This week, President Trump announced plans for an executive order supporting free speech on college campuses nationwide. His action responds to growing suppression of conservative voices across “the academy” going back a decade.
Colleges not honoring First Amendment rights will face denial of federal grants. Liberals are up in arms, as are universities. Arguments lofted against the President are as diverse as the dialogue on campus is chilled, self-censored, and vacuous.
Some argue campuses are plenty diverse, others that the First Amendment needs no executive champion. Some argue the President has no right to arbitrate, while others claim this will open the door to conservative ideas.
So, what are the facts? Scary. Nationwide, colleges are adopting “speech codes,” banning words subject to “misuse,” banning speakers who require more security (since schools teach intolerance of tradition and tolerate violence against conservatives), banning religious groups that disagree with progressive orthodoxy, berating academics and students who support Second Amendment rights and gun ownership, who question federal overreach, socialism, climate-hysteria, drug legalization, and leftist demagoguery.
Support for traditional American values – like unencumbered freedom to praise or criticize authority, hold religious views consonant with conscience and Biblical text, support law enforcement and military action, honor the American flag and anthem, oppose killing of unborn and just-born babies, and protect the integrity of citizenship, territorial sovereignty, drug-free communities – is anathema. Not to be tolerated.
Tools deployed against students include kicking individuals and groups off campus, failing to protect students and conservative speakers from physical violence, withholding grades, advancement and social positions, as well as a plethora of social control techniques, from ostracizing and intimidating traditionalists to promoting “normalization” of leftist ideologies, norming illicit drug use, promoting racial resentment (e.g. “white privilege”), condemning patriotism, law enforcement, and traditional support for rule of law.
Conservatives are progressively recast as “outliers,” young Americans reeducated to “understand” that the work, sacrifice and freedom that brought our country to this point are not worth studying or admiring, rather should be condemned, disowned, and rewritten. Sound familiar? Marx, Lenin, Stalin, Mao – as well as fascists – all subscribed to this idea.
The boldly stated justification for censorship, a pro-suppression agenda? According to speech policies, we must “protect the vulnerable,” “promote social justice,” and “assure diversity.”
George Orwell would be so proud. He predicted this development with clarity, care and granularity 35 years too early – in 1984. Ray Bradbury predicted it too, his book-burning in Fahrenheit 451. Arguably, one of the most thorough, articulate thinkers of our time, Russell Kirk, laid out the stakes in The Conservative Mind, published in 1953, updated in 1985.
So, President Trump is right – we live in times that demand a defense of free speech, especially on college campuses. But take the rejoinder apart.
Liberals say they want more “diversity.” But what do they mean? Diversity is no longer about greater idea inclusion, broader academic dialogue, more openness to intellectual, moral, and social difference. Diversity is not about expanding viewpoints, understanding truth, or inviting variety into the public square – more robust debate, discussion, advancement, idea dismissal or thoughtful integration.
Diversity is no longer about seeking truth at all – although this remains the primary venture on which we should hope to enter, especially on a campus. Now, the term is constricted – by an unspoken code. Today, it does not mean inviting different views to advance moral understanding, science or social unity, entertaining diverse viewpoints for general edification, but the reverse.
Today it means, using race, demography, politics and group markers as surrogates for diverse thought. It means settling old scores, resurrecting and preserving divisions – some of which were laboriously closed over generations – to advance the division of America. Is that not odd, and profoundly sad?
Diverse opinions are now quashed in the name of diversity, while physical characteristics are used to differentiate groups and advance a divided society, reelecting politicians who promote divisions and groupthink, while saying they are all for unity.
So, campuses less and less promote truth, unity and genuine diversity – instead perpetuating divisions under the rubric of diversity. Let’s be clear: Speech and people are not made freer by suppression of speech and people.
As for the idea that speech needs no executive champion, a president has no right to arbitrate, and conservative ideas are dangerous? Free speech needs no champion so long as constitutional rights are honored. But when they are dishonored – and students are censored on our campuses – speech needs a champion.
The President, Congress and Article III Courts are not arbiters of free speech, except when free speech is chided, chilled and killed by violence, intimidation and misuse – and by accusing those who use words to communicate ideas of “misuse.” Then, free speech needs defenders.
Conservative thought dangerous? Hardly. Promotion of immediate violence of any kind and for any reason, short of self-defense or defense of another, against any American – or anyone on our soil – is forbidden, and does not count as free speech. That is a conservative principle, tied to another one – rule of law.
So, if you think this column is dangerous – if you think ideas like free and open exchange, use of words that may be offensive, direct, candid, insulting and strongly held; if you think advancing un-chilled speech – some hot enough to spur argument; and if you think rule of law to support open talk is dangerous, then – well, go back and read your American history.
You may be surprised. Free speech is about the human conscience, intellect, emotions and spirit – gaining a voice. That is what our Founders fought for, died for and left to us. Our job is to speak freely in defense of that sacred right. That is what President Trump is doing. And that is why he is right.