Tag: Political Correctness

Don’t Tread on My Safe Space

Huh? The EEOC has officially ruled that wearing a hat with the Gadsden flag could constitute racial harassment:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, among its other functions, decides “hostile work environment” harassment claims brought against federal agencies. In doing so, it applies the same legal rules that courts apply to private employers, and that the EEOC follows in deciding whether to sue private employers. The EEOC has already ruled that coworkers’ wearing Confederate flag T-shirts can be punishable harassment (a decision that I think is incorrect); and, unsurprisingly, this is extending to other political speech as well.

From the decision:

Complainant stated that he found the cap to be racially offensive to African Americans because the flag was designed by Christopher Gadsden, a “slave trader & owner of slaves.”

After a thorough review of the record, it is clear that the Gadsden Flag originated in the Revolutionary War in a non-racial context. Moreover, it is clear that the flag and its slogan have been used to express various non-racial sentiments, such as when it is used in the modern Tea Party political movement, guns rights activism, patriotic displays, and by the military.

However, whatever the historic origins and meaning of the symbol, it also has since been sometimes interpreted to convey racially-tinged messages in some contexts. For example, in June 2014, assailants with connections to white supremacist groups draped the bodies of two murdered police officers with the Gadsden flag during their Las Vegas, Nevada shooting spree … Additionally, in 2014, African-American New Haven firefighters complained about the presence of the Gadsden flag in the workplace on the basis that the symbol was racially insensitive.

Read Volokh’s post where he breaks down the legal implications and logic. Note that the EEOC didn’t find that the Gadsden flag is offensive, just that a complaint alleging so can proceed. But look at the twisted logic of their decision: it doesn’t matter what the flag actually represents; it matters what someone feels it represents. By that logic, if I decide that Barack Obama’s face is anti-semitic and can produce evidence of anti-semites walking around with picture of Obama, I could petition to have his likeness removed from my workplace. It’s called a “chilling effect” and it’s not a figment of our imagination.

Say someone wears “Trump/Pence 2016” gear in the workplace, or displays a bumper sticker on his car in the work parking lot, or displays such a sign on his cubicle wall, or just says on some occasions that he’s voting for Trump. He doesn’t say any racial or religious slurs about Hispanics or Muslims, and doesn’t even express any anti-Hispanic or anti-Muslim views (though even such views, I think, should be protected by the First Amendment against the threat of government-imposed liability).

But in “context,” a coworker complains, such speech conveys a message “tinged” with racial or religious hostility, or is racially or religiously “insensitive.” The coworker threatens to sue. Again, say you are an employer facing such a threat. Would you feel pressured by the risk of liability to restrict the pro-Trump speech?

We don’t have to imagine. As I documented a few months ago, universities around the country are already arguing that Trump signs are racially offensive and can be restricted or banned. The EEOC is opening the door to a slew of lawsuits and threatened lawsuits anytime someone is offended by something at work.

You want to know why Trump, despite being a giant horse’s ass, has as much support as he does? Shit like this is why. We are slowly establishing a Baby’s Veto over free speech, letting the most sensitive, paranoid and delusional people dictate what the rest of us can utter, lest we “offend” their delicate sensibilities. It’s insanity. And it will not end until we go through life in slate gray uniforms never expressing an opinion lest someone get “offended”.

Orwell Goes To College

Good God:

What happens when members of a university community allege that they were victims of a “bias” incident? A team of administrators intervene—no matter how petty the complaint.

An annual report on the activities of University of Oregon’s Bias Response Team provides a frightening yet fascinating glimpse into the practices of these organizations, which are common on college campuses. Students, faculty, and staff who feel threatened, harassed, intimidated, triggered, microaggressed, offended, ignored, under-valued, or objectified because of their race, gender, gender identity, sexuality, disability status, mental health, religion, political affiliation, or size are encouraged to contact the BRT.

The team is composed of seven administrators, which include Oregon’s “multicultural inclusion support specialist,” LGBT director, and “Native American Retention Specialist.” The BRT’s goal is to eradicate bias on campus, making Oregon a safer place. Bias is defined as “any physical, spoken, or written act” that targets another person, even unintentionally. The team’s posters propose examples of bias incidents: statements like “Thanks, sweetie,” and “I don’t see color,” apparently qualify. (The former is patronizing, the latter is simply wrongthink, I guess.)

The Reason piece includes several examples of reports filed by Oregeon’s secret police.

A student reported a culturally appropriative themed party.

Bias Type: Ethnicity, Race

Location: Student Programs

Response: A BRT Advocate reached out to the reporter. A BRT Case Manager met with the president of the student program to discuss the incident.

An anonymous student reported that a newspaper gave less press coverage to trans students and students of color.

Bias Type: Ethnicity, Race, Political Affi liation

Location: Online

Response: A BRT Case Manager held an educational conversation with the newspaper reporter and editor.

There’s a lot more at the link. I defy anyone to read it and not be reminded of the East German Stasi. Change but a bit of verbiage and this could be reports on “counter-revolutionary thinking” or “bourgeois sympathies”. No incident is considered too minor. Anonymous reporting is encouraged. Third party reporting — that is where the “victim” doesn’t think anything bad happened but somebody else does — is encouraged. And students or faculty who are guilty of wrongthink don’t get a hearing or anything. An administrator has a “conversation” with them where they are told how wrong they are. Anyone who has been on a college campus can tell you just how intimidating such interventions can be.

How bad is this getting? We’re getting students kicked off campus for raping students who say they weren’t raped. It’s gotten so bad that President Obama, speaking at Howard, gave what I must admit was a very good defense of free speech.

