Several conservative students expressed frustration with the fact that President Donald Trump has become emblematic of all conservatives, contributing to the false perception of conservatives. Preston Brailer, a conservative sophomore, remarked in an interview with me that, “At Thacher, having expressed our views as being different from the mainstream liberal opinion, people have assumed that we are supportive of Donald Trump. Being conservative doesn’t equate to being supportive of President Trump. In my opinion, he is not a qualified leader and his recent actions have been extremely divisive and to no good end. I think that it should be clear that just because someone is supportive of a cause or person, that does not mean that they support every view or action that that person, group, or cause has taken.”
Conservative sophomore George Lawrence also railed against the “black and white” nature of political identity at Thacher, stating, “What people don’t seem to understand is that conservatism isn’t just limited to one point of view. People need to understand that there’s a difference between social and economic views, and I think that people tend to limit conservatives to just views that are offensive to others.”
As justification for this gap between the common, public misconceptions of conservatives and the reality, Mr. Okpalugo cited several factors as the culprit for this rampant generalizing. Okpalugo echoed a common theme among student respondents, both conservative and liberal, suggesting that, “The problem with this generation, myself included, is that we have come of age in the Tea Party-‘birther’-obstructionist era,to the point where when we think about conservatives, we tend to become preoccupied with the fundamentalist elements of the Republican Party. , which are not necessarily an accurate representation of the conservative movement writ large. I think that, to some extent, conservative political discourse has been hijacked by more fringe aspects of the party, which unfortunately is the iteration of conservatism that my generation has come to know so well.”
Okpalugo’s comments are representative of a common thread among the thoughts of Thacher conservatives. By and large, most conservative students do not support President Trump. For the most part, close to every student that I spoke with suggested that they were dissatisfied with President Trump, calling him “dangerous”, “idiotic”, and much more. However, this raises the controversial question: Is there a place at Thacher for Trump supporters?
Perhaps the best response I received for this question came from Mr. Perry, who observed that, “Conservative students are looking for the freedom to try on their views. One student actually said to me, “I don’t know whether I’m conservative or not, but here are some things I’m thinking about.” Where’s that space?”
Despite the current state of affairs for conservatives at Thacher, there are a few glimmers of hope for the future of political discourse at Thacher. Along with a group of fellow conservative students, Thacher sophomore Preston Brailer has created a new club designed for conservative students. Along with faculty advisor Mr. Perry, Brailer hopes to foster an environment conducive to free and open political discussion, without fear of alienation or judgment. In Brailer’s own words, “we want to have an environment where people can talk and feel welcome, and not be shut down immediately by people who preach about how tolerant and accepting they are.”
This is not to say that there are not those with doubts about the Young Conservatives Club. One Thacher conservative, who elected to remain anonymous, said that, “I have been talked to about joining the Young Conservatives Club, but I am not personally involved with the club because I don’t think it would be wise to start such a club. With everything that’s happening in the current political climate, I think it would only further ostracize people, because it might be seen as an aggressive step. It’s not like they’re creating this club in opposition to a Young Liberals Club; this is coming out of nowhere.”
Regardless of the inevitable fate of the Young Conservatives Club, the Thacher School is currently entering a period of unpredictable, uncharted territory. With the advent of a new political era under President Trump, the behavior of Thacher students, faculty, and staff may serve as a microcosm on the growing divides within our nation. The struggle of the Thacher conservative is symbolic of a larger question: Will we be able to come together, tolerant of individuals of every political leaning, or will we allow ourselves to be driven apart, fragmented because of our differences, and by not searching for common ground?
Only we can answer this question.