Hello, esteemed associates, it’s your American Government instructor here, Ben Alexander, with a few words of personal reflection about my job. I’m here to answer a question that nobody has asked me, just in case anybody thinks it should be answered.
Under normal circumstances, in the past, when I have met with one of my classes right after I had been to the ballot booth for an election, if a student asked me whom I voted for, I replied, “I don’t remember.” I have, in the past, taken great care to keep my own opinions out of my teaching, not giving students a clue to how I felt personally about anything. In fact, years and years ago, when I was brand new to the trade, I gave a summary in class of the basic positions of the Republican and Democratic parties, to which the student whose question i was answering said, “Thank you, and I think I just became a Republican.” I took that as a huge compliment because it told me that, even though I was (and still am) a Democrat, I had done a good job of talking fairly about both parties. And I am definitely comfortable talking about the two parties and the economic theories and policy preferences they represent, holding both up to critical scrutiny, without preaching the virtues of one and the vices of the other. I’ve done it many times, and I’m comfortable doing it.
But I need everybody to understand: I am not capable of pretending to be neutral about Donald Trump.
Now, I get the impression that most students at City Tech don’t like Trump either, and that some would even say I’m too nice about him at times. But I know there are some Trump supporters at City Tech, so there’s a fair probability that there are a handful in my current classes. I would guess that those students probably think I’m too “biased” on the subject, and that I should be “objective” instead.
With most other presidents and other office holders and candidates, I can do that. I’ve done it for years. But I cannot help regarding Trump as a special case. It isn’t just that, as a Democrat, I disagree with his policies. Rather, as a professional historian, it is my professional opinion (not to be confused with thinking I have the absolute truth) that Mr. Trump has an unprecedented lack of fitness for the position, respect for the country, respect for the office he is holding, knowledge of how things work, willingness to learn how things work, and basic character. And please be clear, I’m only saying this to explain my own behavior on the subject, not to ask anybody else to think differently.
Now, if you ask me if I have any great amount of respect for Hillary Clinton’s character, I’ll tell you honestly that no, I don’t. I’ve never liked either Hillary Clinton or her husband Bill all that much, and I think there is loads of self-servingness and arrogance in Clintonville. But I volunteered for her campaign this past fall, to a degree that I would not have bothered to do if her opponent had been Rubio or Kasich, because I saw great urgency in not having Trump for a president. (He won anyway, of course.)
Given that my professional opinion as a research and teaching scholar of the American experience is that Trump is in a class by himself of unfitness for the office and lack of even basic good intentions in his approach to the office, I would not feel comfortable with not letting students hear it. Moreover, given the way Trump distorts the truth and insults his critics left and right, I’m not even sure I’d know how to pretend to be neutral about the Trump presidency.
Does this mean I’ll have a tirade and humiliate a student in class if a student speaks up and disagrees with me, praising Donald Trump and agreeing with him that the press really is the enemy of the people? Absolutely not. Does this mean I’ll find some excuse to give a student a bad grade if I learn that a student is a Trump supporter? Absolutely not. Students should always feel free to speak up and disagree with me in class, and I will always make sure their views are respectfully listened to by everyone in the room, including me. I will never say anything more harsh than “Well, we see things very differently.” I won’t even try to change anybody’s mind. But again, if anyone wishes that I would be more subtle about the fact that I consider the Trump presidency to be a horrible catastrophe, I can only say that I wouldn’t know how. Therefore, for those who regard this as a character flaw on my part, I can only hope that I have other qualities that will make up for it, and make my class bearable to sit through for those who are pro-Trump.
Again, nobody has complained or questioned me (except one student who wrote the words “extremely politically biased” on an evaluation form a year ago), but I still wanted to say this, to answer what there have got to be one or two students in my current classes thinking.
And, Happy Presidents’ Day, whether you are happy about the current president or not.