Opinion | The vilification of conservatism and the rise of tribal politics 

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For the past several years, conservatives have felt silenced, some feel the need to hide their political views from their closest friends and family for fear of being ostracized. I fell in this silent group for the past few years, and in some respects, I still do; but why is this a trait that is seemingly deep-seated in the right and not the left? 

There was once a time in our country that regardless of your political affiliation, your friends, your family, your employer, even your fellow students wouldn’t discount your beliefs and certainly wouldn’t disown you or “de-friend” you because of it. Today, that feels more like a dream. I still firmly believe this dream is possible, but recently this is being cast aside in favor of toxic party politics and ferocity towards those who disagree with us. Neither Democrats nor Republicans are exempt from this behavior and I was recently even told to be on guard and aware of the SRU Young Progressives. I do not fear them. In fact, I’m as proud of them as I am of the SRU College Republicans for being politically active in our community. Heated political disagreements are now commonplace and even though we were brought up to respect one another’s personal opinions, why has it become the social norm to attack and vilify those who are on the opposite side of the political spectrum? 

I have noticed that the term “Trump Supporter” almost always carries a negative connotation. Take a look at social media; it won’t take long to see a person post something even slightly political or worse yet, conservative, and be torn to shreds in the comment sections. Self-righteous keyboard warriors doing their work to break this person down solely because they know that they will never see a consequence for their words. This toxic and malevolent behavior on social media is why people like me, a conservative, often hesitate or refuse to express our political views online in fear of retribution or our statements being taken out of context and broadcasted to the wider public. I even hesitated to accept the invitation to write this article out of fear that some radical raging online activist would see this opinion piece and come after me or even more worrisome, those closest to me. In a time where many on the political left call this “The Trump Era”, the words Conservative, Libertarian, Republican, and Right Wing have all been umbrellaed under one ‘dirty’ term: Trump Supporter.  

As someone who is a self-described critic of President Trump, I have never been the biggest fan of his personality or his growing list of gaffes and false truths he has purported on national television. That being said, I’ll still be demonized for openly agreeing with his foreign policy decisions or for his policies that lead to one of the strongest pre-pandemic economies this country has ever seen. This reluctance to share political views is not unique to me. The Cato Institute reported on July 22, 2020 that “62% of Americans have political views they’re afraid to share.” This goes both ways, as the report also states that “50% of strong liberals support firing Trump donors, 36% of strong conservatives support firing Biden donors, and 32% are worried about missing out on job opportunities because of their political opinions.”  

Ready for me to blow your mind? 

In this same report there is a number that stands out above the others, one that reminds conservatives that we really are on the defensive: 77% of conservatives feel they have to self-censor. On the other side of the spectrum, we have just 42% of strong liberals who feel they have to self-censor. Statistics are not just numbers; they are a useful tool we can use to analyze the world we live in. Why do more conservatives feel the need to self-censor? What threat do they feel that liberals apparently do not? 

There is one specific case that sticks out in my mind and should serve as a reminder to both sides about the dangers of runaway tribal politics. In 2019, Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas took to Twitter to post the names and employers of 44 Trump Campaign donors in San Antonio. Many argued that the donor list was already public information; so, did Rep. Castro really do anything wrong? Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana responded and explained the severity of Rep. Castro’s actions: “People should not be personally targeted for their political views. Period. This isn’t a game. It’s dangerous, and lives are at stake. I know this firsthand.” Rep. Scalise was shot during a Republican team practice prior to the Annual Congressional Baseball game in 2017 by an avid anti-Republican activist named James Hodgkinson. Hodgkinson specifically targeted Scalise and several other GOP lawmakers at the practice.  

While that may sound alarming, I’m not fond of saying Republicans or conservatives or liberals or Democrats are under some grave existential threat in America. Bipartisanship is the cooperation of two major political parties, in our case it’s Democrats and Republicans. The tribalistic partisan politics of modern America are the grave threat. This poisonous rhetoric is practiced by both sides, and our democracy has been undoubtedly poisoned and taken for granted. I personally see it most virulently practiced by the younger, relatively more liberal generation in this country; again, that is not to say it’s a purely left-wing phenomenon. Instead of constant demonization of the other side, we all could use some constructive, open minded conversation. 

As this election approaches, I know there are many of us who will be disappointed. There will be many who feel defeated. There will be many who feel they’ve been unheard and ignored. Regardless of the results on Election Day, there will still be an America to wake up to the next day. That alone is something we should be grateful for. If your respective candidate wins this year’s Presidential Election, then now is a time for humility. Without humility there is only pride, and pride alone leads to arrogance. 

To my fellow SRU Students, who inspire me to positively impact the community and to create a culture of constructive and civil political conversation; you will be the generation that leads our population one day. Don’t let our current heated political climate set the example, forge your own path. Change the narrative, take the reins, and create the discourse; one of humility, one of cooperation and one of civility and respect. Now is the chance to prove we’re more than our personal politics, more than our social media accounts or online avatars- now is the chance to prove that we are all Americans where opposing views are welcomed, considered and even encouraged and celebrated. After all, that is what this great country was founded on.  

Ethan is a sophomore secondary social studies education major from Ocean View, Delaware. He is the president of SRU College Republicans for the fall 2020 semester.

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