By Dylan Klein
I recently graduated from the High School of American Studies at Lehman College, which happens to be one of the most consistent and aggressive liberal high schools in New York City; an encouraging fact for a budding Republican like myself. Not only is American Studies liberal, but the borough in which it is situated is one of the most liberal counties in the state, the Bronx. On top of that, New York is one of the most liberal states in America! When I first walked in through the doors at American Studies a little over four years ago, I was confident that the public school system would promote differences of opinion and political beliefs. Little did I know that there were many difficulties I would encounter as a Republican in such a liberal environment.
The student body is very politically aware at American Studies; a lot of conversation in and out of classrooms is related to current topics in American politics. When something came up that interested a majority of the students in class, a discussion would ensue. Unfortunately, my peers had the ugly habit of name-calling whenever Republicans were mentioned. When affirmative action came into the conversation, someone was bound to let a comment slip such as, “Republicans are so racist.” When gender issues were brought up, one would say, “Republicans are so sexist.” This habit of creating generalizations about Republicans was frustrating to deal with. I kept thinking to myself, “I’m not racist, I’m not sexist, how can you all make such a general statement about a group of people (Republicans) with such varying viewpoints?” I believe I am one of many Republicans who feel discouraged by the fact that many (not all!) Democrats perpetuate a stereotype of the white, money-grubbing, self-important, protestant-values-or-bust Republican. When I told my peers that not all Republicans are racist and sexist, I was able to make them cease their generalizations for the period, but the next time class convened, many of them were back to their old habits.
I am completely confident in saying that there were more Republicans than anybody would have guessed at American Studies, but they hid themselves due to the fear of what they would endure from opposing political views. Whenever controversial issues presented themselves in school, be it abortion or the Israel-Palestine dilemma, tensions between the two sides became heated rapidly. The argument then became the same as the arms race between the Soviets and the US; each side got louder and louder and whoever was able to be the loudest won. Due to the nature of American Studies and the Democrats’ 9-1 advantage, we always lost. Furthermore, those Republicans who just sat on the sidelines, looked at the battlefield and were convinced to remain mere observers. I believe that this is also apparent in our current national election. I would be shocked if there were not hundreds or maybe even thousands of people who are too afraid to admit that they support Donald Trump.
Perhaps the most aggravating experiences I had due to my political viewpoints were those with teachers. They would, albeit rarely, tie in the material they were teaching by discussing what was going on in American politics. They would go on to say such things as, “It is crazy to comprehend that anybody could think in such a way”, or, “Could any person in their right mind believe that?” They were referring to beliefs that were completely justifiable based on one’s own political views. This subtle assumption by teachers that we all think the same way or that there are some issues on which we should all agree frustrates me to no end.
After reading this, one may ask if I regret going to American Studies. Unequivocally, I say NO! I am now more capable of defending my beliefs in front of other people and more adept at helping them to see from my point of view. It has also strengthened my belief in the importance of being different when being different means being who you are.
I am now calling all people with even a semblance of political beliefs to do three things that will drastically improve the political environment in the United States. Avoid generalizations, as it is exceptionally difficult to make accurate judgments about large groups of people. Avoiding generalizations will allow us to see that a lot of the time, issues are not just Democrat vs Republican, but much more nuanced. Let us also foster appropriate discussions about all of the difficult issues we face in America. One of the beauties of living in this country is our ability to express how we feel. If we can have open and productive conversations amongst each other, there is a better chance that we can find new solutions and create real opportunities to work together. Lastly, let us stop refusing to work with one another just because we are members of opposing political parties. We have common beliefs, and much more can be achieved if we work together rather than if we butt heads at every turn.