This article is the second of a two-part series formulating an intersectional feminist portrayal and response to the Dartmouth College Republicans’ host panel on October 24th, 2021. In our first article, “The Future the Right Wants,” we describe what happened before and during the event with a corresponding analysis. In this article, we craft a reaction that displays the merits of protesting and critiques Dartmouth’s complacency.
Maanasi Shyno ’23, Ana Noriega Olazábal ’24, Sophie Williams ’23
The events of last Sunday made clear that Dartmouth will bend to bigotry in the name of “free speech” despite the harm caused to its students. The following are our main reactions to the panel: an analysis of the speakers’ facism, expression of support for student resistance, and commentary on free speech.
1. Fascism Galore
The speakers raised points relating to economic anxieties: the increasing power of corporations, the high price of life-saving medication, and the opioid epidemic in the upper-valley and beyond. Their arguments indicated that they were, at least ostensibly, aware of the issues of economic inequality and exploitation.
Following this, however, they brought up the supposed destruction of “America as we know it”: the “culture war” raging in classrooms and twitter over Critical Race Theory, the “flooding” of the US with immigrants, and the “new genders” — linking the material woes felt by a majority of Americans with the presence of immigrants and trans people.
This is what fascists fundamentally do: appeal to popular anxieties and point towards scapegoats, often the most marginalized people in society. If allowed to fester, this rhetoric offers a perverse justification for real harm to be committed against these groups of people — anyone outside of the supposedly “traditional” white America as described by the likes of Samuel Huntington.
It is necessary to clearly understand why this is being done across the political arena. There is a clear attempt to distract and push people — most often working class people — to anger and violence towards those who they consider as other. Reactionaries do this in order to continue enacting the will of the wealthy elite class they both serve and are. While politicians like Cawthorn may say they stand in opposition to said elites, we must remain critical. For example, it is well known that Trump, as a billionaire, popularized the “swamp” buzzword that all three Republicans used at some point throughout the panel, in between Bruesewitz self-identifying as a “Donald Trump fanboy” and panelists complaining about schools “showing porn to young kids.” (We at Spare Rib genuinely have little idea what this refers to, but assume it’s another attempt to make trans rights and genuine sex education sound scary.)
More importantly, though, is when politicians dedicate their platforms and lives to grifting for the Koch Brothers, industry tycoons, and heads of oil companies. These actions exacerbate material insecurity and wealth inequality.
Criticisms levelled against the right-wing as a whole were met with deflections like “Democrats also mingle with and obey the wealthy elites!” This is an empty platitude that is not only fallacious, but falls flat. While right-wingers today use increasingly fascist rhetoric, the traditional old-guard Republicans and wealthy Democrats that they position themselves in opposition to are two sides of the same coin. We make no pretense of supporting either camp. Our allegiance is with the workers and all oppressed peoples of the world, not any political party.
If there’s anything to take away from all this, it is that conservatives are the masters of theatre. They’re funny, they’re charming, and they work to look collected and rational. They make jokes in the face of horror, stir up misguided fury and fear, and constantly reassure their base while mocking their opponents. We don’t have the capital or resources to match them.
To be an effective opposition, we must learn to counter them on a stage in which they are the status quo — or we need to meet them on a different stage altogether. These are the tasks that we, as leftists and as feminists, have to take up.
2. Protest Was Necessary
So what does a different stage look like? As outlined in our first article, the most visible responses to the panel were brief heckling, attempts to ask questions, and protest.
The Dartmouth Democrats and other students attempted to repel conservative narratives by coming prepared with keen questions. Considering that the panel only answered three questions, all of which simply allowed speakers to reiterate their rhetoric, this approach had minimal impact. These intentions to “out-logic” the speakers primarily filled seats for a harmful event. The Democrats were told to come to the event to listen and engage civilly in the name of free speech, and, with pointed questions and defiant mask-wearing, that’s exactly what they did. From Leavitt’s comments in an article written by The Dartmouth, this was also exactly what conservatives wanted: a platform to spout their bigoted views that was not only approved by the College, but attended to by liberals.
Protest, by both individuals and members of the Dartmouth United Against Hate Coalition, was also unable to fully derail the event nor intimidate the College Republicans or speakers. But protest was vital because it went beyond disapproval and expressed outright renunciation. By rejecting the event, protestors highlighted a very real problem: that the College allowed this event to occur in the first place, despite its obvious campaign of racism, nativism, homophobia, and imperialism.
As a student remarked upon leaving the Moore building, “If the College is going to promote that we’re diverse, we’re not our history, we’re better now... I don’t think that is very evident with this kind of person being invited to campus.” Despite what the College Republicans may claim, the College opposing the panel would not have silenced the Republican viewpoint. It would simply allow the College to do the bare minimum — uphold their supposed commitment to inclusion and anti-racism by requiring the Republicans to find speakers who fit these guidelines. (If speakers like that are hard to find, the hosts should work harder or look elsewhere.)
Yet Dartmouth did not uphold its professed values at all. Instead the College signalled that it not only sees racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and so on as opinions, but as “opinions” that have a valuable place on this campus. The bigotry and hatred displayed by the panelists are not political beliefs to make room for, they are simply discrimination.
College students and their organizations are commonly disparaged for challenging the so-called controversial speakers that come to campuses. This opposition grows, not out of willful ignorance, but by actively learning about a speaker’s work, history, writing, or role and forming an opinion on it. A perceived intolerance for free speech, freedom of expression, or diversity of opinion is pasted onto oppositional college students. Claims are made that we should relish the opportunity to challenge opinions we disagree with because only by engaging with them can we learn about and potentially change them.
Reactionaries attempt to twist the political responses of the left to fit narratives of intolerance, but the fact of the matter is we are intolerant — of prejudice and of our own discrimination. And why shouldn’t we be? Conservatives do not deride themselves for speaking in their own interests.
Dartmouth has a responsibility not to embolden oppressive hatred, but the fact that Dartmouth failed to do so is unsurprising; it is one of many failures of this contradictory institution to prioritize students over wealth and optics.
3. The True Value of Free Speech
This far-right side often speaks of facts and logic and “hurt feelings.” However, it seems like they were afraid of getting their feelings hurt too badly, resorting to cheap shots at people’s gender presentation instead of engaging in a real conversation. By now, it should be obvious that Cawthorn, Leavitt, Brusewitz, the College Republicans, and their supporters never meant to promote dialogue. Their goals were two: to propagandize their agenda, and to provoke students so as to include them in “owning the SJW libs” YouTube compilations.
Opposition is not about being uncomfortable with acknowledging that these ideas are in the world. While it may seem only like a good opportunity for the scattering of students from “liberal” cities to hear these conservative views in person, in real time for the first time, there are real consequences to enabling this rally. It enables people whose beliefs and goals are antithetical to other people’s existence to feel safe, heard, and in good company. It makes room for harm financially, physically, and emotionally in ways that are simply not necessary. Dartmouth College was perfectly happy to sanction what was, essentially, a trolling campaign event (that is all too serious). The truest opposition is all too aware of these ideas already.
The value of free speech is only so great as the diversity of ideas it brings. If what it brings are ideas that are bigoted, then it is not truly serving this campus — and should be resisted. And, not to hammer a dead nail home, but protests will always fall under free speech too.