Column: A Letter to The King's College, Regarding Donald Trump
I am troubled by what Donald Trump’s election says about America. I am also troubled by what it says about The King’s College. Trump has effectively turned the Republican Party into a right-wing populist nationalist party, purging it of the classical conservativism supported by much of Kings’ faculty. Among registered voters, 81% of white evangelicals voted for Trump, a man who, among a multitude of other reprehensible misdeeds, bragged about sexual assault. As King’s is an evangelical and conservative school, it is important to ask why those very communities helped elect a man who seems so at odds with our values. As a school committed to influencing strategic institutions, we should be concerned with how our community interacted with this election. What did we do when faced with Donald Trump?
I write this letter not to cast blame. I write this because I want us to do better next time. The left and the media have their lessons to be learned as well, but I am writing to King’s about what we did because this is my immediate community. This is my home, and I care for it very much.
Some members of our community supported Trump. I disagree with them, but, they are entitled to their view. Others opposed his election, which I respect. This letter is not for either group.
Many students and faculty approached this election with resigned moral indifference, claiming both candidates to be equally flawed and that they would vote for neither. For a school committed to being engaged with a fallen world, this retreat from decision was perplexing. I understand most of King’s does not share Hillary Clinton’s views. However, her views on taxes, environment, healthcare, guns, regulation, immigration and foreign policy were politically right to the GOP of forty years ago – the King’s Class of 1970 would find her as conservative as President Nixon. While I do not expect conservatives today to rush to support Clinton, it is not clear why she is a unique liberal menace that could ever justify voting for, or simply permitting, the election of Trump.
A number of our professors have written or spoken in favor of our students not voting in general. This is regrettable to me. They suggest that their votes will not count. With the razor thin margins Trump won by, it is hard to argue that, and harder still to argue why it is not worth influencing local issues, or exercising one’s civic duty and participating in the democracy we learn about in our PP&E core. Whether you were opposed to Trump or not, instilling this degree of cynicism in young students seems counterintuitive to our mission. It is not clear why one would encourage students to influence strategic instructions on every day except Election Day.
Other members of our community, from the right and the left, spoke out against Trump. They admitted that Clinton would be the more competent President but were not willing to take the practical step of voting for her. They did not want to sully themselves by voting for a flawed candidate, even if it meant defeating a more reprehensible one. Simply, they were not willing to work for it. They played those who did the “dirty work” of electing Clinton as suckers.
It is hard to fathom how the same tradition of conservatism, and the same evangelical community, could produce both a college like King’s and a President-Elect like Donald Trump. However, I wonder if our rhetoric regarding politics among some in our community veers too close to that which enabled the narrative that led to Trump’s rise. Our political classes are at times taught through a partisan lens, no better than the left-wing academic institutions our school criticizes. America has, at times, been described in the same dystopian manner as described by Trump. At New Student Orientation, we hear that King’s is on the front lines in a liberal Gomorrah. In many of our classes, it is assumed that America is in decline due to liberalism and needs to be made great again. A professor railing against creeping liberalism is to be expected, but the rise of radical right wing nationalism has gone largely unaddressed.
Our school was once led by Dinesh D’Souza, a man who painted President Barack Obama as a foreign socialist, a pseudo intellectualized form of birthism. King’s is also close to Eric Metaxas, who stated that Christians have a moral obligation to vote for a man who said he could not have sexually assaulted one woman because she was not attractive enough. I understand that much of our community truly did not know how to respond when faced with Trump. However, I think we need to recognize that we cannot claim to be absolutely surprised by Trump when even King’s — a school that represents a conservativism that is a near antithesis of Trump — engaged in an intellectualized version of the rhetoric that helped enable his rise.
It is easy to say that it did not matter which candidate won; it is easy to withdraw from politics. But I think that is wrong. Our house namesakes, from Churchill to Anthony, were figures presented with hard choices, but ones from which they did not retreat. There are but few moments where there is a clear black-and-white choice. But those hard choices, often in times of great moral crisis, can rarely afford neutrality. These namesakes of ours, they did not live lives where they sought first to have washed hands. They were the ones who entered the arena, knowing they would be mired in dirt and blood, because they knew that entering the arena mattered, no matter the cost.
Even without any of his policies being enacted, electing Trump mattered. Maybe not for us in our air-conditioned classrooms, nestled just around the corner from "Trump Building," but it did in other places. It matters for Hispanic children who have asked their parents why their President thinks they are rapists. It matters for Muslim families who wonder if this country has a place for them. It matters for disabled kids who do not understand why their President thinks it is okay to mock someone’s disability, and it matters because the other kids, the bullies, now think that is permissible. It matters for Gold Star families and POWs. It matters for our daughters who want to believe that they will have the same opportunities as our sons but do not know if they will so long as their President thinks they are a ‘four.’ It matters to victims of sexual assault, who have to ask why they live in a country that would elect a man who would brag about such a monstrous act. People have been hurt, and if he enacts his policies, more will be hurt, perhaps even students at our school. I know our country’s character has been hurt, because this election showed just what depravities we were willing to countenance. Years from now, I think we will be asked what we did to oppose Donald Trump, and I do not think most of our country will have a good answer.
If William F. Buckley is right, then a conservative is “someone who is willing to stand athwart of history and yell stop, even when no one else is inclined to do so.” That is the sort of classical conservatism, of Burke and De Tocqueville, that I have come to respect at King’s. I love this school. I would attend no other. But next time, I want us all to do better. I do not expect King’s to become something it is not, but I expect it to live up to the principles it espouses. I do not want us to withdraw from hard choices, or treat any election with indifference. When we say we want to influence strategic institutions, I want us to believe that enough to take us to the ballot box. We needed more Buckleys this year. There were too few yelling stop, and there were too many who were silent.