So don’t try to shut folks out, don’t try to shut them down, no matter how much you might disagree with them. There’s been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view, or disrupt a politician’s rally. Don’t do that — no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths. Because as my grandmother used to tell me, every time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk. Let them talk. If you don’t, you just make them a victim, and then they can avoid accountability.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t challenge them. Have the confidence to challenge them, the confidence in the rightness of your position. There will be times when you shouldn’t compromise your core values, your integrity, and you will have the responsibility to speak up in the face of injustice. But listen. Engage. If the other side has a point, learn from them. If they’re wrong, rebut them. Teach them. Beat them on the battlefield of ideas. And you might as well start practicing now, because one thing I can guarantee you — you will have to deal with ignorance, hatred, racism, foolishness, trifling folks. (Laughter.) I promise you, you will have to deal with all that at every stage of your life. That may not seem fair, but life has never been completely fair. Nobody promised you a crystal stair. And if you want to make life fair, then you’ve got to start with the world as it is.

Yeah, that’s how bad things have gotten. The President who at least partially responsible for this mess (having coerced colleges into things like “preponderance of evidence” standards for sexual assault investigations) is now saying we’ve gone too far.

Look, I’m not saying we should let people run around college campuses spewing racist … no, wait, that’s exactly what I’m saying. I would rather have Nazis marching outside my office every day than have our campuses become fascist police states complete with secret reports, re-education and suppression of incorrect views. We’re inuring a generation of students to the idea that they are always being watched, always subject to discipline for ideas and speech, never to step outside the lines or challenge orthodoxy. What kind of adults are these students going to grow up into?

Book Review: Unlearning Liberty

I just finished reading Greg Lukianoff’s excellent book Unlearning Liberty. Lukianoff, who is the President of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (aka, the FIRE) has spent the last decade fighting attempts in higher education to stifle free speech, trample on free association and turn campuses to indoctrination centers.

I highly recommend the book. It’s four years old but it’s age is actually a strength. Over the last year, we have witnessed an explosion of illiberal, speech-crushing actions on college campuses. We’ve seen communications professors try to “muscle” the press. We’ve seen pro-Trump chalking decried as “hate speech”. We’ve seen students scream at a professor because he thought they could decided for themselves what Halloween costumes were appropriate. We’ve seen student demands less freedom, more censorship and the hiring of hordes of new administrators to teach sensitivity and fight racism (and then wonder why college costs so much).

This eruption of political correctness didn’t come from nowhere. It was built over two decades and Unlearning Liberty details how it was built. Lukianoff shows how speech codes (which afflict about half of college campuses) have been used to silence dissent and promote liberal agendas (and to silence critics of administrators and student government). He describes professors declaring certain ideas to be undebatable in their classroom. He details how universities will allow exclusively black or gay groups on campus, but fight against exclusively Christian groups. He details a maddening questionnaire incoming students are forced to fill out that asked them such things as whether they would have sex with someone of a different race. And then he details how refusing to answer such questions could earn mandatory sensitivity training sessions with crackpots teaching from “oppression wheels”.

Viewed through this lens, the current climate on campuses is not surprising. This is simply the poison hatching out after years of indoctrination (that really starts in high school). This isn’t just a generation of crybaby students. It’s a generation that has been taught from Day One that liberal ideas are right, that disagreement is hate and that further indoctrination is good.

(It has also empowered and enriched people who are, frankly, crackpots. When you read about what these people believe (or claim to believe) it’s crazy totalitarianism. Penn and Teller once had an interview with a “cultural auditor” who makes tons of money teaching about political correctness on campus. Every word this man said was garbage, a word salad of high-sounding nonsense. And the stuff he was teaching was frequently racist garbage, such as it was “insensitive” to expect black people to be on time for things.)

Lukianoff describes himself as a liberal Democrat but has admirably spent much of his time fighting for campus conservative and Christians with whom he disagrees. The book will give you an excellent contrast between a classical liberal like Lukianoff and what Andrew Sullivan has dubbed “the illiberal left” — a group of Left Wing advocates who have decided that free speech, free association and free religion can not be tolerated if it might disrupt their agenda.

One final thought that struck me when I finished the book: has political correctness ever solved a problem? Ever? I’m serious about this. Has all this nonsense with safe spaces and speech codes and affirmative consent and intersecionality and oppression wheels actually solved any of society’s problems?

I would argue that it hasn’t. In fact, I would argue that by depriving us of our ability to discuss issues of gender and race in frank terms, by stomping down ideas considered “incorrect”, by putting everyone on tenterhooks, political correctness has made things worse. It has created political paralysis on key issues. It has created armed political camps that lack the ability to discuss and debate issues lest someone be offended. It has left institutions of higher learning in the hands of cranks who have no idea what they’re doing. In fact, Lukianoff thinks the illiberalism on college campuses is a big reason why our politics have become so partisan: a generation of college students are coming of age who have never had to engage opposing ideas or consider that their own ideas might be wrong. They are used to retreating into ideological “safe spaces” where their ideas can not be challenged. And, of course, only talking to people with whom you agree has a tendency to make one even more extreme.

Look at a serious issue: sexual violence on campus. We can’t warn students about the connection between alcohol and sexual violence because that’s blaming the victim. We can’t have fair trials because the issue is too important. We push this idiotic model of affirmative consent which has little bearing on the realities of human sexuality. Brandeis, a university named a fierce civil liberties advocate, found a student guilty of sexual misconduct with no trial because his boyfriend decided after the relationship was over that some stuff had not been consensual. This process is becoming extremely expensive, driving up college costs and creating a virtual police state.

(Each link in that paragraph, BTW, is a must-read.)

