The Shame Game

There was a kerfuffle at the University of Virginia when President  Teresa Sullivan sent an email urging students to “remember their own responsibility in the world” following President-elect Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.

“By coincidence, on this exact day 191 years ago — November 9, 1825, in the first year of classes at U.Va. — Thomas Jefferson wrote to a friend that University of Virginia students ‘are not of ordinary significance only: they are exactly the persons who are to succeed to the government of our country, and to rule its future enmities, its friendships and fortunes,’” she wrote. “I encourage today’s U.Va. students to embrace that responsibility.”

Instead of embracing this noble challenge 469 faculty and students chose to complain about Thomas Jefferson. They argued that the author of the Declaration of Independence, former President, and founder of the university was a bad choice for a “moral compass” because he “owned hundreds of slaves”. Instead they chose to bite the hand of someone trying to help them. Although the history surrounding Thomas Jefferson and slavery is interesting, it was not relevant to Ms. Sullivan’s point. When the words, slavery, racism, and Hitler, pop up in a discussion, the intelligent part of the discussion is over. Unfortunately the faculty and students resorted to using the same shame game strategy Ms. Clinton used unsuccessfully against Trump supporters. If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. The shame game is a trap for those who are unwilling to engage in intelligent discourse.