A former dean of the Yale Law School sounds a warning.
Anyone who has followed the news from college campuses over the past few years knows they are experiencing forms of unrest unseen since the late 1960s.
Now, as then, campuses have become an arena for political combat. Now, as then, race is a central issue. Now, as then, students rail against an unpopular president and an ostensibly rigged system. Now, as then, liberal professors are being bullied, denounced, demoted, threatened, sued and sometimes even assaulted by radical students.
But there are some important differences, too. None of today’s students risk being drafted into an unpopular, distant war. Unlike the campus rebels of the ’60s, today’s student activists don’t want more freedom to act, speak, and think as they please. Usually they want less.
Most strange: Today’s students are not chafing under some bow-tied patriarchal WASP dispensation. Instead, they are the beneficiaries of a system put in place by professors and administrators whose political views are almost uniformly left-wing and whose campus policies indulge nearly every progressive orthodoxy.
So why all the rage?
The answer lies in the title of Anthony Kronman’s necessary, humane and brave new book: “The Assault on American Excellence.” Kronman’s academic credentials are impeccable — he has taught at Yale for 40 years and spent a decade as dean of its law school — and his politics, so far as I can tell, are to the left of mine.
But Yale has been ground zero for recent campus unrest, including a Maoist-style struggle session against a distinguished professor, fights about “cultural appropriation,” the renaming of Calhoun (as in, John C.) College, and the decision to drop the term “master” because, to some, it carried “a painful and unwelcome connotation.”
It’s this last decision that seems to have triggered Kronman’s alarm. The word “master” may remind some students of slavery. What it really means is a person who embodies achievement, refinement, distinction — masterliness — and whose spirit is fundamentally aristocratic. Great universities are meant to nurture that spirit, not only for its own sake, but also as an essential counterweight to the leveling and conformist tendencies of democratic politics that Alexis de Tocqueville diagnosed as the most insidious threats to American civilization.
What’s happening on campuses today isn’t a reaction to Trump or some alleged systemic injustice, at least not really. Fundamentally, Kronman argues, it’s a reaction against this aristocratic spirit — of being, as H.L. Mencken wrote, “beyond responsibility to the general masses of men, and hence superior to both their degraded longings and their no less degraded aversions.” It’s a revolt of the mediocre many against the excellent few. And it is being undertaken for the sake of a radical egalitarianism in which all are included, all are equal, all are special.
“In endless pronouncements of tiresome sweetness, the faculty and administrators of America’s colleges and universities today insist on the overriding importance of creating a culture of inclusion on campus,” Kronman writes.
This is a bracing, even brutal, assessment. But it’s true. And it explains why every successive capitulation by universities to the shibboleths of diversity and inclusion has not had the desired effect of mollifying campus radicals. On the contrary, it has tended to generate new grievances while debasing the quality of intellectual engagement.
Hence the new campus mores. Before an idea can be evaluated on its intrinsic merits, it must first be considered in light of its political ramifications. Before a speaker can be invited to campus for the potential interest of what he might have to say, he must first pass the test of inoffensiveness. Before a student can think and talk for himself, he must first announce and represent his purported identity. Before a historical figure can be judged by the standards of his time, he must first be judged by the standards of our time.
All this is meant to make students “safe.” In fact, it leaves them fatally exposed. It emboldens offense-takers, promotes doublethink, coddles ignorance. It gets in the way of the muscular exchange of honest views in the service of seeking truth. Above all, it deprives the young of the training for independent mindedness that schools like Yale are supposed to provide.
I said earlier that Kronman’s book is brave, but in that respect I may be giving him too much credit. Much of his illustrious career is now safely behind him; he can write as he pleases. Would an untenured professor have the guts to say what he does? The answer to the question underscores the urgency of his warning.
We take it for granted that President Trump says demonstrably false things on any number of topics. That is itself alarming.
But gross factual mischaracterizations have started to trickle down to the lawyers who serve at the president’s pleasure: At oral argument in the Supreme Court, for example, the solicitor general declared that the president had made it crystal clear that he would never follow through on his campaign promise to ban Muslims. In fact, the president never said any such thing.
.. In the case, Ms. L v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the president has made the up-is-down claim that a Democratic law — the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, in conjunction with the Homeland Security Act and statutes criminalizing illegal entry — requires him to separate families to protect the children.
.. The administration’s legal mumbo-jumbo attempts to use laws that are meant to protect vulnerable children as a screen to terrorize them and to deter immigrants from coming to the United States border.
.. The laws that Mr. Trump’s Justice Department cites — which apply to unaccompanied children, not children with parents — require no such thing.
