Earlier this year, I was adamant in my decision to avoid publicly participating in political discourse. The ugliness of the presidential race, combined with the animosity and arrogance that still dominates most online forums, led me to dread politics, a topic that once enthralled my younger self. However, last Tuesday’s result and the ensuing wave of rage that continues to engulf social media have finally convinced me to emerge from my hole.
Despite the interconnectedness that the proliferation of social media supposedly fosters, it seems that most people willfully lock themselves in online echo chambers. Students share eloquent posts on Facebook addressed to the public yet accessible only to their friends and allies. Our classmates suggest articles that support a particular view, and our newsfeeds guide us towards opinions, groups, and memes that align with our preconceived notions of right and wrong. As such, each of us strongly holds that we represent the “correct” side of history. As a Democrat myself, I believe our groupthink and hubris compromised our ability to wage an effective campaign and, more importantly, led us to mistakenly dismiss Trump as a joke.
In the prelude to last Tuesday’s election, Clinton’s victory seemed inevitable—or at least according to my newsfeed. Polls and pundits spoke of the election as all but determined, and their certainty was only matched by our confidence in our belief that liberalism represented the future, dominant political culture.
Our confidence is reflected in the way that we seek out our conservative compatriots—not to debate, but rather to humiliate them. We take pride in flagging down racists on campus, on calling out others on their privilege for all to bear witness to our newfound awareness on Facebook. Social activism threatens to become a spectacle of sorts, with everyone attempting to prove the sincerity of their struggle.
For years, college campuses created the illusion that conservative philosophy was dying. In outnumbering our Republican brethren, we liberals mistook the college cultural imbalance for a larger, nonexistent trend—that America’s population was more liberal than conservative. Meanwhile, political entrepreneurs took advantage of our zeal, portraying our efforts—sometimes accurately—as the product of liberalism’s hubris and disdain for our “bigoted” opponents. Rather than represent the party of the people, liberals were seen as a privileged class of naggers whose primary form of service was the belittlement of our countrymen.
Of course, some Democrats may feel as though these accusations are unfair. After all, social activism plays an important role in eliciting political change. When fighting oppressive systems, confrontational techniques understandably seem the most effective. However, even our best intentions are largely irrelevant when discussing our country’s political process. Elections determine who holds power, not the truth. As such, our political correctness doesn’t matter as much as our reputations in the eyes of those whose political loyalties remain uncertain. Lest we forget, witch hunts only work when you outnumber the witches, and as was demonstrated last Tuesday, conservatism is far from dead.
Our eagerness to abolish the term “House Master,” whilst Eliot and Lowell House retain the namesakes of a eugenicist and an anti-Semite, respectively, seems hypocritical at best. For the privileged, white class of college liberals, social activism has devolved into another trend, a cause to take up when one’s campus deems it popular.
A member of the Wu-Tang Clan gets a single vote. The disgruntled, middle-aged, formerly employed white male mechanic gets a single vote. No matter who you are, you only get one vote. So in order to win an election, a candidate needs to convince as many citizens as possible that his or her cause is just. And yet, despite this seemingly simply requirement, college liberals seem more concerned with looking smart at the expense of conservatives, rather than persuading the opposition or coming to an understanding.
I understand the appeal of smugness; the intoxication provided by satirizing your opponents whilst your friends and allies laugh proves empowering. However, as I stated in an earlier piece, this past election taught me that, in all my years of ranting, I have yet to convince a single conservative to join the Democratic cause. Whether we like it or not, educating others requires a conversation, not a self-righteous sermon.
Many argue that it shouldn’t fall on the oppressed to explain their suffering, particularly to those who take part in perpetuating their oppression. But Native Americans shouldn’t have to explain the political and cultural mechanisms through which they’re marginalized. And veterans shouldn’t have to explain the manners in which the VA continuously leaves their comrades out to dry. Immigrants shouldn’t have to repeatedly prove the humanity of their loved ones. However, we don’t live in a world that embodies our egalitarian ideals; instead, we inhabit a world that demands deep, personal sacrifice. Educating others will certainly prove exhausting, but such is the nature of necessary work. If you don’t educate others, no one else will.
I’m not condemning those who express fear or rage online in the wake of this election. If anything, I share their fright. Come late January, Trump will assume his place as my president, and for those of us in uniform, the term “Commander in Chief” represents something far more literal. Furthermore, I don’t want to dismiss the discriminatory elements embodied by the actions of Trump, as well as those of many who voted for him. However, the calls on social media to “unfriend” and stigmatize Trump supporters only serve to further mobilize the right to vote against the very same causes we hold so dear.
The future of the Democratic Party lies within the quality of our political counterattack. If we redouble our efforts and focus on convincing our opponents that our cause is not only just, but also accessible to all Americans, then the Democratic Party still has a future. However, if we instead choose to further isolate ourselves from those we disagree with, then our political suicide is all but complete.
Nathan L. Williams ’18a current Army ROTC cadet, is a government concentrator in Mather House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Harvard’s ROTC program, the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.