The day I removed J.D. Vance from my English composition syllabus tore me up. Since 2016, his memoir, “Hillbilly Elegy,” had an honored place in my classes.
Through his experiences with poverty and military service, Vance had arrived at a principled perspective. He condemned the nation’s abandonment of the rust belt. He emphasized personal responsibility and patriotic duty. And as his platform as a conservative grew, he warned that Trump, whom he then regarded as the antithesis of conservative values, would lead us “to a dark place.”
I did not agree with everything Vance said, but his work sparked powerful class discussions around liberal and conservative viewpoints. As a former Republican, I related to many of his arguments. Mind you, I was no RINO. As a young man, I marched on Washington waving Pro-Life posters and voted straight red tickets. While I no longer feel loyalty to any political party, as a reader, I felt connected to J.D. Vance.
Then, in summer 2021, he announced his candidacy in the GOP primary for the US Senate. Facing abysmal poll numbers, he scrubbed his social media pages, argued the 2020 election had been fraudulently stolen from Trump, and earned the golden endorsement.
He won the nomination, but sacrificed his integrity.
Since then, I have been searching for other conservative voices still embraced by the right that express coherent arguments without devolving into belligerent snark.
Educators like me face relentless criticism that our reading choices indoctrinate students with a leftist ideology. We have been called groomers and pedophiles for merely affirming the diversity of our student body.
Meanwhile, we have been blamed for methodically silencing conservative viewpoints in academia. But this narrative is suspect given the ongoing ideological purge happening on the right.
Thinkers who uplift conservative principles but happen to criticize Trump or disagree with the current GOP framework are branded RINOs, cuckservatives, and traitors. Liz Cheney is the latest example, a Republican with a lockstep conservative voting record who lost her seat in Congress because she condemns Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021.
If only she had kept quiet, Ben Shapiro recently noted, she could have won.
The list of names exiled by this purge is long. David Frum, Paul Ryan, John Kasich, Amanda Carpenter, Charlie Dent, Adam Kinzinger, John Bolton, Joe Scarborough, Bill Barr. Even Chris Wallace had to flee Fox News when his colleagues began to “question the truth.” These thinkers have been replaced with pundits and podcasters dishing out conspiracy theories to hungry viewers. And while some moderates have survived these radicalized forces (mostly by pretending they don’t exist), eventually the growing elephant in the room will trample them, too.
Granted, the left has its fair share of pundits spinning alternate realities. Bill Palmer, Keith Olbermann, and The Young Turks to name a few. The left is often too quick to yell racism and sexism. But in surveying the landscape, I don’t see a groundswell to punish critics of Biden.
Perhaps one reason many conservatives feel the GOP has abandoned them is because allegiance to a leader, especially a deeply flawed one, isn’t conservativism; it’s something quite different.
As a teacher, I gather diverse perspectives for my students to explore, dissect and challenge, because the health of our democratic republic requires that we listen, understand and compromise.
My classroom door will always remain open to different ways of thinking. There is only one filter I use when bringing perspectives into this sacred space, and it has nothing to do with partisanship, religion, race, or gender.
The voices that shape our discourse—whether in class, on the television, or on the ballot—must have integrity. Or as Chris Wallace puts it, they must respect the truth. I hope all my students carry forward this expectation.
Sometimes I worry that our nation has become so cynical it has lost sight of our common ground, the principles of democracy. But I still have hope.
A friend—a moderate conservative—just sent me a list of names that I am eager to check out. And S.E. Cupp will be speaking at Germanna this week. I’ll tune in, pencil in hand, ready to learn.
Cory MacLauchlin is an assistant professor of English at Germanna Community College.
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