An academic writes a postmortem on the 2016 Presidential election:
The article that resulted, which appeared in The New York Times, argues that “American liberalism has slipped into a kind of moral panic about racial, gender, and sexual identity that has distorted liberalism’s message and prevented it from becoming a unifying force.”
Mr. Lilla, a professor of humanities at Columbia University, pinned the blame, in part, on academe and its fixation on identity politics. “How to explain to the average voter the supposed moral urgency of giving college students the right to choose … gender pronouns?” he asked. “How not to laugh along with those voters at the story of a University of Michigan prankster who wrote in ‘His Majesty’?”
Some excerpts from a post-publication interview:
In your article, you argue for a liberalism that works “quietly, sensitively, and with a proper sense of scale” when it comes to highly charged issues like sexuality and religion. Is there a campus corollary to that?
Yes, because there has been a radicalization of student demands and also a loss of a sense of proportion. Our campuses are not Aleppo. And to witness the rage around some of these issues — whether it’s the naming of buildings, the transgender-bathroom issue, or the pronoun issue — we’re an evangelical country, and we tend toward fanaticism whenever we try to reform ourselves. It’s unfortunate to see the university become a place where this kind of self-induced hysteria is drawing in students who should be thinking more outside of themselves. College administrators and professors have stood by and not resisted that very strongly.
It has created a spectacle that is very damaging — and here I speak as a liberal — to the liberal cause. A fact of our political lives as liberals is that everything we do and say is filtered through conservative media. To constantly feed the beast the way these identity theatrics do only harms the liberal cause when it comes to reaching out to voters. It’s an enormous distraction and an enormous loss of energy — energy that could be directed outward, toward common political goals in the real world. Instead it’s directed inward, toward the self and the little utopic communities we try to create for ourselves on our campuses.
You’ve become the poster boy of anti-PC. What’s that like?
I don’t know if you saw the article by Katherine Franke.
Yes. She likened you to [Klansman] David Duke.
Right, that he and I just wear different clothing but act the same. Which is a slur, not an argument. My basic reaction was: I rest my case, your honor.
You’re white. You’re male. You’re heterosexual. Are you the best person to make this argument?
Arguments are arguments. Period.
America has a long history of anti-intellectualism, but this election revealed widespread distrust and hostility toward expertise, and the institutions, like universities, that produce it. Are scholars trusted less than ever?
Absolutely. Part of that is due to the public image of the university as being full of spoiled, privileged professors and students who are wrapped up in crazy issues, who are snobs and are contemptuous of other people’s work, their opinions, and religions.
There’s a segment on Tucker Carlson’s show called “Campus Craziness,” and 90 percent of the examples are crazy. This informs the public’s picture of learning and scholarship. And you can even tie that attitude to skepticism about climate change. Nick Kristof had a recent column pointing out that people use the word “academic” not to mean scholarly, but to mean totally detached from reality.
It’s great to see that not all liberals are morons.