Finding Truth in Convoluted Times
The Capitol riot on January 6 left many of us contemplating the state of our country.
The Capitol riot on January 6 left many of us contemplating the state of our country. The riot urged us to rethink the role of the presidency, the importance of honoring our democratic process, and the grave consequences of spreading misinformation. In such a moment of national reckoning, we naturally try to find answers that elucidate how such violence developed. However, we must be cautious of where we place blame and whom we hold responsible. In light of recent events, particularly last week’s editorial, we have noticed that the rhetoric blurring the lines across conservatism, Trumpism, and white nationalism—three distinct ideas—has become increasingly prevalent at Lawrenceville. Our ultimate duty as Lawrentians is to always seek objective truth, meaning we must challenge ready-made assumptions and avoid generalizations.
On a national scale, we must note how the Capitol rioters were deceived in their efforts to “stop the steal,” as misinformation fueled a wrong view of electoral fraud. For example, supporters who cite the conspiracy of 5,000 dead people voting in Georgia, a pivotal swing state, were quick to accept Trump’s false assertions, often appealing to his authority rather than objectively evaluating the basis of his claim. Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, refuted Trump’s claims by explaining that, after three separate ballot counts, most alleged “dead” ballots came from voters with similar names to deceased citizens and only two such ballots were illegally cast in this manner. The rioters chose to pursue a falsity above the truth, justifying the riot at the Capitol with baseless claims and wishful thinking.
Last week’s editorial claimed that Trumpism is a “modern mixture of populism and white supremacy;” however, such an assertion implies that all Americans who voted for Trump embrace white supremacy. Conflating Trumpism with white supremacy implies that voting for him and being Jewish, Latinx, or Black, are mutually exclusive, which is evidently not the case given that people from these groups did support him. Nevertheless, we must also recognize that the definition of the word white supremacy has long been a topic of debate. But regardless of Trump’s personal views on white nationalism, we cannot assume that his voters share his values so we cannot label Trumpism as an ideology rooted in white supremacy. If we only look at complex topics without acknowledging their inherent complexity, we not only fail to pursue the whole truth of the forces behind the riots but also present a skewed view of how they connect to the rest of the nation as a whole.
Secondly, by making claims that exclusively suggest Republican over-policing of Black neighborhoods, last week’s editorial presents a narrow perspective on policing and criminal justice history. The editorial mentions that “dog-whistle politics of cleaning up neighborhoods, being tough on crime, waging a war on drugs (by attacking drug users), and making America great again overtook the nation,” but crucial details regarding the largely bipartisan support of these policies were omitted. For example, Joe Biden and congressional Democrats actually largely contributed to the 1994 federal crime bill that accelerated mass incarceration and battered communities of color. Biden’s involvement does not make him unsympathetic to the needs of these communities—he clearly is not—yet many could and did accuse him of being just that because of his position on this issue. Thus, a double standard should not apply to Republicans because doing so uses hindsight to diminish a complex policy debate into obvious rights and wrongs. Contrary to popular belief, the bill was also not an appeal to fearful white voters because it received the support from more than two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), as well as other black leaders at Capitol Hill, so labelling it as one fails to acknowledge the nuances of a highly contentious topic.
Moreover, the editorial’s assertion that conservative ideas challenging policies like affirmative action reject “Dr. King’s Dream” is a mischaracterization of King’s values. King stood for equality before the law for all Americans. Policies like affirmative action only served as a means to achieve this goal—they were never absolute. The editorial portrays King’s legacy as one that only favors present-day leftism and condemns conservatism. While many support affirmative action because they believe it brings equity to individuals of color, many also do not. For example, conservative economist Thomas Sowell opposes affirmative action because he believes the policy mismatches students of color with colleges where they typically have lower chances of success. Both liberals and conservatives alike can uphold King’s principles, but some just approach social justice through different ways. Generalizing differences in civil rights policies only perpetuates a narrow point of view of King’s vision.
We cannot distill important topics and conversations, especially ones that concern our democracy, to perspectives only within our echo chambers. Seeking truth means to grapple with nuances, especially with regard to our word choice. At Lawrenceville, we often throw around words like “white supremacy” and “conservatism”, lumping many associated with the right into one pile without carefully parsing out the distinctions between these phrases. There are undoubtedly radicals like the Capitol rioters who do represent the first label, but these words cannot and should not be applied universally. Doing so will only skew our pursuit of truth and cloud our understanding of our democratic and political systems.