Editor's Note: The Asbury Critic is a featured opinion column written and submitted by Prindle Institute for Ethics interns. The opinions expressed in this and other pieces are that of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The DePauw or Prindle. 

The last time I contributed to The Asbury Critic, I defined cynicism as the hasty assumption of malice in others. I need to expand that definition, for cynicism is often the hasty assumption of others’ ignorance and gullibility. We should resist this attitude also, particularly in conversations on campus about how we intend to vote this November. Mind you, I am not writing about politics nor advocating for any presidential candidate. Instead, I am concerned with the way we (often do not) have (adequate) conversations at DePauw about politics and presidential candidates, especially with our peers who plan to vote for Donald Trump (and Republican candidates more generally, but, for simplicity’s sake, let’s focus on Trump). Frequently, I have heard that Trump-supporting students are the useful idiots of political con artists. Rather than indulging these cynical instincts, we should trust that they are thoughtful and informed, seeking two-way conversations with our peers.

Such cynicism did not begin with our campus but is inherited from the broader national discourse, perhaps, among other ways, from books assigned for our DePauw courses. For instance, Daniel Markovitz’s “The Meritocracy Trap” argues that meritocracy delivered Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory by fueling the economic discontent of the American middle class. Fair enough. Yet I find something peculiar about this line of reasoning. Despite recognizing the middle class’s plight, he also implies the irrationality of Trump’s electoral base in choosing the real estate magnate as the best man to address their economic grievances. For Markovitz, Trump won merely because his voters were emotionally manipulated.

Based on my student experience, I suspect that more than a handful of my peers share a similar perspective, whether their views are influenced by the likes of Markovitz, by social media, or other causes. In fact, I have heard many iterations of Markovitz’s “useful idiots” hypothesis: Trump voters fear a waning patriarchy, crescent multiculturalism, or the nocturnal gale of globalization, and this anxiety blinds them to manipulation. Rarely have I heard on this campus that many Trump adherents have thoughtful, well-considered reasons for their political loyalties. I find this pattern strange, for it is quite possible for a reasonable person to support some of the key elements of Trumpism, such as securing the southern border, investing robustly in national defense, or slashing taxes to encourage economic productivity. Indeed, on any morning while you sip coffee in at Cafe Roy, open your phone to read the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal (to which all DePauw students have a subscription): you might discover many rational, sophisticated arguments that favor Trump’s positions and even his re-election.

You might think that if you believe your Trump-supporting peers to be merely misguided (rather than malicious), then you are being generous. However, by assuming the ignorance of others, you actually demonstrate that you do not consider these peers to be your equals, to be … well, peers. I am inclined to think that you believe that your peers cannot sufficiently reason or evaluate information, while you remain untouched by these problems. Moreover, by regarding this attitude as generous, you will likely persist in it. After all, it is easy to believe that you are doing something good. However, it is wrong to deny the intellect of peers with whom you disagree prior to listening to them. It is still more wrong to mistake this vice for a virtue.

Furthermore, if we are to cultivate a campus culture hospitable to the free expression of ideas, we need to assume there are good reasons to support ideas that we detest. If we thus embrace such intellectual humility, then we can become better listeners and more cautious in our reasoning. Moreover, this duty of intellectual humility implies that we should not assume that all people who hold an opinion we might disagree with are manipulated or misguided, which is precisely what the infantilization of Trump-supporting individuals does.

You might object that infantilization (even though no Trump critic would consciously approve of something termed “infantilization”) is better than demonization, the assumption that everyone who supports the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump is bigoted, hateful, or apathetic. Infantilization, you might say, at least aims at trying to bridge gaps between politically polarized communities. I maintain that infantilization is worse than demonization, for both attitudes shut down dialogue and result from an undue belief in one’s own superiority (the one intellectual, the other moral), yet the latter is at least honest in its conceit.

Now, you might further object that no reasonable person could ever vote for Donald Trump in November. You may worry that supporting him is simply beyond the pale. I encourage you to take a peek at the Wall Street Journal. The things the editorial board and opinion contributors put there are by no means gospel, nor do I always agree with them, but their arguments are often insightful. It is not at all uncommon for an author to put forward good, considerate reasons for supporting the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, or at least for being sympathetic to this cause. 

For example, I have seen opinion pieces on our national response to climate change that are critical of the Biden Administration and (at least implicitly) lend support to a second term for Trump. Most often, these arguments do not rely on an obtuse rejection of scientific data. Rather, the authors believe, reasonably, that policy should account for risk in due proportion and that the degree of risk from climate change does not warrant a national, World War 2-style mobilization or “net-zero” energy programs. In one piece, I read an argument that there is data to suggest a decrease in global wildfire frequency in recent decades, depending on which metrics you follow: a refutation of the narrative proffered by most national media. Accordingly, says the author, national policy-makers should not equate the existence of wildfires with a dire need to pass more stringent environmental regulation. Even if you disagree with the argument, the argument itself is not unreasonable, nor are those who would agree with it necessarily ignorant or misinformed. The argument relies on objective, empirical data and generally agreeable premises. Many other pro-Trump arguments (some quite explicitly so) abound in those pages, and they cover many other issues and objections to his re-election. Educate yourself: the Wall Street Journal is free (for you).

Allow me to close this piece (like my last) with a recommendation. Talk to your peers, especially the ones whose opinions you most detest. But, be careful. Listen, and reject received attitudes about those who disagree with you. Purge your vocabulary of the words “correct” and “educate,” “conscious” and “uneducated.” Banish them, sentencing them to wander mute in the solemn shades of endless night.