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Carleton conservatives share election opinions

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Although Carleton’s official motto translates to “the revelation of your words illuminates,” some conservative students feel that their political views are more often met with hostility than with understanding. Some even see identifying as conservative as a death wish.

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, leaders from CSA Senate and left-of-center student organizations held a rally outside Sayles in an effort to combat the divisive messaging of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign. Shortly after the rally, left-wing student organizations hit the ground running, forming a political organizing coalition called Students for Democratic Change. However, it was unclear if Carleton’s conservative presence would speak up, distinguishing themselves from—or aligning with—Trump’s rhetoric and platform.

Six right-of-center students offered their thoughts on the recent election and resulting campus climate, though most requested anonymity in fear of backlash.

The respondents characterized their political stances as moderate, Republican, libertarian and independent. While all six identify as fiscally conservative, some identify as socially liberal, while others, socially moderate.

Silence in the Aftermath

Right-of-center Carleton students reported feeling out of place after the election, afraid of being accused of bigotry.

“I can tell you, the second I started seeing Trump win, I locked my door,” said Student A, who voted for Trump in the general election.

“I parked my car farther off campus. I hunkered down. My girlfriend got a lot of messages from her friends saying to break up with me,” Student A said.

“I was accused by a number of people of being a Trump supporter, which was a little offensive, but also disappointing,” Student B said. “Even if I were [a Trump supporter], this claims to be an accepting community, and it’s not when it comes to politics. It’s incredibly closed-minded.”

Student C, on the other hand, reported feeling bad for his Clinton-hopeful peers.

“There were people crying on my floor,” he remarked. “I try to empathize towards that. There’s been a reaction, and it’s understandable.”

Student D felt disappointed in the face of the majority. He added, “When I walked into class the day after the election, a student asked, ‘everyone voted for Hillary, right?’, and the teacher didn’t really dispute it. Even if I hadn’t, just coming in with that mindset is poor.”

JJ Cichoke ’20 also thought some reactions the day after the election were over-the-top. “Having people miss classes, I think that’s a little far,” he said. “He’s not the next Hitler. I’m sorry if that’s breaking news.”

Talking Politics at Carleton

While conservative student organizations exist, Student D remarked that proclaiming membership “would be social suicide.”

Contrarily, Cichoke, a member of Carleton College Republicans, thinks his group should get more involved in Carleton’s political scene.

“As a club, there might be people on campus who might try to silence us because they’ll think we identify strongly with Trump, even though I know every person in there was moderate to libertarian. None of them supported Trump, I’m pretty sure,” Cichoke said.

The President of Carleton College Republicans declined to comment. The organization did not endorse a presidential candidate last fall.

As a rule of thumb, Student C thinks Carls are willing to talk politics, no matter the ideology. “The people I’ve come across are pretty open-minded about it. They don’t seem too bad. Sometimes, it may get heated, but there’s no problem with that. They’re just passionate about it,” he said.

Student A has a very different idea about campus climate. “I came to Carleton thinking, ‘I’m going to be here for four years, I’m going to get my degree, and I’m going to get the [expletive] out,’” he said.

If there is anything that Student B wishes left-wing students would know, it’s this: “It’s a two-way street. You want your voices to be heard. Don’t shut out other opinions. This is an academic setting. One of the best ways to learn is to argue.”

“We’re just up for debate,” Cichoke added. “On a lot of college campuses, left-wing students always petition to have conservative speakers and free speech advocates not come to campus, but that shows how weak your ideology is, if you can’t even allow somebody to speak.”

On Trump Himself

All six students feel misrepresented by Trump and his brand of conservatism, but in different contexts.

“I don’t believe in the hatred and the bigotry, despite what people might think when you say you’re a Republican and they put you in that box,” said Student D, who voted for Ohio Governor John Kasich in the primary election.

“In my opinion, he’s not a Republican,” said Student A. “I thought he was a little bit more to the left of where I would fall on the spectrum. I find some of his rhetoric troubling.

“I understand what he’s trying to get at,” said Student A, “and I think there’s a lot of Republicans who feel the same way.”

Likewise, one respondent resonates with Trump’s policy stances, but not with his behavior. “Although I do agree with Trump’s platform mostly, I do not agree with the way he conducts himself and the way he gets his point across to the nation,” Student E said.

Another respondent cited party loyalty as a driving factor for many Republicans’ choice to vote for Trump.

Student B, who did not vote for Trump, commented, “I feel like a lot of people who would identify as right-wing or Republican in nature feel very misrepresented [by Trump], and I think in the primaries it was a shock that he was chosen as the Republican Party’s candidate. But I think people got behind him because there are Republicans who vote simply because someone’s a Republican. But I definitely wouldn’t describe myself as a supporter.”

On the Issues

According to Student A, fiscal responsibility and smaller government are critical tenets of conservatism.

While this seems to be the consensus, the respondents differed in their approaches to conservatism and on the issues they prioritized throughout election season.

For Student C, a self-proclaimed libertarian, gun control and abortion were particularly important issues in the election. “I think guns should be available for anyone,” he said. “I’m for background checks. That’s fine by me. But I don’t think trying to ban assault weapons would solve the problem. I think it’s more of a mental health issue and that’s what we need to solve.”

The Second Amendment was also important for Student A, who identified gun policy as a part of the larger divide between rural and urban Americans.
“In big cities, I can see why they would want gun control, but out in rural America, we see that [gun control] as infringing on what is the right of gun owners,” he said.

Originally from rural Minnesota, Student A also discussed the disconnect between Democratic elites and farmers.

“The estate tax is really ruining farmers,” he added. “Every farmer is counted as a millionaire now, so they’ve all got to pay these huge fees to have their estates transferred to their sons or daughters to take over that farm. Or, on the flipside, they have to set up a trust so that they can pay off those estate taxes in smaller sums over a longer period of time. It’s just a tough situation.”

On the topic of abortion, Student C remarked, “I’m pro-life. I’m pretty religious. My parents have raised me to be religious and that’s where that comes from.”

According to Student B, who identifies as pro-choice, the potential defunding of Planned Parenthood “was very close to home and important in terms of who I was looking at.” She was also concerned about the prospect of United States withdrawal from international alliances like NATO.

Student A was also concerned about national security, but more in relation to immigration policy than to military alliances: “You need a secure border. The definition of a state says that you have borders of some kind. So I follow that. Is a wall the right thing? No, I think the fence is probably fine.”

Fiscal policy was one of Student D’s top priorities. He feels personally connected to the problem of “improper budgeting” by “having family members that are teachers whose pensions may not be funded.” Though he disagreed with her fiscal policy, Student D was ultimately concerned about “letting the country exist” and voted for Secretary Clinton. That said, he believes in upholding America’s capitalist character, which “has allowed so many like my family to build a life from nothing.”

Likewise, American capitalism is important to Cichoke, who favors a competitive marketplace for healthcare and education.

“The problem with publicly-funded healthcare and education is that there’s no accountability and there’s no innovation to do better,” he said. “I think we need to give a lot of people more choice.”

“People wonder why Trump won,” Cichoke continued, “and it’s because we keep hearing that every straight white male is a bigot, every straight white male is sexist or racist. No.”

“We’re people just like you, we just have a different idea about taxes or healthcare or school choice. It’s not like we’re completely different people” Cichoke said.

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