I was put on paid leave for two weeks after my Trump-supporting student, Brian, accused me of giving him a poor grade, due to our divergent political affiliations. He’d recorded me on his cell phone, blatantly coming out against Trump, and used that as “proof” that I am biased against students who want to make America great again.
Some would argue that two weeks of paid leave is like a free vacation, but I was having trouble seeing it that way. A letter would go in my file and I’d carry the stigma of being reprimanded for the rest of my career. Maybe I could have groveled, offered a sincerer apology than the “I’m sorry if I upset anyone” concession I made when called into the Dean’s office. I could have just changed Brian’s grade to an A, but his paper was poorly written, using unfounded claims like Obama is a non-Christian Arab whose made the country unsafe. Forget about Brian’s misuse of “whose” – if he can’t back up his claims with actual facts, he should feel lucky with the C-.
“I’m not so worried about Brian’s grade,” the Dean told me. He’d read Brian’s paper and agreed it wasn’t “A” material. “But the cell phone footage does worry me. You can’t be so transparent about your political beliefs, Lucy. Otherwise, you risk alienating your students and belittling them for their conservative views.”
“What about alienating or belittling females, homosexuals, Hispanics, Muslims, or any other demographic that doesn’t happen to be white, straight, and male?” I sat in a chair opposite his desk, my back ramrod straight. “If I pretend to support Trump, I run the risk of alienating and belittling them.”
Dean Hughes shook his head, his mouth twitching and his hands shaking, sort of like Tim Kaine during the debate. “You shouldn’t pretend to support either candidate. You should remain neutral.”
“In most cases I’d agree. But not this year. Silence is just as bad as condoning everything that Trump stands for.”
“I see.” Dean Hughes clasped both hands together to ease their quivering. “Then I think you should take a break. We’ll get you out of the classroom for a little while, give you some time to cool down.”
I knew he was trying to be magnanimous, but I left his office fuming. Time to cool down? I felt dismissed, like Megyn Kelly after that Republican primary debate, when Trump attributed her hardball questions to her being on her period.
Still, I doubted myself for about an hour or two, wondering if the Dean Hughes was right and I was wrong. Was I too polarizing? Should I consider representing all views, even the ones I found deplorable?
Then I checked the headlines.
“This is a total game-changer!” I spoke to Monty on the phone, since he was still in D.C. for work and would be for the next several days. “It’s like when they found out McGovern’s running mate, George Eagleton, had electric shock therapy. There’s nothing else that’s bad enough to compare it to.”
“I’m glad you’re so happy,” he said. “The timing is great, like you’ve been vindicated,” Monty referred to my enforced-leave, which I’d started our conversation by telling him about.
“Yeah, of course the irony is that Trump’s apology is almost exactly like the one I gave to Dean Hughes, ‘I’m sorry if I offended anyone.’ And we were both busted by a recording. I should feel bad for Trump, but I really, really don’t.”
There was a pause and the clicking of a keyboard. “Are you still working?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said with a sigh. “Evelyn is obsessed with the hurricane victims in Haiti, so I promised I’d look into outreach.”
“But that’s not even your department’s area.”
“Right, but if it’s possible for us to do something, we should. Don’t you think?”
“Yeah, of course.” I swallowed roughly. “Is she there with you right now?”
“No. She had to pick up her son at daycare.”
“Oh.” If I asked how it was going for him, working with his ex, would that sound prying and suspicious? I didn’t want to risk coming off as critical towards Evelyn, as she battled AIDS, conquered single-motherhood, and spent her extra time worrying about Haitian hurricane victims. No. I could only criticize her if Monty criticized her first, and even then, I had to be careful not to prompt him.
But suddenly everything I had to talk about seemed trivial. I felt like Gary Johnson, unable to identify anything the beyond the borders of my own little world.
“I should let you work then. Good luck with the outreach.”
“Love you,” he said. “I’ll call tomorrow. Skype with the kids.”
“Sure. Love you too.”
We hung up and I spent the rest of the night glued to MSNBC, wondering if Trump would drop out. Today he says that he’s staying, that there’s zero chance he’ll quit.
I guess that’s one more thing he and I have in common.