Sally Jenkins is a sports columnist for the Washington Post. She has won Columnist of the Year about a zillion times. She is the daughter of Dan Jenkins, who died earlier this month. For her column on him, go here. It is one of the best columns I have ever read, on any subject. Dan Jenkins was a sportswriter himself, and one of the most beloved writers, of any kind, in America. I wrote a little remembrance of him here.
Now I have done a podcast, a Q&A, with Sally. Go here.
We spend the first half talking about her dad — as a father, as a writer, and as a dude. Everyone is unique, we are told, and it is surely true. But maybe we can admit that some are uniquer than others? In the second half of our podcast, Sally and I talk about sports in general. What does she like to cover? Should college hoopsters be paid? What about Kaep and kneeling? What about MLB — should we be concerned for its future? Does she have any time for soccer? What’s it been like to be a female sportswriter? What are your favorite sports, when it comes right down to it?
Dan loved figure skating (though he was most famous for golf and football) (the coverage of them, I mean). So does Sally. So do I. Dan did not love hockey. Neither do I, for some reason, but I know the fault lies in me and not in that great game.
If you don’t know Sally Jenkins, you will very much enjoy the experience. Again, here.
10. Friends Ryan T. Anderson, Mary Hasson, Emily Kao, among others, hosted by the Holy See Mission at the United Nations, on a panel this week on protecting girls and women from gender ideology. Watch it here.
The two Sisters of Life, Sister Virginia Joy, S.V., and Sister Pia Jude, S.V., who run the Respect Life Office for the Archdiocese of New York are basically missionaries. They work out of the convent in New York City which doubles as a “holy respite” home for women and their babies. They have been going around the vast archdiocese over the last few weeks for a series of regional stops that are both presentation and town-hall listening sessions. People are angry, sad, depressed, heartbroken . . . about the abortion expansion darkness in New York state. They feel like a minority and many of them feel overwhelmed by the doubling down on evil they see not just in New York but nationally. The Democratic primary process thus far hasn’t helped matters. They want someone to do something. It’s made worse by the fact a self-professed Catholic governor has been the instigator. Most of the nights have had 100 or more people. Last night in New Rochelle was a little less.
I learned a few things I wanted to pass along, all of which blew me a little bit away.
First of all, I happened to be at the Sisters of Life holy respite the other day. The background music was “The Itsy-Bity Spider” with toddlers, mothers, and sisters singing. Cooing, too, could be heard. There have been seven babies born among the women the Sisters of Life walk with since Thanksgiving — four of them two sets of twins.
Sister Virginia Joy told the powerful story last night of showing the half-hour documentary, I Lived on Parker Avenue, to eighth graders. (I’ve written about it here and here.) It’s the story of an adoption, the meeting of a birthmother and son, and gratitude. It went online for free around this time last year, as I recall. You can watch it here. But about the little miracle story: One of those eighth graders went home that day and told his mother about it and gave him a Sisters of Life brochure about alternatives to abortion. She was about to have an abortion. The Sisters of Life are now walking with her through her pregnancy and beyond, which is what they do.
On the day of the abortion-expansion law — when the Freedom Tower and all were lit up in celebratory pink, celebrating such grave evil — a sidewalk counselor handed an abortion-minded woman a Sisters of Life brochure. She met up with the Sisters, spent the day with them, and even attended the vigil for life in reparation for what is happening and was happening at St. Patrick’s Cathedral that night. She, too, chose to turn away from abortion.
A Carmelite friar who teaches at Iona Prep high school shared that he had been trying to start a pro-life club for awhile there, but there had not been interest. The Reproductive Health Act changed things. They have one now. He added that its head is a Protestant. The students, he said, “are fired up.” And when they do things like hold a baby shower for unwed mothers, even a teacher who might not be with the Church on the issue of abortion finds her heart warmed and supportive of the effort. He said people should be encouraged that God works with us even in the darkness. He said people should have hope for young people, many who see clearly.
Earlier this week, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms and New Yorkers for Life (who have a petition about repealing the RHA, if you click on the link) had a lobbying day in Albany. It culminated with people going into the state capitol to visit their representatives. Once inside, from different levels, as you’ll see here, they gave voice to hope there:
On a dark rainy early spring life last night, there were signs of light. And the reminder that small things done with great love are far from nothing, they have the power to help change the culture and save lives.