.. Instead, the Homeland Security law, a statute governing the Office of Refugee Resettlement, gives custody of unaccompanied minors to that department, and very clearly not to the Department of Homeland Security, to address the challenges that children without parents face in the immigration system.
.. The statute that addresses child trafficking — part of the Trafficking Victims law — is designed to reduce the risk that children who are alone will fall victim to human trafficking. The administration is arguing that the laws do the opposite — that they make children more vulnerable to human trafficking and place children at greater risk in the immigration system — and so require the D.H.S. to separate families that would otherwise be together.
.. This is a specious use of law: It inverts the laws governing child immigration and uses them to exacerbate the very evil the law was designed to address.
.. Mr. Trump’s Justice Department is thus lying about what the tax bill did, and about Congress’s intent in passing it. And the department, like the president himself, is doing so as part of a transparent effort to rid the country of a law that Mr. Trump and his Republican caucus do not like but could not repeal through normal channels.
.. Lawyers, including at the Department of Justice, sometimes make aggressive arguments. But there is a difference between aggressive and preposterous, and between truths and untruths. The rule of law depends on these distinctions — to hold governments officials to the law, we need to be able to acknowledge what the law says.
.. The administration is simultaneously insisting that it must enforce a law that does not exist, but is refusing to defend a law that actually does exist, and jeopardizing the law in the process.
.. More likely, the administration will not persuade the current Supreme Court with these arguments. But it may be playing a long game that shifts expectations about legal arguments, and what falls within the bounds of reasonable — to make the law seem as manipulable, and therefore as easy to write off, as the facts.
This is a test for the courts. The executive and legislative branches have in too many ways capitulated to the president’s post-factual world. Will the legal system allow a post-legal one as well?
the broader dilemma for any political appointee in the age of Trump: Is it possible to serve both this president and the greater good? Is it better to be inside, attempting to mitigate the damage he is capable of causing? Or is that a sucker’s game, one that Trump, uncontainable, will always win, leaving subordinates stained in the process?
.. It is not best practice to let an interested party, even if that party is the president, dictate what potential misconduct to probe. But that accommodation may be, in the scheme of things, a reasonable one.
.. The meetings, which Justice and intelligence officials initially balked at, were conducted at the insistence of the White House, which should stay out of an investigation of the president, not meddle in it.
.. Democratic lawmakers were initially excluded — on the theory, as White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders put it, that it would be strange for Democrats to “consider themselves randomly invited to see something they never asked to.”.. No amount of capitulation will suffice. He is interested only in self-preservation, no matter what the cost to the rule of law... raises the risk of every deviation from ordinary practice — that it will set a dangerous precedent without achieving more than a temporary reprieve — even if it does not dictate where, exactly, to draw the line.
Mike Flynn. In 2016, the retired general published a book that made clear where he stood when it came to Russia.
“Although I believe America and Russia could find mutual ground fighting Radical Islamists,” he and co-author Michael Ledeen wrote, “there is no reason to believe Putin would welcome cooperation with us; quite the contrary, in fact.”
Lest there be any doubt as to where the future national security adviser stood, Flynn went on to stress that Vladimir Putin “has done a lot for the Khamenei regime”; that Russia and Iran were “the two most active and powerful members of the enemy alliance”; and that the Russian president’s deep intention was to “pursue the war against us.”
All this was true. Yet by the end of the year, Flynn would be courting Russia’s ambassador to Washington and hinting at swift relief from sanctions. What gave?
What gave, it seems, was some combination of financial motives — at least $65,000 in payments by Russian-linked companies — and political ones — a new master in the person of Donald Trump, who took precisely the same gauzy view of Russia that Flynn had rejected in his book.
.. the president’s craven apologists insist he’s right to try to find common ground with Russia. These are the same people who until recently were in full throat against Barack Obama for his overtures to Putin.
.. Yet the alleged naïveté never quits: Just this week, he asked for Putin’s help on North Korea.
The better explanations are:
- the president is infatuated with authoritarians, at least those who flatter him;
- he’s neurotically neuralgic when it comes to the subject of his election;
- he’s ideologically sympathetic to Putinism, with its combination of economic corporatism, foreign-policy cynicism, and violent hostility to critics;
- he’s stupid; or
- he’s vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
.. Each explanation is compatible with all the others. For my part, I choose all of the above — the first four points being demonstrable while the last is logical.
.. There’s no need to obsess about electoral collusion when the real issue is moral capitulation.
Timothy Vaughn dutifully cheered the University of Missouri for a decade, sitting in the stands with his swag, two hot dogs and a Diet Coke. He estimates he attended between 60 and 85 athletic events every year—football and basketball games and even tennis matches and gymnastics meets. But after the infamous protests of fall 2015, Missouri lost this die-hard fan.