But all this is necessary, we are told. All of this is critical to destroying rape culture and making campuses safe.

The problem: according to the Left, it’s not working. The Left claims that one-in-five women on campuses are victims of sexual violence. Let’s put aside that this number is almost certainly a wild exaggeration. If we accept it at face value, this means that all this political correctness has made things worse for women, not better:

Sexual violence in our society is down — way down. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, rape has fallen from 2.5 per 1000 to 0.5 per thousand, an 80% decline. The FBI’s data show a decline from 40 to about 25 per hundred thousand, a 40% decline (they don’t account for reporting rate, which is likely to have risen). RAINN estimates that the rate has fallen 50% in just the last twenty years. That means 10 million fewer sexual assaults.

Yet, for some reason, sexual assault rates on campus have not fallen, at least according to the favored research. They were claiming 1-in-5 in the 80′s and they are claiming 1-in-5 now. The sexual violence rate on campus might fall a little more slowly than the overall society because campus populations aren’t aging the way the general population is and sexual violence victims are mostly under 30. But it defies belief that the huge dramatic drops in violence and sexual violence everywhere in the world would somehow not be reflected on college campuses.

I explain how you can unbias the current research to show that sexual violence has, in fact, declined on college campuses. But if you accept the Left’s number, it has not. All that censorship, all that sensitivity, all those kangaroos courts. And, if you believe them, the result is that women are in more danger than ever.

Political correctness has also deprived us of our ability to recognize and deal with actual racism and misogyny. After all, when you’re kicking students off campus for just having a book about the decline of the KKK, how are you going to emotionally deal with, say, some racist asshole who goes into a black church and murders a bunch of people? When you’ve called the campus vice squad on someone for complimenting a woman’s appearance, how are going to deal with someone demanding sex for a promotion?

You have to be tough to deal with discrimination. And political correctness doesn’t make people tough; it makes them weak. It makes them incapable of dealing with ideas they don’t like without three college administrators holding their hands. I’ve had to deal with anti-Semitism from time-to-time. Would I be more or less capable of doing that if the mere sight of a Christmas decoration gave me a fainting spell?

I’m not saying that people should ignore “microagressions” or small acts of racism and sexism that many people experience very day. I’m saying we need to keep thing in perspective, to differentiate between things we can deal with by engaging other people and things we need to literally make a federal case over. Screaming racism and bringing the wrath of a college administration on someone over a racist joke is not going to solve anything. It’s going to make people defensive and entrench any discriminatory beliefs they have.

Even worse, a lot of the time, the dictatorial powers we have given college campuses are being used to silence and punish the very students they are supposed to help. See, e.g., Brandeis putting a black mark on gay student’s record without so much as a hearing.

If you were Mr. Evil Republican White Christian Male and wanted to maintain racism, sexism and bigotry in our society, you’d be hard pressed to find a better weapon than today’s political correctness. It makes people weak and hypersensitive. It brings debate and understanding to a grinding halt. And it’s spreading out from college campuses to infect the media, the workplace and our personal lives.

So what do we do about it? For one, keep calling it out. Young people especially need to be calling this out. On a political level, the federal government needs to stop supporting and even mandating this garbage through Title IX and other provisions. Even better, it could come out and make a bold statement against unconstitutional speech codes and indoctrination, declaring that it will always throw its weight on the side of free speech and free minds. If college campuses knew the Justice Department would side with a student punished for speaking his mind, they’d think twice about their ridiculous speech codes. Simply putting down the Federal foot down on the side of decency and respect would go a long way toward restoring some sanity to our campuses.

So, buy Lukianoff’s book. And better yet, support the FIRE. The last thing we need is this country is another generation of voters who retreat into their own navels when their ideas are challenged.

Generation Eggshell at Emory

I don’t know if you heard about the latest shocking sign of oppression in the United States. Recently, at Emory University, someone traumatized the students by … writing “Trump 2016″ in chalk in various places.

Wait, seriously?

Here they are, in their own words:

“We are in pain,” one student said at a rally, according to The Emory Wheel, a student newspaper. “I don’t deserve to feel afraid at my school,” a second student reportedly said.

“The students shared with me their concern that these messages were meant to intimidate rather than merely to advocate for a particular candidate,” [Emory President] Wagner said in a statement released Tuesday. “During our conversation, they voiced their genuine concern and pain in the face of this perceived intimidation…. I cannot dismiss their expression of feelings and concern as motivated only by political preference or over-sensitivity.”

“I legitimately feared for my life,” a freshman who identifies as Latino told The Daily Beast. Another student told the publication, “Some of us were expecting shootings. We feared walking alone.”

To be fair to the students, they claim that this is but once incident in a series of racial incidents (although it’s not clear what those incidents are or how serious they were). But … here’s their draft letter on the incident. It makes it very clear that what they are objecting to is the content of the graffiti.

In the early morning of Monday, March 21st, a student or group of students vandalized spaces across campus with messages supporting a candidate for president who is the figurehead of hate, racisim, xenophobia and sexism in America. In doing so, this group of students has attacked minority and marginalized communities at Emory, creating an environment in which many students no longer feel safe and welcome.

I’m going to save my profanity for a later rhetorical excess. I’ll just … seriously? Someone puts up the name of a politician you don’t like and you’re being “attacked”?

However, we firmly believe that this has far exceeded what can reasonably be considered an expression of political support. Donald Trump is no longer a joke. Supporting him, repeating his catchphrases, and arguing for his plausibility as the leader of the free world has become a threat to our democracy and an implicit attack on the Muslim, Latin, Black and other communities at Emory and across the country. This is not political expression; this is hate speech.

