Presidential Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin Comes to Trinity

This year’s Flora Cameron lecture at Trinity University became commemorative with the unfortunate passing of Flora Cameron Crichton on March 2 of this year. Before her passing, Crichton was able to select Doris Kearns Goodwin as the speaker for the lecture. Goodwin is a presidential historian, political commentator and award-winning author/biographer. She spoke on her book Leadership in Turbulent Times, a New York Times bestseller on March 27 in Laurie Auditorium.

“Little could I have imagined how relevant that title would be today,” joked Goodwin at the beginning of the lecture. However, she switched to a more serious demeanor and contemplated a question that she is often asked: ‘are these the worst of times?’ “The answer history provides is no,” said Goodwin in answer to the question. She pointed to and referenced many American Presidents, but focused on Lyndon B. Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt. She highlighted the “turbulent times“ that all these men faced, such as the civil war and industrial revolution, and stated that “each one of these situations cried out for leadership, and each of the four men was peculiarly fitted for the time.”

Goodwin shifted her focus to the qualities that make up leaders. She pulled a Teddy Roosevelt quote in which he said, “most success comes when people develop ordinary talents to an extraordinary degree from hard sustained work.” This she acknowledged as being a key to success but not a universal key to leadership. She made a list of qualities that are almost universally applicable, “humility, empathy, resilience, courage, the ability to listen to diverse opinions, controlling of impulses, connect with all manner of people, communicate through stories and keep[ing] one’s word.” Goodwin went into great detail on how her studied presidents portrayed these qualities and acknowledged that there is not just one key to being a successful leader.

Nearing the end of her lecture she recalled a quote from Leo Tolstoy about Lincoln.  “He wasn’t as great a general as Napoleon, he wasn’t as great a statesman as Frederick the great. But his greatness consisted in the integrity of his character and the moral fiber of his being, the ultimate standard for judging our leaders.” She concluded that it wasn’t necessarily the triumphs of a leader that determined their success, but the effect they have as people, on people.

Goodwin closed with a touching and powerful personal anecdote on why history came to interest her and why it is so important. She thanked history for “allowing me to spend a lifetime looking back in the past, allowing me to believe in the pride and people we have lost and love in our families, and the public figures we have respected in history really can live on, so long as we pledge to tell and retell the stories of their lives.”

Photo by “Rhododendrites” on Wikimedia Commons. (CC BY-SA 4.0)

A Minnesotan at the Texas Rodeo

There are few things that are more Texan than a rodeo, and the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is one of the best. The air was filled with the smell of livestock, BBQ, fried food, and—of course—beer. In any given direction you look, there was a guarantee of seeing someone in a pair of cowboy boots coupled with a hat. And, maybe best of all, a live band played Johnny Cash and Jim Croce classics on repeat.

Despite being from Minnesota, this was not my first Rodeo. A couple of years ago, I went to one in a small Montana town. Let me just say, the phrase “everything is bigger in Texas”, has never been truer. The crowd is bigger, the bulls are bigger, the beers are bigger and the hats are bigger.

I don’t think that the average person really considers any of the competitive events at a rodeo as being a sport. However, to the audience and the participants, it’s even more. Many of the participants are cowboys and ranchers who have grown up riding bulls and horses. All the events are a mix of unpredictability, danger and pure muscle, as the rider can train as much as they want, but the horses and bulls are still just unpredictable animals. The combination of an animal’s unpredictable nature and the fact that they weigh much more than a person, make any event extremely dangerous for the riders. To combat this danger, riders must be incredibly calm and strong and know what to do in any situation, otherwise, it could be fatal.

On top of this, the whole event was very patriotic. The announcers acknowledged the military many times throughout the event and recognized all the branches in playing Salute to America’s Finest. Additionally, there was a swearing-in ceremony for the Army. This was by far my favorite part of the whole rodeo. The officer started off by saying “are y’all ready to join the greatest team on earth”, and the whole audience applauded with American pride. It was refreshing to see that there are people who still love their country. Then when the officer got to the words “I will obey the orders of the President of the United States,” the audience erupted into applause. I have never been anywhere, besides a Trump Rally or other political events, where there has been even close to that amount of approval of our president. Being a Trump supporter and hearing this similar approval for him from other people made me feel proud and comfortable with publicly expressing my political views for the first time in a while, as oftentimes public advocacy for the President is bound to incite some type of rage from somebody.

The rodeo ended with a performance by Brad Paisley. I am more of a bluegrass and outlaw country guy and don’t usually like country pop music, but Paisley is an incredible guitarist so it ended up being quite enjoyable and a great end to the night. All in all, the Rodeo was a positive experience as a Minnesotan. I gained a newfound respect for the athletes, I can rejoice in the fact that our country still has passionate patriots and I gained some much-needed confidence in my political views—all from just an afternoon at the Rodeo.

