In these pleasant suburban surroundings we are forced to keep ourselves busy just like the Swarthmore commuters, filling every moment with distractions or tedium or predetermined socializing or total spontaneous and meaningless chatter with a stranger. The commuters take the train to Philadelphia while we get to sleep in and sit all day amidst our books, dreaming about the world we construct with our preferred abstractions, be they mathematical or sociological. Perhaps Swarthmore has lost its old bohemian character, but it remains monastic. We work hard and quietly and alone.
While we work, the world burns— or rather, it is simply getting hotter. What makes our most grave problems so difficult is that they are seemingly not very grave. It is scary how un-frightening they are. The universalization of the knowledge of our society’s worst injustices and outrages means that any impending problem, no matter how significant, does not strike us as anything new. The spread of recreational drugs, junk food, exercise equipment, and the advent of the smartphone have vastly increased the degree to which the average person can satiate themselves and tranquilize any anxiety or pain. This has occurred simultaneously with a vast increase in the anxiety and pain people experience as society decays.
At Swarthmore we have the apotheosis of this societal phenomenon. The world requires us to work intensely, so we do and are forced to avail ourselves of the various stimulants and depressants our society gives to the emotionally troubled, a category that is being expanded all the time to include larger and larger swathes of the population. We sit in our comfortable libraries and walk around our verdant campus, occasionally dining in the picturesque town that shares our college’s name, and we despair that the world is falling apart.
While I know that many people here are truly driven by a deep devotion to justice arising from a miraculous inner-well of compassion (I truly believe this and say it unironically), I do sometimes detect, at least within myself, a certain histrionic character to the rantings and ravings against the injustices of the world we are all prone to, which sabotages the honest efforts I and others do make to improve our world. I find within myself, and I see in others, a tendency to give up our commitment to changing the world as soon as we have to get up from our proverbial armchair. Once I see my pursuit of justice taking me down paths which will force me to abandon my dearest comforts and pleasures, I suddenly become paralyzed with indecision, hopelessly struggling against the ambiguity of the world. I then begin to read the news, and am outraged by the latest injustice, perpetuated by the selfish and complacent elite who run the world, horrified that they could be so complacent when confronted with grave moral problems.
The challenging thing about the times we live in is the extent to which we all have to be willing to make personal sacrifices in order to improve our society and the world. This requires a degree of moral integrity and endurance, which many inspiring people at Swarthmore and around the world have, but which I know I lack. I suspect that some of my peers do as well. We compose and enact the society we are so hasty to critique; in fact, we are elite members of it. Obviously, we operate within institutions that need reform, but we continuously take actions which we know contribute society’s ills, and excuse ourselves through rationalization.
Speaking personally, what horrified me most about Trump was how recognizable and understandable he was to me. Growing up I played a lot of golf and met a lot of obnoxious, narcissistic, alpha-male types who I privately idolized for what I perceived to be their strength. A large part of my education at Swarthmore has the effort to eradicate this idolization within myself. Yet Trump is only the most recent and horrible product of the processes of oppression which have been tearing our society apart for centuries now. These processes are implemented with the machinery of our society, of which I, and we, find ourselves in command.
What we put out into the world through our actions can only be a reflection of the moral courage we have inside us. Fear of pain and fear of failure sap our drive, and dastardly men are free to cause pandemonium in our world. The United States of America is being led by a man who wanted to achieve the presidency for unambiguously masturbatory reasons. But our problem is not Donald Trump. Evil, prideful men have been with us for all of history. The conditions of our society created a situation Trump could exploit. We as individuals makeup our society and our actions in part gave rise to these conditions; therefore we are responsible for Trump. Even if his rise to power is not our fault, the responsibility to defeat him is. But it is well within our power to defeat him, and to fight against the injustices from which he draws his terrible power.