So I used to open my eyes in the middle of the night freshman year because my roommate was playing “The Price is Right” theme song on his computer just to keep me awake. And I couldn’t help but laugh, because it happened more than once and it was ridiculous and everything was funny. And he laughed when I hung all of his clothes in the hallway and swore that I didn’t have anything to do with it when our RA walked out of his room and saw me doing it.
And then it wasn’t funny anymore when we talked politics. South and North, right and left, Republican and Democrat. We argued and shook our heads and called each other stupid and I started finding his leftover Chinese food on my desk. And neither of us really understood what we were so stubbornly defending.
And now that it’s three years later and there is an election I wonder about the system and the school and the conversation and the open letters to The Chronicle. As much discourse as this school tries to promote, tries to force upon us—participate, damn you—it always has to lead to a choice between two extremes. Choose. Talk, but choose. Do you or don’t you. Black or white. Israel or Palestine. Liberal or conservative. And if you are passive you don’t matter.
Because if anything, I have only become more liberal in my views here and my less informed, less open-minded right-wing friends (backward as they are) have only become more conservative. Instead of fostering debate that promotes understanding and moderation, this environment has fostered debate that promotes misunderstanding, frustration, hardening. Non-acceptance of ideas. The back and forth might go back and forth but at the end of the day the back is where the back began and the forth has likewise left no impression.
And I don’t think that this is necessarily the fault of this institution, just like I don’t blame the Duke Conservative Union for being wrong all the time. It is larger than that, larger than us, larger than the midnight Need For Speed political rants of freshman year. Larger than the divided editorial page in the Tuesday Chronicle. Larger than Brodhead and Lange and Trask and the Keohanes off in New Jersey (and right after we name a Quad after her). Larger, even, than Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who can’t make up his mind and President George W. Bush who makes up his mind too quickly and then is too stubborn to admit that he is fallible just like the rest of us.
Because we are only given two choices. We are free to choose but we can only pick a Republican or a Democrat—two sides that spend more time telling us why the other is wrong than why they are right. Because Kodos and Kang were right when they took over the bodies of Clinton and Dole on “The Simpsons” and said Americans would have to choose one of them or else they would just be throwing their votes away.
And I think that this is at the root of the fundamental problem, that we are trapped in the strict “either/or” of the two-party system. And not everything is that two-dimensional. So you vote for the lesser of two evils, especially if you are a Democrat and you think the most redeeming quality that Kerry has going for him is that with very little exception he is not Bush.
What if there was a third side, or maybe even a fourth? What if everything wasn’t either black or white? What if we were all to take a step back and say, holy crap, this isn’t a universe of opposites? That there is a yes and a no but also a sometimes and maybe even an always and a never? Perhaps then we could have a truly national election. Perhaps then I could vote for someone instead of voting against someone. Perhaps campus discussions of ideas would cease to be narrow two-sided arguments. Perhaps.
Eric Vivier is a Trinity senior.
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