Don’t plan on getting a Chick-Fil-A sandwich next time you fly through San Antonio Airport.
The city’s district council approved a new concession agreement for the airport on Thursday that will bring in more local establishments and specifically bans the popular chicken sandwich chain. At issue, apparently, is the donation of money by the Chick-Fil-A to groups that have been accused of discriminating against the LGBTQ community.
The council was apparently reacting to a breathless Think Progress allegation that “in 2017, the Chick-fil-A Foundation gave more than $1.8 million to a trio of groups with a record of anti-LGBTQ discrimination.” The donations included more than $1.6 million of the FCA, $150,000 to the Salvation Army, and a small $6,000 gift to the Paul Anderson Youth Home. By Think Progress’s standard, a company is committing a terrible sin whenever it gives money to a traditional Christian ministry. After all, FCA is merely upholding traditional Christian teaching that sexual activity is reserved for a marriage between a man and a woman. The donation to the Salvation Army is apparently based on the Salvation Army’s past policies, since Think Progress admits that the Salvation Army currently has “a national policy of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The FCA and the Salvation Army (I’m not familiar with the work of the youth home) both do an immense amount of good in this nation. No one seriously questions the Salvation Army’s value, and the FCA is a fixture in the lives of hundreds of thousands of American youth. It provides a spiritual home for countless kids and often a community of friends they can find nowhere else. Does “inclusion” now demand that corporate donors exclude them from support? Apparently so. Here’s San Antonio city councilman Robert Trevino:
With this decision, the City Council reaffirmed the work our city has done to become a champion of equality and inclusion. San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior . . . Everyone has a place here, and everyone should feel welcome when they walk through our airport. I look forward to the announcement of a suitable replacement by Paradies.”
This is Orwellian nonsense. This action isn’t based on any alleged mistreatment of gay customers. Instead it’s based on the notion that a person won’t feel “welcome” in an airport because they disagree with the charitable donations of a foundation connected to one of the airport’s vendors. That’s absurd. That’s more fake outrage. And it’s unsustainable for a free people in a pluralistic society. Should we only feel “welcome” in spaces where we know the owners share our faith?
And this time it’s unconstitutional fake outrage — at least when manifested through government action. Simply put, the government may not condition the ability to operate a business on the government’s distaste for the religious or political donations of its owners. That’s pure viewpoint discrimination, and if Chick-fil-A chooses to sue, it will not only win, but the city council’s intolerance will likely cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars.
There is a fundamental difference between state action against an employer based on violations of constitutionally valid state statutes — such as violations of valid nondiscrimination laws — and state action against an employer based on the employer’s constitutionally protected acts of support for individuals or causes. San Antonio is defying the law, it’s further polarizing our country, and it’s telling the Christian citizens and Christian ministries in its own city limits that their beliefs are so repugnant that the government should punish even private organizations who support their work.
Until the decision is reversed, San Antonio isn’t a “champion of equality and inclusion.” It’s an instrument of censorship and bigotry.
In my Impromptus today, I quote an Egyptian, who was speaking at a conference. Egypt is an old country, the United States a young one. This man was cackling about his own country’s future versus the American future. “We are connected by blood,” he said. “They are connected by a piece of paper.”
I’m not sure whether he was talking about the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. But, either way, he had a point. As I note in my column, this country has always been an experiment. Whether it will work out, who knows? But it has been a great light in the world for a considerable time.
I got a note from Sarah Telle, a law student and writer. “I was struck by the comment about our being bound by a piece of paper,” she says. She continues,
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, partially because I like thinking about things like this and partially because the fiftieth anniversary of my favorite musical occurred last week.
My favorite musical is 1776. It has been since I was a young child.
Have you ever had the chance to see it? I once saw it in Ford’s Theatre. At one point the Founding Fathers are talking about slavery and John Adams says, If we don’t deal with it now, we will have to deal with it later. Every eye in the house, including the actors’, could not help but glance at the box where Lincoln was shot.
The Egyptian’s comment made me think specifically about the last song in the musical — “Is Anybody There?” It is sung by Adams as he sits alone in Independence Hall wondering if the Declaration will become a reality. Again and again he asks, “Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see?”
