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Silencing Trump is not the best way to combat intolerance.

The best way to combat Trump’s campaign of fear is not through anger and dismissal, but rather through debate and patient civil engagement that highlight the benefits, as opposed to the supposed deterrents, of multiculturalism.

Article published by on 03/13/2016

By Brian T. Murphy; Photo: Associated Press.

Donald Trump is a cesspool of hateful and incoherent ideas. However, on Friday during protests inside the Pavilion at the University of Illinois Chicago, members of the UIC community amplified those ideas in the worst way possible – by denying them the right to be spoken aloud.

To be clear, I empathized with those standing inside the Pavilion in solidarity with student activists who shouted “Bernie.” My best estimate is that Donald Trump’s stream of consciousness-style rants are the amalgamation of severe insecurity with decades of suppressed anger toward women and minority communities. I suspect that he has tapped into a population of white upper- and middle-class citizens who feel their privilege waning in a country that is becoming evermore diverse. When I hear degrading ideas like building walls, deporting families, and using women’s own bodies to shame them, I want to castrate the transmission of these poisons. But as certain as I am that I maintain a monopoly on those obvious truths, the part of me that wants to silence these ideas is wrong.


Donald Trump’s statements are hateful and counter-intuitive toward civil discourse, but there are a growing number of his supporters who feel disenfranchised from a political system and have embraced fear over love. However, it is critical that bad ideas are defeated with good ideas, not with denying the right of one’s opponent to speak. Denying the right of ideas to be heard, no matter how offensive those ideas are, is reserved for authoritarians – much like Donald Trump.


At UIC we specialize in education. There are far more effective ways to educate the public and combat hatred than to simply shout louder than those who disagree with you, and deny adversaries the right to a platform. Those who oppose Trump maintain an arsenal of fact and hold all the necessary weapons to combat his hateful ideology through education. However, on Friday that arsenal was left at home and with the best of intentions a strategy was embraced that served only to invigorate those who already agree with the concepts of plurality and diversity.  


I argue that not a single person who supports Donald Trump’s campaign of misogyny, xenophobia, and fear, had their opinion swayed. Rather, actions of protestors inside the Pavilion likely further justified the irrational fears of Trump supporters who often claim their voices are being silenced at the hands of political correctness. Sadly, this may not be far from the truth.  

I commend protesters outside the Pavilion, and am proud of my city because so many students turned to the streets rather than to social media in the fight against intolerance. But as I have written prior, it is imperative that we protect the right of those who disagree with us to voice their opinions:


Co-existing with ignorant and often offensive ideas is the very challenge that results from living in a society that broadly protects speech. To most, preventing a student from telling an ethnically insensitive joke feels right, just as defending the right of neo-Nazis to demonstrate feels perverse. Being consistent about free speech will take its supporters to very dark corners of the mind that are often contrary to the beliefs it nurtures. But that is the point. Laws that protect everyone’s right to express their beliefs inherently are not supposed to make everyone happy. With an incredibly wide spectrum of conflicting opinions in a country that is home to vast white privilege and systemic racial oppression, to competing religious beliefs, and to a devastating gap between rich and poor, that safe dialectical utopia rarely exists. It can not exist.


The function of academia is not to protect people from offensive ideas, rather it the opposite. To bring together a collection of people who think differently, and afford young, developing adults the space to discuss, disagree, and be offended. 

I suggest that the best way to combat Trump’s campaign of fear is not through anger and dismissal; time and again he has prevailed in that arena. Let us square off with his supporters through debate and patient civil engagement that highlight the benefits, as opposed to the supposed deterrents, of multiculturalism.

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