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.
But the glib and fashionable double standard against traditionalists and orthodox Christians isn’t what I have in mind. It’s the far more widespread and fashionable bigotry against the past.
If a visitor from Sudan comes to your house for dinner, it’s simply good manners to make allowances for the cultural differences. If you go to a foreign country, it’s understood by most decent people that you should be making the lion’s share of adjustments to how people do things. The quintessential ugly American refuses to bend to — or even respect — the norms of foreign cultures, norms that can sometimes be ugly, nasty, or backward by a lot of Western standards.
The arguments in favor of deferring to foreign cultures ranges from Emily Post bromides about etiquette to swirling torrents of words about colonial this, patriarchal that, and imperial the other thing. Fine.
The Iowa congressman has been saying offensive things for years but many of his supporters don’t seem concerned.
The Republicans in Des Moines and Washington are doing what they can to run away from and run off Representative Steve King, the Republican from my district, for yet more of his outlandish remarks over white supremacy, nationalism and western civilization — remarks that simply echo things he has said many times over the past two decades in my paper, The Storm Lake Times.
.. A Republican State Senator, Randy Feenstra, a professor at Dordt College with solid Christian conservative credentials, has said he will challenge Mr. King in the 2020 primary. Mr. Feenstra said he stands with President Trump but is not as “caustic” as Mr. King and will not embarrass ever-polite Iowans. Other Republicans are pondering primary runs, too, thinking that condemnation at the hands of the party elite may give them a rare opening.
Not so fast. Mr. King may be wounded, but he remains popular here.
.. “They can’t change my mind about him,” said Cathy Greenfield, a dog groomer adamantly opposed to abortion who lives with her husband, Larry, a teacher and auto body mechanic, in the village of Fonda just east of Storm Lake. “The left has been after him forever. I don’t think he’s a racist. I think he will be successful.”
.. She is not even prepared to consider Mr. Feenstra or anyone else. Ms. Greenfield trusts Steve King, now serving his ninth term.
The same goes for Sue Guntren of Storm Lake, who with her husband, Robert, proudly plants a huge red “KING” sign every two years in her yard along Lake Avenue, the main drag. “We’re sticking with him,” she said. “I’ve never really heard what he did was that bad.”
.. Eric Mosbo took a break from his Snapper dealership to reflect on his support for Mr. King. “I don’t care what the topic is, you have to be able to have an honest discussion about it. King was trying to defend the merits of Western Civilization, not white supremacy. Since only a snippet of his comments were used and the interview wasn’t recorded, the message was twisted around to project an incorrect quote. Reporting events and comments are hard work and the need to be correct is huge.”
.. The congressman has made lots of outrageous remarks over the years. He joked about immigrants being “dirt.” Like Mr. Trump, hebroadly describes Latinos as drug runners and criminals. He said he doesn’t expect to meet any gay people in heaven.
.. Most supporters write it off as “Steve being Steve,” or as the media unfairly being on his case. His son banned or ejected reporters, including from The Des Moines Register, The Storm Lake Times and other publications, from the congressman’s election-night rally, calling them left-wing propagandists.
President Trump does not believe that people — that white men like himself — should have to apologize for their public displays of misogyny or racism. But this isn’t simply because he doesn’t want to give ground to critics out of stubbornness or a fear of displaying weakness.
Rather, the refusal to apologize for these things is itself a political statement, even a statement of values. And you can bet that many of his supporters hear it in precisely this way.
.. This once again displays Trump’s seething contempt for his own voters’ intelligence.
.. He has also complained that aides publicly admitted mistakes earlier this year over their handling of allegations that former White House staff secretary Rob Porter was emotionally and physically abusive toward his two ex-wives. “You should have never apologized,” he told a group of communications aides, according to two people. “You don’t ever apologize.”
You don’t ever apologize, even for failing to perform due diligence on a very senior administration official’s repeated alleged incidents of domestic abuse. But why don’t you ever apologize?
.. Trump and his advisers debated whether he should do a TV interview and reiterate his apology. His advisers handed him language in which he would admit that his vile language (which included boasting about grabbing women by the “p—y”) was “not acceptable for a president.”
But Trump exploded. “I can’t do this,” he raged. “This is weak. You guys are weak.” Once elected, Trump even took to suggesting that the voice on the tape wasn’t his.
.. Trump refused to admit error, and even doubled down, after falsely claiming that “thousands and thousands” of U.S. Muslims had celebrated 9/11.
Then there’s Trump’s birtherism. After spending years spreading the racist conspiracy theory that the nation’s first black president didn’t belong in the White House because he isn’t American, Trump finally admitted the truth. But he falsely blamed Hillary Clinton for hatching the claim and took credit for forcing Obama to reveal his birth certificate, like a sheriff who had thrown a perp against the wall and shaken loose his papers.
.. Trump views racial discord as a positive — the more of it, the better. The whole point is deliberate provocation, both out of genuine racist conviction and the belief that it tightens his political bond with his supporters. Trump pardoned racist Joe Arpaio as “a way of pleasing his political base.” He revived his attacks on football players for protesting racism because this “revs up his political base.” After Trump deliberately stoked racial discord after Charlottesville, Stephen K. Bannon subsequently said it would be a political winner for the president.