These questions mattered in the year 1776, and they matter in 2019. My thought is that as long as those questions are still being asked and answered by Americans, the paper that binds us — both of them, but mostly the first — is just as strong as, if not stronger than, blood. Come what may.
ICYMI, Monday’s links are here, and include making ice cream 2,000 years ago, how sound effects are made in movies (and in old-time radio), when women started wearing makeup, and the test NASA gave potential astronauts in 1958.
President Trump has privately “fixated” on Joe Biden as a strong potential candidate, but Trump’s aides have assured him that Biden is “doomed” in a leftward-lurching Democratic primary, Politico’s Gabby Orr reports. “Some of Trump’s advisers have even compared Biden to Jeb Bush,” Orr adds, “an establishment favorite who entered the 2016 GOP primary with widespread name recognition, a professional operation and a massive war chest, only to admit defeat before his home state primary.”
There are several reasons why Biden could lose the primary, but there are two reasons why Biden 2020 starts out as a much more formidable enterprise than Bush 2016:
Biden’s poll numbers in the Democratic primary are now better than Bush’s ever were in the 2016 GOP primary.
“Barack Obama’s vice president” is a much stronger political brand than “George W. Bush’s brother.”
First, let’s compare the primary polling: Bush never got above 17 percent in the national polling average. In Iowa, he never held a lead and never got above 14 percent. In New Hampshire and South Carolina, Bush never polled above the mid-teens and only briefly held small single-digit leads in both states.
Biden, by contrast, is in first place at about 30 percent in the national polling average — nearly double Bush’s largest share of the GOP electorate. In a very crowded field, that’s a pretty good place to start out. Early polls find a two-man race between Biden and Sanders in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Biden is up a bit in Iowa, down a bit in New Hampshire, and had a double-digit lead over Sanders — 37 percent to 21 percent — in the most recent South Carolina poll. In 2016, pundits and analysts may have given too much weight to early general election polling pointing toward a Clinton victory, but they didn’t give enough weight to primary polling showing Trump jumping out to early double-digit leads.
The reason why Biden has a more realistic path to his party’s nomination than Bush did is simple. Biden’s primary political identity — the one thing everybody knows about him—is that he was Barack Obama’s vice president. Fair or not, the one thing everybody knew about Jeb Bush was that he was George W. Bush’s brother, not his record as Florida governor nearly a decade earlier.
George W. Bush left office with a 29 percent approval rating; about one out of three of self-described Republicans did not approve of Bush during his final year in office. Obama left office with a 57 percent approval rating, and only about one out of ten self-described Democrats did not approve of Obama during his final year in office.
Jeb Bush was trying to capture the nomination of a party that knew it was going to face Hillary Clinton, the ultimate political insider. “Not another Bush” was a very strong rallying cry in a party that couldn’t stand the thought of another Clinton in the White House. “Not another Obama” is not going to be a successful slogan in the 2020 Democratic primary. The task of Biden’s Democratic opponents, a task that is certainly achievable, will be to convince primary voters that Biden’s association with Obama is unmerited.
Anyway, in the latest print issue of National Review, I take a longer look at Biden’s prospects in the Democratic primary. And here’s the standard disclaimer about how early it is in the process and that Biden could lose for all sorts of reasons: At this point in the 2016 GOP race, Scott Walker and Jeb Bush were tied for first place in Iowa at 16.6 percent, while Ted Cruz was polling in single digits and Donald Trump was three months away from descending the escalator at Trump Tower.
(I reserve the right to reconsider whether Joe Biden really is Jeb Bush 2.0 if Oprah throws her hat in the ring this summer.)
New Zealand has confirmed that it will ban — and confiscate — any firearm that resembles those that were used in the recent terroristic attack. In response, the gun-control movement has taken a break from assuring gun owners that “nobody is talking about confiscation” and set about lionizing New Zealand’s parliament for agreeing to . . . engage in confiscation. In future, we can presumably expect to see similar dance to the one that President Obama performed when he spoke of Australia. To wit: “Why can’t we be more like New Zealand? How dare you suggest I want to do what New Zealand did.”
