Seeing Double: Who Won?
Seeing Double Columnists Cole Graber-Mitchell ’22 and Thomas Brodey ’22 close out their long-running column with a debate of who is the better fledgling columnist.
In its three years of print, Seeing Double has fought a desperate, losing battle to keep The Student’s opinion page alive. That battle, however, is a playfight compared to the struggle between the two archnemeses who write the column. Upon reflection, however, it is obvious that the real heart and soul of the column is not the bespectacled Brodey, but the broccoli-headed Midwesterner, Cole Graber-Mitchell.
In his first-ever Seeing Double solo column, Cole advocated for local news, arguing that students should read not only the New York Times and Washington Post but local newspapers (and perhaps even Amherst Student columns). The take was vintage Graber-Mitchell: expressing an unshakable faith in local government, community, and the wholehearted promotion of democratic values.
It is this single-minded commitment to democratic ideals (not always with a small d) that sets Cole’s columns apart. In Fall 2019 alone, he advocated for felony enfranchisement, open borders, democratic legitimacy, and, in case you took the wrong message from his other pieces, optimism. Worker's rights are a particular focus for Cole — his columns discuss unions, the unfair origins of tipping, and unpaid student researchers. Tying together such disparate ideas into a unified theme is no mean feat. Cole managed it through his unwavering moral compass, aimed with laser focus at calling out all of society’s wrongs and achieving justice.
Like many Amherst students, Cole was the star of his high school’s debate team, a fact I am all too aware of when I read our head-to-heads. Somehow, Cole turns ink and paper into a genuine and moving passion for the issues that drive him. Even our more eccentric arguments, such as our debate over moon mining, featured eloquent and powerful rhetoric by Cole. My own arguments often seemed cold-hearted and cynical by comparison.
Cole’s columns were also creative and novel. A particular favorite of mine is his 2020 piece laying out a new algorithm-based housing system (perhaps inspired by the 153-square foot closet we shared in Seelye at the time). Cole’s system would have been an immense improvement on the housing system then in place, and over every one of the new systems Amherst has insisted on introducing each year since.
In other cases, however, Cole has had the capacity to do something almost unprecedented in the world of columnists: put his words into action. As an AAS member, he pushed for several of his causes to be realized. That included securing access to the Daily Hampshire Gazette for all Amherst students so that they can appreciate local events. His prescience also extends to national politics. In October 2020, Cole wrote an article warning that Donald Trump would attempt a coup if he lost the election. Columns tend to avoid making predictions for fear of predicting wrongly, so even had Cole’s prediction been wrong, he would still have deserved credit for courage. The fact that he turned out completely correct speaks to a deep understanding of current affairs.
What makes Cole’s writing truly stand apart, however, is his ability to take moments of personal pain, dislocation, and confusion, and turn them into beautiful reflections. Consider his recent piece exploring his Jewish identity. In the painful and uncertain aftermath of the March 2020 removal from campus, Cole composed perhaps the finest column to ever appear under Seeing Double, tapping into his feelings about his parents’ divorce, the pandemic, and the future of politics. In contrast, the best his co-columnist could come up with was a bland listicle.
Of course, Cole has fallen victim to the occasional trash take, like his fallacious argument against cannibalism. And while his advocacy for campus gazebos may please some, it reflects the kind of irrational optimism about the northern climate characteristic of Minnesotans. All the same, through three years of college life, he has acted as a kind of north star for the campus as it grapples with crises both local and widespread. Amherst College will miss reading Cole’s work, but not half so much as I will.
Like all of us, my co-columnist has had some bad takes in his time. But none is so atrocious as his claim that I am the better Seeing Double columnist. A simple look through the record — 78 articles have been printed in this newspaper under the Seeing Double name, including this one — provides all the evidence one needs to proclaim Thomas Brodey the undisputed champion of Seeing Double, the fire in the furnace of this column.
Thomas has told me before that the jokes in his articles have an audience of one: himself. Time and again, Thomas has managed to produce some of the most fun articles to read in recent Student history, from course proposals steeped in humor to making fun of old-timey explorers’ accounts while abroad in Denmark. My personal favorite, and a true exemplar of his style, is his wonderfully funny defense of cannibalism. Thomas’ unique and fearless comedy, which he weaves effortlessly into his articles alongside his arguments, is a true high point of this column.
Yet I think that his columns may be more broadly characterized by his “audience of one” ethos. It’s clear from his record that he clings to no dogmas and is an unapologetically individual thinker. His drive to write what he believes has produced some duds, like his article about climate change’s silver lining, but it has also produced some of his best work. His columns in this vein include an argument for expanding Amherst, a plan for addressing the athlete and non-athlete divide, a plea for examining mediocre work in classes, a call for continuing to use Zoom after the return of in-person classes, and an incisive take about American leftists and liberals' misplaced love for Scandinavia.
A fantastic example of his individualism is that Thomas’s deep and healthy institutionalism, on display when he decried court-packing and insisted on treating the Republican Party as legitimate, never seems to prevent him from writing genuinely radical takes, such as his columns on Amherst’s diversity mirage and Foucault. (Though I heard from a little birdie that he had actually never read Foucault when writing the latter article. I bought him a copy of “The History of Sexuality” for his birthday.) He is the true “fox” of Seeing Double — in more ways than one.
And then of course there are his head-to-head contributions, which never fail to force me to reconsider my own viewpoints. I’m notoriously stubborn, but Thomas’s strong argumentation is able to break through. His take on social media and activism now convinces me even though I argued against it two years ago.
But there are two sets of Thomas’s articles that truly go above and beyond the rest. It is these that set him apart from any other contributor to Seeing Double (i.e. me). The first consists of his articles on American foreign policy. As Thomas has pointed out, American foreign policy is almost never at the forefront of the national consciousness. Yet it is clearly on his mind, and his articles about the atrocities committed in our names abroad and veterans at Amherst demonstrate a deep concern for others in an area where most Americans falter.
The second set of articles are those in which his love for his field — which I have often maligned in these pages — makes itself known. It was in one of these, in which Thomas promoted the use of history’s tools in everyday life, that our old favorites Carl and Maria first entered the Seeing Double Columnar Universe. Other columns implored us to ask our older family members for their stories, urged rethinking how we teach history, and called for new narratives about the 2020 election.
But Thomas' best article was far and away, as silly as it sounds, his listicle about living through Covid. I beg you: please read that article. The advice, derived from historical examples, is fantastic. After I read it for the first time two years ago, I began to journal about my experiences, a habit that has sustained me through many tough times.
This campus will be worse off when Thomas leaves for Madagascar to work in the Peace Corps with no internet, electricity, or running water. It will lose a proud historian with remarkable intellectual range and unending good faith. It will lose this paper’s best comic, and this column’s best contributor. And I will lose — thankfully not forever — the best friend and interlocutor a fledgling columnist could have ever asked for.
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