“I pledge from this day forward NOT TO contribute to the [Tiger Scholarship Fund], buy any tickets to any University of Missouri athletic event, to attend any athletic event (even if free), to give away all my MU clothes (nearly my entire wardrobe) after I have removed any logos associated with the University of Missouri, and any cards/helmets/ice buckets/flags with the University of Missouri logo on it,” Mr. Vaughn told administrators in an email four semesters ago.
He was not alone. Thousands of pages of emails I obtained through the Missouri Freedom of Information Act show that many alumni and other supporters were disgusted with administrators’ feeble response to the disruptions. Like Mr. Vaughn, many promised they’d stop attending athletic events. Others vowed they’d never send their children or grandchildren to the university. It now appears many of them have made good on those promises.
The commotion began in October 2015, when student activists claiming that “racism lives here” sent administrators a lengthy list of demands. Among them: The president of the University of Missouri system should resign after delivering a handwritten apology acknowledging his “white male privilege”; the curriculum should include “comprehensive racial awareness and inclusion” training; and 10% of the faculty and staff should be black.
.. Donors, parents, alumni, sports fans and prospective students raged against the administration’s caving in. “At breakfast this morning, my wife and I agreed that MU is NOT a school we would even consider for our three children,” wrote Victor Wirtz, a 1978 alum, adding that the university “has devolved into the Berkeley of the Midwest.”
.. As classes begin this week, freshmen enrollment is down 35% since the protests
.. Universities have consistently underestimated the power of a furious public. At the same time, they’ve overestimated the power of student activists, who have only as much influence as administrators give them. Far from avoiding controversy, administrators who respond to campus radicals with cowardice and capitulation should expect to pay a steep price for years.
.. Susan Fox: I live in Missouri. I even attended Mizzou for a summer program in high school. I am now having my first child.
Mizzou will not receive a dime of my money. If my child wants to go to a state school, they can go to Rolla or Kirksville. If Mizzou sends my child brochures, they will be returned with a “We need some muscle over here!” comment splayed across it. This is 18 years into the future we are now talking about.
I do not think Mizzou has correctly accounted for the long-lasting effects its actions will have.
.. William Butos: .. What they do not understand is that the people paying the freight are beginning to see through this shell game and refusing to play along.
.. Barrett McShane: The only thing that can really change a university administration’s bent towards Lefties is for wealthy alums to stop contributing. For some reason the allure of having a brick, plaque, quadrangle or building with one’s name on it is stronger than common sense, so unlikely things will change to any great degree.
.. Jeff Middleswart:
This is an important lesson to understand. Actual Americans need to realize that they still hold the purse-strings here. They also need to realize that the truly privileged in this society are leaching off the productive and getting perks that the rest of us pay for and yet do not receive ourselves.
Does the 20-year old who became a welder still get spring break and summers off? Can the welder borrow money via a school loan to pay for his vacation to Europe?
How many of you work more than 9 hours per week for 32 weeks per year?
Do you get a free pension with mandated set returns from tax payers?
Can you bill the tax payers for grant money to produce work no one will read or use?
How many of you have life time employment with automatic raises?
If your business isn’t viable anymore – does it get subsidies forever like NPR, NEA, teaching French…?
Can you mandate that people use your product? The school can require that an engineer take literature from a tenured prof and buy his book.
.. John Watson
The very day Donald Trump announced his candidacy, my liberal niece asked me what I thought about it, like it was absurd. I told her that whatever the result, one thing was for sure. Trump was going to make us talk about “uncomfortable” things. No PC BS from him. She asked with concern why that was a good thing, and I explained that we can’t fix what we can’t talk about. She agreed with that basic premise, if nothing else I said.
The PC culture has done immense damage to our nation and our society. It has created what we know as snowflakes, college students who are shielded from the real world to the extent they will never be prepared to deal with it. Free speech has been endangered to the extent some even want to criminally prosecute those who dare disagree with their view of things, such as the Climate crowd. Corporations fear the PC police and their press to the point of acting irrationally, as seen by the recent exodus of CEO from Trump’s support.
Let’s talk and fix things.
.. Hillsdale College in Michigan is one of the few institutions remaining that does not have as their mission to indoctrinate students in Leftism. Sad to say, but even the military schools have become cesspools of political correctness. One can hope this movement against Leftism that has been the guiding light for over 40 years at these schools is now going to be challenged. When you look at the cost benefit ratio of student debt versus what is taught the whole college education imperative comes into question.