I noted earlier in the week that there was something creepy and authoritarian about the way in which New Zealand’s prime minister was being urged to act with such haste as to guarantee that nobody could object (Phil Klein has a good column on this topic). Today, I have noticed something even creepier, and even more authoritarian: The suggestion that if a traumatic thing happens to a nation even once, the correct governmental response is to abolish or to curtail the liberties of its citizenry. I keep seeing it argued that Britain, Australia, and New Zealand should be praised for having reacted to attacks by instantly limiting the right to bear arms. But what is the ruling principle here? That people get to enjoy certain rights unless one guy abuses them, and then that’s it? That would be a strange way to run a free country, would it not?
In most other circumstances, this argument would be self-evidently absurd. If a serial killer walks free and then murders again, we do not say, “Right, that’s it,” and move to limit the presumption of innocence or to abolish jury trials. If a bomber stockpiles explosives in his home, we do not say, “Ah well, I guess we need to abolish the Fourth Amendment, and before anyone can object,” and nor do we praise other countries in which privacy has been severely abridged for their instant “leadership” in the face of evil. We shouldn’t do it with guns, either. And, thanks to the Second Amendment, which was passed to prevent precisely this sort of behavior, we won’t.
I don’t think anyone here will argue with Jim Geraghty that Charlotte Alter’s claim that millennials have “never experienced American prosperity” is wrong. But I think it’s interesting to consider why some millennials might not believe that they’re experiencing prosperity, because I don’t think the sources of millennial malaise are totally irrational.
Take the real-estate market. Jim points out it has recovered since the 2008 crash, which destroyed a staggering amount of value in homeowner equity and put existential stress on financial institutions. That recovery is good news, both for homeowners and in general. But top-line economic statistics are coarse-grained and can conceal certain dynamics. The renewed rise in housing prices is also associated with a decline in fertility rates, which makes sense if you assume that most people wait to start a family until they can afford a house. Meanwhile for renters, high property values mean high rents, especially in economically productive, heavily regulated cities like New York and San Francisco. Millennials might not be moved by the rise in real-estate prices if that rise puts a home, and a family, out of reach, or if it freezes them out of job opportunities in high-productivity cities.
(There’s another dynamic here, which is that well-educated creative-class millennials — including, as Jim notes, Charlotte Alter — who already congregate in these cities tend to play an outsize role in advocating social change: The Williamsburg caucus of the Brooklyn DSA are Theda Skocpol’s “marginal elites.”)
David McWilliams, in an provocative column for the Financial Times, argues that this dynamic has contributed to the leftward drift among millennials:
Soaring asset prices, particularly property prices, drive a wedge between those who depend on wages for their income and those who depend on rents and dividends. This wages versus rents-and-dividends game plays out generationally, because the young tend to be asset-poor and the old and the middle-aged tend to be asset-rich. . . . While average hourly earnings have risen in the US by just 22 per cent over the past 9 years, property prices have surged across US metropolitan areas. Prices have risen by 34 per cent in Boston, 55 per cent in Houston, 67 per cent in Los Angeles and a whopping 96 per cent in San Francisco. The young are locked out.
Because I’m not a historical materialist, I don’t think millennial malaise is a product only of high rents or student debt (I’d recommend reading Park MacDougald on its non-material basis.) And Alter’s claim was about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez leading a movement to rectify supposed millennial indigence, which is doubly off (as if AOC were leading a push for land-use deregulation). But if, for example, the strong real-estate market really does mean that young people are marginally less likely to buy houses and start families, or to take a job opportunity in a high-productivity cities, then we can agree that even in conditions of broad economic prosperity, citing GDP and asset-price growth won’t be enough to convince them that all is well.
Pretty much everything about the Beto phenomenon is ridiculous, but like Jim, I think his campaign has to be taken seriously. Charisma has always counted in politics, and now more than ever. The latest Beto thing is standing on counter-tops at coffee shops, which doesn’t sound like much of a thing, but has generated a lot of attention and comments.
I agree with this Vox piece that it works for him, by demonstrating a relaxed cool and youthfulness. I’m not sure that Beto can simultaneously beat back the white-privilege police on the Left, ride his persona to continued media attention and fundraising success, and maintain his incredibly vague stance on most matters of substance, but he’s got a real shot.
Once they made a musical of the life of Jesus Christ, that pretty much ended the discussion about what could be a proper subject for a singing, dancing stage show.