There you have it, all pink and naked. Supporting a politician I oppose is hate speech.

Look, I don’t like Donald Trump. I think he is stoking some awful fires in this country, as attested by the enthusiasm among white supremacists. But for God’s sake, can we back down from the hysteria? Trump’s a crass, idiotic con man who thinks he can win the Presidency by stimulating resentment and fear (some of which, on trade and terrorism, the Democrats are more than happy to stimulate as well). He’s not Hitler. He’s barely a low-rent George Wallace.

Oh, it gets worse:

Libertarian writer Jeffrey Tucker was present on campus earlier this week, when the messages first appeared. He told me that I was wrong to mock legitimate criticisms of the “Trump 2016″ scrawlings, which he characterized as vandalism of private property. The campus is a fairly apolitical place and the Trump messages were widely perceived as racial intimidation against the campus’s significant minority population—not mere political advocacy—according to Tucker.

“It was like cross burning,” Tucker told me. “It was on private property. It was extremely damaging and the students and faculty were totally embarrassed…it was absolutely intended to intimidate everyone and it worked.”

Cross-burning? Seriously? For anyone to compare this to cross-burning is insane. I’ve had a cross burned on the lawn of my synagogue. It was terrifying. It is a recognized act of terrorism. I don’t care if someone had written “David Duke for President” all over my synagogue. That’s not even comparable.

Conor in a you-really-should-read-the-whole-thing:

Can you imagine how campus progressives would have reacted if a university president threatened to have someone punished or charged with trespassing for chalking “Obama 2012” or “Bernie 2016” on campus sidewalks? But these students see no need for viewpoint-neutral standards about politicking in presidential elections.

Conor points out that cracking down on political messaging will hurt liberals and minorities way more than it hurts conservatives. Donald Trump doesn’t need sidewalk chalk to get his message out. He also points out that this … again … plays rights into Trump’s hands, showing off the very ivory tower elitism that he rails against.

Right now, I’m reading Unlearning Liberty, a great book by Greg Lukianoff about the culture of stifling dissent, debate and free thought on college campuses. This tendency and willingness of students and administrators to treat speech as dangerous has consequences. Part of it is a campus blowing up over graffiti. And part of it is this, from Conor:

Earlier this week, I noted that a black student at UC Davis suffered a hate crime near campus. Three men were later arrested for the assault. Previously, I’ve highlighted the horrifying affects of NYPD spying on innocent Muslim students and the UC Berkeley riot police that turned batons on students. There is sometimes good reason for college students to be concerned about their physical safety on campus, and there are incidents of racism that do not threaten physical safety but are nevertheless abhorrent and understandably upsetting. When students react like this to the mere appearance of the name of a leading candidate in the middle of a presidential-election year, treating the most commonplace political advocacy as if it makes them unsafe, they create perverse incentives for invoking victimhood and deflate the currency of claimed trauma and offense.

When you claim drunken consensual sex is rape, people stop paying attention to sexual violence. When you claim teaching European history is a “microaggression”, people stop paying attention to bias. And when you claim a few chalk scrawls are an “attack”, people stop paying attention to racism.

When I was a kid, my rabbi warned us about screaming “anti-Semitism” at every turn. He said we should bite down and deal with small instances of it so that people would pay attention when we complained about really bad anti-semitism (e.g., some assholes burning a God-damned cross on our lawn). The culture of coddling, hyper-sensitivity and hysteria is destroying not just our ability to deal with real problems in our society, but our ability to even recognize them.

Some students are saying this was blown out of proportion by the media. I don’t think protests and an open letter from the President are tiny things. Nor is it like this is happening in a vacuum. We are seeing this kind of blowups happen on a weekly basis.

Update: At least one student at Emory gets it.

Thursday Links

Time to clear out my tabs.

  • Barack Obama visited a mosque this week to denounce anti-Muslim violence. Anti-Muslim violence is a real and deplorable thing. But the majority of ethnic violence around the world is anti-Semitic and it’s not really close. In France, Jews are fleeing the country for Israel due to waves of violence.
  • MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the most iconic and important speeches in American history. It’s not good enough, college students say, because it doesn’t include gender identity.
  • Last week was School Choice Week over at Reason. And I’d like to point out that School Choice works. Check out the performance of Louisiana schools since Jindal’s overhaul.
  • Italy covered up some nude statues to avoid “offending” Iranian visitors (interestingly, without Iran having asked for it). Marc Randazza lets them have it.
  • South Africa is going to lift the ban on trading rhino horn in an attempt to save the species from total collapse. Environmentalists are aghast. I think it can’t work worse than their current conservation efforts.
  • The latest on potential breakthroughs in nuclear power. Any serious attack on global warming should start with nuclear power. Hell, any serious energy policy at all should start with it, even if we ignore global warming.
  • Trumps whining and crying is delicious. I’m very curious to see how the national polls look next week.

Rethinking Wilson

Students at what Amy Alkon aptly describes as “nursery schools with beer” continue to issue demands. Walter Olson compiles the most outrageous ones and John McWhorter, who has some experience with racism, address the broader issue. But one weird thing that’s come up at Princeton is the demand to acknowledge the racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson and remove his name from some buildings.

This may seem odd to some of you. Wilson is frequently rated as one of our greatest Presidents by historians. And just a few years ago, beating up on Wilson was regarded as right wing lunacy by no less than the New York Times. This, despite, as Radley Balko points out, Wilson having an awful awful record on race, civil liberties and executive power:

He dishonestly led us into a pointless, costly, destructive war, and assumed control over huge sectors of the economy to wage it. He seized railroads, food and energy production, and implemented price controls.

