A Teacher Against Trump

I started teaching English in public schools in January of 1975. 41 years ago.

In that long time, I have made a sincere effort not to shape my students’ political or religious beliefs. I have tried to deepen their analytical skills, their attention to detail in reading, their aesthetic sensibilities, their appreciation of art, and their love of and respect for language. But I have never wanted their thinking to blindly reflect my own opinions about the direction the community or nation should take, or the cultural trends deserving our support.

It seemed simple after all: the public school teacher, paid by public funds, must not insist, nor even imply, that their own political views should determine those of their students.

I admit that I have sometimes, though largely by accident, betrayed that trust. I have known, and sometimes acknowledged, that my students have discerned my political positions. But I have also, and explicitly, let my students know that sharing my political or cultural views is neither a way to guarantee nor preclude their success in my course. I have even suggested that students, in planning their essays, should avoid glibly taking a position they think I support – whether political or literary – for I will inevitably be hard on those who fail to make a strong case for our supposedly shared position. I do not want, I assure them, weak allies. And so I have, for four decades, made a sincere if sometimes faulty effort to free my teaching of political and ideological advocacy.

This year, I’m abandoning that position. This year I am openly contemptuous of Donald Trump.

This may not surprise my friends, nor even the few regular readers of this little blog, who know that I have never been shy about my opinions. But trust me when I tell you that, with my students, I have never before been so openly contemptuous of a presidential candidate. Especially not one who has garnered the nomination of one of the two major political parties of my lifetime. But I cannot, and will not, speak of Trump with any pretension of respect.

I would have been equally disparaging of George Wallace if he had earned a place on a national ticket. I would have dismissed David Duke and tossed aside Louis Farrakhan. I could not, however, throughout my politically involved youth, have imagined a bigoted, self-serving jackass like Donald Trump ascending to real political power. Now that he has, I must, as a dedicated teacher, take a stand against his odious bid for power.

What does an American teacher stand for if not for the essential values that have shaped out nation’s growth and standing in the world? What if not the Enlightenment principles that informed the founding fathers?

  • All of us are created equal.
  • All are entitled to certain rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  • All must therefore be judged as individuals, based upon their actions and behavior.
  • No religious test may apply to full citizenship and the granting of those rights.
  • All are equal before the law.
  • All have a right to be left alone, so long as their actions threaten no others.
  • All have the power of reason—as Enlightenment figures such as Locke declared and American revolutionaries celebrated—so that all should have a voice in the governing of our republic.

These are among our fundamental principles. These are among the truths we have, ever since Jefferson’s declaration was approved, taken to be self evident. These are the ideals that may not determine economic policy, foreign policy, tax reforms, or entitlement programs – even while informing debates on those and other subjects – but they remain ideals we ought to share and strive to realize.

And Donald Trump ignores them, denies them, abuses them. He is the enemy of what our nation stands for.

How?

By announcing that all desperate Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists, and thus denying that all are created equal and all are equally deserving of individual standing before the law.

By insisting that all Muslims must be banned from entry to the United States because some Muslims are terrorists.

By treating women as less than equal because they should be judged, as his statements and gestures have long made clear, by the structure of their cheekbones, the length of their legs, the cut of their calves, and especially the size and perkiness of their breasts.

By insisting that those who have garnered great wealth, including himself, are worthy of respect for no reason besides that accumulated wealth – no matter how many investors they have left broken in their path, no matter how many unions they have busted while seizing the laborers’ wealth, no matter how many times they have come out on top even while failing to offer a successful product.

By denying one of the Enlightenment’s primary values – a respect for science — and its virtually unanimous support for ecological concern and adamant insistence regarding human contributions to global warming.

By ignoring the Enlightenment’s core beliefs – that reason, logic, argument, and consistency should be the wellsprings of whatever guides us and our decisions – because he is a shape-shifter who plays with the media, his own personae, and virtually every position he has taken over the last several decades, always without offering reasons or arguments to explain whatever fleeting stand he is taking at any given moment.

And finally, by being the most obviously self-serving, narcissistic, inconsistent, bull-shitting and media-manipulating figure we have seen in the last several decades of American politics. (But I admit this repeats my previous point.)

However many times you think Hillary Clinton has changed her mind, if you follow the trajectory of those changes you will at least find the reasons she has offered for her shifting opinions. You may find the shifts convenient, and you may have no trust in her sincerity, but her points are not ridiculously unfounded. You cannot say the same for Trump’s bizarrely unexplained shifts. He is the ultimate chameleon, the man of no lasting substance, no set of principles.