Photo courtesy of Tim Hoeksema. From left to right: Nathan Darsch, Vaughn Kohl, Blaise Fort and Tim Hoeksema.

Secular Student Alliance Begins Meeting

The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) at Trinity University is a new addition to the Trinity Community. The group holds bi-monthly meetings at 5pm on Thursdays in Northrup Hall 332. The meetings have an attendance of around 20-30 people and the atmosphere is extremely welcoming.

The meeting started with a mission-statement-like expectation for the discussions that would be taking place: “Our meetings are a place for secular, nonreligious or questioning people to express themselves in a safe space and have thoughtful discussion on taboo topics in many other places. We reserve the right to ask anyone to leave if they become rude, confrontational or act in a way not conducive to productive and polite dialogue.” This is a completely fair expectation. Groups on campus hold meetings so they can come together as a community with similar interests and/or beliefs. People should respect this freedom and right to assembly, or expect to be asked to leave.

The discussion part of the meeting mainly focused on the categorization of the types of secularism. There was time for everyone present to say where they fall on a scale of religious belief. This included everything from being a “Sunday stalwart” to “solidly secular”. Those who are part of the Facebook group for the SSA had an online test to determine where they fell on this scale. Another categorization was the different types of atheist you could be. This was actually where a lot of diversity among the members became apparent. Some people declared not believing in a higher power and thought that religion can actually be harmful, while others just said they weren’t sure if there was a higher power but did not think that religion was inherently harmful.

Later in the meeting, there was the discussion question of why or why not members considered themselves atheist. As a Catholic, and apparently a “Sunday stalwart”, the reasons I gave were vastly different even from those who weren’t ready to call themselves a full-on atheist. However, the response to my reasons was completely respectful of my viewpoint despite not agreeing with it. There was no cross-examination of my religious beliefs. Additionally, when I stated that I was attending the meeting to learn more about secularism, there was enthusiasm from a large proportion of the members.

In the future I will most likely not be attending SSA meetings as I have a strong belief in God and that having faith in Him does more good than harm. However, anyone who is interested in learning about secularism should know that this is a great environment to do so in.

Photo by onnola. CC BY-SA 2.0. Source.

Racial Discussions Between YCT and BSU

The Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) at Trinity University held an event on Jan. 29 that facilitated an open discussion about color blindness versus color awareness. YCT presented questions such as “is calling yourself color blind racist or offensive?”, “how should conservatives think about race?” and “what are we to make of social justice responses to racial issues in the United States?” to stimulate discussion. The meeting had the largest non-YCT member attendance of the school year. This was due to overwhelming attendance from the Trinity Diversity Connection (TDC) and the Black Student Union (BSU). The discussion did not take the course that is typical for YCT meetings. The questions were all answered, but only by one side of the argument, with some representatives from TDC and BSU dominating the discussion. This left many people with unsaid comments and more questions than they came in with.

Regardless of how the meeting went, there was a much more productive discussion that went on after the meeting. Members from each club were able to ask each other questions and understand how the other side perceived the initial questions intended to lead the discussion. The discussion even got to the point where the members found a middle ground and introduced solutions. This just goes to show that the type of discussion and the demeanor of the participants can really affect the outcome and views of everyone involved. This may just be anecdotal, but it definitely rang true in this instance.

So what was actually discussed at the meeting? A lot of things were brought up but what it really boils down to is the question of equity over equality. YCT members were mostly arguing for equality by advocating decision-making ignorant of race. BSU and TDC members were largely arguing for equity by advocating for making decisions conscious and inclusive of race.

Individuals from BSU believed that white people will have to put themselves down and be “uncomfortable” for a little while in order to achieve true equity of the races, typically being facilitated by the law. This obviously is well-intentioned, as it advocates for the furthering of success of black people and other people of color. The only people who would speak out against this argument’s goal are racists. However, this is just fighting fire with fire and actively disadvantaging people through the power of the government.

There are many alternatives to using legislation to further the success of people of color. It can even be done on Trinity’s campus. Members of BSU and TDC felt that a way to promote the success and comfort of black and people of color is the installation of an “Afro Affinity Hall.” This idea did not make sense to many people when they initially heard about it. However, hearing from people who would actually benefit from it can really change how it is viewed. At a predominately white institution it can be harder for people of color to feel a sense of community and an “Afro Affinity Hall” is a way to combat that. Members of BSU believe that “having that space, that community, helps us to have some sense of identity on campus, some sense of community culture.”

If there are attainable solutions such as the “Afro Affinity Hall” to racial barriers, then it falls to those, of all races, who care strongly about civil rights, to work with the administration to achieve these solutions. This is the middle ground that conservatives and liberals can reach. It is not making laws completely conscious of race but it also is not completely ignoring of race.

