Michael J. Hout, 22, is a junior majoring in history, English and political science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. During the 2016 presidential campaign he participated in many Democratic activities as a leader in the College Democrats. But he recently quit the party. Here he explains his thinking.
By Michael J. Hout
It’s generally accepted that many college campuses are bastions of liberal ideology. There’s a common perception – perhaps even a correct one — that this leads to a certain degree of indoctrination into the world of left-leaning politics. But my experience has been just the opposite.
As someone who has spent his life moving between Massachusetts and Georgia, I’ve had exposure to Republican and Democratic politics in two states that could hardly be further apart in this regard. Coming to college in Massachusetts after being engaged in Georgia Democratic politics, I expected to be well within my comfort zone in and out of the classroom. That was not to be the case.
The more I studied and partook in various political efforts, the more conservative I felt compared to my classmates. The cold shoulder that I experienced from many progressive contemporaries, due to my more moderate leanings, fueled in me a desire to explore more conservative thought.
I came to the realization that between my own long-held convictions, already reasonably conservative, and the disturbing trends I was noticing among my peers and in the party at large – namely their dramatic lurch to the left, and the increasing focus on identity politics over substance — that I was not fighting for a party that welcomed my beliefs in its increasingly shrinking tent.
When I arrived at the decision to leave the Democratic Party, however, I was no longer on the “correct” side of campus culture. I went from being a high-ranking College Democrat to someone who must obviously be racist and misogynist and bigoted. For what other reason could I possibly have to entertain conservatism?
This decision – perhaps the most difficult of my life to this early point – was made over the course of a year or more of introspection, combing through perspectives of all sides in American political discourse. It was only as the sun set on the Obama presidency that I made the announcement I never anticipated – that I would be leaving the Democratic Party to become an independent, and later, perhaps even a Republican. To some this may seem opportunistic, but I did not take this decision lightly.
My feeling of isolation originated not with the discovery of my conservative sympathies, but rather with my inherent, moderate ones. It was not enough to lead Democratic organizations, to sit on the National Council of the College Democrats of America, to help found new chapters at Amherst College – and the entire state of New Hampshire, for that matter — as the national chartering director of that organization.
No, what mattered was not loyalty to party, I found. What mattered was absolute devotion to the religion of dogmatic leftism. Many moderate Democrats just as easily could have been moderate Republicans. But these Democrats were rarely given the same opportunities or chances to succeed as their peers who were further to the left — democratic socialists or social justice warriors. Now many of those same moderates are expressing to me a desire to leave the party as well.
Here’s what I tell them: First, the Democratic Party needs moderates, so if you can stomach it, stick with the party and fight to move the conversation away from extremism and towards the center. America needs two sane options, so long as we’re in a two-party republic, with neither drifting so far away from the center that no compromise may ever be brokered.
Second, putting it plainly, you do not want to be a conservative on today’s college campus. You will likely be ostracized to some extent, assuming your institution of higher learning is the norm. You will almost certainly lose friends, face bullying and need to develop thick skin. I’ve experienced this, and I only came out as an Independent. Others I’ve spoken to have horror stories worse than mine, attacked by fellow students, treated poorly by professors and administrators, accused publicly of racism, misogyny or “unintelligence.” And we have all received threats at one point or another. All things considered, perhaps I had it pretty good as a moderate Democrat. But my personal convictions prevented me from continuing to reside in the party that it has become, let alone the one that is to come.
This of course is a great irony. The so-called party of inclusivity, that values tolerance above all else, is extremely intolerant and wildly exclusive to ways of thinking that violate its delicate myopia. I contend that diversity of opinion – both within and without parties – is healthy and integral to our system. We must not only accept it, but demand it. Thus, we must be more accepting of conservative students, and the debate that they allow us to have, just as we must accept liberal students for the same reason. No one side should be able monopolize culture and community the way the left has been able to do on campuses. I ask my more progressive counterparts to be more accepting of students to their right, who likely have very legitimate reasons for feeling the way they do. Win with ideas, not intimidation. Be open to debate, and drop the baseless insults intended to stifle it.
At the end of the day, it was my view that not only was I more conservative than liberal in a contemporary sense (although I do identify as a classical liberal), but that I could do far more good towards repairing the Democratic Party from the outside than I could from within. Perhaps that will come in the form of aiding Republican campaigns. Perhaps that will come in the form of continuing to call out abuses in the Democratic Party and its affiliates through the media. I am not sure what the future has in store for me, but I know as long as my concern for this nation and those vying to run it persists, I will continue to speak out.
I will continue these discussions on a bipartisan blog I co-founded, with friends from a variety of backgrounds, called The American Moderate, as well as through a network of affiliated, bipartisan campus organizations we will be launching. Here, you will find a staunch commitment to free speech, diversity of opinion and a rational approach to politics and discourse. If you would like to join us, I encourage you to reach out. There is much work to do to begin to make our campuses more inclusive for all, conservatives included.