Steinman ’19: To Brown Republicans: too little, too late

Staff Columnist
Thursday, October 20, 2016

I read yesterday’s op-ed (“Rose ’19, Tarke ’18: Brown Republicans do not endorse Donald Trump,” Oct. 19) with high hopes. The fact that the campus group, which dates back to 1888, had issued no statement prior to this week had been concerning me ever since the Harvard Republican Club released its widely shared condemnation of the Republican presidential nominee. That article, published Aug. 5, was a sweeping and inspiring takedown of Trump on moral grounds, criticizing him for his utter disregard, if not contempt, for common standards of decency.

It is important to remember that, in this election, Aug. 5 was a veritable lifetime ago. This was before Trump’s 1995 tax returns were leaked, showing that he could have avoided paying all federal income taxes for almost two decades. It was before he attacked former Miss Universe Alicia Machado on Fox News 20 years after his fat-shaming drove her to eating disorders and emotional trauma. It was before he threatened to jail his political opponent should he win the election, a move that would be condemned by any American politician should it occur anywhere in the world except, apparently, on a stage in St. Louis, Missouri. And it was before a video was leaked of him gleefully, between giggles, describing sexually assaulting women using language that still makes me sick to my stomach. Each headline of this election has given me more reason to wonder if America will ever recover from the toxic fumes of the Trump campaign. Through it all, my classmates at Brown Republicans had stayed silent.

Yesterday, in the 11th hour, they spoke out against him. I wanted to applaud their moral courage for finally and forcefully putting to rest an issue left unresolved for far too long. I wanted to feel the almost patriotic sense of pride that I felt when I first read the Harvard Republican Club statement, which elicited a sense that bipartisanship is perhaps not dead and that there are lines that are still drawn, transgressions that are still unforgiven. I wish that the Brown Republicans’ statement yesterday had accomplished all this, but I was disappointed.

After an opening paragraph centered on a gratuitous jab at Clinton, the piece notes that 36 percent of the club’s members plan to vote for Trump, and another 17 percent remain undecided. The vast majority of the piece provides examples of times Trump was out of step with conservative principles, listing gun control and free trade as examples. Their biggest problems with the border wall are that it is an “inefficient allocation of resources” and that the executive action involved “requires interpreting the Patriot Act in ways that would make President Barack Obama blush.” In actuality, it makes Obama do a lot more than blush. The Brown Republicans’ halfhearted, needlessly partisan argument looks only to the dollar signs on a Congressional budget, not to the unquantifiable human suffering Trump’s proposal is sure to inflict. Similarly, while they critique Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, they resort to practical reasoning to augment the moral argument, when in reality the betrayal of basic humanity is so egregious that it eclipses any practical implications.

When they eventually get around to criticizing Trump’s character, a small paragraph that takes up less than 10 percent of the argument by word count, they take a stronger stance. But they denounce nothing that even Trump’s running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence hasn’t also denounced. Coming weeks (or, in the case of the Mexican federal judge, months) after the events in question, these rebukes strike a tone of inconvenience rather than outrage. They treat Trump like a normal candidate who says things he shouldn’t, not as someone who poses a genuine threat to American democracy, Latinx people, Muslims, African Americans, women, LGBTQ people, Democrats and yes, Republicans. By then praising Trump’s conservative credentials on the right to choose and gun control immediately after, they throw away any opportunity they might have had to condemn Trump in absolute terms.

I consider myself a believer in the possibility of bipartisanship rather than a cynic. I have written about the election as an opinion columnist twice in the past, and both times I have expressed sadness about the state of bipartisanship in the country and a hope that our democracy can be made better through deeper conversation and involvement. I am happy to engage in conversations about conservative policy, even when I am likely to disagree. But when it comes to Trump, the conversation cannot be about policy. If you see the difference between Trump and Clinton or Obama as a difference in policy, you are absolving Trump of his racism, his sexism, his xenophobia and his disregard for the truth and the Constitution. If you see the difference between Trump and yourself as a difference in policy, you are aligning yourself with the same. The 36 percent of Brown Republicans members who are Trump supporters and the 17 percent who are undecided may choose to ignore this. The Brown Republicans may wish that Trump were someone else, and that he would show reason and grace in the weeks leading up to the election, which might explain their prolonged delay in making any sort of statement. But in waiting this long, and in treating Trump like a candidate who doesn’t share their conservative policy views, the Brown Republicans have missed their chance to claim moral superiority.

Clare Steinman ’19 can be reached at

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One Comment

  1. TheRationale says:

    Endorsing a politician. Getting to claim moral superiority. Pick one.

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