By Jonah Goldberg • National Review
“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia . . . could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.” — Abraham Lincoln
The winning streak enjoyed by campus activists this fall was violently interrupted by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris. Some activists were sufficiently annoyed by their ejection from the limelight that they took to Twitter to complain under the hashtag “F***Paris.”
The most obvious irony stemmed from the fact that some of the same protesters who griped about media coverage of their antics — even declaring First Amendment-free zones — suddenly whined when the cameras turned to bloodshed in the heart of Europe.
But there’s a deeper irony. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, fueled by a cynical media strategy directed by the president himself, the national conversation turned quickly from Barack Obama’s foreign-policy failures to the bigotry and insensitivity of the Republican party. There’s no denying that Donald Trump made this an easy pivot for the Beltway Brahmins. But left unnoticed in the clamor is the dismaying disconnect between the conversation elite liberals want to have and the one being pushed by their left-wing shock troops on the ground.
For instance, on ABC’s This Week, Representative Keith Ellison (D., Minn.) ripped into Republican rhetoric about Syrian refugees, saying that we must have “confidence in who we are as a nation . . . we need to be adhering to the values that have made this country strong.”
Ellison was hardly alone. Everyone seems to be talking about those American “values” of tolerance, diversity, and pluralism. Obama has been on a tear about how rejecting refugees is “not American” and how those refugees are akin to the pilgrims who arrived on our shores. He pays rote lip service to denouncing murderers in Paris.
Meanwhile, back on our campuses, those very values are routinely denounced as little more than “white privilege.” Needless to say, the people who want to see Columbus Day banned and call for an accounting of America’s crimes against Native Americans don’t think too highly of those Pilgrims.
As for our values, student protesters and their enablers on and off campus offer a full-throated rejection of America’s (classical) liberal principles and, at times, America itself. By now you’ve heard it said that “free speech” is just code for “white privilege” or even “hate speech.” Tolerance itself has become a dirty word for many.
Many campuses have announced a zero-tolerance policy for “hate speech” and “racial insensitivity,” and countless more campuses have students demanding that such policies be implemented at their schools.
In principle, that doesn’t sound so bad. The problem is that the definitions of hate speech and insensitivity have become entirely elastic and subjective. Disagreement with the mob of right-thinkers is now deemed unacceptable. There’s a vaguely Maoist flavor to demands that liberal white professors and administrators confess and atone for their “white privilege.”
It’s gotten to the point where even admiration for non-European culture is denounced as bigoted if that admiration blossoms into so-called “cultural appropriation.” Ethnic food fads are denounced for their insensitivity; the website Everydayfeminism.com recently offered “The Feminist Guide to Being a Foodie without Being Culturally Appropriative.”
For generations, we’ve heard that “diversity makes us stronger.” I’ll leave it to another day to question whether this premise can withstand the test of reality. The relevant point is that many of the chief beneficiaries — or at least their self-proclaimed leaders — of what was once called “Diversity Inc.” now reject the logic of diversity at the most fundamental level. The famous “melting pot” is now derided as a kind of cultural genocide.
Nothing is more comfortable for the Sunday-morning talk-show elites than taking on the alleged forces of intolerance to their right. Ohio governor John Kasich recently argued for promoting America’s “Judeo-Christian” values of tolerance, equality, free speech, and pluralism. NBC’s Chuck Todd fretted that such rhetoric sounded “anti-Islam.”
Meanwhile, the campus Left is openly rejecting those core American values, and the response from media elites has run the gamut from condescending tolerance to abject encouragement.
By all means, we need more civilizational confidence. But demonstrating it only to denounce partisan opponents isn’t confidence at all. It’s a recipe for suicide.