From: Patricia E. Behre, Associate Professor of History
One of the simplest ways of describing a university is one that I have always found the most inspiring:
“A community of scholars and friends.”
All summer, as this long and troubling election season began to unfold, I struggled over whether or not I should discuss politics with my students this year or as in years past, do so only elliptically and very generally, as we study European and American history of the seemingly distant past. I sought advice from friends and family. Most said don’t. Don’t bring it up. Not your place. Too intrusive. It will make students uncomfortable. Or at most, teach the roots of American citizenship and they will understand how high the stakes are in this year’s presidential election.
Then I reflected on my understanding of universities and of the special place they have in our culture — the community of scholars and friends. Am I really being my students’ friend if I say nothing? Were professors in German universities in 1928, who went on with their lessons in linguistics, philosophy or history, right to say nothing as an authoritarian rose to power? Were they right to “tut-tut” and carry on blandly as their society was corrupted from within? Did I want to be that person who saw grave danger, but said nothing because it was not polite or would be awkward or would call too much attention to myself?
I knew I did not want the students currently in my classes to feel pressured to agree with me politically while we are involved in an enterprise that involves me grading their work. However, to leave them hanging, thinking this election is like others, to not point out to them the monumental danger of Donald Trump — would that be kind? Would that be caring? Would that be responsible? Professors are not parents. It is not our job to care for you in that way. Still, it is a special charge we have to tell you as best we can what we have learned of the world, to study history with you in my case, to prepare you to make your own decisions based on knowledge and to take that knowledge into the world and make it better.
So here it goes. I am officially sticking my neck out and I’m doing it here so that my current students will not have to discuss it with me or feel put on the spot. Also, so that the community will not assume I am apathetic if I do not discuss this outright in the classroom. I offer the following advice so that you will know my best assessment of the situation. Then you can, and should, make your own decision.
Do not vote for Trump. The list of his vulgarities is long and deep, but they all stem from the same profound problem; he yearns for an authoritarian state with him as the messianic leader. This is dangerous.
This is why he stokes fear, first and foremost. Fearful people are easier to bend to one’s will. His tirades are against anyone who even questions him, much less those who democratically criticize his views. Muslim parents of a hero soldier son. A Latina beauty pageant winner. A disabled reporter who asked a question he didn’t like. His opponent when she threw his own words and actions back at him. Republicans who don’t sign on to his cult of personality. All are rejected, vilified and denounced with equal vitriol. All are “losers,” enemies worth “counterpunching” in the most demeaning terms. He appears to see women as less than fully human.
The joy he derives from abusing anyone who does not worship at the foot of Trump, shows us who he is and why he is dangerous. The cavalier way that he advocates changing laws or ignoring them to marginalize anyone that he dislikes is unsupportable in a democracy. These are the attitudes of an authoritarian and they are not consistent with the American Constitution. Advocating torture violates international law. His statements and attitudes are not just flaws or representative of a grandiose and attention-grabbing way of speaking. They are the proclivities of a demagogue: only I can fix it. Do as I say. If you question this, I will crush you.
As a historian and because I have been charged with caring for you — because I do care for you — I feel compelled to point out these realities. Some day you may have children and when they ask you how you voted in 2016, you will want to be proud of your answer. Voting for Trump will not make you proud, regardless of the outcome.
Vote for Hillary Clinton. Like it or not, she is the only thing standing between us and Trump. If she does not win, he will. Her flaws are the flaws of a lifetime political figure. However, someone committed to trying imperfectly, to make our country better, safer, kinder and more caring. I am an enthusiastic supporter and come by my office if you want and I will tell you why. Bring your lunch. For now, though, just hear this in the spirit in which it is meant — as your professor, as your friend.
So that’s it. Reject Trump. Vote for Hillary. If you need to skip class to get to your polling place on Nov. 8, do it. You have my permission.