He suppressed dissent and imprisoned war critics. Said Wilson, “Conformity will be the only virtue. And every man who refuses to conform will have to pay the penalty.” He signed the Espionage and Sedition Acts, the latter of which made it a criminal offense to “oppose the cause of the United States.” He retaliated against critical newspapers, and directed the U.S. Postal Service to stop delivering mail determined to be critical of the war effort.

Wilson not only continued existing racial segregation of federal government workers, he extended it.

He instituted the first military draft since the Civil War.

He signed the first federal drug prohibition.

He reinstituted the federal income tax.

A few more, from Gene Healy’s book, The Cult of the Presidency:

Wilson believed in an activist, imperialist presidency. In his 1909 book Constitutional Government, he made the case against checks and balances and the separation of powers. The government, Wilson argued, is a living organism, and “no living thing can have its organs offset against each other as checks, and live.”

He ordered unconstitutional, unilateral military interventions into Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. (He also oversaw military interventions in Panama and Cuba, and instituted American-favored dictators throughout Latin America.)

Wilson believed God ordained him to be president, and acted accordingly, boasting to one friend in 1913 that “I have been smashing precedents almost daily every since I got here.” Every president since Jefferson had given the State of the Union in writing. Wilson reinstituted what Jefferson derided as the “speech from the Throne,” and ordered Congress assembled to hear him speak, giving rise to the embarrassing spectacle the SOTU has become today.

He oversaw a massive domestic spying program, and encouraged American citizens to report one another for subversion.

Healy’s book is very good, incidentally. Wilson is a central figure, with a detailed analysis of his early writings wherein Wilson detailed exactly what he through the President should be and exactly what he tried to make him: a monarch.

And the students are right on thing: Woodrow Wilson was racist, even by the standards of his time. He praised the Klan. He made numerous racist statements. He refused to do anything about lynching. He re-segregated the government, which meant black federal employees got demotions, pay cuts and, in at least one case, were put in literal cages so they wouldn’t interact with white people.

And yet … historians still talk about how great he was because he was progressive and “lead” us through World War I and tried to broker a reasonable peace after the war. That’s all fine and dandy. No President is uniformly awful. But, when you include everything, Wilson was a bad President. A really bad one.

I’ve talked before about the tendency of historians to love Presidents who start wars and crush liberty and look down on Presidents who provide simple competent leadership:

As Boaz notes, the historians favor guys who make for interesting history books. Roosevelt, who turned his back on the plight of European Jews, interred the Japanese, ignored race issues and prolonged the Depression, ranks his usual #1. Teddy Roosevelt, a “progressive” who abused his power, expanded government and slimed the nation of Panama into existence, ranks #2. I have no quibble with some of the others. But ranking the racist, free-speech crushing Woodrow Wilson at #8 is ridiculous. Andrew Jackson was a lunatic who defied the Court to send thousands of Indians to die on the Trail of Tears. But he’s ranked 14th.

The list of Presidents historians regard as great includes the over-rated Harry Truman, the racist Woodrow Wilson, the murderous Andrew Jackson and the “OK, but what did he actually do?” JFK. Meanwhile, Presidents who expanded freedom, kept us out of wars and basically did their jobs are regarded as, at best, mediocre. Cleveland, Clinton, Harding, Coolidge, Bush I … these guys have generally been regarded as “meh” (although Reagan and Clinton have moved up in recent years). I had issues with Clinton and his accomplishments were mainly a result of having a Republican Congress. But ranking him below Wilson and Jackson is ridiculous. Say what you want about Clinton. He wasn’t a genocidal maniac or an unapologetic racist.

Returning to Wilson, let’s contrast him with his successor, Warren Harding, generally rated as one of the worst Presidents of all time. Warren G. Harding cleaned up much of the mess Wilson had left after the end of World War I, presided over an important arms reduction treaty, repaired some of the diplomatic damage Wilson had done in South America, cut taxes, embraced aviation and radio, promoted anti-lynching legislation and racial equality, released Wilson’s political prisoners and made solid SCOTUS appointments. The result was one of the most peaceful and prosperous decades in American history. He also increased tariffs, restricted immigration and had huge problems with corruption, so it wasn’t all roses. But, on balance, that’s a decent record and way better than Wilson or Jackson. He was very popular when he was in office and mourned around the world when he died. But historians literally regard him as the worst President of all time because of the corruption and his infidelities, problems that don’t seem to bother historians when they consider Clinton or Kennedy or Johnson.

In the end, I think historians tend to rate President by how interesting the books about them are. This goes double for any power-hungry President that Doris Kearns Goodwin has written an overlong (and possibly plagiarized) slavering hagiography of. This is one of the reasons I expect historians to start regarding Bush II in a better light one day. Historically, he’s the kind of liberty-crushing incompetent bumbler they like to write books about.

As for the Princeton business … I’m reluctant to whitewash history. However awful a President Wilson was, he was still a President and still played a huge role in making Princeton a premier institution. I’m fine with acknowledging his awful racist legacy. I’m less fine with pretending he never existed.

Turkeys and Drumsticks 2015

For eight years running, I have taken advantage of the Thanksgiving Holiday to give out my awards for Turkey of the Year and Golden Drumsticks. The latter are for those who exemplify the best traits in our public sphere. The former are for those who exemplify silliness and stupidity. I rarely give them out to someone who is evil; they are reserved for those who regularly make me shake my head and wonder what they’re thinking. It’s a sort of “thank you” for making blogging easier.

