Discover more from The Bulwark
Who’s Afraid of Free Speech?
Plus: Desperately seeking DeSantis
On this Tuesday in congressional history:
Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) shared a photoshopped, animated video that depicts him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and swinging two swords at President Biden, prompting condemnation and calls for his Twitter and Instagram accounts to be suspended.
Not exactly shocking behavior for Paul Gosar.
Gosar has long drawn criticism for his extremist views, including his spreading of conspiracy theories about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob and the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville. In February, he appeared at an event whose organizer called for white supremacy. Gosar later distanced himself from the organizer’s remarks.
And yet, Gosar is and will remain a member in good standing of the House GOP caucus, along with Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and Madison Cawthorn.
Meanwhile Punchbowl News is reporting:
Speaking of existential threats…
Vectors of Disinformation
Via the Kaiser Family Foundation: “COVID-19 Misinformation is Ubiquitous: 78% of the Public Believes or is Unsure About At Least One False Statement, and Nearly a Third Believe At Least Four of Eight False Statements.”
And the sources of the bulls*t? No surprise here…
The fight over free speech
PEN America is warning that bills banning “critical race theory,” threaten free speech in schools.
“These bills appear designed to chill academic and educational discussions and impose government dictates on teaching and learning,” the report says. “In short: They are educational gag orders.”
“Taken together,” it continues, “the efforts amount to a sweeping crusade for content- and viewpoint-based state censorship.”
But, The New York Times report includes this jarring line: “In invoking free speech, PEN is staking its approach on a principle that has lost its luster for some on the left, even while many on the right — including politicians advocating these bills — have invoked it as a mantra.”
Free speech Has lost its luster for some on the left.
And, of course thereby hangs a tale, but not an especially new one on university campuses, where speech codes, trigger warnings, and safe spaces have been a thing for some time now.
So now comes a new university that is designed to challenge all of that. As former St. John’s College President Pano Kanelos explained in Bari Weiss’s newsletter yesterday:
The numbers tell the story as well as any anecdote you’ve read in the headlines or heard within your own circles. Nearly a quarter of American academics in the social sciences or humanities endorse ousting a colleague for having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as immigration or gender differences. Over a third of conservative academics and PhD students say they had been threatened with disciplinary action for their views. Four out of five American PhD students are willing to discriminate against right-leaning scholars, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.
The picture among undergraduates is even bleaker. In Heterodox Academy’s 2020 Campus Expression Survey, 62% of sampled college students agreed that the climate on their campus prevented students from saying things they believe. Nearly 70% of students favor reporting professors if the professor says something students find offensive, according to a Challey Institute for Global Innovation survey. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports at least 491 disinvitation campaigns since 2000. Roughly half were successful.
On our quads, faculty are being treated like thought criminals. Dorian Abbot, a University of Chicago scientist who has objected to aspects of affirmative action, was recently disinvited from delivering a prominent public lecture on planetary climate at MIT. Peter Boghossian, a philosophy professor at Portland State University, finally quit in September after years of harassment by faculty and administrators. Kathleen Stock, a professor at University of Sussex, just resigned after mobs threatened her over her research on sex and gender.
The answer to all of this intolerant wokeness? A completely new university in Austin “dedicated to the fearless pursuit of truth.” Of course, creating a new college essentially from scratch is enormously difficult, but Kanelos & Co. have assembled a formidable collection of current and former academics and other public intellectuals. Despite some snark from the sidelines, this is an impressive list: Robert Zimmer, Larry Summers, Arthur Brooks, Jonathan Rauch, John Nunes, Gordon Gee, Steven Pinker, Deirdre McCloskey, Leon Kass, Jonathan Haidt, Glenn Loury, Joshua Katz, Vickie Sullivan, Geoffrey Stone, Bill McClay, and Tyler Cowen.
One awkward detail: the board of advisors incudes rad-trad Sohrab Ahmari, who makes it quite clear that he does NOT think the university “can or should enshrine mere free speech or free inquiry as its highest ideal. “
The Diversity Loyalty Oaths
This seems timely. The American Enterprise Institute is out with a new study on the proliferation of so-called “Diversity, equity and Inclusion” statements for job applicants seeking university faculty posts. While advocates insist that the requirements create a more inclusive academy, AEI notes that “critics claim they amount to political correctness loyalty oaths.”
The report found that “nearly one in five professors are now being selected not only on academic merit but also their commitment to a particular ideological vision.” The study found that this was “just as likely to happen in the STEM fields as it is in the ‘softer’ social sciences and humanities.”
Here is a sample of the sorts of statements that job applicants in elite institutions are required to sign:
Not only are the DEI pledges now increasingly common, the AEI reports says, but “prestigious universities are significantly more likely to have DEI requirements than non-prestigious universities.”
They are particularly popular in California.
As of 2019, eight out of 10 UC campuses required these statements. A joint task force recommended that DEI requirements be standardized across the UC system.
At the University of California, Berkeley, administrators published a sample “Rubric for Assessing Candidate Contributions to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging,” which provides guidance for search committees evaluating applicants.3 Under this rubric, applicants are evaluated on a 1–5 scale for knowledge of DEI, track record of DEI, and plans for advancing DEI. And UCLA’s decision noted that diversity statements were becoming more common nationally and that growth would continue.
