I began election night in a sweaty, underground room in Evans Hall.
While thousands congregated on Sproul Plaza for the cathartic release that Hillary’s landslide victory would bring, I found myself in a rather unconventional place — the Berkeley College Republicans, or BCR, election viewing party.
It was a surreal scene. Chants of “Lock her up!” and “Build the wall” drowned out Fox News anchors as they called Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio for Trump. Compared to the crowd on Sproul, the BCR group consisted of barely 15 students who were disobeying the campus’s social and political standards. As the night fell in Trump’s favor, dozens of new faces joined the room. The conservative revolution had begun, and I was somehow in the middle of it. What was I doing here?
I had prided myself on being a moderate my whole life, and this doctrine had its roots in my lack of roots. Home was wherever mum and dad said we were headed next — Europe, the Middle East or Asia. These diverse regional and ideological backgrounds prohibited me from tying myself to a singular cultural or political identity. So my approach consisted of finding shelter in the “center” of the political spectrum, borrowing from and corroborating conservative and liberal ideals alike. Context also mattered: My words were different in London than they were in New Delhi or New York. Hence, on campus, I was an observer. I frequented Berkeley’s various political organizations, not ready to commit to one just yet.
But that night, I fled the Republicans as the scene in Evans grew chaotic. This was new. This couldn’t be justified. I arrived on Sproul to Hillary’s loss and teary-eyed, dejected friends. I felt traitorous. A political disaster had occurred, and I’d watched it like a spectacle. The following day, I tried absolution. I marched and protested across campus and spoke passionately for the resistance alongside the Cal Berkeley Democrats. I lamented the political and cultural tragedy in this election result and vowed to fight hatred and irrational nationalism with all my might.
Yet I also cautioned against political factionalism. I touted bipartisanship and political practicality, because it would be counterintuitive to protest in the streets and lose battles in Congress. This is why I was a moderate! When everyone was caught up in their feelings, I was shaking hands across aisles. After all, progress wasn’t fueled by emotion and ideology; it was fueled by smart compromises… Right?
As practical and morally upright as terming myself a moderate felt, it also felt facetious and insincere. What did I actually stand for? I found myself defending the feasibility of the “middle ground.” But what did I actually believe in? Were my political views just derivations of others’? If so, then where should I go to find my own voice?
Some disorienting and humble realizations later, that voice manifested itself. Within me, I discovered a yearning for a world different from this one — and for the first time, I found authentic political ideals. These principles were different from and simultaneously composed of those from my past. They were borrowed from my parents, from diverse friends thousands of miles away and from values that I held close — unaffected by where I was and where I was going. This was my purest vision for the world, and it bowed to no one political system or ideology.
Political moderation is imperative in all systems — it helps houses of parliament pass bills and keeps extreme governments in check. But it has no place on a university campus where students learn, evaluate and construct models for better societies. Our campus bristles with powerful minds primed with the knowledge and will to shape the future in their image. But to do this, one must at least have a vague vision for what this future may look like. One must consider what version of reality their efforts are striving toward, and whether this reality is derived from their own values and experiences or from some rearrangement of prevailing political circumstances.
Terming myself a moderate, or worse, something along the lines of “socially liberal, fiscally conservative” was a glorious proposition. It allowed me to demonstrate political savvy, to assume a position of moral superiority and make friends in all camps without penalty. But it ultimately robbed me of all meaningful political leaning. It reduced my belief system to a reactionary one. Moderation may move the sludge in two-party parliaments, but it is an unoriginal and dangerous concept for a college student to associate with.
Moderates percolate through our campus community, sometimes leading the conversation in their spaces to reasonable solutions. But when they create a space to espouse some version of “solution-driven,” bipartisan debate, they rob both themselves and their peers of originality. After election night, I felt dejected — and I wasn’t sure why. It’s taken close to two years to realize that my moderation wasn’t really my own. That my voice, my dreams for the future of this world came from places I had been and people I had met — not some theoretical practicality.
Jayesh Kaushik writes the Wednesday blog on his experience as a first-generation immigrant. Contact him at [email protected] .