Written by Pranav Jandhyala
A little over 9 months ago, I came face to face with our commander in chief. It was for a brief moment. I didn’t even have time to shake his hand as his security detail pushed him along, but as I stood within inches of him, he exuded a certain executive presence. I knew from that moment why President Trump had such a personal appeal among so many people, among people who identify heavily with him but also among people in the middle who might share his views on some issues but disagree with other parts of his platform.
As I worked my way through the audience in attendance there that day at his rally in San Jose, California, I talked to people. I talked to conservatives who hated his foreign policy, liberals who lauded his anti-establishment rhetoric, and people in the middle who were genuinely torn on key issues and just wanted to come out and hear him speak. As I looked out at the audience, I didn’t see a crowd of Trump supporters. I didn’t even see a room full of liberals and conservatives who were divided along party lines. I saw a diverse collection of people, each with their own complex belief systems and unique sets of opinions.
As we left the event center and walked past several intersections towards the thick police barricade that surrounded the entire block, groups of chanting protesters hurled eggs at rally attendees as well as pulled them aside, beating them in groups. At one point, I was followed for several blocks by a small group of Latino American men, who yelled racial epithets at me and my Indian friend and threatened to jump us even after we explained to them that we weren't Trump supporters. As as we finally drove out of the parking structure, a group of protesters shook our car violently and smashed a tail light. That day, the chanting, violent protesters viewed the rally attendees not as people with differing political opinions but as nothing more than a racist, sexist, homophobic, and hateful monolith.
On the night of the protests at UC Berkeley surrounding the Milo Yiannopoulos event, ticket holders were assaulted for simply being there that night. I spoke to students who detest Milo’s rhetoric and disagree with him on virtually every issue who were assaulted for simply having tickets to the event because they wanted to hear the other side. The protesters that night viewed the attendees not as a group of people who wanted to listen to someone we may have agreed with in some areas and disagreed with in others. They viewed us categorically as hateful, fascist neo-nazis.
But after the violence in both instances, voices from across the nation denounced the left wing as a whole while citing the intolerance and violence. I spoke to radio talk show hosts from across the nation this past week about the issue of free speech on college campuses, the protests at UC Berkeley, and BridgeCal. And the overwhelming sentiment is complete and utter disgust at the liberal establishment. To them, the dominant liberal position seems to be unapologetically supporting violence as a means to the end of ending political discussion. Many conservatives I’ve talked to across the country view liberal students at schools like UC Berkeley not as individuals who are willing to actively challenge what they think they know and believe but as people who actively engage in the destruction of property, people, and fundamental First Amendment ideals. But in these past several weeks alone, in the development of Bridgecal, we’ve seen hundreds of students come out to discuss the complexity of different issues they have strong opinions on.
There are groups on each side that view the other monolithically. And to view either liberals or conservatives in this way isn’t just factually incorrect. It’s dangerous and has far-reaching implications. Conservatives at Trump rallies who actively denounce racism, sexism, and homophobia in all forms are colored with the broad brush of misperception, the grossly incorrect notion that all Trump supporting conservatives are racists, sexists, and homophobes. Students who stayed in their dorm halls and worked to finish papers and CS projects the night of the UC Berkeley protests will be the ones who are ultimately affected by any potential defunding of their school, as opposed to the rioters who worked to dismantle barricades and break windows.
The labels that we construct and our perceptions surrounding them are destroying us in a more subtle way as well. What’s the chance that you’ll find an individual who supports restricting access to abortions, the Travel Ban, securing our borders, and protecting gun rights? What’s the chance that you’ll find an individual who has genuinely come to all the conclusions listed in either the Republican or Democratic party platforms entirely on their own? Our intuitive sense of party loyalty prevents us from having better political conversations in which we feel truly free to escape the bounds of prior thinking and soak ourselves in the nuances of an issue. It can entirely be the case that someone may support government intervention in the economy but disapprove of government intervention in our privacy lives. Or case that someone may espouse a libertarian philosophy when it comes to taxation but liberal principles when it comes to climate change. In the absence of political labels, when people are able to come to their own conclusions about separate issues independently and through a process involving continuous discourse with a variety of different points of view, developed sets of opinions will rarely fall neatly within party lines.
In a space of actual political discourse, cream rises to the top. Politics reside in action, and our beliefs about the world inform the choices we make. Behind any positive and meaningful political decision is a belief system that’s been reformed continuously over time before becoming sturdy enough to stave off any counter-argument. Beliefs that represent the right course of action in any case will ultimately rise above the rest in this free space of discussion and debate. To create such a space free of labels will be the political challenge of my generation.