The Influence of Giants

A Conversation Between Ross Douthat and Cornel West

Artwork by Taylor Daniels

Artwork by Taylor Daniels

On a Friday evening at the University of St. Thomas, two giants of political commentary met to engage with the state of ‘groupthink discourse’ on college campuses. This first, Ross Douthat, a conservative political columnist at the New York Times and author of “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics” and “Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.” Next to him sat Cornel West, a progressive social philosopher, political and civil rights activist, and Harvard Professor. Both men are treated as prophetic political analysts and commentators, and Douthat and West identify as Christian. For these reasons, they were invited to participate in this discussion.

While the event was titled “Christianity and Politics in the U.S. Today,” this conversation was a chance to demonstrate the value of thoughtful dialogue between two whose political values that often contradict one another. They covered a wide variety of contentious issues, such as the U.S. foreign policy of interventionism and Christianity’s role for shaping it in the future, racial inequalities, and the rise of the marketization of sex as a product of American corporatism.

The heart of their discussion was a consideration of the climate of social and political uncertainty, in which many citizens of the United States currently find themselves—uncertainty about the information we receive from the mainstream media and the trustworthiness of the current presidential administration. Douthat and West have been compromised by multiple augmented representations of objective facts through the reporting of our recent presidential election and the amount of unsupported, “fake news” that proliferated in 2016. In response, explanations of Noam Chomsky’s “Media Control,” have begun to circulate as fear of an Orwellian government, and their unwitting coconspirator, the media, grows unchecked in their influence. Leaving many to question, who’s left to trust?

The answer: each other, that’s who.

Whether Chomsky is correct or not, is not the point. Many will either trust Chomsky wholeheartedly or write him off as an addle-brained conspiracy theorist. The point is that distrust of those who mean to lead and accurately inform us shifts into a distrust and fear of one another. What we need to consider is that the truth (whatever that is) probably lies somewhere in between, and it cannot be found on Facebook, in partisan media, or from the Trump administration. Douthat and West show us: The divisions that lie between us are far from unsurmountable and that the antidote to our fears is found within the interrogating dialogue of honesty, respect, and open-minded consideration.