Conversations with a Frat Boy: Political Turmoil During The Holiday Season

For week 3 of "Conversations with a Frat Boy," I sat down and talked to Cole Neder, member of Rho Nu Delta, and gathered his thoughts on a hot topic for many: Politics. Cole focused on the holiday aspect of political conversations, the role Trump plays, how we can better navigate these conversations, and his own experience with political conversations within his own fraternity. 

Why does talking about politics with family feel so difficult?

Talking about politics with your family is often a difficult thing to do. You have personal ties to your family, you’ve grown up with them, and many people formulate their political views based on how they were raised and what they were taught as they grew up. So, there’s this personal aspect that you have to be willing to set aside when you're participating in political discourse with your family. There are multiple generations within families, so sometimes you could have three generations sitting at a table that have three completely different views, three completely different experiences. So while you’re debating politics, the political aspect can be just as personal as the family ties. These are things you care about, these are things you stand for. So when you’re going head to head with a family member about politics, there is a lot of passion involved with it on both ends. 

What is Trump's influence in these conversations?

How Trump comes into play is that no matter what your political view is--hard left or hard right, he makes statements that are incendiary to large groups of people. These statements are not just on taxes or the basic things in politics, these are on things that are very important to people such as racism, LGBTQ rights, and bridging the gap between the African American community and cops. He’s commented on all these things and he’s managed to make one side angry each time. So, this Thanksgiving season is different because Trump really polarized the issue of talking with your family civilly about politics. On top of that, he’s ruined our idea of debate. Being a young adult who didn’t vote for him, you’re going to take comments personally. Say your uncle who voted for him states, “Yes, let’s build that wall,” you’re going to get upset because of how far his viewpoints are from yours. Right there it doesn’t matter what political viewpoint you have, the two disagreements are non-negotiable. We’re so stuck in the political rhetoric Trump encourages that we stray away from these kind of disagreements. We’re no longer comfortable with talking with those who disagree with us because of Trump, the way he communicates, and his behavior towards the people who disagree with him.

Some would rather just avoid the difficult conversations. What tips do you have for those who fear these conversations with their family members?

The first step is realizing that just because someone disagrees with you, it’s not a bad thing. This includes, most importantly, your family. Someone disagreeing with your political affiliation isn’t something to feel bad about, instead, it is an opportunity to learn about an opposing viewpoint that you may not have considered initially. We have to be willing to listen, especially before we project our own views onto someone else. It’s also our civic duty to know what is going on in our political world, and that can start with a simple conversation.

What is your experience with talking about politics with your fraternity brothers?

I’m lucky enough to where they are willing to talk about it, especially with the most recent presidential election. I’m also so happy that they are willing to pay attention to current events, and that they make a conscious effort to be informed when it comes to politics. Some of them totally disagree with what I stand for, but some don’t, and honestly, it doesn’t make a difference. The most important thing I’ve realized through the dialogue with them is they make the conscious effort to listen to what I have to say, regardless of where I stand, and I make an effort to do the same thing. That’s an interesting thing because in Trump’s world, those disagreements can often change someone’s opinion of another.

Do you find a need for a space for talk about politics within Greek Life?

Yes. I think Greek Life is just like a family and in many aspects can be just like a family at Thanksgiving. I think it’s really important to feel comfortable talking about politics and to have that space in Greek Life but also in student groups and clubs in general. That’s the challenge we face, as a generation of young college students, we need to find ways to get our community involved in politics. That goes beyond just voting, even though we need to work on that too. We need to get comfortable with calling our representatives, showing up to rallies and protests, actively supporting candidates, and most importantly, asking questions when we don’t understand a policy or political stance. When we achieve that level of discourse amongst our own generation or friends, we will have a greater appreciation for politics in general. We will feel a close and personal tie to politics, leading us to do something as simple as voting. I think Augustana does a really good job at providing opportunities to see different viewpoints through things like lectures, Sustained Dialogue, The Clothesline Project, the list goes on. We’re given chances to participate but the next step is to motivate each other to feel obligated to do that. Overall, I think our generation is doing well and making progress when it comes to being willing to talk about politics but we still have a long way to go. We can express our opinions but we also need to learn how to discuss and accept other opinions.