Who the People?

Carol Iannone

On a recent visit to the UCLA campus, I was delighted to see that the original buildings, dating back to the first third of the twentieth century, are magnificently Romanesque. How perfect, I thought. Eastern colleges in chilly climes adopted the Gothic style, but Romanesque better suits the Mediterranean feel of the warmer, sunnier, southern California climate. If the spires of the Gothic point upward, there is something almost cozy in the neat and varying rows of rounded arches and stately square-topped towers of the Romanesque, humble, yet lifting the spirit with grace. The newer minimalist buildings that dot the expanded UCLA campus cannot detract from those reassuring red brick and cream stone piles and their reminder of the roots of the university in the European past.

All was peaceful on the afternoon I visited, in contrast to the chaos and hysteria that has erupted on campus, and off, with the ascendancy of Donald J. Trump as the forty-fifth president of the United States.

You don’t have to have voted for him to see that Trump’s candidacy and election is marking a new stage in national and academic life. How do we know this? Because the Left has been imploding ever since he defied all the odds and expectations and won, first the Republican nomination, and then, amazingly, the presidency itself. The screams for impeachment from practically the minute he took the oath; members of Congress using coarse language in public responses to his policies (for Kirstin Gillibrand it was the F-word, for Maxine Waters, s—g); the bizarre, angry, “pussy-hatted” women’s march held in D.C. in defiance of his first full day in the Oval Office; Chuck Schumer giving way to tears (possibly fake, according to Trump); and campus chaos going beyond the already substantial level of hysteria to outright physical violence and mob rule. And this list leaves out the most serious incident, the attempted assassination of Republican senators by a Bernie Sanders supporter, which left House Majority Whip Stephen Scalise gravely wounded.

The smiling mask of idealism manifest in the Left’s purportedly principled demands for equality has slipped badly and the fangs of resentment, contempt, and sheer lust for power have been exposed. An unmistakable sign appeared when Hillary Clinton as the Democratic candidate for president in 2016 abandoned the unwritten rule of customary campaign courtesy toward the electorate by placing half of Trump’s supporters in a “basket of deplorables,” characterized by the growing list of bigotries hurled by the progressive Left to defame any opposition—“racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic,” rounded off with “you name it,” to be sure she allowed for any recent and/or upcoming additions.

But it was Jorge Ramos, broadcaster on Spanish-language television, who after the election perhaps inadvertently made clear why the Left has become so desperate: its entire paradigm of America, past, present, and future, has been eclipsed, that paradigm evidently premised on the gradual diminution of the white race. In a colloquy with Fox Network’s Tucker Carlson (who responded by noting that the blue-eyed Ramos is, well, white), Ramos repeated the oft-declaimed prophecy that America will in this century no longer be a “white country,” since whites will be outnumbered by non-whites and America will have a “majority minority” population.

This gave pause. Why so eager to arrive at majority minority? Even if the prophecies are true, and they are being disputed, they are still several decades away from being fulfilled. And since America is premised on ideas, not on ethnic or ancestral ties, what’s the problem with our having a white majority as long as minority rights are protected and minority citizens are treated equally? America may not be specifically a “white country,” but historically, obviously, it has had a white majority population. Most countries have a majority population of one kind or another. Is there something wrong with that?

Well, in the eyes of the Left, and in the case of the United States, evidently yes (to my knowledge Ramos has never shown concern for racial hierarchy in his native Mexico). Whites are meant to feel guilty and diminished, aware of their supposed perennial and historic oppression of non-whites, and conscious of their gradual extinction as a political and cultural force. Thus Ramos wanted Carlson to confess that despite the 2016 election, in which the white vote was decisive in Trump’s victory, the prophecies must still be valid, right?

But, as has been pointed out, part of the Left’s current implosion is that the revolution has begun eating even its own, as revolutions tend to do. When the black activists of The Evergreen State College requested its white denizens to absent themselves from campus for a day, one progressive professor, Bret Weinstein, demurred, pointing out that no one should be excluded because of skin color. The “request,” once denied, caused the activists to erupt in fury, and fifty of Weinstein’s fellow professors stepped up, not to support him, but to condemn him for provoking a “white supremacist backlash.” Furthermore, the hapless progressive president of Evergreen, George Bridges, was reduced to cringing surrender when confronted by a student mob, as seen in videos and as vividly described by Charlotte Allen in the Weekly Standard.1

Thus it was clear that a new kind of minority belligerence had emerged, finding something offensive not in the attitudes some whites may hold, but in their very existence. Perhaps if the left-wing activists hadn’t been so greedy as to prematurely acclaim the ascendency of “majority minority” status, we wouldn’t have noticed how unseemly such quasi-genocidal eagerness appears, but they couldn’t contain themselves. They began putting all their hopeful eggs in that deplorable basket, rubbing their hands together in anticipatory glee at the decline of white people, and now they are left jumping up and down in frustration like Ray Walston as the failed devil at the end of Damn Yankees.

