On April 21, the Vassar College Libertarian Union invited Segueway Business Consulting Practice CEO Brent Hamachek came to Vassar and challenged the integrity of the United States’ traditional political structure with a lecture titled “How America Broke Its Wings: The Causes and Effects of the Right-Left Divide and How to Repair It.” His main message was that the classic divide between political Right and Left has sunk the country into political stagnation so that it fails to address the needs and wants of the people.
Hamachek’s interest in America’s political divide stemmed from his own voting history. He voted in Ronald Reagan’s first election in 1980. Years later, he heard that people were saying that the people who voted for Reagan had racist tendencies, albeit sometimes subtle ones. “How did that happen? How did me and my buddies drinking beer up in Michigan, cheering for Reagan when we were 18; how did that turn us into somebody with a firehose in Memphis in 1958 chasing African Americans off the street?” Hamachek wondered.
Hamachek concluded that these accusations of racism are examples of how people skew the dialogue against one another. He compared this tactic to the idea of seeing constellations among the stars. “We’re doing the same thing in this country. We’re connecting a handful of data points about the people around us and we are using those data points to create elaborate pictures about who they are and who we are,” he conjectured.
To further elaborate, Hamachek argued that the terms Left and Right do not have universal definitions and are therefore invalid. He said, “If we’re all using the same terms, they ought to mean the same to everybody. Right now today in America, we are spending way too much time talking at and past each other, insulting each other, not listening to what other people are saying, not thinking about what we are saying ourselves.”
For Hamachek, it is the rhetoric employed by both sides that is distorting and preventing discussion. He exclaimed, “This isn’t a movie critique…where all your opinions are as valid as the other. That’s not what this is. We’re using real terms to label real people to make real decisions. And mostly what we’re doing is using them as insults.” Hamachek referred to the Founding Fathers as examples of dialogue done right. He praised them for their ability to set aside their preconceived notions about political ideology to target the nation’s problems, in stark contrast with today’s leaders.
Hamachek traced this lack of listening to a timeline of events including the French and Russian revolutions, World War II and the Vietnam War, McCarthyism, the Civil Rights Movement and the United States Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. He argued that Hitler and Stalin, both totalitarian leaders in their brutality, had to be differentiated to be opponents. For that reason, totalitarianism and communism were placed on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
After the war, the McCarthy-era accusations of communism polarized the political climate. Because Republicans opposed communism, Democrats compared them to fascists in terms of their points of view. Hamachek speculated that the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War and Roe vs. Wade served to further solidify the differences between those groups.
Although Hamachek billed the event as non-partisan, its accuracy and applicability were seen differently from students on both sides of the political spectrum. Not all students agreed that politics could be as easily dichotomized as Hamachek suggested. Vassar Democrats member Seth Molwitz ’18 said, “Sure it’s interesting that some people don’t want to have a valid discourse. And I think that that’s definitely a problem. But I think that he’s picking at certain pieces of discourse and using it to paint a general trend that doesn’t exist … There isn’t a real way because politics isn’t a flat spectrum because there are ideas that fall on both sides.” For a modern example, Molwitz pointed out that Kentucky Senator Rand Paul supports legalizing marijuana, a stance more typical of Democrats than Republicans. “But more or less, if you say you’re right wing, you probably support many of the issues because there is generally a general ideological consistency on each side,” he pointed out.
Nor did he agree with Hamachek’s suggestion to create a new classification spectrum for political ideology concerning individual rights. “While I don’t think [the system] is perfect, it doesn’t really make sense to just say, ‘Let’s scrap it because there are problems with it,’” Molwitz argued.
For VCLU President Pietro Geraci ’18, the lecture had greater implications than just outlooks on history and political science. “This fit right in with campus climate and Vassar culture, because differing political ideologies are not respected at Vassar. If you’re not in the Vassar mainstream leftism, people judge you before they even get to meet you–especially if you’re conservative.”
Geraci continued, “What Hamachek’s talk did was say, ‘You’re both going for the same thing…but this bickering and pre-judging is tearing our liberties apart.’ The government is just using this to get more power. If the Vassar community were to realize that both sides just want to see a better America, even though they have different ways of going about it, then perhaps they would be more willing to talk to them and engage in civil discussion.”