GUEST COLUMN: UCCS event teaches students how to think critically

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Jennifer Schubert-AkinBy: JENNIFER SCHUBERT-AKIN March 22, 2018

President Donald Trump’s recent move to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports is just his latest policy decision that has disrupted the traditional political order.

Support for the decision has split conservatives between those who favor free trade and those who want to protect manufacturing jobs. But it’s also attracted some liberals, who are increasingly skeptical of the merits of trade.

The tariff debate is a microcosm of a broader dispute that’s currently dominating public policy: nationalism vs. globalism. The Steamboat Institute has invited arguably its best representatives, Nigel Farage and Vicente Fox, to debate the issue at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs on April 3.

Nigel Farage, the architect of Britain’s exit from the European Union, will take the side of nationalism, which generally supports the existing national order and institutions. Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, will take the side of globalism, which generally supports the global order and institutions. Both perspectives argue that they are best for Americans.

In practice, this debate has centered on trade and immigration. Nationalists usually argue we must limit trade and immigration to protect existing employees from disruption. President Trump’s tariff decision appeals to nationalists because it protects steel and aluminum producers from international competition that has been putting them out of business.

Globalists usually argue that free trade and increased immigration help Americans because they reduce consumer prices and allow Americans to enjoy an increased standard of living. They oppose the tariff decision because it will make products that use steel and aluminum as inputs more expensive.

Sadly this important debate has been distorted by the media and pundits who demagogue the issue. It’s rare to hear a sober-minded discussion that highlights the merits of each side’s position. That’s exactly what the UCCS event featuring Messrs. Farage and Fox attempts to do. The event is part of a broader Campus Liberty Tour, which introduces the next generation of leaders to this key political debate.

Despite holding opposite political philosophies, Messrs. Farage and Fox share one thing in common: They are both masters of rhetoric, logic, and argumentation. While they might disagree on what to think, they don’t disagree on how to think.

These skills long formed the foundation of a liberal arts education. They remain a necessary prerequisite for professional success in any field. Yet in recent decades they have been largely denounced on college campuses in favor of a theory known as relativism.

Relativism holds that there are no truths. Therefore, logic is replaced by feelings. Reasoned argument is replaced by personal experience. And – at worst – free and open debate is replaced in favor of force. (UCCS’s Center for the Study of Government and the Individual is a welcome exception to this trend.)

In this sense, the debate over globalism and nationalism is secondary at this event.

Though it is the defining public policy issue of our time and will likely shape the country’s future for decades to come, it is not as important as how to think critically.

Before people can make up their mind about nationalism and globalism or its many real-world offshoots such as President Trump’s tariffs, they must recognize the power of the mind in the first place.

Jennifer Schubert-Akin is the Chairman and CEO of the Steamboat Institute.