A Sane Reply to a Violent Editorial

"None of this name-calling deserves to be dignified with a response, and Mayer’s overall editorial is wholly unworthy of any intellectual engagement. However, leaving views so toxic to civil society unchallenged would be the true disservice."

“None of this name-calling deserves to be dignified with a response, and Mayer’s overall editorial is wholly unworthy of any intellectual engagement. However, leaving views so toxic to civil society unchallenged would be the true disservice.”

The New Year brings with it a new term, new snow upon the hills of Hanover, and, of course, a new President in Donald J. Trump. But the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Daily Dartmouth continued its history of editorial incompetence in publishing a categorically moronic diatribe against the President-elect—one that is so systematically devoid of critical thought that it could almost be entirely reconstructed from Democratic campaign slogans and talking points. Mind you, this is before even considering the piece’s glaring factual errors and mischaracterizations.

Michael Mayer ’17 ostensibly wrote this editorial, “Trumpism: A Violent Ideology,” as a response to Tyler Baum ‘20’s “Why I Voted for Trump” editorial from last fall. In reality, it is simply a cudgel to bludgeon those with the audacity to disagree with social justice orthodoxy. Laced with haughty moral superiority, Mayer claims to stand for “peace and justice” and “compassion” while calling opposing views racist, sexist, xenophobic, “unacceptable,” and even deadly.

The editorial lobs many an epithet at Baum. None of this name-calling deserves to be dignified with a response, and Mayer’s overall editorial is wholly unworthy of any intellectual engagement. However, leaving views so toxic to civil society unchallenged would be the true disservice.

Mayer continues to parrot the bizarre assertion that a vote for Trump implies an endorsement, or at least excusal, of his every word. Taking this reasoning to its logical conclusion, every Clinton voter must be held accountable for Secretary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” and “irredeemable” comments. Either Mayer agrees with these comments, which would reveal his malice more than anyone else’s, or he is a hypocrite who does not believe that the same standards apply.

The simple fact of this election is that a historically large portion of the electorate was dissatisfied with both major party candidates. The natural result is that many individuals voted for candidates that they found highly distasteful, and only did so with great reluctance and anguish. Using that unfortunate reality to impugn the character of others is childish and irresponsible. It has no place in public discourse, regardless of President-elect Trump’s real or perceived misdeeds.

In a fit of irony, Mayer cites an “ignorance of history” inherent Baum’s support of President-elect Trump’s desire to “Make America Great Again.” Mayer equates the slogan with “returning to a period filled with even more hatred, oppression, and violence.” One cannot know whether Mayer is being willfully ignorant or willfully disingenuous. In any case, he creates a straw man that is not even internally consistent. In support of his claims, he cites every historical misdeed imaginable (colonialism, slavery, imperialism, Jim Crow) while including the prison-industrial complex for good measure.

A cursory understanding of history (and logic) demonstrates that many of these historical institutions belong to mutually exclusive time periods. Mayer even admits that the prison-industry complex he decries exists today. If President-elect Trump really wanted to return us to one of these time periods, which one is it? Will he bring us to a time before the prison-industrial complex so he can recreate it? The whole exercise is nonsense.

There are a few simple reasons why Mayer’s particular criticism here is so unhinged (even more so than the rest of the editorial). One is the hubris inherent in believing that one is on the right side of History. Another reason is that the entire argument is a farce. It is a blatant obfuscation and misinterpretation of reality. Anyone who has heard the slogan in context knows that it refers to manufacturing jobs and physical safety in light of radical Islamic terrorism. Yet such is the result of being hell-bent on force-fitting a narrative that anyone who voted for Trump is a horrific human being worthy of being labeled with every –ism and –phobia in existence.

Time and time again, it seems that Mayer’s propensity for moral outrage overrides any higher critical faculties that may or may not exist. Nevertheless, Mayer makes a few correct calls. Yes, “for many this is a matter of life and death.” This is a matter of life and death for hundreds of thousands of law enforcement officers, for whom the “Ferguson effect” has put their lives in more danger than ever. This is a matter of life and death for the hundreds of thousands in Middle America suffering from heroin addiction. And this is a matter of life and death for the hundreds of veterans who have died waiting for care at the VA.

For all his faults, President-elect Trump acknowledged these people who were not being heard. Their lives are no less valuable because of the color of their skin or the uniforms they wear. Mayer cannot claim the moral imperative while trivializing the suffering of so many with the assertion that “white folks must be uncomfortable [and] acknowledge our privileges.”

I had hoped that the response to President-elect Trump’s surprise victory would be a dose of humility and a serious reevaluation of the divisive identity politics, elitism, and political correctness that led to this outcome. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are innocent of these crimes. I had hoped that the response would be one of compassion and understanding—a sincere effort to acknowledge that one’s vote is not a signal of one’s virtue. Seeing editorials as illogical and ignominious as Mayer’s, it is clear that my hope was mistaken; an emboldened left seems intent on doubling down on the same school of thought that lost this election.

On one hand, if the trend continues, Republicans will continue their electoral dominance. It turns out that those who try to do right by their neighbors, communities, and nation do not take kindly to their fellow countrymen casting aspersions on them. On the other hand, the incessant narcissism, invective, and lack of ideas make our political conversation that much poorer. Polarization and division are the natural outcomes.

Regardless of the merit or lack thereof in Baum’s views, Mayer’s editorial is indefensible. Yet there is a way forward. First and foremost, apologize for the uncivil and vile accusations of racism, xenophobia, and sexism. Acknowledge that “peace and justice” is unlikely to be realized by demonizing millions of Americans. And finally, stop with the mindless repetition of buzzwords and manufactured vocabulary.

Clarification: Mayer’s article does not represent The Daily Dartmouth‘s editorial position, which includes only those articles bylined as “The Dartmouth Editorial Board.”

  • November Guest

    Fantastic article, BChen 🙂

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  • ’16

    After criticizing Mayer’s name-calling and ad hominem attacks, Chen questions if Mayer has “any higher critical faculties that may or may not exist.” Perhaps the author is dumbfounded by Mayer’s emotional editorial, but responding with hypocracy is not an effective retort.

    • Observer70

      It seems to me that you have cherry-picked one sarcastic observation and attempted to use that to dismiss the entirety of Mr. Chen’s persuasive critique of the Dartmouth’s editorial. I think that Mr. Chen’s sarcasm was well earned, but even if one concedes, for the sake of argument, that it was ill-advised, I think that your focus on those few words misses Mr. Chen’s essential point and suggests that you do not have an effective response.

  • Fleur M

    Very well written, totally agree with your points. In my opinion “Why I voted for Trump” by Baum was a thoughtful, courageous article.