Section: Opinion

Potential response to polarization? Honesty.

There are always people who are tempted to talk or write in order to be controversial, as if public outcry is a sign that you’re onto something. I promise you I’m not one of them. At various times in my life I’ve been a contrarian for the sake of sparking an argument, but as your new columnist, this is not what inspires me to talk to the Kenyon community. Most people only bring up the opinions section when it offends them, and I truly hope to help give it a different voice.   

Nov. 8, 2016 made me want to be a columnist. It was the morning after Trump’s presidential victory, and as I looked outside the Olin and Chalmers Memorial Libraries window, I saw a group of women on Middle Path consoling each other as they cried into the others’ shoulders. Twenty feet away, in front of Rosse Hall, two tall male students said hello to each other and chuckled as they looked at their fellow students crying. The two men then greeted their friend across the path, who was also pointing to the women and jeering.

This past summer, I was exposed to the ideology that allowed those men to jeer as their fellow students cried, and I learned a lot.

I spent six weeks at a fellowship funded by a conservative think tank called the Hudson Institute, where I studied political theory while meeting prominent conservative politicians, bureaucrats and intellectuals. In a speech delivered at the Hudson Institute, U.S. Senator of Alabama Tom Cotton stated that America has an “under-incarceration problem.” These kinds of ideas are a part of the ideology that drives the think tank.

I went into the program hoping I could come out saying something like “Political dialogue is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy.” I instead came out bewildered our democracy is still standing. There were times when I imagined what a diehard liberal student would do. Like when one of the fellows looked me in the eyes and told me Trump isn’t racist. Or when one of them stated how angry he would be if a statue of his ancestor who died fighting for the Confederacy was toppled.

At one point in the program, I asked one of the students how they would deal with the opioid crisis, which, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has killed 183,000 people in the last 16 years. His solution was to build a wall on the border in order to stop the supply of drugs.

I had heard of this kind of patriotism before. When those fellows look at America’s past, they see our founding as just and our imperialism as noble. The historic events they believe validate America’s integrity did not inspire me at all. I went to the fellowship with the aim of understanding my place in this country, and I have only come back with more questions.

Are the best kinds of community members those who love where they are, constantly romanticize it and support its institutions? Or are the best community members those who attempt to reform the system because the wrongs outweigh the right? Maybe both of these kinds of citizens are necessary for a democracy. I don’t know. What I do know is that I live in a place where these neighbors only communicate to humiliate or mock the other.

I’m not writing to be sappy and say something like: “I hope dialogue starts in a more productive way,” or to choose a side. I’m writing because when those girls cried I also chuckled. As a person of color, I was seeing people engage with a reality my family and I came to terms with a million years ago. And when those kids made a fool out of them I wanted to punch them in the face. Although that pain is not new to me, I still wish it didn’t exist. For me, being an American and being a Kenyon student is like witnessing a huge argument that’s never clear-cut. I went to the Hudson Institute to hear one side of it, and I’m back at Kenyon where I will hear the other. Don’t expect me to always choose a side, but do expect me to be honest.

Dani De Andrade ’19 is a political science major from Newport, Conn. You can  contact him at deandraded@kenyon.edu.

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