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Down with Trump! The privileged class triggers student revolts (again)

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Nov 11, 2016

In the wake of the election of Donald Trump, some have taken to the streets in protest. I read a fairly comprehensive account of this in USA Today. It is clear that Trump is a polarizing figure. In fact, throughout the campaign he obviously intended to be a polarizing figure. But that’s not the only thing that is clear.

In surveying the wave of public demonstrations across the United States, it will take only a few seconds to realize that these manifestations of discontent take a very familiar form. What we are seeing is privileged college and university students doing what they have been taught and encouraged to do by their professors. Though on a smaller scale, it is reminiscent of my own student days (yes, I was an undergraduate during the late sixties). In Yogi Berra’s famous phrase, it is déja vu all over again.

A number of thoughtful writers have commented, over the past few years, on the deliberate insulation of university students against anything which can cause them angst—or at least the insulation of those who do not have Christian convictions. Throughout academia students are taught that diversity is a wonderful thing, and that students have the right to be protected from any ideas which call diversity into question. Never mind that the issue is not diversity at all, but rather the license to overturn any and all moral values which derive from Revelation or the natural law. Students must, at all costs, be protected against any presentation of ideas which might actually impart meaning to their lives, or enable them to recognize their own transcendence, or suggest that they are something more than unhappy bundles of refractory desires.

In short, a very important purpose of the modern university is to weed out those who challenge the secular status quo, and to protect those who embrace it from anything that might weaken their mimicry of the secular relativism of the professorial class. Universities are tools used by our cultural elites to replicate their own prejudices. In the name of freedom of thought, they have become the least intellectually diversified institutions in the West.

Most mainstream universities deliberately induce and enforce conformity in faculty and students alike. Politically incorrect faculty are either censured, denied promotion, or hounded out of their jobs. As for students, to take but one example, student organizations which champion the latest elements of gender theory are welcomed and supported, but student organizations which favor the natural law or Christian doctrine are either forbidden or denied the support typically given to student groups.

The usual results

The result is that huge numbers of students are essentially mollycoddled ideologues. Their only highly-developed intellectual skill is name-calling. The extent of their academic achievement is a certain versatility in adding variants of the noun “phobia” to an amazingly large selection of words. Worse still, they are so used to being protected from uncomfortable ideas that, when they are inadvertently exposed to them, the universities provide all the ministrations of the therapeutic State to make them whole again. If you read the news of the anti-Trump demonstrations, you will find university leaders canceling exams in solidarity with distressed students, ensuring that they have “safe” places—with snacks!—to discuss their outrage, and giving them access to counseling so that they can recover from the shock produced by challenges to their untested orthodoxies.

Contrast this with the campus experience of serious Christians. Throughout both their undergraduate and graduate studies, these students must learn to distinguish faculty prejudice from truth in all their courses; they must do extra reading and study so that they can sort out all the lies they hear; they must fend off constant criticism and even mockery from faculty and students alike; they must worry about losing their scholarships or fellowships if they vigorously defend their own convictions; and they must suffer isolation and even ostracism.

They will also completely miss any formal instruction which might give them the philosophical, and especially metaphysical, foundation which would enable them to grow more rapidly in their possession of the truth. In fact, the only thing about the typical university which works in favor of a decent education, for those who do not share the orthodoxies of the in-crowd, is that such students are forced constantly to sharpen their minds in order to survive the experience.

All of this would be ludicrous if it weren’t so tragic. It is a terrible thing to waste young minds, and it is even worse to deliberately weaken them. I encountered a similar phenomenon back in 1970 at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Since I had drawn number four in the draft lottery that year, I joined a National Guard unit so that I could finish my education. I was a senior with a fellowship in hand for graduate school, and this would have been lost if I were drafted. The military promised that I would be called to basic training only in the Summer, but in fact I received orders to report to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, with a couple of months still to go in my senior year.

Happily, all of my professors let me finish my courses remotely, doing required reading, fulfilling the assignments, and even taking the final exams from my barracks. I’m sure the regnant hostility to the military in academia played a huge role in the granting of such permissions. In any case as the college semester and my basic training wore on, the time came for final exams. I took them all by mail, and dutifully sent them back to my professors. But as it turned out, I was the only Rutgers student who took exams that year. I forget what social issue had come up, but there was yet another student sit-in at Rutgers that Spring, and to accommodate student stress, exams were cancelled.

The point of all this is that even 45 or 50 years ago, students were being carefully brainwashed and urged to protest any situation which challenged the prevailing orthodoxies. Not only did the prevailing “academic” atmosphere encourage such behavior, but there was also a great deal of explicit guidance and support from “popular” professors. If the perversion of higher education was bad then, it is far worse now. If students are taking to the streets again to protest election results which challenge their delicate sensibilities, it is only because the professors and administrators at a great many colleges and universities around the country have encouraged them to behave precisely in this way.

This encouragement comes through the deliberate inculcation of three strongly-held platitudes, only one of which is true: First, students have a right to be protected from any ideas which challenge the worldview imparted by higher education. Second, they must vehemently protest such ideas and do their best to eliminate them from the environment in which they live. And third, in their present circumstances they really have nothing better to do.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Nov. 12, 2016 2:28 PM ET USA

    I recall the only protest in which I ever participated, against the Vietnam War. As perfect payback, I watched the shooting of civilian women and children on the tarmac at DaNang Air Base, as the last US planes were evacuating men, who fought for the last places. This as I was feeding my first child. There was more education in those minutes than in the whole other four years.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Nov. 12, 2016 3:03 AM ET USA

    When this man nails it, he nails it. Spot on analysis, clearly written without using the word hypocrisy even once! "...the license to overturn any and all moral values which derive from Revelation or the natural law" might be added to by observing also the license to overturn any and all that is not "in agreement with" amply supported by examples from "modern communication channels" such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, et. al.

  • Posted by: fwhermann3492 - Nov. 11, 2016 8:02 PM ET USA

    Schools and universities no longer educate--they indoctrinate. In grad school I was taught to "resist" hegemony in all its forms, except, of course, the hegemony of the professors. I was supposed to respect that.

  • Posted by: feedback - Nov. 11, 2016 12:45 PM ET USA

    Great reflections. However, protests against war and conscription would be much more justified than the current protests against Donald Trump being democratically elected.