But even so, a musical about Lee Harvey Oswald? I have a bad feeling about this. Casting director Ally Beans says Oswald, a 27-song show which is to debut on May 3 in Big D, and has Broadway ambitions, “is the story of Lee Harvey Oswald, but two actors portray him. We have the man who did it and the man who did not, which sort of buys into the unknown, some of the conspiracy theories, some of the gray areas of the story as we know it.”
Oh my. Are we really going to go back to batspit-crazy theories about how a right-wing cabal involving the CIA might have killed JFK?
Oswald is told through the eyes of the widow, Marina Oswald, who at 77 apparently still lives in the Dallas area though she is today known as Marina Porter. The show’s creators are composer Josh Sassanella and book writer Tony LePage.
Since the “Great Society” years of LBJ, American higher education has been off course. The reason: federal student aid money that altered the incentives of college officials.
In today’s Martin Center article, finance professor Robert Wright offers a solution — colleges should invest in their students, not in the markets. Just as many big businesses help their customers finance big-ticket items, so should colleges and universities help students who can’t afford the cost of their product by lending them the money they need.
Instead of trying to amass as much wealth as possible in their endowments (which are often rather poorly invested, Wright notes), college leaders should lend to students for their education. Incentives for colleges and students would again be properly aligned. Colleges would have some “skin in the game” and therefore more carefully choose and educate their customers.
Moreover, by cutting the ties to Uncle Sam, schools would regain their independence, which is why Hillsdale College decided many years ago to take no more federal money and run the kind of student-finance system Wright advocates.
I have a new Impromptus column, here. It begins with the Conways — Kellyanne and George — and continues with the Electoral College, Joe Biden, sports, language, music, etc. See what tickles your fancy.
My friend graduated Annapolis in ’93 — McCain was the commencement speaker. I had never heard of him before.
His speech was mesmerizing. Taken as a whole, it was the single greatest speech I have ever heard, seen, or read in my own lifetime. Some months later, I asked my friend to make a copy of his graduation video so I could have the speech for myself. I have showed it to many people over the years. Each has responded similarly — “That was amazing.”
The author Robert Timberg wrote a book in 1995 called “The Nightingale’s Song” — in which he recounts that the speech was the beginning of McCain’s personal recovery from the Keating Five scandal.
In October of 2000, McCain came to Long Island to support a GOP congressional candidate. Afterwards, people crowded around him. It was New York noisy.
I got my copy of Faith of My Fathers in front of him. He was looking down the whole time, signing away. I said to him under the din, “I was at the ’93 Naval Academy graduation.”
He stopped everything. He looked up at me and said slowly, “That was the greatest day of my life.”
If you ever get a chance to see that speech, it won’t disappoint.
Here it is. Lately, President Trump has been talking about McCain’s record at Annapolis. You should hear what McCain has to say about it!
Okay, this is a note in response to a piece about Jeffrey Hart, the late professor of English and National Review editor-writer. I quoted Jeff as saying that his teachers at Stuyvesant High School in New York had been better than his professors in college.
I went to Highland Park High School, which is a public school located in the northern suburbs of Chicago. My graduating class sent 18 students to the Ivy League, five to MIT, eleven to Washington University in St. Louis, etc. Our valedictorian was John Preskill, who is now the Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics at Caltech. On our class-reunion website, an alum of the Yale School of Medicine noted that his most intellectually rigorous environment was Highland Park High.
Someone described the Texas state legislature as follows: “Five percent were brilliant, 5 percent were not very bright … and the other 90 percent just wanted to know, ‘What’s for lunch?’” For the record, the trout almondine was delicious.
If my art appreciation could be thoroughly quantified, many would describe me as “deprived.” …
My appreciation (or lack thereof) can be directly linked to my father. He graduated from Brown University (1928.) Multi-millionaire before his 50th birthday. By the time I realized the value money held, we were flat broke. No regrets. I don’t think my father ever visited an art gallery. If he had a love of music, he kept that a secret. He did mention that, while visiting Chicago, he met Al Capone. Some might say that this encounter qualifies as surrealist art?
My father loved baseball, specifically the Boston Red Sox. He saw Babe Ruth pitch! In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he took me to many games at Fenway Park.
One moment, in one of those games, is my Beethoven, my Shakespeare.
