A great many thinkpieces and “hot takes” will be written about the outcome of Tuesday’s election. What else should be expected in the aftermath of the greatest political upset in recent memory? But I think there is a lesson to be learned in Trump’s victory, and specifically in the revulsion and surprise with which it was greeted by much of our campus.
The atmosphere around Dartmouth on the day following the election was tremendously sad. Asian American Students for Action sent an email saying “F— White Supremacy, F— Trump, F— Comey, F— Pence.” Protestors marched down the Green, beside dorms, and into the library chanting against “white supremacy.” Indeed, they have closely mirrored the “#NotMyPresident” protests in urban areas across the country. Faculty and students joined together on Wednesday in stunned disbelief and abject horror at what was, admittedly, a devastating loss for progressivism. Surely some of this emotion is well-placed: most pollsters predicted a Clinton victory, and Donald Trump will set back causes integral to the progressive movement. But my intuition is that much of the wailing and gnashing of teeth on campus is the result of something different – of a startling and harmful lack of intellectual diversity among the faculty and students.
Indeed, this phenomenon seems eerily reminiscent of the apocryphal statement of film critic Pauline Kael with regards to the landslide victory of Richard Nixon in 1972: that Nixon couldn’t have won because she didn’t know anyone who voted for him. This self-selection was woefully present in this election. Of the 700 counties that voted twice for Obama, a stunning 1/3 flipped to Trump. Progressives exist surrounded by a sea of the differently-minded. And Hanover, NH is one of these places. It is a bastion of privilege, education, and meritocracy grossly disconnected from the country around it, which voted for change. Many progressives argue that the red sea is dominated by irrationality, prejudice, and reactionary fear. Perhaps that is true. But is that an excuse for the obvious ignorance for their concerns displayed by both parties and the beneficiaries of the meritocratic system? Our own homogeneity is our biggest danger – it isolates us, divides us, and shields us from the concerns of our fellow Americans. Perhaps this played into the shock which greeted the result on this campus. Stuck inside the “Dartmouth Bubble,” so few of us are attuned to the concerns that drove Tuesday’s realignment.
And this may explain the struggle to explain, contextualize, and cope with the result on Wednesday, too. Progressives on campus are so invested in critical theory, in intersectionality, and in race and gender theory that they view every event in that context. No, this election was not about “white supremacy.” Nor was it about racism. Yes, many of the things Donald Trump said were unabashedly xenophobic. But does this explain his victory – entirely at the hands of counties and states that voted twice for our first African-American president? Clearly not. Critical theory gives us no tools to understand this election – and so there was a lack of understanding.
And so we see now the importance of intellectual diversity on campus. If progressivism has failed in its understanding of this election already, in what other important places will it be a detriment? Intellectual diversity is a check on epistemic closure, a needed brake on the most worrying trends of the day. When we leave Dartmouth, we will find a world increasingly divided along pseudo-ideological lines – urban and rural, young and old, rich and poor. Our higher education is the place where we have the greatest opportunity to encounter those who do not share our views and to be challenged in uncomfortable ways. How unfortunate, then, that a recent study showed only 6% of social psychology professors being conservative, that most campus administrations have an unabashedly liberal slant, that students have taken to policing language and viewpoints themselves. The more successful the left is at making college a place of ideological exclusivity, the more students will be unable to understand and contextualize world events. Political correctness does not make the world a better place, it makes academics and students unable to understand its complexity.
How much longer do we have to wait for progressive methods to be proven grossly deficient? How many more Brexits? How many more Trumps? How many nationalists need to be elected in Europe for the left to realize that its strategy has succeeded only in creating islands of condescending liberalism and seas of dissatisfied voters? For the last century, progressivism has been successful when it advances with the people. Now, it has advanced beyond them, looked back, and called them backwards. This is no strategy for successful persuasion, and an even worse strategy for education. Tuesday proved that there is a great swath of America unrepresented here at Dartmouth. Our task now is to seek it out.