MAX SIWIK ’18
Last week first-year Omari Garrett appeared on the Tucker Carlson show on Fox News. Omari was there to discuss his article written in The Denisonian in which he argued that white nationalism is passively enabled when students play devil’s advocate. Tucker invited him on the show to challenge him on his view. In the interview, Omari claimed that there are many white supremacist students at Denison and that many students are living under the stress of them.
The day after the interview I received a lot of texts and emails asking for my reaction. Truthfully, I was not sure what to make of the interview. My first instinct was to commend Omari. Going on Fox News and debating Tucker Carlson as a first-year is equatable to me trying to play LeBron James one-on-one. Tucker is an intelligent guy and has been arguing on television for close to 20 years. The interview also reminded me of why I do not watch news on the television anymore. Most news on the television is no longer objective. Fox, MSNBC, CNN, you name it, have literally taken the opinion section and thrown it on the front page.
Some on the left have confused or misidentified conservatism with the alt-right movement that is attempting to hijack it. Members of the Denison College Republicans have received death threats and have been unfairly called white supremacists by other students. I wrote a piece in The Denisonian last year stressing that my view of conservatism is not the same as President Trump’s, or the alt-right’s, view of conservatism. As President of the Denison College Republicans, I sent an email to our members letting them know that those harboring beliefs that are aligned with Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists are not welcome in our organization.
It’s clear to me that Omari and I have opposing views on the First Amendment and free speech. While I agree with him that hate speech is wrong and dangerous, I disagree that playing devil’s advocate is just a cover for white nationalism and should be policed. Attempting to censor speech is dangerous. It’s easy to first censor speech that is truly white nationalist in nature. However, you must view this in terms of the long run. Where does it stop? Will Christians be censored next because of their pro-life views? If the left continues to believe they hold the moral high ground, it is not unreasonable to assume that they will try to limit conservative ideas and speech.
What’s the solution? It is my personal belief that students should have no fear in expressing their thoughts and ideas. Students should not be playing devil’s advocate because they fear expressing their personal views. Ideas, thoughts, and speech should be listened to and confronted so that the good ones will be accepted by society and the bad ones will be thrown away. When you attempt to censor speech, you do not get rid of the ideas, you simply drive them underground.
In the email, I urged our members to continue to speak their minds. The Denison mission statement is for us to become autonomous thinkers, discerning moral agents and active citizens of a democratic society. How do you accomplish that? By having your views, thoughts, and ideas challenged in the classroom. Every single day I have my views challenged and I absolutely love it. It helps me reconsider different issues and topics and either changes or strengthens my views. Tucker and Omari’s debate is not a model of what these discussions should look like. Tucker interrupted Omari multiple times and even insulted him, saying he can’t create an original thought. Students must be active listeners in order to see the rationale behind an idea. And they must also exert respect. I will never criticize someone for arriving at a different conclusion from me if I think he or she has done so by rational means and good intent.
The issue I see at Denison is not enough of us are willing to get out of our comfort zones. On both sides, I see students unwilling to participate in civil discussions. Jack Kemp said, “The purpose of politics is not to defeat your opponent as much as it is to provide superior leadership and better ideas than the opposition.” I urge students to discuss with an open mind, for a failure to do so not only stunts your growth as a student, but as a member of society.