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.
just calling out deceit is insufficient. It is essential as well to understand why Trump tells particular lies at particular moments and to be hardheaded in judging how effective they are.
.. Republicans on the ballot this fall should be asked if they see Pelosi as an “MS-13 lover,” and if not, whether they will denounce Trump for saying such a thing. I am not holding my breath.
.. Yet sometimes Trump engages in a perverse form of transparency. He signaled clearly that the whole point of his screed — during which he also re-upped his claim that Mexico would pay for his border wall — was about the midterm elections. Immigration, he said, is “a good issue for us, not for them.”
.. Why immigration? It’s not the central concern of most voters. A Gallup survey in May found that 10 percent of Americans listed it as the most important problem facing the country. And Trump’s wall is not popular — in a recent CBS News poll, 59 percent of Americans were against building it... But currently, Trump and the Republicans aren’t focused on the majority of Americans. They are petrified that their own loyalists do not seem very motivated about voting in November... just 26 percent of Americans strongly approved of Trump’s job performance, compared with 41 percent who strongly disapproved... Trump and his party feel they need to screech loudly to get their side back into the game, and attacking immigration (going back to Mexican “rapists”) is the signature Trump talking point... Republican House candidates are following Trump’s lead, according to a USA Today study published Tuesday, “blanketing the airwaves with TV ads embracing a hard line on immigration.” By contrast, health care was the topic most invoked in Democratic spots. The GOP’s emphasis may shift some after the primaries, but Republicans seem to know that wedge issues are more useful to them than their record.
.. Political polarization has many sources, but the prime cause of it now is the president himself. Polarization defines Trump’s survival strategy, and it means that demagoguery —
- toward immigrants,
- toward crime,
- toward special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe,
- toward dissenting NFL players,
- toward anyone who takes him on— is what his presidency is all about... What thus needs exposing is not simply Trump’s indifference to the truth but also the fact that he depends upon the kinds of lies that will tear our country to pieces.
No president since Richard Nixon has embraced the weaponized rhetoric of “law and order” as avidly as Mr. Trump. “When I take the oath of office next year, I will restore law and order to our country,” he said during his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 2016. “I will work with, and appoint, the best prosecutors and law enforcement officials in the country to get the job properly done. In this race for the White House, I am the law and order candidate.”
Time and again, the president denounces “illegals” and “criminals” and the “American carnage” they wreak on law-abiding Americans. He even advised an audience of police officers to rough up suspects they were arresting.
.. Yet this tough-guy stance disappears when the accused are in the president’s inner circle. In defending Rob Porter, the White House senior aide accused of abuse by both of his ex-wives, the president wondered whatever happened to due process while praising a man accused of giving his wife a black eye. (Mr. Porter denies the abuse.)
.. Where was this concern for due process, they asked, when the president and his supporters chanted “Lock her up” about Hillary Clinton, who hadn’t even been formally accused of a crime? Where was his devotion to due process when he called for the Central Park Five to be executed, and then, after their exoneration, still maintained that they were guilty?
.. The president’s boundless benefit of the doubt for the Rob Porters and Roy Moores of the world, combined with off-with-their-heads capriciousness for immigrants accused of even minor crimes, is not a contradiction. It is the expression of a consistent worldview that he campaigned on and has pursued in office.
.. In this view, crime is not defined by a specific offense. Crime is defined by who commits it. If a young black man grabs a white woman by the crotch, he’s a thug and deserves to be roughed up by police officers. But if Donald Trump grabs a white woman by the crotch in a nightclub (as he’s accused of doing, and denies), it’s locker-room high jinks.
This view is also expressed by many of the president’s staff members, supporters and prominent allies. During the same week that the White House chief of staff, John Kelly, repeatedly vouched for Rob Porter’s integrity, Mr. Kelly also mused that hundreds of thousands of unauthorized immigrants who did not fill out the paperwork for DACA protections had refused to “get off their asses.”
A political movement that rails against “immigrant crime” while defending alleged abusers and child molesters is one that has stopped pretending to have any universalist aspirations.
The president’s moral framework springs from an American tradition of cultivating fear and contempt among its white citizens against immigrants, indigenous people and people of color, who are placed on the other side of “the law.” It’s a practice that has taken on new strength at a time when many white people fear they may be outnumbered, outvoted and out of time.
This is the opposite of what we like to tell ourselves is the traditional American civic creed: one symbolized by a blindfolded Lady Justice who applies the law without fear or favor to whoever may come before her. It is one of Mr. Trump’s most insidious victories that he has given his supporters permission to drop any pretense of insisting that their actions and views should conform to this principle.
If all that matters when it comes to “law and order” is who is a friend and who is an enemy, and if friends are white and enemies are black or Latino or in the wrong party, then the rhetoric around crime and punishment stops being about justice and is merely about power and corruption.
And this is what “law and order” means: the preservation of a certain social order, not the rule of law.
.. The history of the United States is the story of a struggle between the desire to establish certain universal rights and the countervailing desire to preserve a particular social order.
We are now witnessing a president who wholly embraces the latter. America can have that kind of social order, or it can have justice for all. But it can’t have both.
