I read the twice-weekly University of Chicago student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, and have noticed over the past few years a clear movement towards identity politics and Regressive Leftism. There is pretty much a unanimity of opinion among its writers, with little attempt to present alternative viewpoints, and many of the op-ed pieces are written by privileged students bewailing their marginalization. I think this reflects the views, by and large, of the student body itself.
Case in point: the headline piece in Friday’s issue, which described a discussion between Robert Costa of the Washington Post and Corey Lewandowski, the former campaign manager (until June of last year) of Donald Trump. Highlighting Lewandowski, it was sponsored by the University’s nonpartisan Institute of Politics (IOP), and was held at the Quadrangle Club, the University’s faculty club that has small rooms for talks. The press wasn’t invited, but that’s protocol for all IOP talks.
The students protested, as is their right, gathering across the street, chanting, and holding signs. It’s the nature of their protest that I want to discuss here.
First, there’s the photo accompanying the article; here’s the caption from the paper:
Outside the Quad Club on Wednesday afternoon, a crowd of protestors gathered where Donald Tump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was giving a talk. Many of the demonstrators were associated with campus organizations including UofC Resists, Fascism Now, and Graduate Students United. In this picture, a child takes aim at a piñata effigy of Donald Trump that was roped over a tree.
That image disturbs me, for it explicitly endorses violence, and the hitting is being done by a child, presumably with the approbation of the crowd. Was the kid urged to do it? Most likely, since somebody had the idea of bringing a Trump piñata. And, of course, it was not Trump who was speaking across the street. The whole scenario is disturbingly reminiscent of a lynching.
As I said, I have no beef with peaceful protests that don’t interrupt the speaker, but in this case the demonstrators couldn’t restrict themselves to just having a protest across the street. As The Maroon reported:
Seven students entered the event with concealed posters, and were asked to leave after holding up the signs minutes into the talk. Third-year Ryn Seidewitz held a pink poster that read “Hate Speech ≠ Free Speech,” and was asked to leave after holding up the sign. After she came out, she spoke to the crowd, saying that the people in the event could hear the protesters outside. “They keep patting themselves on the back for how great they are at free and open discourse, but they just kicked us out of the meeting,” she said.
Umm. . . free and open discourse doesn’t include interrupting a speaker. Has Ms. Seidwitz not absorbed the University’s Statement on Principles of Free Expression, which includes this:
Although faculty, students and staff are free to criticize, contest and condemn the views expressed on campus, they may not obstruct, disrupt, or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.
And of course there’s her poster: “Hate Speech ≠ Free Speech,” which is not only wrong (even true hate speech is free speech so long as it’s not intended to incite immediate violence), but erroneous, for, according to the paper’s report, Lewandowski didn’t emit anything close to “hate speech.” (That term, of course, really means “speech with which I disagree.”) Finally, it disturbs me that students so explicitly endorse violating the First Amendment.
Seidewitz went on:
“This kind of event makes it clear where the University stands on Trump, and we wanted to show them that they can’t hide behind this idea of free and open discourse and neutrality, because in times like these there’s no such thing as neutrality,” Seidewitz told The Maroon.
Again we see a common misconception: a university’s providing a venue for a speaker does not imply endorsement of that speaker. And in times like these there is—and should be—such a thing as neutrality, at least on campuses. Regardless of the personal feelings of faculty and the administration, they simply cannot say, “We will host only speakers who endorse a liberal and progressive viewpoint.”
Seidewitz isn’t the only student with misconceptions about freedom of expression. Here are two more:
Other students also expressed frustration with the IOP’s platform of nonpartisan neutrality.
“It’s time that the University get rid of its neutral bullshit dedication to free speech and neutrality, when in reality there’s nothing neutral about inviting a speaker to your campus that represents hate,” second-year Mary Blair said.
“It’s a dangerous normalization of Trump and his ideas to extend an official platform to someone like this,” first-year Philip O’Sullivan said.
Remember that while Lewandowski was indeed Trump’s campaign manager, and is pretty much a diehard conservative, he is not Trump, and in fact was fired by Trump last year. As for what both students said, including the dismissal of free expression as a “neutral bullshit dedication to free speech and neutrality,” I have no words. This is the censorious attitude of young people that I often worry about, for these students will take those attitudes with them when they leave, and may someday be in a position to enforce them.
Finally, some of the views expressed in the peaceful part of the protest were pretty extreme, in line with the Left’s tendency to characterize all its opponents as Nazis and racists. As the paper reported:
The demonstrators chanted slogans including “No CPD [Chicago Police Department], no KKK, no fascist USA,” “Fuck Corey Lewandowski, fuck white supremacy, fuck the bourgeoisie,” and “Shame on U of C, sold out for publicity.”
Shortly after the event began, second-year JT Johnson encouraged the crowd to enter the building and stop the event. Demonstrators approached the entrance of the building en masse, but Chicago Police Department (CPD) and University of Chicago police blocked the doors.
That speaks for itself. Such signs may express opposition and rage, but do they accomplish anything? They are, for one thing, inaccurate (do they really want to do away with the CPD? Is Lewandowski a member of the almost-extinct KKK?), but they also express the kind of distortion that makes the demonstrators seem unhinged.