Every fall, student organizations at the University of Minnesota paint a panel on the Washington Avenue Bridge. It’s supposed to be a fun way to promote activities while making the walkway just a little more colorful.
This year, the university’s chapter of the College Republicans painted a sort-of homage to Pink Floyd: a grid of brown bricks captioned “Donald Trump: The Wall.” Each brick contained a reference to one of Trump’s accomplishments, such as “fighting political correctness,” “appointed SC Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh,” “undoing Obama’s mistakes,” and “safer borders.”
To top it off, the panel also included a small illustration of what appears to be the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an oft-maligned partial quote from Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (“Some people did something,”) and the phrase “Keep America Great.”
The College Republicans completed their panel on Friday. Almost immediately after they left, it had been tampered with. A picture posted to Reddit shows the panel besmirched with a crude drawing of someone flipping the bird and the caption “Fuck shits.” Mere hours later, it was completely covered in red and black spray paint, the word “BORDERS” crossed out, and the caption, “White supremacy kills.”
This marks the fourth year in a row that the Republican panel has been vandalized. The Minnesota Daily catalogues the years-long tradition, giving a post-mortem on panels containing everything from the slogan, “Build the wall” to “The [university’s] proposed pronoun policy mocks real social issues.” One year, during a joint panel between the College Republicans and Turning Point USA, someone called conservatives the “least popular minority on campus.” Several conservative groups’ panels got painted over that year.
By all accounts, they’d seen this coming. This year, they’d even painted a second panel with the caption, “Please vandalize this panel and NOT our other panel.” It was decorated with saccharine hearts and smiley faces and the phrase, “This is a safe space.”
“While we are obviously upset about this situation, we are not surprised,” the group’s newsletter said. “This sort of thing happens every year, but what was special about this year was that they had the gall to do this in broad daylight in front of hundreds of people.”
Chapter Chair Nathan Harman wrote a letter condemning what he saw as “the ugliest type of disagreement and closed-minded thinking: one that equates dissent to sin and that seeks censorship over discourse.”
The group was a little glibber on Twitter.
Wow! The tolerant libs vandalized it in broad daylight! That's gotta be a new record�� pic.twitter.com/80u9Vuw9iQ— College Republicans (@UofMCRs) September 27, 2019
Reactions on social media weren’t exactly sympathetic.
“Thoughts and prayers,” one Reddit user said.
“Womp womp,” someone added helpfully on Twitter.
“Keep putting it up it’ll keep getting vandalized,” another Twitter user said.
Other commenters were confused about what the College Republicans were expecting – or what they thought they were accomplishing in the first place.
“When will you all get it?” one Twitter user asked. “Your opinions aren’t valid or welcome, especially when you endorse and defend the racist rhetoric of your party and do nothing to speak to the concerns of students. Like, what do you people think you’re doing?”
“I can’t imagine being 21, seeing the modern Republican party and going, ‘yeah, this is for me,’” one Reddit user said.
It’s true – Democrats by and large have a bigger claim over millennials by the numbers, and the up-and-coming Gen Z has proven to be similar. In 2017, the Pew Research Center determined that 59 percent of millennials who’d registered to vote leaned left, while 32 percent leaned right. Both Gen X and the Boomers tend to be more split down the middle.
Harman gets it, to a degree. He understands there is a “burning distaste” on campus for the president and the current trajectory of the party, and even agrees that some of the things Trump has done – such as brag about grabbing women “by the pussy” – should not be excused.
“I don’t want to defend Donald Trump on the same panel where we criticize Ilhan Omar, because he’s said some awful things,” he says. What he wants is for people to think about “why they believe what they believe,” and where their facts are coming from.
When asked about what he and others see in the party these days, he talks about a potential future for the GOP. Younger Republicans, he says, are not like their conservative grandparents – some are pro-choice, or queer, or anti-Trump. His hope is that the party is going to trend in a more socially-conscious, inclusive direction while still maintaining its “fiscally responsible roots.”
“Even though today it is hard sometimes to talk over some of the more populist members of the party,” he’s hopeful cooler heads will win out in the end.
But when students walked by the mural, they didn’t see a hopeful spectrum of socially progressive Republicans. All they saw was the Omar quote, a drawing of a plane sailing toward the Twin Towers, and a list of some things Trump has done. Student Nick Knighton, one of the protesters sitting by the mural pre-vandalization, told the Daily he saw rhetoric that fuels acts of white supremacy and violence across the country.