What could go wrong? The report cites Andrew Gillen’s account of applications for a single life sciences faculty post at UC-Berkeley,
The scale of the resulting purge would make Stalin blush. Of 893 nominally qualified candidates, 679 were eliminated solely due to insufficiently woke diversity, equity and inclusion statements. In other words, Berkeley used a political litmus test to eliminate over three-quarters of the applicant pool.
"The idea that someone looked at the current crop of professors and said, ‘There's just not enough political homogeneity' is remarkable to me," Greg Lukianoff, the president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told the Free Beacon. "I fear that higher education has become a conformity engine."
1. Desperately Seeking DeSantis
A lot of Trump-skeptical conservatives want Glenn Youngkin’s win to signal that political gravity is reasserting itself and it’s safe to jump back on Team Red so we can move forward with a “fusion” candidate like DeSantis. Sarah Longwell disagrees, and in this morning’s Bulwark, she explains why:
So many on the Trump-skeptical right seem to be given over to the idea that with Trump no longer in the White House, the tribal rules of political gravity should reassert themselves. Never mind if a candidate aligns themselves with Trump, gives cover to baseless conspiracy theories, or flirts with the Big Lie. Trump the man was the problem—not any forces he may have unleashed.
But if you want to understand this impulse, consider why so much time is spent rationalizing why Real Conservatives™ should support people like DeSantis but not, say, Liz Cheney. Or Larry Hogan. Or Adam Kinzinger. Or Charlie Baker. We’ve gone from “But the judges” to “Trump may be bad, but the Democrats are extreme socialists” to, now, “DeSantis & Co. are versions of Trump who can win.” By this reasoning, the problem with Trump was ultimately the result: He lost power for Republicans. Therefore, what the party needs is a version of Trump who will win power. And no one ever asks whether the party, as currently configured, ought to be entrusted with power.
2. About Those Moderate Democrats
Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema are not outliers in the Democratic Party; they are, in fact, the very heart of the Democratic Party, given that 53 percent of Democrats classify themselves as moderates or conservative. While Democrats support the Build Back Better initiative, 60 percent of Democrats (and 65 percent of the country) support the efforts of these moderates to rein it in. It’s Mr. Sanders from Vermont and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez from New York who represent areas ideologically far from the mainstream of America…
Make sure you also see David Leonhardt on a new poll of blue-collar voters:
But the political costs of a campaign message focused on ethnic identity seem significantly larger than the benefits, Sunkara said. Among five different candidate sound bites presented to respondents, the worst-performing was one that the pollsters internally described as “woke moderate.” Its first sentence sounds like something out of a corporate mission statement:
Our unity is our strength, and our diversity is our power. But for too long, special interests have blocked critical progress in addressing systemic racism, climate change, and access to affordable health care. We need creative leaders who will fight for our values, listen to the experts, and make real change happen….
Yet the most successful sound bite was the “progressive populist” one. It was as pugnacious as the Republican entry, albeit with different targets:
This country belongs to all of us, not just the superrich. But for years, politicians in Washington have turned their backs on people who work for a living. We need tough leaders who won’t give in to the millionaires and the lobbyists, but will fight for good jobs, good wages, and guaranteed health care for every single American.
3. How to Win the CRT Debate
It’s also not productive to argue, as many on the left have, that critical race theory, or CRT, isn’t being taught and that raising the issue is nothing but a dog whistle to racists….
But as a practical, political issue, none of that matters. CRT might have started off as an esoteric academic theory about structural racism. But it has now become a generic term for widely publicized excesses in diversity education, such as disparaging “individualism” and “objectivity” as examples of “white supremacy culture” or teaching first-graders about microaggressions and structural racism. You don’t have to be a Republican to be put off by the incessant attention on race in so many classrooms.
George Packer wrote in the Atlantic in October 2019 that he knew “several mixed-race families” that transferred their kids out of a New York City school that “had taken to dividing their students by race into consciousness-raising ‘affinity groups.’” Packer spoke for many liberal parents when he protested the tendency to make “race, which is a dubious and sinister social construct, an essence that defines individuals regardless of agency or circumstance.” …
This is the kind of “stupid wokeness” that Democratic strategist James Carville blamed for his party’s setbacks in Virginia and New Jersey — and it is something that Democrats need to disavow if they want to win outside of deep-blue enclaves. Democrats should admit that, even as racism remains a pervasive problem, some efforts to combat it backfire if they exacerbate racial divisions or stigmatize White students.
Also this is notable from Eric Levitz in New York Magazine, who urges progressives to push back against some of the wokeness in the schools.
A decent number of progressive groups and well-intentioned school districts do seem to be hiring quack consultants to dispense laughable race malarkey and recipes for organizational self-sabotage. Which is bad. And progressives shouldn’t hesitate to say so. Our institutions should not be patronizing the dissemination of bizarre racial stereotypes, or modes of ostensibly anti-racist discourse that credit ‘white culture’ for ‘the scientific method.’ This would be true even if this stuff came with no political downside. But it is even more true now that the right is exploiting slideshows on ‘color group collectivism’ to discredit the progressive movement’s broader agenda for racial justice.”