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As a graduate of its Class of 1996, I call upon the University of Maine to rescind its hosting and support of the College Republicans. While the group may once have stood for legitimate conservative values within a liberal college campus, its more recent actions have demonstrated its descent into ethno-nationalism, cynically abusing the university’s “marketplace of ideas” to advance a regressive, destructive agenda. A progressively minded American university — and my own alma mater — has no business providing it a platform.
Maine has joined other cities and regions around the country in officially renaming the mid-October federal holiday from “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day”. UMaine’s College Republicans (UMCR) responded with an absurd post to its Facebook page, condemning pre-Columbian civilizations as “brutal societies” and suggesting that the existence of human-sacrifice rituals in ancient Mesoamerica validated the subsequent subjugation and near-eradication of Native American cultures by European colonists.
The university’s president and its dean of students responded swiftly through a campus-wide mailing list, stating that this hateful message did not reflect the university’s values. UMCR immediately followed up with another Facebook post describing how this rather lukewarm email “horrified” them, making them afraid for the safety of its membership, and threatening to “hold [the dean] personally responsible” if any of them were “attacked, bullied or intimated[sic]”. It concluded with an exhortation to call the president’s office directly and complain.
All this, of course, lies perfectly in keeping with the behavior of the national Republican party under Donald Trump. I imagine that UMCR sees their activity as “counterpunching”, as Trump’s allies tend to describe his entirely reactive political style. But those who live outside Trump’s personality cult call it nihilism, sowing chaos and discord for its own sake. And when aimed at fearing and hating immigrants or Americans of color, it reflects the very worst of the contemporary Republican agenda: nihilism in the service of white nationalism.
UMCR’s has dedicated its online presence to the grievance-based politics that defines Trumpism. Its homepage mentions no policy or goals, except for a “fight” against “socialism”. Aside from the Columbus Day content, its Facebook page features the expected wall of memes, alternating between heroic portraits of Trump and unflattering photos of Hillary Clinton — the party’s own Emmanuel Goldstein — all adorned with extremely suspect quotes. It fills its equally active Twitter and Instagram timelines with conspiracy theories and mockery aimed at Trump’s enemies, mixed in with micro-screeds against immigrants, the free press, transgender people, and every other recipient of its leader’s ire.
I attended UMaine during the ascendency of Newt Gingrich’s Republican party, a quarter century ago. Its “Contract with America” at least had the pretense of offering a forward-looking political agenda. Some of us may have disagreed with the direction of that agenda, but we had little reason to question the basic legitimacy of the Republicans as participants in American democracy. We also recognized that UMCR had as much right to presence on-campus as any other significant political group.
That vision of UMCR drowned in the same tide of white-nationalist rage that swept away the rest of the pre-2008 Republican party. Today’s UMCR has made abundantly clear that it has adopted the new party line eagerly. The organization I remember as a grudgingly accepted conservative bastion in a granola-hippie college campus has transformed into another factory of right-wing hate, burning white racial animosity as its fuel and expelling choking clouds of informational poison. As with the national party, it possesses no apparent goals other than societal wreckage in the service of Donald Trump and his angry base.
Here, meanwhile, is the first two paragraphs of UMaine’s mission statement, with emphasis added by me:
The University of Maine advances learning and discovery through excellence and innovation in undergraduate and graduate academic programs while addressing the complex challenges and opportunities of the 21st century through research-based knowledge.
Opportunity for all members of the University of Maine community is a cornerstone of our mission. The university welcomes students, research partners and collaborators into an atmosphere that honors the heritage and diversity of our state and nation.
With this mission in mind, I urge the University of Maine to give the College Republicans a fresh look — one based on its activity since the start of the Trump era, and continuing through its present statements implying support for indigenous genocide. I would hope for it to conclude that UMCR, through its willful and fear-driven misinformation, works only to confuse and corrupt the values of knowledge and diversity that UMaine makes its mission to instill in its students and promote in its wider community.
In their email, the president and dean extolled the virtues of countering speech with more speech. This view, certainly correct in the general case, does not preclude one from declining to actively offer resources to those speaking disagreeably — let alone harmfully. UMaine has no obligation to give an organization like UMCR a platform, not when it uses it to work directly and flagrantly against the university’s own goals and ideals.
I invite the individual members of UMaine’s College Republicans to re-examine their own choices, to look around at the broad, multi-hued, and many-voiced American society that has given them the freedoms and fortunes they enjoy, and question the wisdom of polluting it with regressive ideas. But until they do, I hope that that UMaine itself will invite that group to pursue those ideas elsewhere.
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