I’d first like to speak to my previous thoughts on the likes of groups such as white nationalists and ultraconservative Muslims.
While I do still hold to my conclusion that the main thrusts of these two ideological groups are in opposition to what I see as the core values of the United States, I would never presume to deny Americans who are a part of these groups the right to speak. For although I view the ideas of white nationalists and ultraconservative Muslims to be un-American, I also see any campaign meant silence non-violent rhetoric to be equally as un-American. I wanted to make my stance on this issue clear, as my previous statements on these factions, and others like them, could be seen as a justification to silence them and their ideas. I hold the Constitution in high regard and would never seek to rob another American of their First Amendment right to free speech, no matter how much I disagree with them – as long as that speech isn’t meant to incite violence.
This sentiment reminds me of something echoed by Gore Vidal, who I was very delighted to see you mention in your last post. His name and mind seem to have sadly been lost to this generation. During a debate with a priest on the topic of homosexual relationships – of which Vidal was a stalwart and early supporter – he rebuked the priest’s belief that it was inappropriate for anyone to “encourage young boys into this kind of relationship.” After doing so, Vidal showed his support for free speech in opposition to religious censorship by stating that he’s “certainly not going to try to shut down [the priest’s] church, as appalling as [he] finds [his] argument.” It’s this kind of tolerance of opposition that I wish was more widespread.
However, the war to censor political opposition has long been a feverously fought fight between the right and the left. The topic of this war of words – or war of no words – is a particularly hot button issue in today’s political climate. In my lifetime, I have seen a major shift from sit down and debate to sit down and shut up. Currently, most of the onus for the start and sustention of this conflict has been put on the left. However, while the left is a major contender in this fight, I hold both sides in contempt of conversation.
The most often cited offense, at least in my eyes, of the left’s war against free speech is their apparent takeover of colleges and other academic institutions. As we’ve both made clear in previous posts, I’m currently a college student and you are my college professor. So, we have firsthand experience of liberal influence on college campuses; one might say we’re on the front lines. I do agree with the notion that the left is reserving college campuses more and more for themselves. It’s worse in some place than others, as I’m sure you would agree that the situation at Berkeley is much more dire than at Lycoming.
I think it’s best to break this issue into two distinct parts. The first part deals with the grievance that there are more liberal students on college campuses than there are conservative students. While this does cause an unbalanced power dynamic in the student body, I don’t see this imbalance as surprising. College is often seen as a place to become enlightened, expand your horizons, find yourself, and experience new aspects of the world. I wouldn’t disagree with someone if they were to acknowledge that those promises of fresh experiences and growth would more likely appeal to a liberal-oriented mind. After all, conservatives are conservative for a reason; they are rigid, slow to change, and in opposition to drastically new experiences.
So, when you have a single type of person being overwhelmingly more attracted to the potential experiences found in collegiate institutions, it’s going to make them a majority population in that environment. This then leads the other group, the conservatives, to be the minority population in that environment. And whenever there is a struggle between majority and minority populations, the minority is going to feel outnumbered, shut down, and a bit more disregarded – because they are. When you realize that this is the kind of dynamic that is present on college campuses, there’s no wonder that conservatives aren’t hearing more of what they agree with from their classmates.
I see it as an interesting parallel to liberals being the minority population in churches and religious organizations. The faith-based sector of American life is heavily dominated by conservatives. Some liberal values and ideas are not considered acceptable in the realm of religious worship. In this realm, conservatives have the power of numbers to shut down and disregard liberal opposition to how they run their operation. Some may see this as a false equivalency, for they would argue that having access to a college education is more important than having access to a house of worship. While I hear that argument, I’m sure there are many Americans that see religion as either on par or exceeding college education in importance.
Although I’m pointing out why this situation isn’t surprising, I indeed stand in stark opposition to it. An NRA member should be able to study his chosen field without the possibility of political difficulty, just as a gay man should be able to worship his chosen god without the possibility of banishment, ridicule, or death.
