Denouncing the Demagogue, Aloud and Together

Last night, President Greene emphasized his commitment to an inclusive, diverse, safe, supportive community at Colby where all students can learn and grow without fear.

He emphasized that students perpetrating violence or participating in exclusionary organizations will incur severe consequences, and he urged students to trust the college’s reporting process. Some students I spoke with later were disappointed the address was not followed by a question and answer session, but they also felt the president was trying hard.  I was glad President Greene acknowledged the vital role of conversation in building community and referred to upcoming discussion-based events. And I noticed he talked informally with students for a good while after his address.

During this event and others in the last several weeks at Colby, however, as the divisive rhetoric of the national primary campaign surrounds and permeates our campus via all kinds of media, I have been struck by how readily, almost automatically, that rhetoric goes unremarked.

I would be less struck if it were not for the fact that almost everything Trump says and does, commands and threatens, is blatantly antithetical to the Colby mission and the kind of inclusive, supportive, safe community President Greene described last night.

Trump’s worldview is one in which most of the world is eclipsed by his own self. A vote for Trump is a vote for sexism, racism, bigotry and bullying. It is a vote against listening to, and empathizing with, people who are unfamiliar to you. It is a vote against patience, curiosity and learning. It is a vote for violence, both global and local, including violence in domestic and academic spaces.

The tricky thing is, we don’t have to go to the ballot box to cast such a vote. We can do so inadvertently by way of silence. Silence doesn’t usually feel like a decision or an action in the way voting at the polls does. And for sure, people are often silent because they just don’t know what to say. But in the midst of Trump’s reckless rhetoric, silence can be insidious. Especially if we are in a position of authority with others, silence about Trump’s demagoguery can seem like affirmation. And when the candidate boasts that the “silent majority” is in his camp, silence could be all the more unnerving and disheartening, particularly to those who identify with one of the numerous groups of people Trump has maligned, ridiculed, or threatened.

Let’s all speak up in our classes, at our meetings and events, and in our social gatherings. Let’s say NO, we will not let this divisive rhetoric be some kind of new norm, an acceptable backdrop and undercurrent on our campus or anywhere else.

In particular, I think professors should assure their students that they denounce Trump’s racist, sexist, xenophobic and violent language; coaches should assure their teams; student leaders should assure their peers; and colleagues and peers should assure each other. As more and more Americans fall in step behind the demagogue, and Trumpian pronouncments, ridicule and threats pollute airwaves and cyberspace, let’s call a spade a spade, aloud, with each other.

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