The Red Sox are playing the Detroit Tigers. Al Kaline is in right field. The Red Sox are at bat. There are no outs and there is a Boston runner on second. Baseball strategy of the day knows that a base hit will more than likely score the runner from second. The minimum requirement for the batter is, hit the ball deep to right field — a sacrifice fly — to advance the runner to third base.
The batter met his professional obligation. His fly ball sent Al Kaline almost to the warning track. I can still see the haze of the patrons’ cigarette smoke wafting upward. It’s thick, like San Francisco fog. …
Kaline catches the ball. He then unleashes his throw. The runner on second knows better. He doesn’t budge an inch. Kaline’s throw, which never touches the ground, precisely hits the third baseman’s glove. That glove is at the perfect spot for a tag, if a tag were necessary.
But the runner knew. If he had been foolish enough to run, he would have been dead on arrival.
The Boston crowd cheered lustily — which didn’t make any sense to eight-year-old me. My father taught me that it was perfectly acceptable to hate whomever the Red Sox were playing. I looked at my father. He knew I didn’t understand.
He enlightened me as to the crowd’s expression of appreciation. “Nobody ever runs on Al Kaline.”
Kaline didn’t tip his hat. He just shuffled over to his appointed spot in right field. The magnificence of that moment. What a throw! We all knew. All of baseball knew. I saw it with my own eyes.
On the subject of sports: A couple of weeks ago, Dan Jenkins, the great sportswriter and novelist, died. I had a note of remembrance. A reader sent me a note of his own, saying,
Damn! He was one of those fountains of life that I did not want to ever die. I’m writing from Kingston, Ontario, right where the St. Lawrence River starts to head northeast out of Lake Ontario. The lake is frozen out farther that I can see and it is sunny but cold as hell. That’s the way this news hits me as well.
One more word. In an “Elko Journal,” I wrote, “Got a question for you: Which comes first, the words or the music? This is an ancient question, of course, never finally answerable. Salieri (of Amadeus fame) wrote an opera about it — Prima la musica e poi le parole. So did Richard Strauss — Capriccio.” My friend Ed, who knows everything — everything worth knowing — sent this e-mail to me: “Which comes first? Sammy Cahn’s answer was ‘The phone call’ — as in, ‘Hey, Sammy, we need a new song for Frank.’”
Most Republicans oppose the impeachment and removal of President Trump because they don’t think he has committed any high crimes and misdemeanors. As Jim Geraghty notes, James Comey opposes it for a different reason: It would embitter Trump’s supporters, who would consider it a “coup.”
That argument makes a lot less sense than the Republican one, which, granting its premise of no impeachable offenses, is airtight. A president can’t be removed from office without a very high degree of consensus in the country–much higher than is required to elect a president in the first place. Every Senate Democrat and twenty Senate Republicans would have to agree before it could happen. The procedural barrier against removal from office is extremely high, and so there’s no real need to have a norm against it, let alone a norm based on its potential to create division.
I suspect that a lot of Democrats have a clearer sense of these issues than Comey. They’re against starting down the road to impeachment and removal because it is unlikely to succeed and might play into Trump’s hands, thereby increasing his time in office. That view, too, makes more sense than Comey’s.
President Trump’s decision to issue an executive order protecting freedom of speech on America’s college campuses marks an inflection point in a decades-long struggle over the direction of the American academy. Trump’s order — which I strongly support — is not the weak and largely symbolic move some claim. On the contrary, it’s a game changer.
It will take some time to become evident, but Trump’s order will shift the balance of forces on campus. Universities will now have to take loss of federal funding into account when creating speech codes, so-called free speech zones, or bias-reporting systems, or handling visiting speakers. It’s true that the new order might be enforced either lightly or assertively, and we don’t yet know how that will play out. Yet the very existence of the order sets up a dynamic that will make it harder for colleges to stifle free speech, and tougher for regulators to ignore it when they do.
The early line is that Trump’s order merely reaffirms existing law, and is thus little more than a meaningless sop to his base. After all, the order simply insists that public universities uphold the First Amendment, something they are already legally required to do. As for private universities, all they need to do is follow their own stated policies. So what has really changed?
