This column is respectfully addressed to friends, colleagues and students who support ““ or mostly support “” the words and policies of President Donald Trump.
You are undoubtedly aware that, from immigrants and religious minorities to journalists and the transgender community, many people feel threatened by the words and actions of our new president. According to the American Psychological Association, 57 percent of Americans view the political situation as a “significant source of stress.”
As a liberal-leaning college professor, it’s important for me to acknowledge that the past few months haven’t necessarily been a cakewalk for you. These are challenging times for those in the Trinity community who quietly support President Trump.
Like most college campuses, Trinity leans left. Disagreeing with peers and co-workers is awkward. It’s even more difficult when you genuinely like the people around you. Sometimes, it may feel easier to just stay quiet.
But, look. This is important. We need to talk. We are allowed to disagree. You are not my enemy. Nor am I yours.
We know we are capable of doing great things when we talk and listen to each other.
Day in and day out, we work and learn shoulder-to-shoulder at one of the finest universities in the country. Trinity has earned this reputation because of the work that we have done together.
We need to keep talking. Especially on a college campus, we need to discuss political and cultural questions that have no easy solution. If we cannot leverage our mutual respect and shared love of Trinity as the basis for larger conversations about the future, America’s future is bleak.
There is just one other thing we need to do. We need to start sipping from the same wells. You drink a bit from my well, and I will drink a bit from yours. Only a few sips. I promise.
Currently, we are drinking from entirely different sources. Between Facebook and cable news channels, many of us are trapped inside customized information cocoons that function as largely different realities. These cocoons threaten the very fabric of democracy because they undermine the basis for common understanding.
I didn’t consciously try to shut you out. I don’t think you tried to shut me out either. Because of trends in media and politics, it kind of happened without anyone paying much attention. But, now we’re all in trouble.
Some people celebrate cocoons. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) encouraged citizens to stop watching news coverage altogether, saying it is “better to get your news directly from the President” because “it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” Regardless of who occupies the Oval Office, Smith’s recommendation is not the American way. In a democracy, citizens should have access to a wide range of information sources from many and varied perspectives.
Throughout the most tumultuous moments of the 20th century, our information landscape was dominated by a handful of trusted newspapers and television news anchors. These journalists painted a shared picture of reality that provided the basis for conversation and action. Americans didn’t always agree on policies and candidates, but there was rough consensus about the facts.
The rise of alternative media has delivered a breadth of information and opinion (a good thing), but we have lost a common referent point. We can’t even agree on what happened, so forget about agreeing on the why. Since there are no outlets which serve as a daily source of news for both liberals and conservatives, we must stitch something together ourselves.
As San Antonio’s “Dare to Listen” campaign reminds us, “To listen is risky. To not listen is riskier.” Thus, I encourage everyone in the Trinity community to consciously incorporate some news from “the other side” as part of their daily information diet.
For liberal opponents of President Trump, this might mean daily visits to the front page of the Fox News or Wall Street Journal site “” reading news stories above the fold and also reading some of the hard news stories in the “Politics,” “Nation” and “World” sections. For conservative supporters of President Trump, this might mean seeking out national and global news updates on New York Times, Washington Post or CNN.
Whether one leans left or right, reading the headlines is not enough. We also need to read the stories themselves.
This won’t magically eliminate our disagreements. We are living through some of the most tumultuous times in living memory. However, modifying our information diet “” and talking to each other about what we’re reading “” can help us rediscover a shared social world.
How will history remember us? Some predict that “Red and Blue” will become the new “Blue and Gray.” I certainly hope not.
I would rather remember this as a time when conservatives and liberals said to one another, “The press is not the enemy, and neither are you.”