OP-ED’S MAIN ARGUMENT HINGES ON A LAW SIGNED BY PRESIDENT OBAMA
Beyond this, Cullen’s arguments are rather dry and academic, emphasizing that Trump’s order was temporary and designed to “allow the administration time to hone a more thorough vetting process without simultaneously compromising security. It aligns with the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act (H.R.158), passed by Congress in 2015—with a 407-19 House majority—under President Obama.” In other words, it was an extension of an existing mandate dictated by a democratically-elected legislative body instead of a new direction decreed by an unconstrained autocrat.
“Notably, the law of 2016 in principle carries much more weight than any executive order, which stands only insofar as it is supported by law. With the nations under the current ban, President Trump has merely formalized something in response to dangers recognized before his election, in accordance with legislation that has already been passed.”
Even more, Cullen shrugs off the notion that the order was the result of a wide-eyed and cold-hearted POTUS who is out of touch with constituents and out of step with history.
“My purpose in writing this is not to spark pointless controversy, but to remind us all of who we are, what we foundationally believe in, and the difficult task we face in balancing compassion for the foreigner with the hallowed freedom we enjoy. There is no pleasure in signing or carrying out an order to halt immigration from these seven countries, and President Trump has wrestled with the ramifications of tighter borders, especially for children of illegal parents born in the United States. His executive order is not heartless, but was crafted in a rational effort of protection as we look to instate firmer measures of security moving forward.”
TOO GUTLESS TO DEBATE FACE-TO FACE?
Cullen believes much of the criticism leveled against him, whether it comes in the form of Facebook posts, letters to the editor, or satirical jabs, is meant to drag him into a long-and-dirty argument. Based on the comments that Cullen has received, it can be argued that some Harvard students prefer punching below the belt to following the Marquess of Queensberry Rules. Instead of taking the bait from critics, Cullen extended an olive branch over social media, offering to meet with them in-person. While he has tentatively set up a sit down with one woman, the rest have either ignored his entreaties or rebuffed them altogether.
Cullen wasn’t surprised in the least by the tepid response to debating the issue further. “I find that the people who post stuff up on social media like Facebook will not back it up by meeting personally, to look people in the eye and engage in meaningful discussion.”
Does this social media behavior extend to the Harvard classroom? Not really, says Cullen. A long-time member of the campus Republican Club, Cullen cites a recent event within the club as more of the norm. Last year, the Harvard Republican Club made headlines for deciding, as a whole, not to endorse Trump for their nominee. Despite this, Cullen pointed to the Trump supporters getting along and collaborating with those who opposed him.
He witnesses much of the same spirit in his day-to-day interactions. “I think most of the people who’ll give me the time to talk to me and get to know me, they really embody what this university says that it values, which is open discussion and finding common ground,” Cullen explains.” A lot of it is about listening, too, listening humbly to what other people have to say.”
‘I VOTED FOR TRUMP’
That’s not to say a certain bias doesn’t subtly seep into the classroom. While no Harvard faculty member has approached Cullen about his op-ed, he has experienced a few sessions where the discussion was less than even-handed. One situation occurred right after the 2016 election. Cullen observed. “People were pretty upset and professors who made reference to the election afterwards only acknowledged its negative effect, but they didn’t acknowledge that it was maybe a victory for some other people.”
However, the dynamic generally plays out like a recent discussion that happened in Cullen’s government class. “We were talking about the dangers of a strong executive and people immediately began accusing Trump of being a demagogue and insinuating that he was bound to do something detrimental like declare war foolishly,” he shares. “We had two to three people who continued to pull the thread. The person moderating the session didn’t say anything; she had no bias that she showed.
“I spoke up and made the bold statement saying that I voted for Trump, and I have faith in the robustness of the institutions. If I am wrong and he is all that you are making him out to be, then we have the strength in our system to get him out of office. Until you reach that point, you can’t speak in hypotheticals like that. The group accepted that. I even had one student come up to me after class and said he respected what I said.”
COMPASSION TEMPERED WITH ENFORCEMENT
In his essay, Cullen tiptoed across the intersecting demands among compassion, security, and rule of law. That begs the question: How would he fix the situation? For that, Cullen dips back into the church where he grew up in a military area of Colorado Springs. Although his community supports a more strict immigration policy, their actions are also informed by their Christian faith.
“They help with finding them homes and apartments and members of church community are very active in helping them get settled and welcoming them in,” he explains. “I think that’s the philosophy that I want to adopt. I think it is necessary to have a stricter system, one that’s more secure, whether that be in terms of aiding or identifying countries that don’t cooperate with us in terms of sharing information. At the same time, the people who are able to get in — either legally and illegally — it’s our job to welcome and serve them. We need to help their transition should they get admitted into the United States or to do work over in the Middle East to support those who do that work.”
Despite some initial reservations about publishing his op-ed, Cullen is happy with the result. “I wanted to put a piece out there that was going to provide my perspective, but in a way that was constructive and hopefully facilitate conversation. It has done that. While it has generated negative feedback, people are at least considering it, thinking about it, and reading it.”
ADVICE: DON’T BE AFRAID…BUT DO YOUR HOMEWORK
For those students who are looking to step out of the shadows and express themselves, Cullen offers some advice: Don’t be afraid. “Take a stand for what you believe in. I think there are more people who will sympathize with you or will stand with you than you realize. They’re just too afraid to say it. It only takes one person speaking out that will hopefully start a chain reaction there.”
Saying that, Cullen warns future rabble rousers to dot their I’s and cross their T’s before they set off to question the concensus status quo. “You have to be tactful and use wisdom and foresight before you say or publish anything because you know it is going to come under fire and you’re going to have to back it up.“