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Duke’s brand of political activism is making matters worse

Those on extreme ends of the political spectrum are more prone to belief superiority, the study found.
Those on extreme ends of the political spectrum are more prone to belief superiority, the study found.

Duke considers itself to be an open-minded, diverse institution. But as a community, I fear the factional nature of our political discourse is driving us away from those ideals.

Two weeks ago, the Chronicle published a guest column entitled “In defense of Justice Kavanaugh.” There have been several columns written in the last few weeks about the Kavanaugh hearings, but the conservative voice of this one distinguished it from all others.

Ultimately, the column was ineffective because it failed to be civil. By attacking Democrats from the outset, it instantly alienated the majority of its readers. It’s a shame—its intentions several paragraphs in were more reasonable. But the author’s blatant contempt towards his liberal peers overshadowed those sensibilities. This unfortunately resulted in some extreme and inaccurate reflections of the case.

However, the response to this column was similarly frustrating. Within a few hours of its release, the column had become the target of intense public ridicule. Other students mocked the author mercilessly in the comments, even creating memes in tribute to his presumed idiocy. Understandably, a few Republicans tried to defend their party, but found themselves subject to the same disdain.

A few months ago, I probably would have applauded this reaction. I have always admired Duke students for their tendency to speak out against the injustices they perceive in the world. But recently, I have become utterly terrified of the partisan divide in the United States. This fear has shown me that something needs to change—and that is the way we talk to and about each other.

Throughout Trump’s term, the rift between Democrats and Republicans has become wider than ever before. As liberals fervently object to the president’s every action, conservatives refuse to disagree with him, no matter the cost. Unfortunately, this cost has been basic courtesy. We now refuse to afford our opponents any opportunity to communicate their beliefs—and in doing so, we strengthen the separation between us.

I know that I, too, am guilty of these partisan biases. When I read the title of that column, my first reaction was to feel nauseated. After skimming it, I sent it out to my friends so we could all criticize it together.

This isn’t abnormal behavior at Duke. But it’s behavior that, when you spell it out, doesn’t sound so exemplary. I am ashamed—not because I chose to publicly disagree with the article, but because I did so in a thoughtless, counterproductive way.

Maybe the Kavanaugh hearings aren’t the ideal place to start bridging this divide. For many, it’s a topic that hits too close to home. On the day of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony, I only spoke with a couple of people who had watched it live. The rest told me they couldn’t bear to do so.

I am appalled by the political dialogue that currently surrounds sexual assault. But this disapproval shouldn’t color every conversation I have with and about conservatives. I have no right to jump to conclusions about someone’s character based on the party they tend to support. By doing so, I welcome others to make the same snap judgments about me. This diminishes my own power to affect change. Obviously, that’s not what I want.

When we decide to have these conversations, we must ask ourselves: What is our goal? In most cases, it is to prove a point. And generally, we hope not just to “win” a single argument, but in the long term, to use our voices to improve society. That clarifies the next question: will attacking our opponents change their minds? Can your scathing tone and disparaging words really make our culture better?

Certainly, passion and fury can be appropriate incentives for protest. But alienating massive amounts of people and expecting long-term positive change in return is a fallacious strategy.

As Duke students, we commend ourselves for our intelligence, yet we refuse to let our convictions be challenged. Despite our ostensible open-mindedness, we rarely try to genuinely understand the perspectives of our perceived rivals. Instead, we resolve to communally grumble in our respective corners, stepping out only to hurl insults at the other side. We are smarter than this. We should know that this is no way to solve problems. 

Along with our peers across the country, we are preparing to shape the future of discourse in this nation. Is this really how we want our political climate to look in twenty years? If not, what’s stopping us from modeling the kind of nationwide discourse we want to see right here on campus?

This is not the last divisive column the Chronicle will publish. At the next opportunity, I challenge you to examine your biases and consciously choose to swap out your rage for curiosity. I’m not asking you to abandon your values—quite the contrary; I want you to continue to fight for what you believe in. But this fight doesn’t have to look like petty mudslinging and careless judgments. It can, and should, look like focused, respectful conversations, where consideration and collaboration come to the table instead. We all must share our future, so we might as well build it together.

If you want resolution for any of these issues, you must swallow your pride long enough to listen. Fail to do this, and you lose your chance to be heard. 

Rebecca Torrence is a Trinity sophomore. Her column runs on alternate Fridays.


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