The Left Silences Debate

This week the nation’s top debate coaches released their recognition of the top collegiate policy debate teams. This exceptional group of sixteen teams receives pre-bids to the National Debate Tournament at the end of March and will have strong potential toward winning the national title in debate at the tournament to be held at the University of Kansas in Lawrence. Two of the nation’s top teams that made this elite selection are from Berkeley, a campus recently racked by violent demands for the suppression of free speech. Incredibly, Berkeley’s teams and one other team from California who made the cut, will not attend the National Debate Tournament. That is because the state of California has banned all university related personnel from traveling to four states around the nation: Kansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi, on the specious grounds that these states have all passed “anti-LGBT legislation.” All debate teams from California state schools are practically banned from attending the national debate tournaments being held in the state of Kansas in March. 

As California continues upon a path of ideological ricochet that in many quarters seeks complete separation from the nation, the prospects for freedom of speech have declined to incomprehensible limits. America’s college campuses -- especially those in California -- are not simply victims of this trend, they are also important agitators for this breach of our most important civil rights. The free speech movement that began at Berkeley has come full circle. Violence against free speech is now argued by the university to be a moral end. Ironically, it was 50 years ago, that a great debater spoke on that campus urging for greater free speech in order to overcome the nation’s scourge of racism. James Farmer Jr. was a prelude to the free speech movement of 1964.

An ideological Jim Crow has emerged in the nation whereby those who voted for Trump are called to collective silence while those who oppose Trump stand, lecture, and judge. Resistance to this new normative political stance is met with calls for violence, blatant acts of violence, and staged events designed to invite further violence. The epicenter of this poisonous and toxic intellectual culture is our college and university campuses. In California, a professor recently asked students who voted for Trump to stand. Students were then told that everyone not standing now had a basis for knowing who to fear and abhor for the future. Here in Dallas, a public-school teacher was disciplined for performing a mock assassination of President Trump while she shouted “die” and fired a water gun at his image at the front of the room. These behaviors are not those championing freedom from fascism -- these are the essential prerequisites to a fascist society. The Alt-Left that has long maintained academia as an intellectual grooming center for indoctrination. Ward Churchill, Noam Chomsky, and Bill Ayers are symptomatic of a reactionary elite that abhor critical thinking and public argument.

The refusal of the State of California to allow some of the nation’s best college debaters to attend the National Debate Tournament in Lawrence, Kansas is a testament to the complete closing of the American mind as it existed in college campuses located in the state. The dogmatic insistence that everyone oppose President Trump or hide in an appropriate fetal position is essentially un-American, antidemocratic, and despotic. The Democratic party must now or soon account for its long violent relationship with the Alt Left cultivated on college campuses. Whether fabricating hate crimes to cast shade on conservative speech or direct acts of violence, the Alt Left organizing within academia needs confrontation and remedy by state and local authorities.

Debate is among the best remedies for the ideological straitjackets being handed out on campus. The State of California should exempt its universities who take some interest in furthering one of the most essential ingredients for restoring sanity to campuses: Debate. In the 1930s, a Texas HBCU, Wiley College, broke the color barrier and travelled to USC for a debate with the national champions. The largely unknown alternate of that debate team -- James Farmer Jr. -- grew to be an effective American advocate against racism. Farmer warned that it was a mistake for African-Americans to be in the bag for one political party. Today it is time to free the debate teams in California that qualified to debate at the NDT and break the ideological Jim Crow barriers that divide this nation. It is time for Great Debate in this nation not intimidation and silence.

Ben Voth is an associate professor of Corporate Communication and Public Affairs and Director of Debate at Southern Methodist University. He is the author of The Rhetoric of Genocide: Death as a Text and co-author with Robert Denton of Social Fragmentation and the Decline of American Democracy.

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