With Donald Trump’s election, a growing number of websites, organizations, survival guides—and even elected officials—have issued statements of fear, stoked notions of dystopia, and promoted and threatened nullification and secession. Perhaps a different kind of survival guide is needed just now, and it could start with some adult talk and a small dose of common sense.
It should be aimed primarily at college students and administrators as our colleges and universities are the vector encouraging most (but not all) of this immaturity. Heck, it could even join the vast genre of college and university survival guide books—it might even be a best seller. It need not be long, but it is needed. Herewith, a proposed chapter outline:
1. The First Rule of Politics: Not Everyone Will Agree With You.
I heard this rule attributed to Irving Kristol, and it couldn’t be more needed than now. As a radio host, I can attest that even conservatives need to remember it. Many is the time I will state an opinion and a left-winger or right-winger will say or write, “Seth, you’re wrong,” only to then offer up another opinion. Opinions are not right or wrong, facts are. The question is whether or not an opinion is based on sound reasoning and hard facts. Adults tend to understand this, once reminded; college students, not so much. Why? Echo-chambers, bubbles, and confirmation bias. Nicholas Kristof got this right, writing:
I also fear the reaction [to Trump’s election] was evidence of how insular universities have become. When students inhabit liberal bubbles, they’re not learning much about their own country. To be fully educated, students should encounter not only Plato, but also Republicans.
But, of course, they almost never do. Years ago, it was possible for college students to be taught about and have opinions about Karl Marx while never reading him. Now, they read a lot of Marx and hear almost nothing about, and never read, James Madison.
2. If the Federalist Papers Are Too Difficult, At Least Read the U.S. Constitution, Including Its Amendments.
It is important to understand that there is no constitutional right for only Democrats or liberals to be heard, run for office, govern, or get elected. I can well-appreciate a college student at, say, age 20 knowing only of the presidency of Barack Obama, but there is a vast history prior to that, as there will be a vast future ahead.
As Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. put it: “A page of history is worth a volume of logic,” so let me explain what happened in 1992 on our college campuses. The average 20-year-old college student knew only of the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush back then. Then Bill Clinton ran and won. Many of us hated it. But we lived with it, threatening not nullification over whatever Clinton would do, threatening not secession, needing not therapy rooms with puppies and pillows and teddy bears. The world and America moved on. The same took place in 2008, when 20-year-olds who only knew of the George W. Bush presidency saw it yield to Barack Obama.
3. Pay Especial Attention To The First Amendment.
The same rights that allow you to organize, petition, write, publish, and speak about your opinions do not protect only you or your point of view. Indeed, those rights exist, as Thomas Jefferson put it, to ensure that “error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.” If this point is alien to you, go back to Rule 1. Then read a great speech by one of our nation’s greatest jurists, Learned Hand—his Spirit of Liberty speech. Focus on this part:
The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.
If this is still misunderstood, try Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson’s opinion in a case allowing for the right of school students to refrain from saluting the flag—for it applies equally to those of us who do not think one institution, a college, say, has the right to tell us all what to think, or to speak for us corporately (you see, some of your fellow students are actually in agreement with Donald Trump): “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.”
4. This Is Why We Have Elections.
Here is how it works in America—but not the entirety of the rest of the world, we get that. So it won’t be true in Cuba, though we know you tend to esteem what the Castros and Che Guevara established there. We govern each other “by reflection and choice,” as Alexander Hamilton put it. We have a system by which our presidential candidates know the rules in advance, rules that were hammered out a bit over 200 years ago. And citizens over age 18 get to vote for the electors in their state who best represent their candidate and points of view. The rules protect all of us, and they were written so that one state and or one region could not and would not dictate national policy for everyone else.
Unhappy that Donald Trump won Michigan and Ohio and Wisconsin? Maybe Hillary Clinton should have spent more time there. The country, remember, is not just California and New York—there are 50 states here. Think the election was bought off by monied and corporate interests? Think again: Hillary Clinton outspent Donald Trump two-to-one. Maybe, just maybe, Rule 1 still matters, and not everyone agreed with the idea of continuing the Obama agenda. Or, as one family in Ohio that hadn’t voted for a Republican since 1976 until this year put it: “Hillary Clinton stopped speaking to us.”
5. Know Thy Candidate.
While it is a popular notion to “know thyself,” maybe it would do just as well to know who and what you protest. Think good and hard on what it is about Donald Trump’s agenda you fear. Loss of gay or transgender rights (that tends to be a large part of the current guides’ field of concern)? Go back and watch or read his nomination speech in Cleveland. Worried about loss of Obamacare? See how its premiums are soaring and how many of its promises did not meet its reality and if what could replace it might just be a good idea. Worried about President Trump issuing executive orders that might reverse President Obama’s executive orders, particularly on illegal immigrants? Ask yourself why President Obama had the authority to issue those orders in the first place. The answer will be quite revealing: he couldn’t pass his desired outcomes through the normal process and processes of legislation.
That’s right. The DREAM Act, and DACA, never had enough support to pass through Congress. Now consider: the same rights President Obama had to issue executive orders in the face of congressional will are the same rights Donald Trump will have to issue executive orders in consonance with congressional will, but more so. Now, go read Justice Jackson again, this time from a different case:
When the President takes measures incompatible with the expressed or implied will of Congress, his power is at its lowest ebb, for then he can rely only upon his own constitutional powers minus any constitutional powers of Congress over the matter. Courts can sustain exclusive presidential control in such a case only by disabling the Congress from acting upon the subject. Presidential claim to a power at once so conclusive and preclusive must be scrutinized with caution, for what is at stake is the equilibrium established by our constitutional system.
In sum, here: ask yourself—what, just what, are you so fearful of? Why are you so willing to go through such extra-democratic and extraordinary efforts of protest over your not getting your way and having your opinion accepted? Maybe, just maybe, if you read a little history, give a modicum of credit to voters who once supported Barack Obama and voted for Donald Trump, and remember the first rule of politics, you will understand why we all have a right to our opinions and beliefs—and not just yours.
After all, it may just occur to you: you may not be right.