Among the countless e-mails Hamilton students received last week, one in particular caused me to jump for joy. It told of the availability of a free ticket to “Common Ground featuring David Axelrod and Karl Rove, moderated by Susan Page.” However, my joy quickly turned to apprehension for this coming event when I shared my excitement with another student. The student commented in reply: “Karl Rove really is a terrible person, though”. I was struck by the gravity of this statement. I realized that the event could lead to campus-wide protests.
Over the past few years, Hamilton College has suggested and implemented drastic changes to social and residential life policies which, in almost every instance, have outraged students and alumni. In 2014 the college imposed a requirement that all students must live on campus, subjecting them to the patronizing and infantilizing attitudes that the college assumes regarding social activities and personal responsibility. While it is easy to understand the considerations leading to this specific decision, there has been talk among administration, faculty, and trustees (whom I will refrain from naming) about sanctioning students who choose to pay for on-campus housing, as required, but live off-campus in personally rented apartments. In other words, some decision-makers at Hamilton want to control and punish students’ personal leisure activities and police their financial decisions made autonomously and independently of any institutional impositions.
Donald Trump’s supposed support of free speech and his opposition to excessive political correctness helped garner him him legions of followers. Cherry picking examples, Trump made it appear as if there was a credible threat to free speech, and thus set himself up as a defender of the First Amendment. His war against left-leaning media outlets, combined with his stream-of-consciousness tweeting style, also make clear that his loose definition of free speech is largely one of self-convenience. His hypocrisy, however, is especially evident right now in regard to a very different issue: his handling of the Saudi-Qatar crisis.
Last Friday night at a rally in Alabama, President Donald Trump called for those NFL players who knelt during the national anthem at games to be fired. He was referring to former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started kneeling during the anthem last year in protest of police brutality against black men. Others have recently kneeled in protest and in solidarity with their fellow football player Kaepernick, also starting the twitter hashtag #ImWithKap.
Ernest Hemingway’s book A Moveable Feast was published posthumously in 1964. It is composed of poignant sketches looking back on Hemingway’s time in France with his first wife and their baby Jack, known as Bumby. It is set after World War I, when Hemingway was an unknown, struggling American writer living in poverty above a sawmill, writing in the cafes and roaming the streets of Paris.
On an early morning this July in Demopolis, Alabama, a black police officer who fell asleep on patrol crashed his car into the town’s Confederate monument and toppled it over. It was purely accidental, but the damage was irreparable. Demopolis had to make a decision about the fate of the stone Confederate soldier, now broken at the shins. After deliberations among the mayor and a special committee, the town council voted to replace the statue with an obelisk honoring all fallen soldiers. They gave the Confederate statue a new home in the Marengo County History and Archives Museum.
In a meeting with President Trump last November, President Obama described North Korea as our country’s biggest national security threat. Given that Kim Jong Un has threatened to carry out a nuclear strike on our nation for years and has failed to follow through, Obama’s concern seems overblown. However, the “hermit kingdom” has recently upgraded its weapons system and is becoming the imminent danger many fear. Unfortunately, we may now be powerless. It is probably too late to take decisive action without accepting an enormous death toll, even though passivity will bind us to an intolerable future.
Following her appointment as Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos made headlines by meeting with organizations affected by Title IX, groups that included the self-declared “Men’s Rights Activists.” Her actions prompted a swift backlash from feminist groups, many of whom declared it a “slap in the face” to rape victims.
After his appointment in January, many American diplomats were optimistic about the new Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. They hoped he would use his extensive managerial experience as CEO of ExxonMobil to bring much-needed reform to the State Department. Instead, he has done long-lasting damage to the department and continues to tear apart the values and goals of American diplomacy.
Karen Blixen wrote: “There is something about safari life that makes you forget all your sorrows and feel as if you have drunk half a bottle of champagne -- bubbling over with the heartfelt gratitude for being alive.” My travels to the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa this summer affirmed Baroness Blixen’s assessment. An African safari contains a special gift; it can brush away the cobwebs and heal the broken-hearted. One can believe that all is well with the world and that “this is where I ought to be.”
The divided quality of American conservatism is among its major features, but the exact nature of its divisions can change with the times. American conservatism may be in a new political era which began with the 2016 election cycle. Although it's too soon to know for sure, it's possible that we really are in new times—and have been since the end of 2015, when it was clear that Donald Trump's candidacy for the Republican nomination had not only survived but flourished despite both its strangeness and its seemingly formidable adversaries. Trump's capture of the nomination made clear how strongly a relatively non-ideological (albeit rancorous) candidate could appeal to many Republican voters who had been assumed to hold more ideological views.
The last year has not been kind to our language. Students throw racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, etc. around to end a conversation on a virtue signal instead of engaging in a challenging discussion. While the necessity to use these words may be more frequent, their meanings, and thus the arguments stemming from them, lose their punch without proper definition. John McWhorter, a distinguished linguist at Columbia University, observes: “The Martian anthropologist would recognize no difference between the way those accused of being witches were treated in 17th-century Salem, Mass., and the way many innocent people are being accused of ‘racism’ today.”