The agenda at the YPU read Resolved: Contain China. Who better to debate this topic than Professor Ann Lee of New York University, a known expert in US-Chinese Relations?
Professor Lee’s position ran counter to a classic American narrative, that the Chinese government is a brutal authoritarian regime. Her argument deemphasized concerns that the government disregarded the well-being of its people and that its global power, ever increasing, must be strictly limited so as to not create another superpower threat on the levels of the Cold War.
The room suddenly erupted in hissing across partisan lines. That is, from all but a few native Chinese students who stood up to the podium to question why their home country was being portrayed so negatively by the students in attendance.
The members of the YPU had reasons to oppose Lee’s conclusion, but the dismissive manner in which they expressed their differences in opinion did little to persuade anyone who didn’t already have sympathetic leanings toward their point of view. And those Chinese students were actually inspired to be more resolute in the intellectual defense of their country.
Most of us have heard of the narrative of the “special snowflake.” The idea is that there is a bubble, which desperately needs to be popped, surrounding our campus, shielding us from perspectives not held by the “liberal global elite.” But while some of this is justified given the overwhelmingly liberal perspective on campus, much is exaggerated, especially following the 2016 election.
The true shortcoming of Yale students is not a lack of exposure but a failure to fully engage with the ideas of Trump’s voters. Liberals at Yale don’t look inside these ideas for slivers of truth, and we can’t seem to find a way to move past (but not forget) their disdainful packaging. Even when we seek out conversation with those who are different, we don’t fully listen. Simply popping the bubble isn’t enough.
It is the insistence on focusing on the surface of Trump’s movement and defining ourselves as simply the counteracting force to that “evil” which has led many people to dismiss liberal college students as whiny elites looking down from their ivory towers. A year since the inauguration, campus is alive with outrage at Trump’s demeanor but in that anger, our memory of the fiery backlash from Clinton’s infamous “basket of deplorables” comment has seemingly faded away.
And that’s the danger of Trump’s comments about Haiti and African nations. Not only does they broadcast an image of the American head of state as racist but they also tempt us to focus on continually denouncing his statements without delving deeper into why some of his policies, while seemingly disastrous, have genuine appeal in areas of the country.
David Leonhardt ’94, in a New York Times column, warned democrats not to underestimate the insecurity of the midterms and noted that when the democrats focus on Trump’s personality, they lose support. Trump had support when he referred to Mexicans as rapist and criminals. He still had support when he questioned a judge’s ability to do his job because he was Mexican. He still had support when the infamous Hollywood Access tape came out. And he will still be supported no matter what he says so long as people believe he gets results. And while his comments dominated headlines, Apple’s praising the tax cuts were right up there as well. If we ignore this, we empower Trump.
It’s easy and necessary to condemn Trump’s remarks. It’s not easy to internalize that a large part of the country will still vote for him, that those people have legitimate concerns, that you will have to work with them and if you have any hope of working across the country in your activism, your message is going to have to move beyond opposition to his rhetoric.
On Sunday, many students, myself included, gathered on Cross Campus for a vigil in support of refugees and undocumented immigrants in the United States. The true test of how effective we can be in fighting Trump is the manner in which we channel the empowerment we feel from such a display. We can shout our loathing for Trump and still feel the same disappointment in all our endeavors that we felt when Clinton lost. Or we can search within ourselves for an independent identity beyond just countering Trump. We can try to find a way to connect it with the grievances that have allowed Trump voters to overlook his penchant for the problematic.
We are more than the opposite of hate.
Jacob Hutt is a first year in Silliman College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.