On Tuesday, Professor Allison Stanger of Middlebury College wrote in the pages of The New York Times to defend the students of the university for their vile behavior during a visit by American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray. Stanger herself was injured in a scrum by the students; she received a concussion for the privilege of hosting Murray, has to wear a neck brace, and spent a week in a dark room to deal with the symptoms of the injury. The students, you’ll recall, stood there and shouted, “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray go away!” before some of them surrounded Murray and Stanger on the way out of the event, attempting to physically harm them.
But Stanger’s now working to justify the students, or at least provide an explanation of their behavior that doesn’t begin and end with “they’re idiot leftist snowflakes”:
In the days after the violence, some have spun this story as one about what’s wrong with elite colleges and universities, our coddled youth or intolerant liberalism. Those analyses are incomplete.
Really? What, pray tell, have we all missed?
Trump, of course.
Political life and discourse in the United States is at a boiling point, and nowhere is the reaction to that more heightened than on college campuses. Throughout an ugly campaign and into his presidency, President Trump has demonized Muslims as terrorists and dehumanized many groups of marginalized people. He declared the free press an enemy of the people, replaced deliberation with tweeting, and seems bent on dismantling the separation of powers and 230 years of progress this country has made toward a more perfect union. Much of the free speech he has inspired — or has refused to disavow — is ugly, and has already had ugly real-world consequences. College students have seen this, and have taken note: Speech can become action.
But this ignores certain basic facts. First off, violence on college campuses against conservative speakers predates Trump’s rise. I was at the center of a near-riot at California State University at Los Angeles in which some of those who sought to attend my lecture were allegedly injured by students – and that was in February 2016, months before Trump was nominated.
Beyond that, violence against viewpoint deserves no defense. Yet that’s exactly what Stanger does:
It is obvious that some protesters made dangerous choices. But with time to reflect, I have to say that I hear and understand the righteous anger of many of those who shouted us down. I know that many students felt they were standing up to protect marginalized people who have been demeaned or even threatened under the guise of free speech.
“Dangerous choices”? How about they made criminal choices? Committed criminal violence? It’s not righteous anger to shut down a speaker because you’re too stupid to read that speaker’s literature; in fact, it’s not righteous to shut down a speaker at all, rather than simply confronting the speaker on the basis of facts. Stanger admits that the students knew nothing about Murray, and that they should have debated him rather than attempting to physically accost him:
They could have challenged him in the Q. and A. If the ways in which his misinterpreted ideas have been weaponized precluded hearing him out, students also had the option of protesting outside, walking out of the talk or simply refusing to attend….Part of the problem was the furor that preceded the talk. This past month, as the campus uproar about Dr. Murray’s visit built, I was genuinely surprised and troubled to learn that some of my faculty colleagues had rendered judgment on Dr. Murray’s work and character without ever having read anything he has written. It wasn’t just students: Some professors protested his appearance as well.
This is a troubling pattern across the country. At CSULA, one of the professors who led the charge against my lecture labeled me a fellow traveler to the Ku Klux Klan. That’s not uncommon. Professors on these campuses are actively stirring the pot with falsehood in order to give themselves and their students the moral high ground in utilizing violence.
In the end, Stanger comes to the correct conclusion: violence is intolerable. She writes, “There is no excusing what happened at Middlebury, and those who prevented Charles Murray from speaking must be punished for violating college rules.” But it’s her defense of the motives of the students that rings hollow. The protesters were, indeed, callow, stupid, and intolerant leftists. They were prodded on by members of the university administration. And while Trump has problems with violent rhetoric of his own, this one isn’t on him. It’s just on the left, which was too foolish to actually read even a paragraph of Charles Murray’s work, and too immoral to abide by basic rules of civilization.