Sunday, May 31

Aaron Julian: Conservative campus groups should start constructive dialogue

President Donald Trump’s election caused deep political rifts across the country, and UCLA was no exception. However, these partisan divides on campus need to be addressed, and tapping into the campus’ conservative intellectuals is one way to do that. (Hannah Ye/Daily Bruin senior staff)

It seems that after all the noise of the presidential election, we have forgotten about the most important characteristic of political and intellectual environments: balance.

It goes without saying that UCLA is an overtly left-leaning school – Bruins donate to mostly Democratic candidates, and faculty members were willing enough to do things like reschedule exams after the election of President Donald Trump. There’s a severe imbalance in viewpoints on controversial issues that are necessary in the academic development of students.

That bleeds over into the political arena. Every controversial issue, such as health care or taxes, either sparks adamant support or total rejection based on moral absolutism. For liberal-leaning people, every move by conservative lawmakers is met with cries of injustice and accusations of heartlessness, and conservatives decry communism and the rise of “moochers” at each turn.

The fact of the matter is that in many cases both sides are correct – from their own perspective, anyway. Each side has plenty of data and personal stories to back themselves up.

This incongruity meets its most polarizing catalyst at UCLA and other campuses. Examples include UC Berkeley’s vitriolic reaction to the invitations of Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos, and similarly, though tamer, UCLA’s protests to Yiannopoulos.

But for all of the controversy that swirled about Yiannopoulos’ visits to UC campuses, it shows a severe misunderstanding between conservatives and liberals at UCLA. Bruin Republicans and conservative students don’t hold all of Yiannopoulos’ beliefs, and surely he wasn’t invited to bring about productive dialogue.

What we need now on campus is a conservative voice to educate, and not inflame as Yiannopoulos, Coulter and Ben Shapiro have done. As a community, we learn nothing – besides the bounds of our tolerance for speech – from these “alt-right” leaders.

Conservative groups on campus need to call on local conservative intellectuals to enhance the dialogue from their end of the spectrum. A true academic conservative perspective can only serve to widen the conversation with greater details and facts from their research and experience. These facts could change the way we think, and it could spark a healthy debate where we may change our previous thoughts.

Contrary to popular caricatures, there are brilliant conservatives. We just need them invited to campus for a real dialogue on issues such as health care, taxation and social security. Politicians and pundits use masterfully engineered sound bites and smooth wordplay to avoid hard questions from the media, but that does nothing to widen understanding on something as complex as health care reform. However, a conservative intellectual can get into the nuts and bolts and enable a discussion about policy that goes beyond superficial ideology.

The change needs to happen from within Bruin Republicans and all other Republican student groups at UCLA and beyond – it is time for the intellectuals and experts to replace the purposefully explosive and hard-line rhetoric of seemingly popular speakers. While Coulter and Shapiro take on extreme stances and publicly condemn all who disagree – picking up a hefty paycheck or book deal in the process – a member from the Federalist Society, a columnist from The Wall Street Journal or even legislators like Sen. Marco Rubio would not be so crude.

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh has had his work on the Second Amendment cited by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and is deeply involved in First Amendment law. Another clear example is Keith Fink, lecturer in the UCLA communication studies department, and an outspoken conservative who has taught many lectures regarding campus First Amendment issues.

Of course, some believe there’s no real benefit to hearing these conservative intellectuals because many of their ideals may not be accurate, or even legitimate. But one look at the violence at Berkeley makes it evident that suppression only causes tensions to boil over.

Not only that, intellectuals usually don’t stoop to the name-calling and public humiliation tactics used by jokers such as Yiannopoulos. They can delve deeper into the complexities and history of the topics at hand and enrich the debate as a whole.

There’s a widening gap of understanding between liberals and conservatives under the erratic Trump administration, which has led to extremism. As a registered Democrat myself, this proposed cooperation is not only important for the sake of academic pursuit, but also for slowing the radicalization of political beliefs that characterizes Trump’s agenda.

The best way for liberals to resist Trump is to learn and open a dialogue between the two partisan poles. And the only way for conservatives, Bruin Republicans included, to not be lumped in with the obscene rhetoric of their most extreme poles found in the “alt-right” is for them to reject those speakers and embrace their deep bullpen of educators and intellectuals.

Famed editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver wrote that, “The signal is the truth. The noise is what distracts us from the truth.” We must stop feeding, and buying into, the shock and awe that serves as the bread and butter of radical partisans.


Julian was an Opinion columnist.

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