We’ll start with the Turkeys of the Year. For reference, the past winners are:

2007: Alberto Gonzalez, Nancy Pelosi, Hugo Chavez

2008: Sarah Palin, Sarah Palin’s critics, Hillary Clinton, Congress, Joe Biden

2009: Mike Steele, Glen Beck, the State Department, Sarah Palin, Andrew Sullivan.

2010: Janet Napolitano and TSA, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, MSNBC, Lower Merion Schools, California Voters.

2011: Nancy Pelosi, Republican Presidential Field, Occupy Wall Street, Anthony Weiner, the Eurozone.

2012: The Culture Warriors, Unions, The Poll Unskewers, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, MSNBC

2013: Healthcare.gov, the Platinum Coin, the Shutdown Caucus, the National Park Service, Fiscal Cliff Panic Mongers.

2014: Jonathan Gruber, Lamenting Democrats, Barack Obama, Jim Ardis, Paul Krugman

For This Year:

The Presidential Field: Here are your candidates for 2016:

On the Democratic side, a 68-year old political insider with a 30-year track record of deception, vindictiveness and blame evasion, running on her record of having unleashed chaos in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Then there’s the 74-year-old socialist, rejected because his views on gun control are insufficiently pure. Then there’s the “young” guy running on his horrible track record as mayor of a failed city and governor of a failed state. And, because things weren’t surreal enough, there was the former senator who looked like he’d gotten baked on his yacht and accidentally wandered into a Presidential debate.

On the Republican side, you have the reality TV show star with narcissistic personality disorder who has an iffy relationship with the truth and seems determined to insult every demographic he can. You have the brilliant brain surgeon who is clueless on policy and has crackpot ideas about history. You have the asshole Texas senator. You have the President of a nearly collapsed company running on her record as a businesswoman. You have the worst Bush yet, somehow managing to piss away the complete support of the establishment. And then you have a bunch of little guys vying to get 3% support so they can stay in the big debate.

Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Coolidge, Reagan, Bush I … and one of these guys. Ay, caramba.

So far, the only ones who impressed me are Webb and Rubio (see below). One is out and the other is still in fourth place.

College Students: Have you guys seen Life of Brian? In that movie, the anti-Roman guerrillas spend way more time fighting each other than fighting the Romans. This was modeled on 1970’s left-wing radical who hated the government but hated each other more for “splitting” the movement and being insufficiently ideologically pure. This process is happening with political correctness as they slowly turn on each other.

Think of what we’ve been seeing. Who are college students forcing out of positions of power? Who are they screaming at in public squares? Who are they banning from bringing cameras into their “safe spaces”? This ire is directed against people who agree with them on 95% of the issues. Occasionally, there are real issues. But all too much of the anger is because lectures on European history are too European, because there aren’t enough tenured professors of women’s studies, because someone suggested, maybe, that it wasn’t the university’s job to tell grown men and women what Halloween costumes to wear.

Previous generations of college students protested against wars, against vicious racism and against in loco parentis. This generation is protesting against offenses so trivial they are literally called “microgggressions”.

The Election Media: It’s a little under a year until the election and I’m already exhausted. They’ve pronounced Trump dead at least eight times. They’re bending over backward to not criticize Clinton. And they’re doing nothing to illuminate the issues with their focus on the horse race.

Rolling Stone: Last year, they published a horrifying tale of a campus rape that turned out to be a fiction. The blame laid squarely on them. They didn’t bother to call the fraternity in question. They didn’t bother to talk to the supposed victim’s friends. They didn’t bother to read the rather famous (in Charlottesville) book about a rape that the victim took her story from. That’s horrible. What moves them into mockery land is their refusal to take responsibility. No one was fired. They blamed it on the victim for being a good liar. And now they’re being sued for millions.

(And it would seem the lesson has not been learned. The Hunting Ground, a new and much-praised, documentary about campus rape, has an equally problematic relationship with the truth.)

Barack Obama: He pronounced ISIS contained days before they attacked Paris. His Obamacare is seeing double-digit rate increases and companies leaving because they’re hemorrhaging money. His Iran deal is … dubious. The Democratic nominees are trying to pretend that Republicans have secretly been President for the last eight years. His attempts to gin up support for Syrian refugees infuriated half the country.

Maybe he needs to appear between two ferns again.

Dishonorable Mention: Kim Davis, Jeremy Corbyn, Vox, Everytown USA, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Vox, Bill deBlasio, the NFL, the anti-vaxxers, Sepp Blatter, Greece, Volkswagen, Putin.

Now the Golden Drumsticks, awarded to those who best exemplified what is right with the world. Here are the past awards, the first round from West Virginia Rebel.

2007: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ron Paul, Barack Obama, David Petraeus, Juan Carlos, Burma’s monks

2008: US Military, Jeff Flake, Ron Paul, Republican Governors, Barack Obama

2009: The American Fighting Man, Kimberly Munley and Mark Todd, George W. Bush

2010: The Tea Party, Chris Christie, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the Next Wave of Republicans, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, The American Soldiers

2011: Seal Team Six, Mark Kelly, The Arab Spring, the Technicians at Fukushima

2012: Down Ballots, The Sandy Responders, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, Mathew Inman

2013: Francis I, Edward Snowden, Rand Paul, The American Military, The Institute for Justice

2014: Ebola Responders, Francis I, Rand Paul, David Brat, The Supreme Court

For 2015:

New Horizons and Dawn: It was another banner year for science, headlined by New Horizons stunning visit to Pluto and Dawn‘s visit to Ceres. The Philae lander also revived and began providing more data from a sublimating comet. In other science news, rubella has been rendered extinct in North America and polio is on the run.

Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler: These are the three men who stopped a would-be terrorist on a French train. Stone came home … where he got stabbed protecting a friend. As Charles Cooke said, we’re a few news cycles away from finding out this guy is Batman.

Amnesty International: In the face of withering criticism and a rising intense moral panic about sex trafficking, they did the right thing: called for the complete decriminalization of sex work for both providers and clients.

Video and Body Cameras: There are legitimate civil liberties concerns when it comes to cops always carrying cameras on them, especially with our culture’s tendency to exploit and shame people doing things on tape. But they are making a huge difference. They not only show when cops do bad things (such as recent horrific shootings in Chicago and Marksville), they exonerate cops who’ve been falsely accused of brutality or sexual harassment. For cities that have implemented them, complaints about police brutality and abuse are way down, both because cops are acting better and because people find it harder to make false claims. There are still issue to work out about when and how footage becomes public. But I think this is a big help on the way to criminal justice reform.

The Non-Crazy Presidential Candidates: Marco Rubio may not get the nomination and Rand Paul definitely won’t. But they’ve injected some much-needed sanity and real debate into the Republican primary. Jim Webb gets a shout-out here too for trying (and failing) to find a moderate stream of Democrat.

Honorable Mention: USA women’s soccer team, the American military, France, Francis I.

Put your nominees in the comments. And have a great Thanksgiving.

SilliPeople at Yale

As I mentioned last week, there has been growing pressure on college campuses for universities to hand down guidelines on “offensive” Halloween costumes. This debate exploded recently at Yale. A letter was sent out on the subject of appropriate Halloween attire (composed by 13 administrators … and people wonder why college is so expensive). Erika Christakis, associate headmaster of a residence college, responded in a manner was that totally inappropriate for college professor. By which, I mean, she addressed the students like they were adults:

Even if we could agree on how to avoid offense – and I’ll note that no one around campus seems overly concerned about the offense taken by religiously conservative folks to skin-revealing costumes – I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition. And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from yourselves! Are we all okay with this transfer of power? Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity – in your capacity – to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you? We tend to view this shift from individual to institutional agency as a tradeoff between libertarian vs. liberal values (“liberal” in the American, not European sense of the word).

Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offence are the hallmarks of a free and open society.

But – again, speaking as a child development specialist – I think there might be something missing in our discourse about the exercise of free speech (including how we dress ourselves) on campus, and it is this: What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment?

In other words: Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that.

The students at Yale did not respond well to this eminently reasonable dialogue, culminating in an incident this weekend where students confronted Nicholas Christakis (Erika’s husband and Silliman headmaster) to demand an apology, a confrontation that ended with one student screaming in his face about how he is supposed to be creating a “safe space” for students rather than an intellectual space (notice that Christakis doesn’t raise his voice at all, even when she’s screaming in his face).1

Something important to remember: what the students are objecting to is not offensive Halloween costumes. It’s not even Yale’s refusal to ban said costumes. What they’re angry about is that a professor had the temerity to engage them on this issue. What they’re furious about is that someone didn’t immediately agree with them. That’s their definition of a “safe space”. Not a space where someone is physically safe. Not a space where someone is safe from racism. No, they want a safe space where they are protected from ideas they don’t like and from challenges to ideas they do like. And, as Ken at Popehat points out, they want that safe space forcefully extended everywhere:

[the safe space] is not a self-selected community or an exercise of freedom of association, because it lacks the element of voluntary entry. It’s the safe space of an occupier: students demand that everyone in the dorm, or college, or university conform to their private-club rules. Your right to swing your fist may end at my nose, but their asserted right to safety surrounds you.

Conor, in a really great and thorough piece, makes other great points:

In “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt argued that too many college students engage in “catastrophizing,” which is to say, turning common events into nightmarish trials or claiming that easily bearable events are too awful to bear. After citing examples, they concluded, “smart people do, in fact, overreact to innocuous speech, make mountains out of molehills, and seek punishment for anyone whose words make anyone else feel uncomfortable.”

What Yale students did next vividly illustrates that phenomenon.

According to the Washington Post, “several students in Silliman said they cannot bear to live in the college anymore.” These are young people who live in safe, heated buildings with two Steinway grand pianos, an indoor basketball court, a courtyard with hammocks and picnic tables, a computer lab, a dance studio, a gym, a movie theater, a film editing lab, billiard tables, an art gallery, and four music practice rooms. But they can’t bear this setting that millions of people would risk their lives to inhabit because one woman wrote an email that hurt their feelings?

This weekend, the Yale Herald published an op-ed (since withdrawn because it drew some actual harsh criticism) exploring these points, claiming that students couldn’t eat or function … because of the e-mail. Not because someone burned a cross on their lawn (as happened to my synagogue when I was kid). Not because someone used racial epithets (which happened in my high school). Not because someone wore an offensive Halloween costume (which itself seems relatively trivial). No, they’re unable to function because of a respectful e-mail that made the mistake of trying to engage them on a subject rather than simply saying, “Oh, your feelings are hurt. Well, that’s all that matters.”

To me, this trivializes … everything. One of the points being made is that minority students at Yale (of which there are very few) often feel like outsiders. They often feel like there is very real racism within the Ivy League — racial epithets, exclusion and prejudice. That is an issue that’s worth exploring. Getting angry because a professor, while acknowledging your point, respectfully disagrees with the idea of subjecting Halloween costumes to some kind of cultural vetting process is a waste of life.

