Editorial: Vanity Fair and the Minority That Isn't
As an academic institution, UNC regularly finds itself alight with heated debates about faceless and amorphous topics like “morality” and “civility,” or “liberals” and “Republicans.” Days ago, however, Vanity Fair managed to spark a conversation which continues to ring louder and more personal than we are used to: in the wake of a short profile on the experiences of young conservative women at Carolina, the student body exploded into debate about both politics and civil discourse on our campus. Among the disparaging memes and vehement ridicule, campus conservatives primarily took issue with — as Tanner Henson implored in a letter to The Daily Tar Heel — the failure of liberals to “embody the tolerance they espouse” with regard to conservative opinions. What Henson and others fail to grasp, however, is that neither the First Amendment nor our societal expectations of common courtesy should ever mandate “tolerance” for dispositions which are morally bankrupt. At this arresting historical moment-in-time, when the political seems to fuse so much with the moral, it is the right of all people to be categorically intolerant toward “opinions” which devalue the humanity of marginalized individuals and groups — a class into which an increasing number of contemporary American conservative opinions fall.
Republican politics have, as of late, descended into a dangerous narrative of culture war against the “other” — which is to say the dark-skinned, or LGBTQ+, or immigrant, or poor, or survivors, or women — both within the nation and outside. President Trump’s labels of Puerto Ricans criticizing his administration as “ingrates,” but protesters flying the Nazi flag as “fine people” are opinions, yes. But if one’s opinions are tantamount to stripping minorities of their humanity and dignity, they should be condemned, not considered.
The breadth of this dehumanizing rhetoric extends to asylum seekers, and the policy it inspires has led to the dismantling of Title IX protections for survivors on college campuses. Republican officials’ attempts to define transgender individuals out of existence and reverse protections from hate crimes are not a matter of political leaning — they are attacks on the civil rights of Americans.
To offer active or passive support to these policies, and the politicians who espouse them, is to accept and promote the systematic dehumanization of other people. Whether one truly does not believe that black people should have equal rights under law, or simply accepts this idea as a way of making Republican policies “a consumable product” to Americans, is immaterial: when human rights are under attack, refusing to confront white supremacy in the White House is an act of white supremacy. The collateral damage of these words and actions is the well-being of millions of people.
In the American political arena, there are many basic rights which are accepted as necessary for a functioning democracy, such as freedom of speech and universal franchise. Another axiom so many conservatives take for granted, and yet fail to protect, is the assumption of humanity and human dignity for all people involved. It is therefore necessary and acceptable for those whose dignity is under attack — and their allies — to deem these opinions and the opinions of the people who refuse to rebuke them as unworthy of consideration. There can only be reasonable conversation if all operate within the same basic rules and bounds. Infringements on dignity are not debates within a civil medium, they are an attack on the medium itself.
Note here that there is a valid distinction between American conservative politics and outright racism, sexism, or homophobia — but recent social trajectories indicate this boundary is wearing thin. Belief in small government is not inherently white supremacist, for one. But those who continue to toe the line of a party and a president basing policy on the idea that some people are less deserving of human rights do not merit our tolerance. This is because these ideas are not political opinions, but assaults against the rights of certain people to exist. The pervasiveness of these ideas in our political arena is toxic to the tolerance and diversity which conservative comments appear to hold so highly. It is preferable, for people and for democracy, to live in a society where this speech is categorically rejected as nonsensical than to live in one where unconditional freedom is the dominant social rule.
Near the end of the Vanity Fair profile, one of the interviewees expresses concern about older conservatives’ attitudes surrounding sexual violence against women, wondering aloud, “Where is the line we can all agree that someone should not cross?” For survivors, and women, and people of color, and immigrants, and LGBTQ+ individuals, and everyone on our campus and in our country, there is a simple answer: the line is the basic humanity that must be extended to us all because of our intrinsic worth as humans. Your right to an opinion is less important than the right of others to exist within the bounds of human dignity. If the former begins to erode the latter, the people are well advised to refuse it.