This critique entirely misses the point. Public universities are indeed obligated to uphold the First Amendment. The problem is that they regularly ignore that charge and promulgate unconstitutional speech codes, speech zones, and bias-reporting systems anyway. There’s a cottage industry in lawsuits against public universities that violate the First Amendment, as well as against private colleges that flout their own stated free-speech principles. Plaintiffs usually win once they muster the time, money, and courage to sue, but universities quickly find roundabout ways to reinstitute the offending policies, beginning the cycle again. If colleges face a loss of federal funds, however, they just might give up on evading the First Amendment.
University offices of legal counsel are going to think a whole lot harder about campus speech codes, speech-zones, and bias-reporting systems once they’re facing a potential withdrawal of federal funding, instead of just a “red light” rating from FIRE. Campus legal offices are cautious to a fault and can’t afford to rely on the hope of lax federal enforcement. What’s more, it’s likely that a bad speech code rating from FIRE or a complaint from Alliance Defending Freedom will filter back to the regulators. In fact, there may even be a formal mechanism developed that will allow free-speech groups to make the case that a university policy is either unconstitutional or in violation of its own stated promises. If this enforcement mechanism isn’t available at first, it could be added eventually under public pressure.
What’s going to happen when a college that has embraced the University of Chicago’s free-speech principles manifestly violates them? Almost every campus already has a never-enforced rule against shout-downs. What’s going to happen when a school refuses to discipline a manifest violation of that rule? Shout-downs aren’t exactly secret. You’re likely to catch the next one on a viral video. Even if regulators would prefer to do nothing, inaction in the face of video evidence will be difficult.
In this way, Trump’s executive order creates an entirely new enforcement dynamic on a new playing field. The administration will either actively enforce the new rule, or be publicly attacked by its base for refusing to do so in the face of obvious violations. In many — perhaps most — cases, university offices of legal counsel will remove unconstitutional policies well before regulators even act.
If America’s college campuses continue to maintain and promulgate unconstitutional speech policies, the public will demand better enforcement, or a more effective rule. Republican administrations will find it tough either to balk at enforcement, or to stay with a meaningless rule. Democratic administrations will find it tough to peel back a rule that merely calls for adherence to the First Amendment where that is already legally required, or adherence to a private college’s own stated policies. Certainly, Democratic presidents will come under pressure to enforce the rule against obvious violators. And if a Democratic president were to withdraw Trump’s order altogether, that would create a perfectly legitimate electoral issue in an area where the public is on the side of free speech.
Another likely consequence of the order is a pullback by private schools on promises of free speech. Will schools still want to adopt the Chicago principles if failing to uphold them could strip them of federal funding? Maybe not, but it’s likely that those schools never seriously meant their acceptance of the Chicago statement to begin with. Private colleges that refuse to endorse free speech will expose themselves to public criticism, and rightly so. The result will be greater transparency at private colleges, entirely justified embarrassment, and pressure for real change, as opposed to window-dressing.
So the rule seems weak, but in fact is strong. The secret of its effectiveness is that it only asks colleges to do what they are already legally obligated to do. Who can quarrel with that? But colleges do not in fact do what they are legally obligated to do. And that failure will be easy to document when official campus policy contradicts the First Amendment — as it so often does — or when colleges ignore their own rules against shout-downs and other forms of speech suppression — which they regularly do. Today, colleges manipulate and evade the law, even when they are called on their bad policies by the courts. But Trump’s order raises the stakes in a way that colleges may no longer be able to ignore. And it creates a dynamic in which the public will demand follow-through on the sort of openly outrageous cases that crop up regularly nowadays.
So much for policy. What about the politics of the order?
President Trump has done himself a world of political good by issuing this order. Conditioning federal funding on the maintenance of campus free speech will instantly take its place in the litany of policies for which Trump is praised and thanked by his base. It’s tough to overestimate how concerned conservatives have become in the past few years over political bias, shout-downs, intimidation, bogus accusations of bigotry, and pervasive self-censorship in the academy. More important, these concerns are shared by swing voters and moderate Democrats, too.
Fifteen years ago, even conservatives were more likely to roll their eyes and shrug at crazy campus hijinks than to express alarm. Preposterous postmodern jargon seemed irrelevant at best. How could something impossible to understand destroy the republic?