- .. The father was a powerful evangelist who turned evangelicalism into the dominant spiritual impulse in modern America.
- His son is—not to put too fine a point on it—a political hack, one who is rapidly rebranding evangelicalism as a belief system marked not by faith, hope, and love but by fear of Muslims and homophobia.
.. Graham got into bed with the wrong man in Richard Nixon. And while he must be praised for integrating his revivals (which he called crusades) and for inviting the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to deliver an invocation at his massive New York City crusade in 1957, he was missing in action when it came to civil rights legislation.
.. After King imagined in his 1963 “I Have a Dream Speech” a “beloved community” in which “little black boys and little black girls will join hands with little white boys and white girls,” Graham dismissed that dream as utopian. “Only when Christ comes again will the little white children of Alabama walk hand in hand with little black children,” he said.
.. ultimately chastened by his chumminess with Nixon
.. worked hard to transcend the racism and anti-Semitism that swirled around him as a farm boy in North Carolina
.. understood (at his best) that the Christian message (at its best) is about love rather than fear, inclusion rather than exclusion.
.. When asked to join in common cause with Jerry Falwell after the foundation of the Moral Majority in 1979, Graham refused to yoke his organization to the cultural wars of the Religious Right and the Republican Party.
.. Shortly after 9/11, Franklin Graham provided the sound bite of today’s culture wars when he denounced Islam as “a very wicked and evil religion.” He later became thestandard bearer for the view that Islam is, in his words “a religion of hatred . . . a religion of war.”
.. In addition to purveying the birther nonsense
.. suggested that President Barack Obama was not a Christian and might in fact be a secret Muslim.
.. he demonstrates no awareness of the ways in which his political pronouncements are breaking down the evangelical witness his father devoted so much energy to building up.
.. During World War II era, European churches were hurt badly by the affiliation of Christianity with right-wing political movements
.. Americans witnessed a powerful religious revival after the war, thanks in part to Billy Graham. That revival is over. Religion is now declining in the United States, and evangelicalism with it
.. the portion of white evangelical Protestants in the United States declined from 23 percent to 17 percent.
.. 27 percent of Americans describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” and another 18 percent as “neither religious nor spiritual.”
.. There are many reasons for this decline in religious believing and belonging. But the most important in my view is the increasing identification of the Christian churches with right-wing politics.
.. Reinhold Niebuhr, who criticized Graham for his “pietistic individualism” and his neglect of social sin.
.. stuck for the most part to his simpler message that the world would be saved only through individual regeneration.
.. mistake the gospel of Christ for the gospel of American civilization.
.. Graham had a humility almost entirely lost among the public preachers of our day, his eldest son included.
We seem to have entered a period of nonstop mutual denunciation. This is particularly useful to the media, which can fill pages and airtime with nonevents that reporters and pundits invent and then cover. It is useful, too, in providing simple moral guidelines by which a person can establish superior virtue without having to do anything.
.. Yet Democratic condemnations of Al Franken began flowing within minutes of the story’s breaking.. America’s very own national epic, like England’s “Dunciad,” seems mostly to deliver lessons about how concerned we are with keeping up appearances and establishing some sort of moral pecking order.
May had a “very simple message” for the Kremlin. “We know what you were doing and you will not succeed,” she said, “because you underestimate the resilience of our democracies, the enduring attraction of free and open societies, and the commitment of Western nations to the alliances that bind us.”
Trump’s message to the Kremlin is simple, too: Do what you want.
.. He believes President Vladimir Putin is “sincere” in denying Russian attempts to meddle in the American elections ..
.. Far from denouncing Putin’s continuous assaults on human rights and free speech in Russia, Trump has praised him as being a better leader than Obama.
.. Contrast Trump’s behavior not just with May’s, but also that of Ronald Reagan, who was viscerally opposed to Communism and entered office determined to bring down the Soviet empire.
.. In February, when Bill O’Reilly pointed out to Trump that Putin is “a killer,” the president replied: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”
I enjoy the self-abasement of Jeff Sessions, who endured private harangues and public humiliation from his boss because the attorney general saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use his office to get tough on illegal immigration.
And then there’s the joy of watching Sean Hannity trying desperately to pin the blame for the president’s border wall betrayal on congressional Republicans. The Fox News host seems to be drawing moral inspiration from Samuel Beckett, who is said to have mused: “When you’re in the sh— up to your neck, there’s nothing left to do but sing.”
.. But now it’s the president who is doing exactly that, making the case for DACA beneficiaries in terms his base most condemns: as “good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military” and who don’t deserve to be thrown out of the country simply because their parents brought them to the United States as children. It’s the kind of thing Nancy Pelosi — or, worse, John McCain — might say.
.. He feels about as much loyalty toward them and their convictions as he’s felt toward his several wives. Remember that, as recently as 2012, he denounced Mitt Romney for an excessively harsh attitude toward immigrants, calling the Massachusetts governor’s policy of self-deportation “crazy” and a turnoff to “everybody who is inspired to come into this country.”
.. at heart he was a destructive opportunist with no core convictions beyond his own immediate advantage.