Opinion: In the age of Trump, civility is overrated

When did standing up for what's right become a sin?

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.


  1. A fascinating example of the unholy alliance of arrogance and ignorance, breeding the glibbest of self congratulations.

    All the while attributing child separation to the Trump administration and hurling the label of racist without any nuance.
    These ideas should not be debated in an open marketplace? Well who is to judge which issues are so abhorrent as to not deserve discussion? The road promising utopian speech surely leads to dystopia.

    Blaming this all on the “racist uncle,” flamboyantly elitist from the tower of the quarter million dollar field of academia. Not that the negative sides of mass immigration would ever land on your doorstep. You get to sit and tell people how tolerant you are, how brave you are to stand up to”injustice.”Surely it’s not your community that sees the negative effects, surely the economic disruption would only lower your costs for labor in hired help.

    All of this self congratulations from the political aisle that fan the flames of Islamaphilia. Democrats don’t do equally abhorrent things? Except for create a fetish in a sadistic worship of the genocidal maniacs of Hamas and the anti-semites of the women’s march who support them, broker deals with theocratic autocrats, create bargains to let go of Hezbollah, or, of course, the more personal issues like leaving women to drown in cars, rape women in Arkansas, take advantage of interns, beat their girlfriends to a pulp while expecting the anointment of MN AG, or, the political, lying that you can keep your doctor, creating a false explanation for Banghazzi, or creating the vacuum that allowed ISIS to flourish.

    But keep telling yourself how brave you are. You’ll fit right in with the model mold of the over confident, under scrutinized, insufferable, unbearable mold of the college left.

    • Dude. What the f***? Just because you can use ten-letter words doesn’t mean what you say is true. You really don’t think child separation can be attributed to the Trump administration? To who then? NO these ideas should not be debated: THESE ARE HUMAN CHILDREN. They are literally DYING because the people in charge won’t give them basic necessities like food and water. Explain how that is anything but abhorrent, how the lives of children can be weighed against… what?

      And now you complain about elitism. Your president promised to bring jobs to the United States, but he himself still uses foreign production (MAGA caps?) and undocumented labor. He doesn’t even believe what he’s saying, because he knows that his followers are too stupid and bigoted to know or care.

      You say all of these things, but provide no evidence to back it up and willfully ignore any evidence that says otherwise. And at the end of the day, even if these things were true: NONE of them justify the Trump administrations innumerable abhorrent actions. Instead of saying “well, if the libtards are doing abhorrent things, why can’t we do them too?” try to BE BETTER.

      • Ok, they are “literally (as opposed to figuratively) dying because the people in charge won’t give them basic necessities.” Absolute rubbish. Both children died because their fathers dragged them across the dessert without any water. The children were given free emergency healthcare when their symptoms began to show. It was too late and was an absolute catastrophe. That is not the fault of the US government.
        I didn’t weigh the lives against anything. But having an immigration policy that encourages this reckless behavior is mindless and destructive. This doesn’t make me some “racist uncle.”

        To the next point, it’d be “our” President, and I never mentioned him. My problem is the attack on his followers, which implies that it was a “racist uncle,” not real concerns about a broken immigration system. Real concerns about effects that the author ignores or does not care about.

        I never said that the GOP’s actions were justified. My problem is that entire strawmanning of the right with the glib assertion that those on the left carry an unbreakable spirit of integrity. He doesn’t hide this. The whole article is saying that he (the left) is right and every one else is evil, a provably untrue point by any moral standard.

        This is demagoguery that Mao would applaud. Burn down the conversations that are not politically convenient, dismissing dissent to be based on ignorance.

        Just to address your mindless point about KILLING migrant children

  2. Thank you for coming forward with this. It’s important that people understand this perspective. I don’t understand how some can choose to willfully ignore all of the terrible, immoral s*** that this government is doing.