This semester, my best friend and I have had the distinct pleasure of co-chairing the Informed Citizens Discussion Group(s), and it has been a stressful blast. With 10 groups and over 100 participants, I think that it is safe to that the recent political turmoil both in the United States and abroad has contributed to significant growth in the groups, a significant decrease in attrition, and a significant broadening of the kinds of people we bring in to the discussion.
For example, a few weeks ago, I was reading a piece of political satire regarding punching Nazis to the group that I co-moderate, and one of my discussion members said that he didn’t really think that was appropriate. I, assuming that he simply disliked the idea of engaging in physical violence based on someone’s ideology, asked him to explain why he thought that. “Well,” he said, “as someone that identifies as being on the alt-right, I find that offensive. The dude that was punched isn’t even a Nazi, he’s just a White nationalist.” My group fell silent. For the past three weeks, we had all assumed that we all fell somewhere along the left…. Sure, some where more libertarian and some were more socialists, but no one in my group identified as anywhere along the right-wing spectrum, except now for this member. To his credit, one of the members attempted to engage the alt-right student in a discussion about why he thought what he though, but there are only so many times that someone can argue for a racially and culturally “pure” America before you my liberal group will come after you. Between myself, my co-moderator, and some of my more outspoken members, it was like Milo vs. Rachel… and the results weren’t pretty. No one yelled at anyone, but that seemed to mostly be because anytime anyone got close, they just held their tongues and waited until their blood pressure has fallen enough to respond in a basically cordial way. We spent the last 30 minutes of that discussion grilling this student, wondering how in the world he believed what he believed, and when the members decided that they didn’t agree with the basic premises on which his argument rested (namely, that the United States is a country of White people for White people by White people), they went on the offensive. I don’t think that’s the worst thing.
The prevailing logic surrounding this situation is that we should have respected his difference of opinion and attempted to engage in a constructive dialogue so that we can all come to a reasonable conclusion and respect each other’s differences. However, as in most situations, I don’t think this was the time for respectability politics. One of my favorite sayings is that I’m always willing to have a constructive dialogue between two equal and opposing viewpoints. For example, we need to raise taxes versus we need to lower taxes is an acceptable discussion to have. We need to raise taxes versus we need to create a racially homogenous nation through genocide and mass deportation is not a discussion of two equal propositions, and I don’t regret my reaction in this situation. What’s even worse is that I didn’t even get to finish reading my piece about punching Nazi’s. This dude would’ve certainly benefited from hearing it.