When I read the first column in the new misCONceptions series, I was irked by it. This column’s authors surely knew they’d take a lot of heat for expressing their opinions and I admire that greatly. As much as one might disagree, they have every right to continue publishing their work in the Daily. In fact, they should continue because they’re right; Tufts students aren’t exposed to people with substantially different politics very often, and that ought to change. Studies have shown that not only are we rarely exposed to views we disagree with, but that liberals and conservatives literally do not speak the same language. We can articulate the same problems, yet describe them and their causes in dramatically different ways.
I do not critique this column as a partisan. Yes, I am a liberal, but my problem is not with the columnists’ politics. In their first column, the authors imply they believe that America is dying because of “moral degeneration, family breakdown and a loss of unity.” While I have no problem with their last point, I take issue with the first two. Language like this propagates the same tired narrative that LGBTQ+ people are backwards, indecent groomers. None of this is true. In fact, these columnists’ framing mirrors the exact words used to fire 91 so-called “moral weaklings” from the State Department in the 1950s because of their “peculiar mental twists,” or the rhetoric used in the 1980s to justify HIV/AIDS as divine retribution for homosexual immorality. The weight of such loaded language is not lost on me. When we resort to name calling and invoking words like these, we lose all sense of credibility. We cannot hope to change hearts and minds if we disrespect those with whom we disagree.
There are probably people at this school who, after reading that article, would demand for it to be taken down immediately. I am not that person. Even if I, or others, considered that article to be discriminatory or hateful, the Constitution, rather famously, has no exception for hate speech despite what many think (a misconception, if you will) and there would be no legal reason to deplatform this column nor to try to “cancel” its authors. Instead, these columnists ought to clarify their position to make sure everyone can understand what they believe in no uncertain terms. Isn’t that the point of the column anyway?
Readers today with a knowledge of how words like “moral degeneration” have been used historically would reasonably conclude that the authors’ intent was to signal queer people are the reason America is dying. Again, the authors can and should clarify. If they chose these words specifically, with a complete and total understanding of their historical significance, that would be an affront. I’m all for civil debate. I’d be happy to debate the merits of a wealth tax, the role of the police or the clean energy transition ’til the cows come home, but when the subject of the debate is not our opponents’ political beliefs but our opponents themselves, civility goes up in flames. It’s not a debate anymore, it’s a lecture — a scolding — at best.
And you know what, maybe I am biased. It’s a fair charge. But I don’t think gay and trans people like me, my friends and my classmates are the reasons for America’s social and political problems. To my knowledge, we didn’t cause rising rates of violent crime, or rampant wealth inequality or growing inflation. But hey, maybe I’m wrong.
So, to my friends on the other side of the aisle, I say this: You are quick to point out how liberals misconstrue your beliefs, but we are all guilty of this, not just liberals.
We’d all be better off with a healthy dose of respect. It’s the reason the “Golden Rule” is one of the first things you learn in school. I don’t agree with conservatives, but I respect them the same as I would anyone else. Can the same be said for those who deride others as “morally degenerate”? I think not.
We are right to decry a lack of unity in this country, but as we do so, let us be guided by history. If this is what principled, authentic conservatism looks like, it is nothing more than homophobia and transphobia in a suit and tie. It represents a pernicious kind of discrimination — one that presents itself as professional, palatable and acceptable to polite society — that is the most harmful. This insidious framing has become the poisoned well at the heart of America’s social maladies — the drip, drip, drip of misrepresentations of people different from us that erodes our trust in one another and creates an atmosphere where trans people are killed for the high crime of existing. Our words and our actions have power whether we realize it in the moment or not.
In the end, we’d all be wise to take to heart the eternal words of the Rev. Nathan D. Baxter, the former dean of the Washington National Cathedral, who urged us all that, “as we act, we not become the evil we deplore.”
Justin Hong is a junior studying American studies. Justin can be reached at [email protected].