Christopher Caldwell recorded in the Claremont Review of Books how the light had dawned on one left-wing commentator. “The Democrats appeared to be overwhelming old Republican redoubts through sheer force of demographics,” Caldwell writes. “Almost all the networks had begun hiring young, hip, metropolitan quipsters to explain the ‘America of Tomorrow’ or the ‘Next America’ that residents of the Democratic Archipelago had charted out for everyone else. CNN had L.Z. Granderson, whom the website Queerty described as ‘breaking barriers for black gay men in journalism.’”2

However, Caldwell continues,

At three o’clock in the morning on Election Night, as Donald Trump was making his way through the crowd to deliver his victory speech to the sound of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” a shocked Granderson, commenting on a show called “Your Voice, Your Vote,” implied that the white death rate had been the bedrock of Democratic Party strategizing all along:

For quite some time now Democrats have been hemorrhaging white male votes. And the assumption was that, because of the changing demographics of the nation, that that would not hurt them in a general election….This is a huge slap in the face in terms of all the people who thought that this white part of the population was dying off and that all you had to do was appeal to minorities.3

Despite their unfortunately declining life expectancy, however, white males do continue to exist, and they voted 63 percent for Trump, the college grads among them 54 percent and the non-college grads a whopping 72 percent.

And it isn’t just the men, either. Despite all the appeal to female and feminist solidarity on the part of Hillary Clinton, 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, as opposed to 43 percent for her. White women non-college graduates went 62 percent for Trump; only female college graduates went for Hillary in the white vote, and even then, at just 51 percent. With that, and a healthy and indispensable chunk of the black and Hispanic electorate, as it should be in a multiethnic society, Trump scored his historic victory.

Of course, the Republican Right hasn’t always been very smart about what multiculturalism in its current form means for America and American ideals, either. Here is the last Republican president but one, George W. Bush, gushing during his first run for the presidency:

We are now one of the largest Spanish-speaking nations in the world. We’re a major source of Latin music, journalism, and culture. Just go to Miami, or San Antonio, Los Angeles, Chicago, or West New York, New Jersey…and close your eyes and listen. You could just as easily be in Santo Domingo or Santiago, or San Miguel de Allende.4

If it wasn’t clear to everyone that this is necessarily something to applaud, the tone-deaf Bush nevertheless pressed on to foreclose further discussion of the matter: “For years our nation has debated this change. Some have praised it and others have resented it. By nominating me, my party has made a choice to welcome the new America.”5

Cultural historian Jacques Barzun once contrasted North and South America and their differing experiences with liberal democracy. The Latin American states gained their independence from Spain not very long after the North American colonies gained theirs from Britain, in the four decades between 1783 and 1823, Barzun observed. “Yet,” he writes, “repeated efforts by able, selfless leaders [the statues of some of them stand nobly at the head of the Avenue of the Americas in New York City today], have left South and Central America prey to repeated dictatorships with the usual accompaniment of wars, massacres, oppression, assassinations, and...uncertainty about the succession of legitimate governors.” Barzun contrasts the two histories “not to disparage Latin America, but to remind ourselves of the basis of free government.” He attributes the North American success story to the history, traditions, experiences, and common understandings of freedom and good government that the British colonists shared and that the Spanish and Portuguese colonials lacked. “The lesson here,” he concludes, “is that the people must first define itself through a common language and common traditions before it can hope to be the sovereign people” (emphasis in original).6

To continue as a sovereign people, then, it follows that we must preserve and transmit the cultural forms out of which our understanding of liberty and self-government arose, whatever the demographic makeup of our population.

But given such hopeless blinkeredness on the part of both major parties, is it really any wonder that when a non-“me-too” Republican candidate finally emerged for the presidency, he won? Fittingly, our special feature in this back-to-school issue is “Higher Education in the Age of Trump,” and we plan for it to be the first entry in a series on that subject over the next four years. William B. Allen, George W. Dent Jr., Herbert I. London, and Richard Vedder weigh in with ideas of how Trump’s critical, even dismissive attitude toward the all-encompassing strictures of political correctness might lead to some sensible recalibration and reconsideration of direction in higher education, regarding everything from curriculum to financing to academic freedom.

