Unpacking right-wing rhetoric

At issue: Posters and petitions
Our take: It’s time to pop Emerson’s liberal bubble—respectfully
Seven flyers from “American Vanguard,” a white supremacist group, were posted across campus earlier this week. Whether they were tacked up by an outsider or someone on campus, it is, to borrow a phrase, utterly deplorable. As President Pelton said in a school-wide email, American Vanguard’s rhetoric “has no place on our campus as a community that cherishes the diversity of ideas.”
But do we truly “cherish” alternate viewpoints? Many don’t think so. Five days ago, a change.org petition was started by an Emerson student that called for the school to bring right-wing speakers to campus. The petition says, “if free speech and inclusivity is something we truly care about …it is simply time we have an event that spotlights someone with a differing opinion than the majority left.” As of Wednesday night, it’s collected 62 signatures, though it should be noted that some supporters seem to have no affiliation with Emerson. One petitioner from Mississippi says that “liberal nonsense has got to go,” which doesn’t seem particularly supportive of the free speech and inclusivity the petition advocates.
The petition draws attention to a well-documented issue at Emerson. How can we encourage ourselves to engage in discourse with the other side and discern the difference between a dangerous group like American Vanguard and a group that we simply disagree with?
We have to do our research. We have to fight against discrimination, oppression, and attempts to rally support for threatening organizations. But we also need to make sure these organizations are not confused for run-of-the-mill conservatives—individuals you might not want to get in bed with, but share a drink with over cordial conversation. One group instigates hate crimes. Another instigates tax cuts for the wealthy, which might anger some, but is not a crime.
To really maintain these divisions and remove any semblance of validity from supremacist organizations, we need to create content sharing views different than our own. Yes, in this cozy liberal cluster, we need to interview people right from center. We need to write about those views, photograph those supporters, and write characters through that lens. We aren’t advocating for an Emerson version of Breitbart. But hiding these perspectives only casts them in the same misunderstood, dark shadow of extremism.
However, the petition’s suggested speakers leave much to be desired. It cites Julie Borowski, Ben Shapiro, and Milo Yiannopoulos as “much needed outside voice[s] to a campus culture that has all but entirely rejected the right-wing mindset.”
Unfortunately, these three individuals are all terrible choices for speakers––either because they are uninformed or blatantly hateful. Borowski is a libertarian YouTube personality whose uploads mainly consist of unimaginative liberal parodies. Shapiro is the former editor-at-large at Breitbart News, who thinks that being transgender is a “delusion.” Yiannopoulos is the senior editor at Breitbart whose main slogan is “feminism is cancer,” and whose status as a gay, Jewish man apparently gives him the right to be otherwise hateful. They might not be literal white supremacists, but all three represent an extreme political bias, not a balanced and measured perspective. They’re inflammatory firebrands who seem to prefer provocation over actual discourse.
We need a speaker who can introduce conservative ideas in a non-hateful way. David Brooks, a political commentator and columnist for the New York Times, does this masterfully. In the past few months he has written about listening to the reasoning of populist voters who felt they needed to vote for Donald Trump, reevaluating the ideology of Republicanism, and the possibility of a new conservative party based free of oppressive white male nationalism. He is the kind of speaker who could bridge the gap between right-wing speakers and liberal Emerson students.
Our reluctance to engage with our opposition manifests as weakness in our academic experience. It’s frustrating that many students refrain from voicing a conservative rhetoric in class for fear of their peers’ response—we can count the times it’s happened on our fingers. We’re bad at challenging one another, and that is the point of a college education: to challenge. Our campus culture is cozy for liberal students, but we need to practice what we preach and embrace difference—including different political leanings. There’s a reason law students are taught to argue their opposition’s faction. Learning the other side strengthens and clarifies your own thinking, but more importantly, it brings about understanding. And right now, we need to seek empathy.