Member Login

Op-Ed: "Trumper" and "Two Professional Brainwashers" Seek Common Ground

The follow op-ed is written Brian Calfano, Thomas R. Hoppenjans, and Jeffrey Layne Blevins

Dr. Calfano is an associate professor in political science and journalism at the University of Cincinnati, and Dr. Blevins is a professor and head of the journalism department at UC. Mr. Hoppenjans is a Covington Catholic High School graduate, a “dyslexic college flunky” and multi-millionaire entrepreneur/business owner who was born, raised and lives in Northern Kentucky.

Last September in an Enquirer op-ed, Blevins and Calfano presented the results of a locally-based survey that showed branding news content with the term “common ground” statistically improves reported trust in news among Democrats, but not Republicans, and argued that news audiences will only find common ground in political discourse if they seek it out. As a result, Hoppenjans emailed the professors near-daily, accusing them of being “professional brainwashers.”

What follows is their collective reflection from a meeting that lasted over seven hours at Hoppenjans's home on July 10.

In the interest of clarity, the authors refer to themselves in third person to identify their varying individual perspectives.

When offering advice to the public advice, or criticizing those in the public eye -- be ready to practice what you preach and listen to things you didn’t expect to hear.

Hoppenjans was incensed by what he perceived as the professors taking potshots at his party and his perception that they were unadulterated liberals who hate President Trump, and emailed them just about every day to say so.  As journalists, and professors, and especially as journalism professors – Blevins and Calfano are used to being the target of ad hominem attacks from the political right and promptly filed Mr. Hoppenjans litanies of discontent in the digital junk drawer.

However, ignoring Hoppenjans didn’t stop his emails that railed against a lot of what he doesn’t like about liberals, Democrats, the national Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization, and a litany of others.  One day this May, Calfano fired back and called Hoppenjans “a Russian bot on Vladimir Putin’s payroll.” Hoppenjans then spent the next few weeks challenging the professors’ “manhood to a debate” at his home in Ludlow. Since the professors were pushing the idea of “common ground” in politics, didn’t Hoppenjans deserve some degree of engagement? Sensing that they needed to practice what they preached, the professors decided that Hoppenjans might be a person they could talk with about finding common ground around divisive topics – especially if it included libation.

Hoppenjans was surprised when the professors accepted the invitation, and in a light-hearted attempt at breaking the ice for finding “common ground,” Blevins produced a bottle of “Stoli” (his favorite) suggesting, “what else would a Russian troll drink besides Russian vodka?”

Despite the abrasive emails, Hoppenjans was a charming and congenial host, demonstrating the very best of Kentucky hospitality, and graciously provided glasses of Kentucky’s finest bourbons, along with a generous offering of hors d’oeuvres. 

From 6 p.m. until just after 1 a.m. the three drank, ate and talked about an array of timely political topics, including guns, BLM, higher education and news media.  They also spent some time just getting to know each other and soon learned who they’d encountered via email didn’t match the preconceived notions of what they expected to experience in person.

The topic of guns and Constitutional rights was the first place where the three managed to land on some common ground.  Blevins is an enthusiastic gun owner, and regularly practices at local ranges. The three also expressed similar sentiments about First and Second Amendment freedoms and the belief in limited government power. These tend not to be the hallmarks of “flaming liberals” that Hoppenjans assumed all professors were.

Shortly thereafter, the discussion of BLM showed greater division in our beliefs, as Hoppenjans described BLM as “a national organization founded by three female anarchists who admit being Marxist in their beliefs,” while Blevins related his own research into BLM as a social media hashtag and emblem for social justice.

However, the heart of the conversation centered on what Hoppenjans identified as the “three-headed monster that’s destroying America” – “Democrat controlled academia, the DNC and the (fake) news media,” of which he considers The Enquirer to be a part. Hoppenjans’ presumption is that university professors “are people who work in a cloistered liberal environment preaching to clueless (and already brainwashed) 21-year olds all day.” While the professors didn’t necessarily change Hoppenjans’ mind about any of that, they did explain that professors teach methods on inquiry, and not political ideology, and Calfano invited Hoppenjans (e.g., “challenged his manhood”) to audit one of their courses to see for himself. After all nothing beats first hand experience to inform one’s beliefs.

When the three discussed news media, they came to similar conclusions about primetime cable news programming across all three major networks – CNN, MSNBC and FOX – in that they are political commentary shows and not “journalism.” However, Hoppenjans maintained that Fox News “is accurate in their commentary while CNN and MSNBC are nothing more than a liberal democratic party megaphone.” Their individual assessments of local news media remained much farther apart, although it came as some surprise to Hoppenjans that one of the things that journalism professors do is produce criticism of the news industry and journalistic performance.  For that matter, they all agreed to another meeting and further discussion, and perhaps with a larger audience.

One of the things that could benefit news audiences and media professionals alike is the value of taking time to sit down and talking through some of the disconnects between individual perceptions about divisive issues and the interconnection of politics and media. While people may not always find common ground, they’ll have a better sense of how each other arrived where they are by at least visiting on the other’s turf.

What these three learned from their meeting is that none of us are our clichés. 

Hoppenjans’s wealth and lifestyle makes him more in line with what one might think of as an “elitist” (a term that is often used to describe university professors and journalists). Moreover, he is a historian at heart and has deep knowledge of Cincinnati and the Northern Kentucky area and has given local history presentations at the Cincinnati and Covington public libraries, as well as classes at Covington Catholic High School.

The professors, on the other hand, have some interests that are typically in line with the pro-Trump cultural demographic. Calfano drives a muscle car and Blevins is a military veteran, avid gun owner and NASCAR fan.

Although the three may never agree on politics, they seemed to have become new friends.

RCN Click Here to Subscribe Today!
RCN Click Here to Subscribe Today!