Churchill Debate Exposes Peril of Political Discourse

Sam Taischoff ’22
Contributing Writer

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” A famous quote known by all who have had at least one class about the Civil War. This quote was a part of Abraham Lincoln’s address to the people of Illinois and to America in 1858, only three years before the start of one of the bloodiest conflicts ever fought on American soil. This period before the Civil War saw the United States at one of its most divided times ever, and now, 161 years later we are approaching the same level of polarization. Hate is exploding from both sides and families, friends, and neighbors are beginning to grow divided and are starting to hate each other simply because they are of differing political parties. Each side is being pushed further and further to their extremes of xenophobia, and open borders, corporatism, and socialism, far right, and far left. America is growing even further divided and if we, as the future of America, are not able to come together and have civilized discussions and debates, then we are doomed to repeat the past.

The most recent case of this political divide on this campus comes following what should have been a normal SGA meeting but became a tense environment. While I personally was not there, I have heard a variety of first-hand accounts from my sources from all parts of the political spectrum. From what I have heard and read, there were a group of students who wished to obtain approval for a club that was part of a larger organization that would study the history of Western Civilization and promote an understanding of it. The Churchill Institute, named after Sir Winston Churchill, was founded here at Trinity College in 2016 by a professor of Political Science and Philosophy Gregory Smith. The Churchill Club, which would be something new, is a place where students can gather to discuss Western philosophy and to learn more about it.

The controversy comes due to rumors spread that the institute has ties to white supremacist organizations. The rumor was started because the Churchill Institute’s mission talks a great deal about how Western Civilization is under attack, politically, militarily, and intellectually. These rumors are false and though the Institute promotes the study of Western civilization, it does not attack or oppress others like the KKK does. The institute has absolutely no ties to the KKK or any other white supremacist group. Nevertheless, the rumor had the power to shape the discussion of the club.

This SGA meeting had some of the most representation from the student body in history. Over eighty students showed up to interrogate the club leaders and to bully all who showed support for the club. The crowd of students was inconsiderate, rude, and overall not very civil. They would interrupt the club leader with questions that showcased their ignorance of the club. While the meeting itself was rather terrible, what happened in the days following it was even worse. Students somehow discovered its member list, the students then shared the list on Instagram and other forms of social media. I don’t believe it is ever okay to make someone feel alienated or hated simply because of their views or what club they’re in, and it is never okay to bully someone because they don’t agree with your views.

The worst part about this incident, was that it was not a one-time thing. There are many times when students feel afraid to speak their minds on this campus because they know that their thoughts are not those of the majority. There is a culture of fear and intimidation on college campuses that cause many people to become closeted and to hide their political views because they are worried about how they may be perceived by others.

The best way to fix this political climate here, and in the greater world, is to actively listen to each other and work towards common ground. There are many times when I am talking with my friends of varying political parties and, though we all disagree, we are able to find common ground together and move forward stronger. Therefore, I encourage all of you to sit down with someone who is on the opposite side of the political spectrum and to just talk with them. Don’t raise your voice, don’t insult them, don’t pretend like you know them, just listen and learn. By doing this we can begin to repair the political divide here on our campus and hopefully bring that bridged political divide into the world beyond.

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