince a complete lack of nuance or understanding when discussing policy. There is no way for the media to portray him as a reasonable statesman. He’s just not — no fair portrait could meet his impossible standards, because what Trump is demanding is not fair treatment. Rather, he wants a participation trophy, recognition that, regardless of his countless failures and pratfalls, his efforts should be celebrated. Trump wants what he’s had his entire life: special treatment.
Trump’s concerns about the election being rigged against him are likewise baseless. The most dedicated Trump diehards genuinely believe that if it weren’t for electoral fraud at the hands of corrupt Democratic functionaries or nefarious leftist “community organizers,” the Republican nominee would win in a landslide. In one poll, 40 percent of Trump supporters said they expected ACORN, a community organizing group that ceased to exist six years ago, to steal the election for Clinton. None of it makes any sense. It cannot possibly be the case that states controlled by Republicans — such as Florida, Ohio and North Carolina — are rigging their elections in favor of Democrats. Otherwise, you would have to believe that the New Yorks and Californias of the world would vote Republican were it not for Democratic subterfuge.
In fact, the opposite is true. Republicans in certain swing states are actually tipping the scales in their own favor by enacting voter ID laws specifically designed to have the harshest effect on black communities, which often vote Democratic. And that’s no conspiracy. North Carolina Republicans said so themselves.
But as it so happens, none of this is new. Worries about the liberal media, oppressively left-wing college campuses and Democratic chicanery long predate Donald Trump and will still be around long after he’s faded into obscurity — to the extent that a billionaire narcissist can stand to live in obscurity. Generations from now, Yale conservatives will likewise still be demanding that their ideas be given outsized attention and that their political preferences be understood as immutable identities. It’s the conservative way as well as the Yale way, and there’s historical evidence to back me up.
Let’s peek into what it was like being a conservative Yale man in an increasingly hostile political environment way back in the 1800s. Historian of American conservatism Corey Robin GRD ’99 has studied this in depth. He traces the lineage of this peculiar conservative phenomenon of crying wolf on persecution. For a choice example, take our own John C. Calhoun, class of 1804 — that consummate upper-class class warrior, who compared the invisible hegemony of the federal government to a “bond between master and slave — a union of exaction on one side and of unqualified obedience on the other.” An interesting choice of words for a slave owner, to say the least.
So it’s no wonder a vast majority of conservatives at Yale thinks this Calhoun fellow’s name belongs on a residential college. It’s the same logic of Trump and conservatives across the board.
Matthew Massie is a senior in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .