Academia and Republican Presidents
In the mid-1980s I was traveling with our collegiate debate team from Texas to a tournament in Kansas. We stopped at a Pizza Hut in Oklahoma for lunch and a waitress attempted to take our drink order. One of our more outspoken team members asked what the drink options were and she responded that they had ‘Pepsi products.’ What ensued was a lecture from multiple debaters about the evils of Pepsi funding the ‘Reagan war machine.’ It would be wrong to purchase Pepsi drink products, they explained, and they demanded water as their beverages of choice. Events like this were among hundreds of other compiled events within academic culture conditioning me toward blue privilege. One of the outspoken characteristics of blue privilege in the academic community is a collective and common outrage at Republican Presidents -- whether presiding or forthcoming. It is this aspect of blue privilege that is important to understand as so many of us ‘go back to school.’
Academia is no longer liberal. It may have been as recently as the 1990s. Academia is not even anti-Republican -- although they generally dislike the party as compared to Democrats. Today, academia has a thorough and profound reactionary supremacist view of Republican Presidents. Republican Presidents are racist haters and want to destroy every innocent human being on the planet. In 1992, I was working through my doctoral program in communication study at the University of Kansas. Our graduate student group was helping to gather public data that would guide the new townhall debate format to be used in Presidential debates that fall. I was discussing the results of public surveys that supposedly indicated the “issues” that the public wanted to have discussed in the townhall debate. I told a graduate peer that I was surprised that abortion was not in the top ten of public interest issues -- abortion had been a huge national issue both in Kansas and the nation in 1992. “Of course it was in the top ten, but that is not an issue we want our candidate to have to talk about.” That was my first initiation into the reality that my job as a communication scholar was to help Democrats elect their presidential preference and block the Republicans in our research and teaching. That student would later go on to be an intern in the Clinton White House in 1993 and today he is an influential scholar of political communication in the United States.
In 2004, I was a tenured communication professor at a state university in Ohio. I had a liberal but honest colleague who was worried about her own biases while teaching a fall journalism course on election 2004. She asked me to come into her class and give an unabashed lecture explaining the Republican arguments for the election. She also asked me to read all 24 of her student essays submitted as editorials for the election. I began her class by explaining: “I enjoyed reading all of your essays. They were clear, well structured, researched, and compelling, but I think there is something you would all be interested to know. Twenty-three of you wrote editorials endorsing John Kerry to be President of the United States and one of you wrote an editorial endorsing Ralph Nader to be President. Not one person in this class wrote an editorial favoring the re-election of President Bush.” They all looked around the classroom in awe -- imagining that someone must have written that essay. I told the students that they had no idea what Republicans thought, and the Republican arguments were as familiar to them as someone speaking French. It is worth noting that Kanye West would announce on national television in 2005 that President Bush did not care about black people as indicated by his racist actions surrounding Katrina. Rap songs would denounce what a racist President Bush was. This kind of outrageous propaganda is now normative.
Fifteen years later, the situation is far more dire. Attempting to bring speakers who support President Trump on to most college campuses is fraught with peril that can certainly include risks of physical assault. This allows universities to block such speakers by requiring payments for security and insurance -- something the other, reactionary side will not have to worry about. The preponderance of discussions regarding public morality on college campuses is aimed at discrediting and silencing supporters of President Trump. We need to be clear about the nature of this problem. It is not bias. It is not merely unfair. This is a concerted destruction of civil rights discernible in the text of the First Amendment. All persons on all campuses have a profound and essential right to express viewpoints that their peers and even their academic superiors who are professors not only disagree with but strongly take offense to. The failure of administrators to preserve and promote these civil rights is a failure of one of the most essential preconditions to education: critical thinking. Without free and fair debate on campuses -- that would include contemporary public controversies -- our universities are no longer educational in nature. They constitute indoctrination. Shifting resources to STEM and turning a blind eye toward this Jacobin campus behavior in hopes that it will simply go away by ignoring it, is reckless and harmful to the profound value that actually can be had in a truly liberal arts education.
As we go back to school, the school year will shift from 2019 to 2020, and as surely as every election season I have ever moderated since 1992, academia will shift into ever higher gears of intolerance and rejectionism toward the Republican President. This behavior is a violation of the public trust. Trustees of universities who fail to hold their administrations accountable on this misconduct should expect more Oberlin-like lawsuits, and the billions of dollars in university endowments that will come to fill the pockets of victims who have their civil rights violated by these institutional abuses. The public must begin to re-engage college campuses. We need to understand that there is not a particular political agenda, ideology, or bias. What is now institutionally true at universities is a desire to reject, replace, and defeat Republicans as President. Any Republican who is opposed to President Trump is obviously welcome on most campuses. In fact, such voices would be highly appreciated by reactionary campus leadership. In a First Amendment-bound view of civil rights, students and student groups who support the Republican President have the same assembly and expression rights as groups opposed. Universities must hold that line. If they do not, the public must exert on the trustees of that university pressure to clarify the necessary relationship to public trust. Returning to my original story from the 1980s, when the waitress returned with our paid receipt for the meal in Oklahoma, she said to our group of debaters, “By the way, Pizza Hut is owned by the Pepsi Corporation.” The debaters fumed and I smiled at this independent waitress who refused to be politically bullied. We need her courage today.
Ben Voth is an associate professor and director of speech and debate at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.