As Scranton alumni, we are grateful to The University for many things. But perhaps the greatest gift of our Jesuit education was that it taught us how to think. The free exchange of ideas and the ability to deconstruct an issue from all sides, then put it back together again, are what set a Jesuit education apart. Or at least that is what we believed. The letter to the editor by Professors Karpiak and Mulhall that appeared in last week’s issue has deeply troubled us. The professors’ attack on the democratic, Constitutional and free thinking choices of the American voter is the antithesis of the great academic traditions that make us proud to be Scranton alumni. This letter is not a defense of Donald Trump. Nor is it a defense of Hillary Clinton. This is not a defense of any candidate or agenda. Rather, this is a defense of the American Constitution and the ability of every American to vote as they so choose. In short, this is a defense of free thinking.
For the professors to expect some form of apology from those Americans who voted for, in the professors’ view, the wrong candidate is distinctly undemocratic. It is narrow-mindedness masquerading as academic intellectualism. Americans who voted for Donald Trump do not need a “patronizing excuse” from the professors’ “liberal friends.” We direct the professors’ attention, and that of their friends, to the U.S. Constitution and the four voting Amendments, none of which require a voter to apologize or explain him or herself to professors (or anyone else). See U.S. Const., Amends. 15, 19, 24, 26.
Americans do not owe anyone an explanation for the way they choose to vote. The ability to vote is at the core of our democracy. As a result, any action that infringes on that right is rightly viewed as suspect and potentially unconstitutional. But while this nation outlawed such things as poll taxes and literacy tests years ago, these professors seem to be in favor of an “explanation test” in order to weed out anyone voting for reasons the professors deem improper. If that is the case, we have some proposed language for them: “In 250 words or less, please state the reasons you are voting for this candidate. Failure to satisfactorily and properly explain yourself will result in your ballot being discarded.”
The professors deploy an impressive skirmish line of horribles in their letter: racism, sexism, xenophobia, religious discrimination, misogyny, harming the poor and harming the environment. Throwing labels is a wonderfully easy tactic. Labels stick, but are often only backed up by repetition. They become “true” simply because someone said it. We doubt the professors have access to data that demonstrates that every sexist, racist bigot in the country voted for Donald Trump and that not a single one voted for Hillary Clinton. Further, there is data that some Americans voted for Hillary Clinton simply because she was the first woman candidate from one of the two major political parties. The professors do not bother to condemn, or even address, this “sexist” voting decision because it does not fit their narrative. We decline to address it for a different reason: voting considerations are a personal matter that each voter is entitled to decide individually.
The professors’ attack on single-issue voters is particularly disturbing. A single issue voter may have a great many “issues” with a candidate’s other positions. Demeaning an individual’s choice to prioritize the issues that are important to her or him and then vote accordingly manifests a stunning elitism. Do the professors believe that everyone who voted for Hillary Clinton was so “comfortable” with her stance on the issue of abortion as “to go ahead and vote for it?” Is anyone who voted for Hillary Clinton incapable of being a good Catholic? Of course not. We would not be so bold as to assign such motives to our fellow Americans, regardless of our individual stances on the underlying issue. However, the professors have assigned motive and, based on that assignation, summarily tried and convicted these Americans of voting for the “wrong” candidate. We are very uncomfortable with such proceedings.
A secretive, insurgent minority did not elect Donald Trump; 60 million Americans did. He won the election through the same process that has produced every American president. He is no longer the Republican nominee. He is the president-elect of the United States. To be sure, we ourselves have many disagreements and differences in opinion with Donald Trump’s policies. But it is the contest of ideas that should form the basis of our democracy, not elitist demands for explanations and apologies from voters with whom you disagree. American democracy is a binary system. A choice must be made. But that choice is an individual one. No one needs to engage in calculus, physics or psychology in order to justify their choices to the satisfaction of Professors Mulhall and Karpiak.
Alumni of the Class of 2014
Christian R. Burne
Daniel P. Gleason
Daniel J. Pati