The second part of this issue is where liberal influence on campuses becomes a greater problem. Not only are the students overwhelmingly liberal on most college campuses, but the professors also tend to be more liberal and progressive. While you would probably have more authority on this matter than I do, there has lately been widespread panic that the appearance of liberal professors causes the teaching of courses to be skewed in favor of liberal ideals. As someone who’s still learning and – for the most part – at the mercy of the professor’s seminar, it’d be difficult for me to decipher whether a professor’s teaching is being influenced by the left.
However, let me tackle this issue as if it were a proven fact that this does indeed occur. In my view, it’s not a professor’s responsibility to lecture according to their subscribed to morality or propagandize from the lectern. I don’t see the role of a professor as someone who teaches a specific ideology to their students, but instead someone who provides the tools that are necessary for a young mind to discover their own world view. This is exactly why students aren’t forced to espouse any particular religion by their public schools. Educators are not, and should not, be pastors or political persuaders. As a professor, I’m curious to hear your take on the issue. Is it indeed a pressing problem, and, if so, what should be done about it?
I’d now like to move to the left’s main concern on free speech. While I’m not sure if I agree with the extreme left that there’s a despotic regime waiting right around the corner, I do understand why they’re so frenzied. For liberals aren’t feeling threatened by something like college campuses, they’re feeling threatened by the President of the United States. Even though I may not be kept awake at night, pacing around my bedroom, I do find some of Trump’s actions and rhetoric to be troubling.
In fact, I’d probably go as far as to agree with the left that President Trump is a threat to the freedom of the press. It all started during his campaign when he promised, if he were to become president, to expand the libel laws of the United States, so he could sue media outlets that gave negative viewpoints about him and his policies. He then relegated journalists to guarded, cage-like, areas at his rallies where they couldn’t ask him questions. There were even alleged instances of Trump personnel, including his then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, assaulting these journalists for trying to approach candidate Trump for quotes. Trump even went so far as to tweet, after he was elected president, that “the fake news media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not [his] enemy, but the enemy of the people!”
After taking all of these actions and statements into consideration, one can’t help but draw parallels to Richard Nixon. Nixon himself, in a conversation with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, called the press “the enemy.” After doing so, he told Kissinger to “write it on a blackboard a hundred times, and never forget it.” Those comments, along with the revelation of Nixon’s “enemies list,” – which contained the names of many people in the press and news media – showed Nixon’s distain and mistrust of the press. However, in defense of Nixon, at least he just saw the press as his enemy, not the enemy of the American people.
As far as I can remember, the free and open press is an integral part of our political system. There’s a reason, after all, that the press is referred to as the fourth estate – although, I acknowledge that it’s role within the system is an unofficial one.
But, for the sake of being impartial, let’s act as if Trump’s actions toward the press are just Trump being Trump – blustering and whining with a never-ending stream of hot air. Even so, you brought up a point that I see as equally troubling, even though you regard it as one of Trump’s constitutional rights. While an American’s right to free speech also includes their right to not speak, should that right extend to the state and federal government? Even if there aren’t any constitutional objections to governmental silence, I would think there’d be moral opposition to it. A republic, such as the United States of America, requires its citizenry to be well-informed to adequately function. So, if the government remains silent, how will the American citizens and the American press remain informed? If this were the case, government transparency would disappear, and those in power would have free reign to direct the country without public pressure or criticism. The possibility of this occurring is worrisome to me, as I see it as a future to be very much avoided.
It seems that only time will tell if President Trump is the censorship crusader that the left believes him to be. I myself am not completely sold. Ever watchful, maybe, but not sold. It’s my hope that the left is wrong in their prophecies of a constitutional apocalypse, and it turns out that Trump is less of a Mussolini and more of a William de la Touche Clancy – willingly misleading his followers with a slew of goosy honks, and more of a danger to country boys and small dogs than to the United States of America.