Overall, this meeting provided two lessons to be learned. The first is that equal, two-sided discussions, elicit the most meaningful understanding of the actual goals and questions of the discussion. The second is that middle ground can be reached on political discussions and that this middle ground can introduce solutions to existing problems.

The Fall of the Berlin Wall: 29 Years Later

On November 9, 1989, the Cold War was nearing its end and east and west Berlin were united after 29 years of separation with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The wall was a Soviet product of World War II. While the wall stood, 171 people were killed by the German Democratic Republic for trying to cross over. The wall is an example of the harms that can come to people through the selfishness and carelessness of a totalitarian power.  

This year was the 29th anniversary of when the wall began to come down. The Young Conservatives of Texas at Trinity University (YCT) commemorated this with an event on the Coates Esplanade. Members of YCT erected a provided spray paint for students to write or draw anything they wanted to. Once it was painted, students had a chance to destroy it and, in the famous words of Reagan, “tear down this wall.”

Tearing down the Berlin Wall. Photo by Maddie D’iorio

The event had generally positive feedback from people just passing by. Many students were curious, stopped to talk about the event, and took part in it. It was an effective way to honor the humanitarian victory that took place 29 years ago as well as the victims of the Soviet occupation of Germany. Additionally, the event promoted freedom of speech and the importance of being familiar with history.

A few individuals took to Twitter after the event and bashed the motives for the event. A common complaint was the “apparent” hypocrisy of tearing down a wall while wanting a wall built on the US-Mexico border. Trinity YCT does not have an official stance on a border wall.

Vegetarianism and Conservatism

Growing up in a Catholic conservative household, there was always a right way to do things, from going to church on Sundays to turning the other cheek. I never found much hardship in following any of these standards in my life; they just seemed like the right thing to do. I rarely made any lifestyle changes that my parents did not approve. As I got older, though, I started to challenge some beliefs. Most of the time I would come to the conclusion that my parents’ takes on those beliefs were right. When the Bible and the Constitution are there to lay out the rules, they’re made pretty clear.

This routine went on for a while, and I hardly challenged any of my beliefs anymore. But, one day in my high school economics class, we had a guest speaker and she announced that our talk was going to be about factory farming. Naturally, I assumed the talk would be about animal cruelty and such. I had seen videos in the past where celebrities talk about why they stopped eating meat as they showed clips from gruesome slaughterhouses in the background, but I always just ignored these because, hey, I liked meat.

Judging from the first few minutes, this class presentation was different. Instead of repulsive slaughterhouse videos, the presenter was showing us how factory farms impact the environment and people. No matter how you feel about animal cruelty, it isn’t sustainable for anyone. Producing food to feed and fatten up these 1 billion animals killed every hour in the United States (USDA 2015 U.S Slaughter Totals, by Species) is killing forests and that we’re running out of places to put the waste …and that they treat animals horribly. That day I decided to stop eating meat.

My parents were not enthused and insisted that I forget about it. They showed me passages in the Bible where it was seemingly evident that I was supposed to eat meat. However, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I lasted about three months as a full blown vegetarian until I compromised with eating meat once a week. This allowed me to feel good about my efforts while at the same time alleviating my cravings.

After a while, I figured that as a conservative, I should have some reasons why I can be simultaneously conservative and mostly vegetarian. It honestly stumped me for a long time, until I took it back to the basics of conservatism. What it really comes down to is the free market, where people can do whatever they want until they realize that it’s not personally feasible. This ties in well to vegetarianism, veganism, or even pescetarianism. When a person makes any decision to purchase or not purchase a product, it influences the market. It may be a small change, but it is a change.

There isn’t anything inherently conservative or liberal about vegetarianism. It’s all about how a person chooses to pursue it. If a person isn’t happy about how the animals are being treated or how the waste is being disposed of, then he should seek another firm or product all together. What shouldn’t be done is demand that these business be required to be transparent or request government regulations regarding anything someone sees wrong with the company.

In the end, I’m not a conservative vegetarian. I am a conservative that practices vegetarianism in a conservative way. Similarly, there are liberal vegetarians out there, but they really just practice vegetarianism in a liberal way- i.e., demanding government intervention.With the percentage of obese Americans being 39.6 in 2015-2016 (Prevalence of Obesity Among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015-2016) and the poverty rate being 12.7 percent in 2016 (Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016), the demand for cheap, accessible food is high and thus supply must be as well. Any government regulation that limits the amount of cheap, accessible food will not be very popular for the poor or obese. Rather than limiting these choices, people who see problems with the factory farming industry  should feel free to refuse service, spread the word, consult with the company, or all of the above.