But … as I’ve said before, we are raising a generation of people who have been coddled from the crib. They have helicopter parents who don’t let them do anything risky. Their schools are more focused on their self-esteem than their education. They play soccer without a score so no one’s feelings get hurt. And, for those who go to elite colleges like Yale, they’ve been told all their lives how brilliant they are. And this is the result: they can’t tell the difference between racial discrimination and a minor political disagreement. As Gregg Easterbrook once said, they can’t tell the difference between a crushed bicycle and the end of the world. And they think they have a right to be protected from all of it.2

It bears repeating: these are not children. These are grown men and women. This business blew up because the Christakis’s treated them like grown men and women. Neither Yale nor the Christakis’s have anything to apologize for. At least, not when it comes to e-mails about Halloween. How much culpability they bear for molding students that think like this … well, that’s another question.

1. Side note: I’m really hoping, not optimistically, that the screaming student doesn’t become the target of an internet shaming campaign. No one should be judged by a two-minute video clip. She acted like an idiot. Let’s not compound that by acting like assholes in response. She’s probably 19 years old. No one should be nationally judged by dumb things they say and do when they’re 19. Drezner makes a good point on this, pointing out that “One of the purposes of college is to articulate stupid arguments in stupid ways and then learn, through interactions with fellow students and professors, exactly how stupid they are. Anyone who thinks that the current generation of college students is uniquely stupid is either an amnesiac or willfully ignorant. As a professor with 20 years of experience, I can assure you that college students have been saying stupid things since the invention of college students.” I was an even bigger idiot in college than I am now. I was fortunate that nothing I said “went viral”.

2. In the meantime, back on planet Earth, we have a President who is about to get into his second illegal undeclared war, has launched hundreds of drone attacks that kill ten bystanders for every supposed terrorist, has declared the right to track our phones without a warrant and is piling up debt that these kids are going to have to pay off. It’s not like there’s a dearth of big issues they could be protesting over.

Once Again, PC Eats Itself

So this week, Comedy Central announced their replacement for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show: South African comedian Trevor Noah. Noah, known for a somewhat edgy standup routine and a couple of correspondent reports on The Daily Show was immediately praised a great choice.

Wait for it….

A few hours after Comedy Central announced that the South African comic would replace Jon Stewart, Salon’s TV critic predicted a surge of “right-wing rage” because “conservative critics have a practiced, doublespeaking method of piling on the heat on figures who stand out because of their race or gender or sexuality,” and obviously their guns would turn on Noah.

Not 24 hours later, Salon published a piece about how Noah’s old tweets—not conservatives—might “kill The Daily Show.” As Sonny Bunch helpfully recounts, the Internet discovered that Noah, who’d grown phenomenally popular in the rest of the Anglosphere, had a bit of a clunker problem.

You can click through to read the offending humor, which consists of tweets that include some Jewish jokes and some fat-girl jokes.

This has all led to some whipsawing in progressive media, from a Trevor Noah welcome wagon to a caravan of pitchfork-wielding villagers. On Monday, Vox’s Max Fisher introduced Noah to readers with “seven of his funniest clips,” and predicted that the host would make his show “a fresh and perhaps invaluable contribution to how we talk—and joke—about race and nationality.” He proved it, with a dive into Noah’s popular videos, pulling out solid routines about how bad Africans looked in famine relief ads and how mixed-race people get “upgraded to black” when they’re famous.

Yet within a day, there was dissent within Vox; writer Kelsey McKinney was explaining why Noah might be unfit to lead TDS. “A Daily Show host should be held to a higher standard than other comedians,” she wrote in regard to the tweets. “These jokes are offensive because they are reflections of cultures that are oppressive and privileged—and rather than being critical of those societal constructions, the jokes instead reinforce them.”

It’s Patricia Arquette all over again. It was fine for Noah to make black jokes, white jokes or anti-American jokes. But he can’t make fun of fat women because he’s above them in the N-dimensional matrix of the perpetually offended. (Weigel reminds us of the Suey Park-Colbert incident, where a bunch of hashtagivists insisted that Colbert’s satire of racism was, in itself, racist).

So what do I think? Chris Rock, a few months ago, gave an interesting interview where he talked about our culture of perpetual offense as it applies to comedians:

It is scary, because the thing about comedians is that you’re the only ones who practice in front of a crowd. Prince doesn’t run a demo on the radio. But in stand-up, the demo gets out. There are a few guys good enough to write a perfect act and get onstage, but everybody else workshops it and workshops it, and it can get real messy. It can get downright offensive. Before everyone had a recording device and was wired like fucking Sammy the Bull, you’d say something that went too far, and you’d go, “Oh, I went too far,” and you would just brush it off. But if you think you don’t have room to make mistakes, it’s going to lead to safer, gooier stand-up. You can’t think the thoughts you want to think if you think you’re being watched.

Exactly. Comedians who live on the edge of offense, as Rock sometimes does, have to work their material to go up to but not over the line. And the only way to know you’ve gone over the line is when people get offended and stop laughing. Think about Rock’s routine on black people vs. the n-word and how much work he must have done to make sure it was funny without being offensive. That’s something that can only come from experience, from trial and error.

For comedians (and really, for everyone), Twitter is a test audience of 284 million. We’ve seen a lot comedians — Patton Oswalt and Louis CK, for example — tweet jokes that went over the line (sometimes way over it). Hell, we’ve seen random people like Justine Sacco have their lives turned upside down because a dumb joke went viral.

I didn’t like Noah’s tweets (which are, granted, a small selection from over 8000 tweets). But I did find his stand-up material good. Not George-Carlin-in-his-prime good, but reasonable. I do think his tweets went over the line and the Jewish jokes did bother me. But I’m willing to give Noah a chance at The Daily Show. If he starts making offensive jokes, I’ll turn it off. But as someone who has occasionally tweeted stupid things, I’m not willing to line up the firing squad just yet.