By Rocco Lucente
For political activists in Tompkins County, it has been an intense 10 months since Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.
With the activist culture of the city of Ithaca shining through from the moment the election ended, it has become nearly impossible to read the local news without some reminder of the angst that many still feel over the 2016 elections. There was a rally with hundreds of attendees the day after the election, the county Legislature has passed several resolutions which are seemingly intended to counter the anticipated policies of President Trump, and Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick has seldom missed a chance to take a shot at President Trump in the weeks and months after the election.
These consequences are the function of a multi-party system, and should be celebrated as expressions of legitimate opposition which are so important to the American tradition. What makes America special is the degree to which we have the freedom to oppose these policies so long as we refrain from harming others. The absolute nature of that freedom and the willingness to defend it are the cornerstones of our Republic. They are the freedoms from which all other freedoms are derived.
It is due to the immeasurable value of having the right to hold an opposing view that I have become very concerned about our local political culture. In the aftermath of the election we have seen the president of Cornell College Republicans physically attacked, Cornell events featuring conservative speakers have been forced into hiding by the university, and the rhetoric of Mayor Myrick has taken an ugly turn.
We have gone from protests in the streets to people being assaulted for associating with the Republican Party, from Cornell Republicans being called upon to denounce Trump to Cornell Republicans having to close their events to the public, from Mayor Myrick supporting resolutions to combat the Trump administration to Mayor Myrick implying that popular support for policies such as opposing DACA and building the wall are motivated by white supremacy.
This is a very clear sign that good faith opposition to the presidency of Donald Trump has morphed into something much more dangerous, a sort of insidious social pressure that seeks to ostracize people who hold an opposing view on certain issues. In each of these cases, we have moved from Donald Trump or his administration being targeted to the supporters of that administration being targeted. This is a line that residents in our county must never cross, as it is a slippery slope into the worst sort of political divisiveness that America can experience.
In the aftermath of the election we have seen an ugly picture painted by far too many in our area of “good vs. evil,” “moral vs. immoral” and “smart vs. stupid” when it comes to the subject of President Trump. The danger of such a picture being painted is that in the process you create a standard where those who don’t mirror your political choices are stupid or immoral, and as a result you don’t listen to a single word the other side has to say in a political debate. That sort of mentality makes all of us worse off, and it divides communities. We have to do better.
To those who read what I have written and disagree with every word, who believe that the issues surrounding Donald Trump are somehow beyond the realm of decency, to those who question the morality of people who disagree with them on politics, I make only one plea: Talk to an actual Donald Trump supporter, and when they start talking, don’t interrupt them or shout over them. Listen, and do so with a sincere ear and an open mind. You may not agree with their policy conclusions, but in the vast majority of cases you are going to find someone who wants exactly what you want and just wishes to go about getting there in a different manner.
You’re not going to find an evil racist, you’re not going to find a homophobic misogynist, what you are most likely to find is someone who hasn’t had a raise in over a decade and is tired of establishment politicians. You are likely to find a grandmother who is worried that her grandkids will not have the same opportunities that she did. You are likely to find a working class couple trying and struggling desperately to give their children the best that life has to offer. You will find every type of person our nation has to offer, and the overwhelming majority of the 10,000-plus Tompkins County residents who voted for Donald Trump are good people.
When our local political culture promotes rhetoric that flies in the face of that basic fact, it is up to decent people of all stripes to push back against it.
– – –
Rocco Lucente lives in the Town of Ulysses.