by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
With Republicans in control of the government and Donald Trump in the White House, many say that it’s crazy, maybe downright perverse, to worry about college students as a threat to liberal society. But not every form of power involves government authority. And what happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus.
For some time, a fixation on identity politics, a culture of reflexive outrage, and a scorched-earth approach to trivial transgressions have been all hallmarks of student activism and academic radicalism. They are now becoming increasingly evident in American life as a whole. In the name of defending women and ethnic and sexual minorities — all reasonable goals — progressives on and off campus are taking illiberal stances that polarize society, put a chill on free speech, and erode respect for due process.
Not long ago, tropes such as “white privilege” or “rape culture,” which reduce a vast range of social dynamics to racism and misogyny, were seldom heard outside the radical wing of the academy; today, they’ve joined the mainstream. The term “microaggression,” describing statements and acts deemed unintentionally prejudiced, now shows up without explanation even in business publications.
Opposing bigotry and injustice are noble goals; but the social justice movement, on and off campus, goes far beyond that. It labels people by identity, creating a hierarchy in which being “marginalized” confers status while being “privileged” brings shame. Moreover, given its focus on changing “wrong” attitudes, is almost by definition hostile to free speech: dissent, even counterargument, becomes “microaggression” or “discursive violence.”