Christopher Caldwell is an International Services Advisor at Ohio Northern University.
What would you say is your political ideology?
“I see myself as a diversity and inclusion educator… of a center left persuasion. And while there are a myriad of political topics that the right would consider radical left… I wouldn’t necessarily […] I wouldn’t consider the things that other people consider to be radical left as radically left. The things that I consider to be radically left are far to the left of some of the most successful countries on the planet.
But the reason why I consider myself center left is that I genuinely believe that we solve human problems the best when humans work together to solve problems, even as we disagree.”
What was your reaction to the vandalism on campus?
“…I got the email when I was off campus… I suppose my initial response was kind of cynical.
You’ll recall that the statue was vandalised in the lead up to the january 6th insurrection in the nation’s capital and then additional bits of violence around the United States, violence or just protests… more and more… well, in Portland, Antifa people fighting Trump supporters with paintball guns; that’s not exactly violence. That’s just kids being dumb…
But, I suppose cynicism honestly, really thinking to myself, that mismanaged racial tensions in the United States were going to boil over at some point.
So yeah, cynicism and a measure of it being expected…”
What is it about this particular moment that made you unsurprised?
“Back in 2009, back when Wikipedia was still young […] we were coming up on Martin Luther King Day that year and I was working for a background investigation firm. It was my internship in undergrad; it was a really good time. And I typed in Martin Luther King Jr. into a Google search and the wikipedia page came up, and it looked like it had a fair amount of content because that was the cached content that Google had available.
I was an intercollegiate speaker and debater in undergrad, so I did a lot of primary and secondary source research and review. And I never went to Wikipedia on purpose, because it was trash, and in so many ways, so many articles still aren’t very good, but you know there’s still many ways to start a search and then go from there.
And I went and I pulled up the Martin Luther King Jr. article. There were three words on that page: he’s a… and the third word is the N-bomb, and that was it. That was it.
Bear in mind, the inauguration of Barack Obama was coming up that week. We had just seen […] John McCain and Sarah Palin get defeated in that November election, and the same level disgust that I had then for a wikipedia page being altered and minimized in that way, I definitely experienced when we found out that the Martin Luther King Jr. statue had been vandalised.
It’s important to recognize… I think there’s a distinction between expecting bad things to happen and then… there’s a distinction in the response when you’re expecting it versus when you’re not. And because of just how vitriolic the last four years have been my expectations for people who consciously and unconsciously hold racist ideas in their mind… my expectations are so much lower. Just so much lower.
…I’ve been asked by people in different places over the course of the last… twelve years, what’s your sense of hope? Where’s your sense of optimism?
My sense of optimism comes from myself, comes from bright points around the world, but my hope is regularly tempered by cynicism. I think that’s the easiest way to describe it, sometimes you’ve just got to deal with that […]
How do I want to articulate this?
Defacing a statue of an ‘American Saint’ is indicative of someone who’s willing to act upon a racist idea. But the reality is, every single person in our country, no exception, you and me, hold racist ideas. And over the course of this last year, I’ve had to tell my own parents about their own racist ideas, my best friends about their racist ideas, my sibling about her racist idea, my spouse about their racist ideas… I’ve gotten called on having racist ideas.
And every single time, depending on how people respond to having those racist ideas identified, if they respond positively, that’s where my hope’s at. If they respond negatively, that’s where my cynicism starts to kick in. And so here’s an individual who responded to stimuli very negatively.
And so I’m like man I’m frustrated at you. I will never know what your identity is, like who it is that you are, and I just have to be okay with that, because it’s not like we’re ever going to catch those jokers.
Are you excited for the Biden presidency?
“You know what I’m excited about is the lack of stress-related fatigue. I don’t wake up every day wondering what the 4 o’clock in the morning angry tweet storm sounds like and who it’s going to be targeting.
I like the fact that the current presidential administration is geared towards facts which helps, and that a secondary narrative or even tertiary narrative is not being regularly advanced; it helps.
So, excited… I was excited when Barack Obama got elected… twice. I wouldn’t say that I’m there for Joe Biden, but give me a competent politician over a… just about anybody anyday.”
Are you happy that Trump has been removed from twitter?
“…so, when we’re talking about first amendment rights, what I find most interesting is folks who try to defend Donald Trump as having a wide berth of first amendment rights under the constitution. The truth is that he doesn’t. Political figures, folks who hold political office, do not have the wide berth of first amendment protections that private citizens do.
The supreme court’s been pretty consistent about that for a very long time. I think the most recent first amendment-like case that I remember reading about actually came after the cake case in Colorado.
It’s fascinating; the reason why the cake case was a big deal in news media was because you have this individual for religious observation reasons said that he wouldn’t make a cake for […] a gay couple trying to get married. But when you actually read the supreme court’s decision on that whole thing, it wasn’t religious freedom that they ended up advancing.
What they ended up advancing was the fact that when this store owner went to the Colorado equal […] basically the equity commission to… have the case get heard, one of the members of that equity commission ended up comparing the baker to Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin because he wouldn’t make a cake for a gay couple. And this committee member just was reading this baker the riot act for not doing this equitable thing. And the supreme court said that no state agent can say those horribly inflammatory things.
At the same time, down in Texas, and I might be getting my timing confused, I don’t know if this is before or after the cake case, but I think it was before…
There was… you know how people can have vanity plates… well the daughters of the confederacy… or no, it was the sons of confederate veterans, wanted to put a confederate battle flag on Texas state license plates…
And when the supreme court ended up hearing the arguments, they were just like ‘can a Texas citizen put the confederate flag on their truck, like on their rear window? Yes. Can they put it on the border around their license plate? Yes. But the licence plate itself is state speech, and therefore, any kind of symbol that is meant to be politically divisive and inflammatory cannot be put to press.’
Did you read what Donald Trump had to say over the course of the last four years on twitter?
That’s state speech. You are the leader of the United States. Everything that comes out of your mouth is state speech, period. Full stop. If we’re holding this man to the same standard that we’ve held the previous forty-four men to, his speech becomes state speech, and the reality is, now that he’s not president, his speech is still state speech adjacent. Like you don’t get to get away from it just because you’re not president anymore.
So when you ask how do I feel about Donald Trump being banned from twitter, all of that context syphens into that answer, which is, in all honesty, he probably shouldn’t have been there anymore anyway. And the fact that different political actors and agencies just allowed him to do that for four years is deeply problematic and troubling.