Nowadays, in contrast, it’s easy to see the connection between campus shout-downs and politicians being chased out of restaurants. Campus intersectionality and green socialism are taking over the Democratic party before our eyes. Most conservatives know young people afraid to speak their minds in dormitories and classrooms, much less write what they believe in their assignments. Conservative parents, torn between their own beliefs their child’s best interests, despair of finding a college that won’t actively work to turn their son or daughter against their own deepest convictions. And now, twitter mobs straight out of the campus leftist hothouse seem to be coming for everyone.
That President Trump has taken up arms against this sea of troubles solidifies his reputation as the man willing to fight cultural battles that GOP politicians too often shirk. We haven’t seen a Republican administration work this boldly against campus illiberalism since the Reagan administration, when education secretary William Bennett challenged Stanford’s attack on Western civilization and when Lynne Cheney fought the good fight as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities (continuing through the first Bush administration).
The George W. Bush administration deliberately avoided the bully pulpit on campus issues under the misapprehension that this would squander its political capital. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Standing up to illiberal campus extremists is a sure political winner. And today, two years into the free-speech crisis kicked off by the rash of campus shout-downs in early 2017, Congress has done exactly nothing to solve the problem.
I understand why some Republicans are reluctant to invoke the federal government — even to protect a right as fundamental as free speech — although I disagree with this view. Even so, Congress hasn’t even been able to pass a mere “sense of the Congress” resolution condemning free-speech zones — a resolution with bipartisan backing. It doesn’t get any easier than that. The contrast between congressional inaction and Trump’s bold move is striking.
Trump is a fighter, rough around the edges and certainly not steeped in conservative thought like Reagan was. But somehow Donald Trump has brought back the feistiness of the Reagan years on the campus culture wars, in a way that Republican politicians ought to have done for the past 25 years — but never had the guts to do. The country has paid a heavy cultural price for that inaction. You want to know why Trump is loved by his base? This is why.
What about the Democrats? Has freedom of speech actually become a partisan issue? That really would be deadly for the republic. Finding out how the parties handle this question is going to tell us a lot about the state of the culture, but it’s going to take some time for things to shake out.
It’s certain that the Dems won’t attack free speech in response to Trump’s order. Instead they’ll sound like conservative converts, with lots of talk about the dangers of bureaucratic meddling and federal overreach. Of course the real conservative position would be to stop the massive federal subsidies to higher education altogether, but Democrats would never put that on the table. They want more free money for college, not less. Dems will also hope for the courts to stop to the order, although there’s plenty of precedent for requiring recipients of federal largesse to protect fundamental civil rights.
There’s plenty of room for good-faith disagreement about federal guarantees of campus free speech. That said, Democratic critics won’t want to talk about one of their major concerns. If they were to admit that there’s a campus free-speech crisis and that it has to be addressed far more aggressively, they’d quickly find themselves cross-wise with the newly-energized Democratic left. A shocking number of young people now approve of shout-downs and even violence as tactics to stifle “hate speech,” a flexible category commonly stretched to cover nearly any policy the left doesn’t like. This means that Democrats would prefer this issue to go away.
Yet unless the courts put a quick end to it, President Trump’s executive order will soon generate concrete examples of unconstitutional policies that don’t make the federal cut. That will anger campus radicals, and potentially split Democrats on the issue.
Trump’s order is also likely to supercharge the already robust campus-reform debate at the state level. Campus-free-speech bills have been passed or introduced in a great many states in recent years. Some are stronger than others. Over time, Trump’s order may kick off another round of legislative strengthening.
The possibility of a second wave of state legislative reform on closely related campus issues is also real. I’ve proposed a model state-level bill to bring greater intellectual diversity to public university campuses, while still respecting academic freedom. And there are plenty of other ways in which the public might play a role in campus reform. Public university systems are governed by trustees appointed by governors and legislators, and funded by the public’s representatives as well. Trustees in particular may be energized by the public’s newfound concern with campus reform. Successful change modeled at state universities could then spread to private institutions. President Trump’s order might kick of a virtuous circle in which public and private universities begin to reform themselves, if only to stave off further legislative initiatives and funding cutoffs.
It’s way too early to see its full effects, but Trump’s executive order has altered the campus-free-speech playing field, set off a new dynamic in which the public will play a major part, and given an impetus to reform efforts both inside and the outside of the academy. I call that a big win.
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