Virginia’s Free Speech Wars
Plus: In Pennsylvania, Dr. Oz is actually the normal Republican.
“[The Soviet Union,] in time of peace, artificially created a famine, causing 6 million persons to die in the Ukraine in 1932 and 1933. They died on the very edge of Europe. And Europe didn’t even notice it. The world didn’t even notice it...” —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
Last month, an undergraduate at the University of Virginia briefly created a firestorm by writing an op-ed in the New York Times: “I Came to College Eager to Debate. I Found Self-Censorship Instead.”
“Even as a liberal who has attended abortion rights demonstrations and written about standing up to racism,” wrote student Emma Camp, “I sometimes feel afraid to fully speak my mind.” She described the atmosphere at UVA:
In the classroom, backlash for unpopular opinions is so commonplace that many students have stopped voicing them, sometimes fearing lower grades if they don’t censor themselves.
The reaction was every bit as revealing as Camp’s original piece. Much sneering ensued. Prominent progressives piled on, with many of them denying that there was a legitimate free speech problem on campuses. Some dismissed concerns over illiberalism in academia as a baseless moral panic.
Others suggested that even publishing Camp’s article was somehow irresponsible, given the right’s assault on free speech.
The creator of the 1619 Project was especially exercised about Camp’s complaints being aired in the NYT:
Ida Bae Wells @nhannahjonesI also do not understand the notion that you are so afraid to speak up about your views that you write about them for your school newspaper and now you write an entire opinion piece in the NYT. But sure.
The professor who chairs the University of Pennsylvania’s department of religious studies dismissed Camp’s concerns as “silliness,” and tweeted that the publication of the article had made the Times “the laughingstock of Twitter.”
But where had Emma Camp gotten the idea that her school might have a problem with intolerance and illiberalism? Where could that notion have come from?
Fast-forward a few weeks.
On one level, the controversy is the sort of thing that has become routine on many college campuses, but I’d like to focus on one detail.
Less than two weeks after Camp’s NYT article appeared, UVA’s student newspaper, the Cavalier Daily, published a genuinely remarkable editorial. The student editors, who presumably had some interest in the First Amendment and related issues of free expression, came out strongly against even allowing Pence to speak. “Dangerous rhetoric,” the student journalists argued, “is not entitled to a platform.” Referring to Pence’s appearance, they wrote, “Speech that threatens the lives of those on Grounds is unjustifiable.”
What followed was weapons-grade illiberalism. The paper’s editorial board wrote that they “found ourselves questioning what should be protected under the premise of ‘diversity of thought’ and more importantly, what values we choose to accept on Grounds.”
For them, the answer was simple: “Hateful rhetoric is violent — and this is impermissible.”
And then they proceeded to explain why even allowing Pence to talk would be an act of impermissible violence.
For Pence, gay couples signify a “societal collapse,” Black lives do not matter, transgender individuals and immigrants do not deserve protection and the pandemic should not be taken seriously. Nevertheless, the University has accepted Pence’s visit as an “opportunity to hear from, and engage with, leaders and experts from a wide variety of fields and perspectives.”
But the newspaper insisted that “So-called ‘perspectives’ should not be welcomed when they spread rhetoric that directly threatens the presence and lives of our community members.”
The LGBTQ+ individuals Pence has attacked, the Black lives he refuses to value and the successful stories of immigration he and the former president hope to prevent — these very people are our peers, our neighbors and our community members. We refuse to condone platforming Pence.
Keep in mind that this is the university founded by Thomas Jefferson, who wrote about the institution: “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.”
Last week, 17 faculty members at UVA released an open letter supporting Pence’s right to speak on campus — and invited the student editors to “to renew their dedication to this fundamental University value.”
We are not interested in either defending or attacking Pence and whatever he might say.
We are more concerned that The Cavalier Daily believes that his speech constitutes “violence” that “threatens the well-being and safety of students on Grounds.”
This speech-is-violence argument is not only wrong — no calls for violence will be issued April 12 — but also contradicts the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment, which generally creates space for a wide range of views to be expressed so long as the relevant speech does not incite violence.
It is also a disservice to those who are the victims of actual physical violence — whether those injured and killed during the many civil rights struggles in American history, those who fought and died for our constitutional rights as members of our armed services or the brave people of Ukraine who are fighting and dying for their freedoms, including free speech.
Exit take: This debate is taking place at the same time that right-wing politicians have widely embraced bans on ideas and words in education, and have mobilized the power of the state on behalf of their anti-speech crusade. As JVL noted a few days ago, “Conservativism, as it exists in the wild, not as an academic construct, no longer has any attachment whatsoever to free speech, except as a cudgel with which to pursue the exercise of power against its political opponents.”
Given all of this, denial does not seem to be a particularly sound strategy.
“This Was Trump Pulling a Putin”
Today’s must-read: Robert Draper’s extraordinary piece in the NYT Magazine:
[Fiona] Hill was at her desk at home on the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, writing her memoir, when a journalist friend she first met in Russia called. The friend told her to turn on the television. Once she did so, a burst of horrific clarity overtook her. “I saw the thread,” she told me. “The thread connecting the Zelensky phone call to Jan. 6. And I remembered how, in 2020, Putin had changed Russia’s Constitution to allow him to stay in power longer. This was Trump pulling a Putin.”
Draper also talked with former national security advisor, John Bolton.
When I asked whether he believed Trump could be viewed as an authoritarian, Bolton replied, “He’s not smart enough to be an authoritarian.”
But had Donald Trump won in 2020, Bolton told me, in his second term he might well have inflicted “damage that might not be reparable.” I asked whether his same concerns would apply if Trump were to gain another term in 2024, and Bolton answered with one word: “Yes.”
I had some thoughts
Why the past 10 years of American life have been uniquely stupid
It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But [the Tower of ]Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.
Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people. How did this happen? And what does it portend for American life?
1. Pennsylvania Republicans Are Going to Nominate an Election Conspiracist for Governor
LOL, if you thought Donald Trump’s endorsement of Dr. Mehmet Oz for Senate was the worst development in Pennsylvania’s 2022 GOP primaries, wait until you hear about the Republicans running for governor.
Pennsylvania Republicans will nominate a 2020 election conspiracist for governor in the May 17 primary. How can I be sure of that? Because they’re all election conspiracists. The only thing differentiating them is how far down the rabbit hole they go. And, there’s an excellent chance the nuttiest bunny of them all, Doug Mastriano, is going to win the primary.
Which means that Republicans might get a crackpot governing this swing state in 2024. What could possibly go wrong?
2. Putin Wants to Break NATO. Republicans Want to Help Him.
Vladimir Putin’s central objective in Europe isn’t to capture Kyiv, the Donbas, or any other part of Ukraine. It’s to weaken the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which protects most of the continent against him. And in that longstanding campaign, Putin scored two significant victories this week.
One was in France, where Marine Le Pen, a Putin sympathizer, finished a close second to Emmanuel Macron in Sunday’s French presidential election….
The other victory was in the United States, where 63 House Republicans, nearly a third of the GOP conference, voted against a resolution of support for NATO.
The House vote, taken on April 5, is a warning sign. Putin may be losing ground in Ukraine, but he’s gaining ground in the U.S. Congress. Three years ago, 22 House Republicans voted against pro-NATO legislation. That number has nearly tripled.
3. Biden Must Invoke the Defense Production Act
The Pentagon’s own stockpiles of certain weapons systems are running low, due in part to a decade of budgetary dysfunction and shortsightedness; this may be a factor in why the administration has not sent more military aid to Ukraine. If so, this is exactly the kind of contingency for which the Defense Production Act exists.