College students should consider advantages of political tolerance

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COURTESY IMAGE // THE FLAT HAT

To my fellow liberals: 

We tend to pride ourselves for our tolerance of others: tolerance of all races, religions, genders, sexual orientations and cultures. In most cases, we have lived up to those ideals. But there is one area in which I believe many of us are failing miserably: tolerating those with different political views from us.   

Even as I write this, I can already see your eyes rolling. Why should you tolerate racists and bigots who would never tolerate you? Let me be clear: I do not suggest that all liberals are guilty of such intolerance, but based on my experiences in person and on social media, I believe this problem is widespread. I also do not think “both sides are just as bad.” I am a proud liberal Democrat. I believe that Donald Trump is literally the worst president in American history.  

But if I believe this, then how could I possibly advocate tolerance for those who support the president? The answer to that question is long, complicated and unsatisfying, but I think that it holds a truth that is essential for the survival of our nation. People are more than their political views. Who a person decides to vote for is but one of countless character-defining decisions that person will make in their life. Many Trump voters are parents, volunteers, essential workers. Many serve in the armed forces, sacrificing their lives so that you have the freedom to vote for the candidate of your choice, whether it is one they support or not.  

Can you honestly say that each and every Trump voter you have met is an evil person at heart? Maybe you tell yourself: “Well, my Trump-supporting grandparents have terrible political views, but they’re still good people overall. But most of those other Trump supporters are racist monsters.” Is it possible, then, that at least a sizable portion of Trump voters are more like your flawed-but-good-hearted grandparents than the fanatical, racist conspiracy theorists you see on TV and videos on social media titled “OMG Racist Trump Supporting NAZI gets SCHOOLED by BLM Activist! MUST WATCH!!!!” Perhaps many of us liberals have fallen into the trap of gross generalizations and stereotyping that we loath so much in our opponents.  

The truth is politics is pretty complicated. Finding “facts and logic” is a whole lot harder than the pundits and social media preachers would have you believe. Say you are certain that the following statements are true: that man-made climate change is real, that pulling out of the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal was a mistake. If I told you that everything stated above was a lie, how would you know whether you were right or not? Why do you see those issues the way you do? Where do you get your information from? Which people in your life, or through the screen, influenced your opinion?  

Honestly, I’m pretty confident the above statements are true, but even I can’t say for certain; no one can. Nobody knows for certain what the “objective truth” is, and all anyone can do is learn, think and make an informed decision. Making the wrong decision wouldn’t make you an evil person. So why should this logic not apply to Trump voters? 

Before you write me off as a fence-sitter, I need to make one important distinction: people like those who carried Confederate flags, swastikas and assault rifles into Charlottesville are worthy of your condemnation. Many Trump voters are malicious racists, but many are not, and to place everyone who voted for Trump in the same category as his most radical supporters is as inaccurate as it is dangerous.  

I do not ask you to temper your passion. I do not ask you to tolerate Trump and his policies which have wrought so much destruction upon our country. I only ask that you channel your rage at the politicians responsible for this crisis, and not your family, friends and neighbors. There will almost certainly be violence after this election regardless of the outcome, and as violent as Trump’s supporters can be, that doesn’t mean that we liberals are incapable of wrongdoing. 

Even if you personally will not partake in violence, we need to be aware of how our words and actions — whether around the dinner table or on social media — can build hate and incite catastrophe. Every mention of “I hope Trump dies,” “Trump supporters getting COVID is natural selection” and “all Trump voters are fascists” we utter moves our country one inch closer to destruction. Again, I do not suggest that all of us liberals are guilty of such actions, but in this era of hate and chaos we find ourselves in, it wouldn’t hurt for all of us to take a moment of self-reflection to consider whether or not we are contributing to the problem — myself included.  

No matter who wins this election, Democrats and Republicans will still share the same country, and we will have to find a way to peacefully live with each other. 

If not, our enemies around the world will continue to rejoice as they watch us Americans tear each other to shreds. If Biden wins this election  but we still can’t find a way to reconcile our people, the country may survive, but our nation will fracture and die. 

Email Troy Cullen at

tacullen01@email.wm.edu