A Site for Scholarly Commentary, Debate and Media Resources for the 2016 Election

Student Voices

Republican Leadership Could Be Good, If …

Durham, NC – Technically I’m registered Republican, but my friends would say I’m a closeted Democrat. I prefer ‘cautiously conservative.’

I’m also a college undergrad. In theory, this time in my life is devoted, at least in part, to book learning. To fostering intellectual curiosity. To grappling with tough problems and trying to bring great minds together (far greater than our own) to come up with creative solutions.

It is with frustration, then, that I watch some members of the Republican Party running from intellectual debate. (At least, publicly.) This has been particularly true since we entered the election season, with all its debates, stump speeches and campaigning. There is no doubt in my mind that the candidates are smart, engaged and creative. Which, honestly, makes it even worse — why do intelligent, successful people have to mask their intellect to appeal to voters?

I first noticed this trend in 2010 when Sarah Palin got a lot of media attention for asking, “How’s that hopey, changey stuff working out?” She was, of course, making fun of the Obama administration. But her criticism was light on policy, heavy on rhetoric.

Five years later, it’s largely a new cast of characters on stage, but the messaging is the same. Two examples: Donald Trump wants to build a wall spanning the U.S.-Mexico border to keep out all the immigrants “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime,” “[the] rapists.” Then Ted Cruz said in an interview that people who believed in climate change were “the equivalent of flat earthers.”

In fairness, I’m cherry-picking these examples. But, also in fairness, they aren’t too hard to find.

I do think these are important issues. Decisions about immigration will have profound impacts on our economy, on civil rights and on our quality of life. Similarly, decisions around climate change policy may have irreversible effects on our natural resources, grave impacts on our economy and alter the world we leave to future generations.

And yet I see categorical reductionism in the way we talk about these things.

To say “let’s just build a wall and keep everyone out” seems like a cry for unattainable simplicity. How about the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants already here? How about the important role they play in our economy? (In my home state of California, this population is imbedded in a host of industries and their sudden disappearance would have profound ripple effects.) How about focusing on making legal immigration more straightforward and less burdensome, and trying to attract the best and brightest from other countries?

And as far as the environment, I guess there is an element of choice. Which body of evidence do you choose to believe? It just so happens that one of those bodies is far bigger than the other. Of course, choosing to accept climate change brings with it all the questions mentioned above. In short, what are you going to do about it? It would be much easier, then, to simply turn your head and say it doesn’t exist.

I think a switch back to Republican leadership could be good for this country. I don’t want it, though, unless the party standard-bearer is willing to dive deep and have tough conversations, realizing that with complexity often comes compromise. Avoiding hard decisions leaves no room for true Republican values – fiscal conservatism, limited government, personal liberty – to shine.