Today, the day of the presidential election, we recognize that most voters’ minds are made up, absentee ballots have been cast and ideological trenches dug. People know that Republican nominee Donald Trump has been accused of nearly a dozen sexual assaults, denies climate change and has made comments that are racist, xenophobic, sexist and Islamophobic.
In spite of his remarks, Americans will vote for him, and the Trumpism that has dominated this election will most likely continue into the future. His ideology and rhetoric continue to overshadow the establishment wing of the Republican Party and its ideology.
It is in the hands of young conservatives, including those at Georgetown, to recognize how we can prevent such a divisive and polarizing election from occurring again. Regardless of whom voters choose today, this election has demonstrated a necessity for conservatism to be reclaimed from the bigotry of Trumpism. In addressing the future of conservatism, a certain obligation falls into the laps of young conservatives to confront the “alt-right” ideology of Milo Yiannopoulos and Tomi Lahren, which rejects establishment conservatism and perpetuates bigotry.
At Georgetown, young conservatives in groups such as the Georgetown University College Republicans and the recently formed Georgetown Review publication can play a role in challenging the dangerous bigotry and rhetoric of Trumpism. This could help them take control of a political ideology that has played such a massive role in the history of this country. Young, college-educated Republicans — like those here at Georgetown — should be the ones to take on this challenge as they have the capability, education and opportunity to be the moderate future of their party.
Throughout this election cycle, Trump’s ideology has taken a firm grip on the Republican Party. Although many describe Trumpism as shirking conservative ideals, the nominee has become the standard bearer of the Republican Party as a result of his popular support.
Much of the party’s leadership, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, endorse Trump. Even in light of these endorsements, several other Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) have also refused to endorse Trump.
Beyond the leaders of the Republican Party base, many Republican voters have articulated a desire to see Trump as the face of the party. According to a Bloomberg poll from Oct. 17, weeks after the release of tapes in which Trump insinuated he committed sexual assault, 51 percent of Republicans believe Trump best represents what the party stands for, compared to 33 percent supporting Ryan. If such support lasts past the election, then any reclamation of conservatism will have to overcome the proposed ideals of Trump and followers.
If the GOP becomes the party of Trumpism in the long term, Republicans will largely be forfeiting conservative values. Respect for the individual is the core of conservatism, yet Trump belittles and targets racial, gender and national groups, antithetical to the core message of conservatism.
His version of small government is freedom only for his supporters, protectionist government intervention on their behalf and a systematic dismantling of freedoms for everyone else. Therefore, leaders who already denounce Trump need young Republicans to denounce Trumpism in order to give their colleagues an incentive to drop the movement in the long term.
To understand how young conservatives should go about denouncing Trumpism, it is essential to understand the root causes of the divisiveness in this election. The political rhetoric in 2016 has focused less on policy and more on slander, lies and bigotry. Endless discussions of emails, leaked video tapes, racist endorsements and scandals have inundated the media’s coverage of this election, and have undermined voters’ hopes of hearing substantive policy proposals from both Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
In an election plagued by lies, racism, bigotry and polarization, Georgetown students hold a role in bringing our nation back under one flag. Both sides of the political spectrum need to re-engage in new ways to find middle ground, particularly taking into account the shifts brought about by the move to a digital age. We have already written about how students can benefit from being exposed to groups with opposing viewpoints. Intentionally seeking out unbiased news and information can offer new perspectives on common issues such as climate change, veterans’ affairs, health care costs, student debt and foreign interventions.
As Georgetown students, our opportunities for political discourse are not limited to viral content or articles we share on social media. Various student- and university-run events bring in speakers and host debates where nuanced analysis of particular issues from people on both sides of the aisle occurs. The Institute of Politics and Public Service has played such a role, bringing in speakers across partisan lines through its fellowship program.
Other groups, such as the College Republicans and College Democrats, have also chosen to participate in a debate that exposes students to specific perspectives and nuanced issues that arise when constructive debate is initiated. These opportunities exist. It is up to students to take advantage of them.
Attending these events gives students the opportunity to actively discuss a host of wide-ranging political concerns, identify common causes and create collaborative solutions. On this campus, we can foster the type of productive dialogue and rhetoric that was sorely missing from the national debate stage.
These new perspectives should allow students to understand the beliefs of the other side of the aisle in a more meaningful way. This could prevent students from defaulting to ad hominem attacks or insults like those favored by Trump and instead engage in respectful, constructive dialogue.
If young students — conservative and liberal alike — treat each other with respect in light of differences of opinion rather than as misguided opponents to be defeated, they avoid two major pitfalls. First, they can overcome an inability to compromise that sows seeds of disillusionment with traditional means of political cooperation and problem-solving. Second, they limit the ability of extremist figures like Trump to take advantage of pre-existing anxieties and frustrations of people who have lost faith in the current systems.
Following the end of this election, this country will need to find ways to ensure constructive political discourse that upholds the importance of policies and issues without devolving into a contest to garner the most attention through clickbait slurs. University students have a vital role to play in such conversations. As those inheriting America, we need to ensure the vibrancy and success of our democracy, and this begins with an encouragement of constructive political discourse.
Therefore, each member of our community must make a commitment to learning about the nuance of policies and listening to the voices of opposition. If we can accept these commitments, then we will be one step closer to a future that can move away from the debilitating negativity and polarization of this election.