The anti-Trump demonstrations that have broken out on college campuses are of a piece with the angry groups that formed outside Trump events during the campaign in San Jose, Phoenix, San Diego, and elsewhere. It was a mistake to assume that the election would dispel the wrath and indignation ignited by the speech and person of Mr. Trump, who embodies just about everything that identity politics and multiculturalism despises. To see him as one candidate in the Republican primaries is one thing. To imagine him in the Oval Office is another. The Left cannot believe that such a thing could ever happen. He is altogether “unfit.” The most deplorable thing about him of all is that he has no white guilt and he has no male guilt. It’s as if the absence of them makes him dangerous, a threat to women and people of color. The allegations of racism, sexism, and Islamophobia that frighten so many, conservatives included, don’t faze him. He is invulnerable to one of liberalism’s most powerful weapons.
The demonstrations of the last days are an expression of incredulity and the ire that goes with it. If we probe deeper, they signal, too, a clear weakening of identity politics, for the images on the news are certainly a political loser for liberals. (See this film of Portland.) If someone as politically incorrect as Mr. Trump can become president of the United States, then there is hope that the censoriousness that stifles public life in America may be waning.
But fully to understand the current theater as it has arisen on campus (see this and this and this), we must realize that the riotousness of students runs a lot deeper than election-year politics. The marches and mayhem are, in fact, a reflection of the larger cultural and social lives that undergraduates lead.
It is worth repeating that this is not a marginal creation or a niche preference. It tops Spotify’s list. This is the kind of material pouring into undergraduate’s heads when they cross the quad and line up in the cafeteria with buds stuck in their ears.
And they love videos like this one by the artist with the most hits on the list, Mac Miller. Watch the marchers in some of the protests and observe how closely they mimic the style and manners of Mr. Miller.
If we adopt the Left’s own argument contending that culture is an ideological superstructure inducing human beings to absorb certain values and adopt certain ideas, we know where immersion in this kind of entertainment leads. A 19-year-old boy or girl who has listened to this profanity and indignity over and over ever since age 14 is inclined to irreverence, disrespect, impropriety, and impulsivity.
We could add in the drinking and drugs that form much of college social life, too. Often the parties break out in violence, as in this frightening episode. And sports can increase the nighttime pandemonium, as in April 2015 when a riot broke out in Lexington when the University of Kentucky lost to Wisconsin in the NCAA basketball tournament.
The anti-Trump occasions don’t seem that much different from these episodes and the parties described in this recent New York Times story. The conduct of kids gathering on the streets and marching to the beat of “F*** Trump” and tossing the occasional rock at the police cars blends nicely with Jordan Belfort. I am certain, too, that a good portion of the crowds started the event with beer and vodka.
College leaders aren’t much help. When students protest what they believe are racist and sexist incidents, administrators praise them for their conscience and idealism. When UCLA Chancellor Gene Block met with the editors of the Daily Bruin, he “said he was proud of the UCLA student protest that occurred early Wednesday morning in Westwood and called it impressive.” When things turn violent or destructive, they issue blather about tolerance and civility and “violence-is-not-the-answer.” Given what they perceive as the violence of Mr. Trump and his supporters, it is hard for college leaders to decry the students for reacting in kind.
Just after the election results came in, President Michael Roth stated:
To be sure, this election has heightened feelings of alienation and vulnerability because it has been filled with racism and xenophobia. The pain of targeted groups is real because the threats are real, and we must acknowledge those threats and work to mitigate their effects. We must fight to protect Latinos and Muslim Americans from violence driven by socially sanctioned scapegoating and bullying. We must ensure that our friends in LGBTQ communities are not marginalized by newly empowered narrow-mindedness taking control of our legal system. But campuses across the country will be all right if we will continue to strive to build inclusive communities that reject white supremacy, bigotry and fear; we will be all right if we express our care for one another in a context of fairness.
Some Wesleyan students might have taken his white supremacy comments a little too seriously. Protesters there two days later held up an American flag and spray painted it with “AmeriKKKa.” That happened on Friday November 11, Veterans Day. President Roth’s blog post the next day says nothing about it. Instead, it declaims, “The public sphere in this country has been for months polluted with an outpouring of racist, misogynistic, and xenophobic rhetoric.” He proceeds two days later to talk about Wesleyan become a “sanctuary campus.”
This places all the aggression on the other side. Apart from the bias it shows, it removes the counterweight against raunchy unrest. If college leaders don’t say, “No matter what happens in the election, you’ve got to obey the law,” well, 20-year-olds who have no property and no children to care for, who don’t pay taxes or have any material connection to the neighborhood in which the college sits, are free to act on their anger and restiveness.
The social and cultural lives of students contain few positive conceptions of manhood and womanhood, but no presidents are going to say that they expect students to behave like gentlemen and ladies. Little in the music they hear, the shows they watch, and the web sites they frequent presents role models of patriotism, but college leaders won’t declaim, “This is not the course of good citizens and loyal Americans.” With so little pushback against coarse anti-Americanism, we shouldn’t be surprised by these students at American University who burned U.S. flags and screamed “F*** white America!”