Reprising some of the same concerns, Paul A. Rahe cautions that Americans are losing their grasp of the importance of First Amendment freedoms, not just on campus, but, alarmingly, in the very halls of Congress, in “Amending the First Amendment,” adapted from his keynote address at “Securing Liberty: Rebuilding American Education in an Era of Illiberal Learning,” the National Association of Scholars’s thirtieth anniversary conference, which took place in January 2017 in Oklahoma City. The proceedings at that conference included the launch of the important new NAS report by NAS director of communications David Randall, Making Citizens: How American Universities Teach Civics.7

Apropos of Rahe’s point about losing our understanding of the First Amendment, Charles Murray, whose appearance at Middlebury College earlier this year was disrupted by angry mobs, remarked later that a new threshold had been crossed—not long ago, he observed, moderate mainstream students would have eventually silenced the noisy opposition, demanding that the speaker at least be heard. Now, Murray observed, the mainstream is itself cowed and intimidated.

Be assured, however, that free thought is still alive and vibrant, at least in AQ’s friendly purview. Daniel Bonevac follows up his Summer 2014 “Verdicts” contribution, “Heidegger’s Map,” with “Heidegger’s Wrong Turn,” a remarkable piece of philosophical analysis showing how Heidegger’s thought led him to Nazism and set the stage for the irrationalism and relativism that eroded the humanities in the late twentieth century. Phillip Williams’s “Mathematics for Its Own Sake” exhorts all of us to savor the beauty of math and to enjoy its challenge to the mind.

In “Confucius Institutes on Campus: A New Threat to Academic Freedom,” NAS director of research Rachelle Peterson contributes a précis of her new study on the Confucius Institutes, Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education.8 These institutes, sponsored by the government of China and proliferating on American campuses, disseminate the Chinese government-approved version of its history and are yet another encroachment on intellectual inquiry in American colleges and universities.

Previous contributor Duke Pesta records the ideological bias academic editors and readers were not embarrassed to reveal in responses to a book on Shakespeare for which he sought publication, in “‘Deeper Reasons’: The Politicization of Academic Publishing.”

Can black holes produce explosive waves? Decide for yourself as you contemplate this issue’s poem, “Drowning in Gravity Waves,” by Donald M. Hassler.

Three meaty review essays are included in this issue. In “Transatlantic Tremors: Illiberal Assaults on the Academy in America and England,” Matthew Stewart reviews three books authored or edited by British writers and finds that campus upheaval crisscrosses the Atlantic: “I Find That Offensive!” by Claire Fox; Unsafe Space: The Crisis of Free Speech on Campus, edited by Tom Slater; and What’s Happened to the University? A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilisation, by Frank Furedi.

Mother and son team Amy L. Wax, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, and Isaac N. Cohen, a recent graduate of Yale, make their second appearance in AQ with “Presumed Innocent No More,” a more thorough consideration of KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr.’s The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities than you will find elsewhere. As if to underscore Barzun’s point, our reviewers emphasize the importance of understanding the tradition of Anglo-American jurisprudence.

In “October’s Sumerki” (twilight), David Randall marks the centennial of the Russian Revolution and its fateful beginnings in October 1917 with a review of three new books on the subject, The Russian Revolution: A New History, by Sean McMeekin; Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale; and October: The Story of the Russian Revolution by China Miéville. With all we know now, it is startling to learn that some historians are still starry-eyed about that hideously portentous event.

Glynn Custred reviews Placing Outer Space: An Earthly Ethnography of Other Worlds, by Lisa Messeri, and suggests that anthropology can be rooted in the future as well as the past, while Peter Wood offers another complement of Books, Articles, and Items of Academic Interest.

  • Share
Most Commented

August 23, 2021

1.

Testing the Tests for Racism

What is the veracity of "audit" studies, conducted primarily by sociologists, that appear to demonstrate that people of color confront intense bias at every level of society?...

April 16, 2021

2.

Social Justice 101: Intro. to Cancel Culture

Understanding the illogical origin of cancel culture, we can more easily accept mistakes, flaws, and errors in history, and in ourselves, as part of our fallen nature....

April 19, 2021

3.

Critical Race Theory and the Will to Power

A review of "1620: A Critical Response to the 1619 Project" by NAS President Peter W. Wood....

Most Read

May 30, 2018

1.

The Case for Colonialism

From the summer issue of Academic Questions, we reprint the controversial article, "The Case for Colonialism." ...

March 20, 2019

2.

Remembering Columbus: Blinded by Politics

American colleges and universities have long dispensed with efforts to honor or commemorate Christopher Columbus. But according to Robert Carle, “most Americans know very little about......

March 29, 2019

3.

Homogenous: The Political Affiliations of Elite Liberal Arts College Faculty

A study on the partisanship of liberal arts professors at America's top universities. ...