But comparing Donald to Hillary is not at all my point. I am not a strong Clinton supporter. I am not now writing to support her run for the presidency, and I easily keep mum when my students speak well or ill of her candidacy. I cannot, in good conscience, do the same for those who embrace Trump’s rise in the polls. She’s one more politician. For better or worse, she’s following an established and reasonably acceptable path, no matter how much you may detest her positions.

Trump is in another category altogether. He is the anti-American. He is the yahoo who brings racism, homophobia, misogyny, and an avid contempt for thought and reason and history and scientific truth to his campaign and his platform. He is the enemy of my people and of my profession. He stands for all that an American educator must oppose.

This is an historical moments in which each citizen must take a stand, even if it means casting off propriety and custom. To pretend that Trump’s campaign is legitimate is to deny all that I know of our history and of our long-standing commitment to essential principles. To support Trump, even tacitly, is to pretend that I do not care about our heritage, our purpose, and what we have long claimed is our mission in the world. I will not be silent in the face of his affront. Not in this blog. And not in my classroom.

 

8 thoughts on “A Teacher Against Trump

  1. I agree and applaud you. I would be interested in hearing your take on how it is that such a vast number of Americans support him–so many that he was able to rise to this position as the GOP’s official candidate. It seems no one saw this coming. Political analysts, pundits, and lay observers of all stripes were snickering at his candidacy and writing him off long ago, myself included.

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    1. Hi Del,
      I’m so glad I found your blog. What a perfect way to keep in touch with former students and colleagues. And I’m also happy to know that a gadfly such as yourself has managed to fly under the radar all these years. Bravo! To be sure, retirement and occasional subbing will provide new freedoms and opportunities to provoke and inspire with impunity!

      I have a question for you regarding “A Teacher Against Trump.” What would you do if you had to teach in a district where the community supported Trump? There are a few suburbs north of Detroit where the Trump signs have sprouted along with the crabgrass on summer lawns. I can’t imagine teaching English or history in any of those places. They’d burn me at the stake!

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  2. I could not agree more and I’m so happy to hear that you are challenging your students that may think this way. I’m even more happy to hear that you are still teaching and spreading your amazing influence. You will forever go down as my favorite teachers from BBHS. Your kindness, wisdom and humor impacted me deeply and I still carry your lessons with me. I can only hope that your current students will do the same. Thank you for everything you have done and simply for being you.

    With love and kind regards,

    Sarah Woodhouse

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    1. Thanks so much, Sarah. Going through some old papers, I recently came upon a letter I wrote your father and his very kind, supportive reply. I loved working with you then and love hearing from you now.

      I actually retired last June, after teaching half time in Westport, Connecticut for four years. I’ve been back in that high school for five weeks now and will finish out the school year, filling in for a colleague on maternity leave. I don’t actually get on a soap box to share my politics with students, but I don’t pretend to objectivity when Trump’s name comes up. I just cannot be part of the “normalizing” of his campaign.

      I hope you’re doing very well.

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      1. Really? That’s so amazing that you still have that. It was truly an honor to have you as a teacher multiple times in my high school career. I always felt like having you as a teacher, was the closest thing i would get to having my own father as a teacher because you were so similar to him in many ways. You helped to form so much of how I view and react to the world and always gave me such kind words and encouragement during those difficult years. I had recently tried to Facebook request you under my married name Diaz, I would love to stay in touch. I’m doing well and still writing, hoping one day to publish books for children and young teens as well as poetry that relate mainly to bullying. As it is something that is very dear to my heart after dealing with it for many years. I’m so happy I found this blog and can now access your recent poems. I hope that we can continue to keep in touch either on here or Facebook.

        Thank you so much,

        Sarah

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      2. Please try to friend me again on Facebook. Maybe I failed to respond to “Sarah Diaz” and my new attempt to find you under that name hasn’t paid off. Of course I would be happy to count you among my FB friends.

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  3. Sadly, history may be repeating itself. Jimmy Carter presided over 4 years of peace. Not a single shot was fired against an adversary during the entire time he was in office. He stood for human rights, ecology and world peace. He was the only president to ever broker a treaty for peace involving Israel. A “B” grade movie actor who knew how to manipulate the media blew him out of the water in a landslide election. A large swath of the American public still believes that actor was our greatest president.

    Consider the national event that is the Superbowl. Would a chess or tennis match be able to sell $3 million a minute ads? I’m afraid we need to brace ourselves for a Trump presidency. This is America. By world standards, still an immature adolescent boy out for some fun on a Friday night. This time around, it may be a landslide election again.

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    1. You make me even sadder and more anxious than I’ve been feeling — but only because what you say is true. I have tremendous respect for Jimmy Carter. I pine for the kindness and peace of his administration. I’m still not able, however, to brace myself for a Trump presidency. I’m keeping some hope alive.

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