I’ve received a good bit of private feedback from readers about my column in the six months or so I’ve been doing it. Though I am not privy to any letters the newspaper receives on the subject, and suspect there are some from people who don’t like what I may say, what I have personally received has been overwhelmingly positive. A lot of it is from people who align with me politically and are happy to see their perspective being presented. If voting trends are any indication, that is anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of people in White County, which is a minority but still represents several thousand people. I have been surprised, though, at the number of positive comments I have received from self-professed conservatives who are disturbed at the direction the Republican Party has gone the past few years.
Recently, I have been corresponding with an old, dear friend of mine whom I respect very much and who takes exception to some of the things I have written. We are able to discuss these areas of disagreement without rancor or nastiness, with reasoned discourse. He frequently makes what I concede to be good points. He asked me a couple of questions recently that I thought deserved a response in this forum. I paraphrase:
“Why have you spent the last several columns denigrating the opinions of people who disagree with you? What do you hope to accomplish - do you really think you will change people’s minds by being so negative? Why don’t you say what you are for rather than running down what you are against?”
Like I said, I think these are very good, and very valid, questions. I generally try to earn the reputation of being fair, of trying to bring opposite sides together, and of basing my arguments on evidence instead of partisan rhetoric. It is a point of pride to me that in 10 years of teaching at TTU, and several thousand students, there have only been one or two who hinted in their evaluations they thought I was “too liberal,” whereas there have probably been over 100 comments in that time about how I try to present things fairly.
Let me briefly outline what being liberal means to me. It means I believe in the Constitution, and I believe in it as a living, growing document. I believe in union and in working to make that union “more perfect.” I believe in the vision laid out by Thomas Paine, of a government that equally protects individual freedom and the greater community good, with an equal seat at the table for everyone regardless of race, gender, religion, class, region, sexual orientation, or any other form of self-identification. I believe in a union that promotes the general welfare and provides for the common defense. That means no one gets left out, left behind, or suppressed. I believe in everyone pulling together instead of every man for himself.
I do not believe traditional conservatism is antithetical to that vision; I believe that the tension of left and right contributes to a system of checks and balances that ensures both individual liberty and common good are protected.
But I believe that, over the last 20 years and especially the last five, the Republican Party establishment and many of its voters have become something different. Note I said many, not all. But enough. What I see now is a disregard for democracy, morality, compassion, and decency. I see a cult built around a con artist who stokes the rage of people who are frightened, goading them to un-American actions. I cannot present that as “both sides are equal.” There is a time when you have to stand firm.
I may not win over people on the other side - but I might get through to some of the people in the middle, and that could make all the difference.
--Troy D. Smith, a White County native, is a novelist and a history professor at Tennessee Tech. His words do not necessarily represent TTU.