Opinion: In the age of Trump, civility is overrated

Migrant+children+sleeping+on+mats+in+a+Texas+detention+facility.+Photo+by+Custom+and+Border+Protection.

Migrant children sleeping on mats in a Texas detention facility. Photo by Custom and Border Protection.

Max Schulman, Opinion Editor

Our current political climate is toxic. The two major parties have little ideological overlap. Democrats and Republicans have more negative feelings towards each other than at any point in recent history. The resulting partisan fighting led to three government shutdowns this past year.

Of course, this needs fixing. Conservatives and liberals need to find common ground. We need to foster honest discussions that place policy outcomes ahead of tribal allegiances. We need to figure out what divides us and what unites us, and pursue the latter over the former. But the time to do this is not now. There are more urgent demands.

Today, Trump and his Republican party are doing things that are abjectly immoral. Separating families is immoral. Sabotaging healthcare markets so people like my mother have to pay more for their premiums is immoral. Nominating proud racists to staff positions and federal courts is immoral. We shouldn’t act like these ideas are normal, and we shouldn’t act like Democrats are doing equally abhorrent things. These are not ideas that should be debated in the intellectual marketplace. They should be burned with flamethrowers and their proponents should be given a stern talking-to.

Political pundits will tell us that all of our interests are noble because we are all American. And, in part, they are right: you can have problematic beliefs and still be a hell of a patriot. Thinking we should waste billions of dollars on a wall doesn’t make you a bad citizen. Having xenophobic nightmares of a migrant invasion advancing northward to Arizona, to your suburb – it doesn’t deny you your American spirit, your desire to make this country greater. But holding these beliefs don’t free you from reproach nor justify said beliefs.

Yes, civility matters, and we should all try and get along. But combating injustice comes first.

The American family’s racist uncle is still part of this country. His concerns are not trivial. But that doesn’t mean we have to listen to him. For one reason or another, he has been misguided. Perhaps it’s the conservative talking heads. Maybe it’s the Republican Party’s increasingly nationalist aspirations. Or it could just be a result of living in a changing world that he doesn’t know how to deal with. Falling victim to these forces shouldn’t deny him of his humanity, of his political voice, of his patriotism. But he’s still wrong. And we need to put our foot down and tell him that he’s wrong.

Of course, I have friends who hold racist beliefs. And I have other friends who get mad when political discussions veer out of the we’re-not-so-different-after-all lane. I get it: Vandy is a largely apolitical campus. We don’t have illustrious partisan organizations like Harvard or Yale. You go here to put your head into a book – not get your beliefs challenged. And so when I tell people that what they’re saying is being used to justify harm elsewhere, I’m told to “chill out,” to “agree to disagree.”

I stand proudly in the face of such criticism and urge those who feel like me to do the same. Yes, civility matters, and we should all try to get along. But combating injustice comes first. Even if those advocating for injustice are people we love.

Stand up for what’s right. Stamp out cruelty when it comes. Call people out. Worry about civility later.

Maxwell Schulman is the Hustler’s Opinion Editor and a sophomore in the College of Arts and Science. He can be reached at maxwell.r.schulman@vanderbilt.edu.