TIME FOR STRONG ACTION
ON PROTECTING FREE SPEECH
That’s the time of year when conceited actors, overpaid sports stars, and self-righteous leftist icons offer words of encouragement to young people who are about to discover that the world isn’t like those warped descriptions they’ve been hearing for the past four years.
This exercise in emotional uplift is especially challenging when messages must be couched in terms that avoid giving offense to even the most contrived identity group, and can’t carry the least suggestion that our nation and way of life hold any hope for progress, equity, or civic virtue.
Commencement season focuses my mind on a particular source of impatience with the Trump Administration.
The Donald has expressed concern about the atmosphere of political correctness that prevails on America’s campuses and throughout society in general. He made it a prominent theme during his presidential campaign — so much so that the Washington Post headlined that he appeared to be “winning the war” on PC…
“Trump is channeling a very mainstream frustration,” noted a January 2016 Post analysis. “In an October poll by Fairleigh Dickinson University, 68 percent agreed with the proposition that ‘a big problem this country has is being politically correct.’”
This paralleled Trump’s assertion…
“I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.”
…which he saw as an obstacle to addressing our most pressing problems…
“I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble….”
Trump focused specifically on the academic world in one campaign speech. As reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, he observed…
“In the past few decades, political correctness — oh, what a terrible term — has transformed our institutions of higher education from ones that fostered spirited debate to a place of extreme censorship, where students are silenced for the smallest of things. You say a word somewhat differently, and all of a sudden you’re criticized — sometimes viciously.”
And he went so far as to promise…
“We will end the political correctness and foster free and respectful dialogue.”
There has been some action on the PC issue, taken mostly at the bureaucratic level. As the Huffington Post reported…
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions has made protecting free speech at public universities a top priority for the Department of Justice. In September, Sessions decried what he termed the transformation of U.S. colleges from centers of academic freedom into ‘an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.’
“Sessions said a ‘national recommitment to free speech on campus is long overdue,’ and said the DOJ would take action to ensure First Amendment rights.
“‘We will enforce federal law, defend free speech, and protect students’ free expression from whatever end of the political spectrum it may come,’ he said.”
That’s all to the good. But I have hoped for more robust and higher-visibility action — something that would make it clear American culture rejects the channeling of thought into narrow, ideologically restricted paths.
I’d like to see legislation that authorizes withholding of Federal money from institutions that employ censorship, speech codes, safe spaces, or other forms of Orwellian mind control.
“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view — NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
Those sounded like fighting words at the time, and I found them heartening. But subsequently not much has happened that’s visible.
Now, I realize Trump is being sand-bagged at every turn in his effort to get all his troops marching in the same direction. And I also know the mainstream media are doing their best to obscure any significant progress his administration makes.
I mean, how long do we have to keep hearing about the “failures” of Trump tax reform?
Jobs are being created every day. The country is virtually at full employment. More minorities are working than ever. Tax revenues are increasing. And yet all we hear is that the rich are porking up while the masses get driven into penury.
So maybe there’s more progress happening on First Amendment protections than we know.
But the clock is ticking. Elections are coming. And unless the pollsters prove to be as accurate as they were in predicting Hillary Clinton’s landslide victory, Republicans may lose control of one or the other House of Congress this fall.
Not that GOPers have been staunch Trump allies while in the majority — but with Nancy Pelosi back as Speaker, things could get really ugly for The Donald. And I don’t think the First Amendment is very high on the Democrats’ agenda.
So this commencement season, say a prayer for some aggressive action in defense of free speech — really freedom to think — on America’s college and university campuses. The future depends on it…
The future of our young people.
The future of education.
The future of our nation.
Your future and mine.
Happy Graduation Day!
Even after years of discussion about campus speech restrictions, a lot of people still think the whole political correctness thing is just a straw man concocted by rabid right-wingers angry that they don’t call the shots on most college and university campuses. But the reality of academic mind control was made especially vivid back in 2014 when Sandra Y.L. Korn, a student at Harvard, caused a national stir.
Her essay in the Harvard Crimson, calling for the abolition of academic freedom, went viral, demonstrating the success of that long march through the institutions which has brought the reign of leftism over American higher education. I wrote about Korn’s argument at the time…
Another (related) method of restricting free expression is the movement to provide safe spaces where students are assured of never being triggered by ideas that contradict the prevailing leftist dogma (or never having to be in contact with people whose opinions might make them feel uncomfortable). I commented on that insidious trend back in 2016…