On tolerating authoritarianism


Last week I unfortunately read yet another misguided opinion piece defending authoritarians against the prejudice they supposedly face in the current political climate. Hidden behind a thin veneer of liberalism, this type of opinion — which always mistakes a blind lack of judgment for impartiality, and an absence of ethical standards for tolerance — should usually just be ignored. But since this one directly criticized a community of which I am a part, I felt a sting of motivation to respond.

Here is a summary of Dylan Koury’s piece: he thinks that there is “an unfair bias toward” Trump supporters, a bias which “prevents people from compromising or at least even making an attempt to understand their opponent’s perspective.” Besides the typical point about the lack of political diversity on this campus, what this piece amounts to is a series of clichéd catchphrases about “coming together” without any arguments behind them.

There are many reasons to criticize this piece. But first, I think it is best to describe, as frankly as possible, the political group that it defends: those who support Trump and his agenda support the erosion of our political and civil liberties, our norms of basic decency and respect, and our economy and national security. What would compromise with such a political group even look like? How can someone who does not support mass deportations compromise with someone who does? This last rhetorical question could be repeated for many issues, of which I’ll list a few: torture; environmental protections; healthcare; the drug war; anti-discrimination protections; jailing or attacking journalists; the list goes on.

I think Mr. Koury’s piece is an honest attempt to bring us closer together and defend the decency of the political climate at our school. Sadly, this attempt missed the point entirely. For if a community is to come together and compromise or put aside its differences and heal its political divides, the people in said community must first have a basic sense of decency and respect for one another. And it is precisely these qualities that Trump and his supporters lack. How can a woman expect decency from someone who supports a rapist who wants to take away her reproductive care? How can a person of color expect decency from someone who supports a racist that calls Nazis and white nationalists “decent people”? And how can any decent American support someone who is being investigated for colluding with an enemy foreign power to undermine our democracy?

Compromising with Donald Trump supporters and their political agenda will never make our community, or society in general, more decent. What it will do, however, is make the indecent, the intolerant, and the irrational seem like a normal part of our political life. While the rise of Trumpism certainly signifies that the more base parts of our nature are rearing their heads, we still have time to decide whether we want our political life to continue going down this path. Do we want someone to feel comfortable expressing their support for someone who advocates for ethnic cleansing, torture and the destruction of our environment? And do such views warrant reactions of disgust and hatred? The answers to these questions seem obvious to me.

Email Thomas Briggs at tdbriggs@email.wm.edu.


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