There was a time when conservatives told themselves that safe spaces, trigger warnings and speech bans would stay on campus. “Just wait until those kids get out into the real world and discover that they can’t get jobs studying critical race theory,” they would snicker.
Not only can they get jobs, but their job in government and corporate DEI is purging you.
There’s no real world anymore. We live in a giant totalitarian campus in the University States of America whose administrators are government officials and corporate leaders in which elections matter much less than catering to the whims of a young and wealthy post-student workforce.
College students went from pulling classic novels from college reading lists to rewriting them entirely as ‘sensitivity readers’ employed by major publishers like Penguin Random House.
Campus protests against controversial speakers and iconoclastic professors evolved into cancel culture. When colleges failed to hold the line on academic freedom, everyone lost theirs. The small-scale student clashes in the oughts exploded into nationwide race riots by 2020. The violence was lubricated by the evolution of campus doxxing and snitch culture into viral videos that ‘canceled’ random individuals or falsely framed clashes with police as racial oppression.
Within a decade, the old liberal institutions, including the ACLU, abandoned free speech and dedicated themselves to fighting ‘hate speech’ with all the eagerness of the campus activists who now staff them and set their agenda. The old argument, refined by college students on Tumblr, that everything was a microaggression and that microaggressions caused health problems, was adopted by governments and public health organizations which declared that racism was a public health crisis. Speech, words, not only hurt, but they could potentially kill.
Why did the old liberal institutions buckle so easily? The answer is also found on campuses.
Obama was our first college president: glib, entitled and ignorant of anything except the need for radical change. Certain of his own genius, he never had to learn how anything worked or what the laws and norms were. Biden, a former establishment opponent turned puppet, was every college president, ancient, clueless and with a career of repeating things that sounded good.
Like college presidents, Biden’s job is to preside over a radical institution while lending it a fig leaf of moderate credibility. Every institution, whether it’s Evergreen College or the United States government, needs an old white guy out front to reassure the donors that it’s not as crazy as it looks. But now the donors watching the place burn to the ground happen to be the American people.
College presidents easily fell to the radicals because their fossilized liberalism was devoid of conviction. The same was true of the Democratic Party which had come to believe in little except big government and the evil of Republicans. Talking to DNC delegates in Philly in 2016, I met men and women who were nervous of the Bernie Left, but had nothing to counter them with. American liberalism was already ossified when it was being challenged by Boomer radicals in the sixties, by the eighties it was meaningless, by the oughts no one believed it and by twenty-twenties, it’s a marginal belief held by a few college professors at odds with society.
There are probably more zoroastrians than liberals today. And those who answer surveys claiming to be liberals rarely have any idea what liberalism means or they wouldn’t say so.
The radicals of the sixties and today learned on campuses that the power structure that seemed so impressive at first glance, the stone buildings, high offices and grand traditions, were pathetically weak and could be intimidated into appeasing them with some yelling, crying and word games. This was the same lesson those brats, some now in their eighties, had learned from their parents, which they had practiced on college administrators and then society at large.
One difference though was that the sixties radicals had wanted more from life than a world-girdling college campus. Contemporary radicals who were educated on campuses that had been retooled to cater to every possible student whim (funded by massive amounts of institutional debt and extortionate student loans) want more of the same thing.
Their vision of 15-minute cities where everyone bikes to work and the only eating option is vegan, where all your needs are free, you are constantly being “educated”, unfulfilling ideological sexual experimentation is encouraged and there’s someone to tattle to when your feelings are hurt, is just a college campus. Having come of age at some Ivy League nest, they can conceive of no other lifestyle that they or anyone else should be able to exist under.
What they never understood was that this extended adolescence was subsidized by hundreds of thousands in student loans and credit card debt. Behind the cafes, the understanding professors, and the townies seeing to all their needs was the invisible hand of a market economy even if it had been buried under a pile of soy lattes and courses on Noam Chomsky.
Expelled from paradise at graduation and suddenly discovering what student loans look like when they’re coming out of your paycheck for the next twenty years, they wanted to crawl back into the academic womb and escape adult responsibilities. Conservatives saw all of that coming. What too many did not see coming was that the real world would accommodate them.
Corporations lured talent by building ‘campuses’ that resembled college campuses. While those practices were pioneered in the tech industry which aspired to build a young and disposable workforce that never left its premises, they soon spread across the corporate world. Recruiters told companies that employees wanted to work for a place that aligned with their values. Advertisers told them that their brands also had to reflect those same values.
CEOs, like college presidents, quickly folded and went woke. And having gone woke, they refused to look back. Corporate offices unleashed the affinity groups that had defined college life for minority student activists with employees pressured and rewarded for joining the black, ‘latinx’ or gay groups. Advertising, already the domain of a woke crowd, pushed companies to be more daring, to flout family values and embrace radical causes to ensure brand loyalty. Along the way, brand loyalty became political allegiance to the endless agendas of the Left.
Government proved even easier to ‘campusize’. The activist base of the Democrats was drawn from the most politically active college students who were almost invariably the farthest to the Left. Billionaire megadonors like George Soros had already spent millions funding networks of activist groups to employ them. When the Democrats needed inexpensive and experienced young people willing to work on campaigns, they injected the Left directly into their veins.
The Obama campaign and the Center for American Progress turned campus activists into a generation of political appointees. By 2020, it was virtually impossible to find young non-leftist Democrats working in any significant position in Washington D.C. And those young leftists are invariably ‘woke:, using identity politics as a status symbol while knowing nothing.
Radical politics is so popular with some of the young because it is a rebellion not only against physical, but intellectual authority, that delegitimizes it and dismisses it as cruel and oppressive on the most specious of grounds. Identity politics, even more than class warfare before it, offers a seductive rationale for burning everything to the ground so that no more needs to be learned.
Campuses have always been fertile ground for glib radicalism that allows the students to replace education with activism, to declare that no more needs to be known because all that came before was bad, and that the only way to fix society is to embrace total change.
A new generation of leftists runs everything and knows nothing. Foreign policy is based on Obamaesque ideological abstractions with no understanding of the actual motives of other nations . The media closely resembles college papers which never understood the difference between reporting and editorializing. Its members denounce journalistic objectivity without having the faintest idea of what objectivity even means. Corporations alienate their customers by championing wokeness in place of developing long-term business models for their brands.
Piles of debt and the wealth of a nation can only soften the inevitable collapse for so long. The college bubble has become a national bubble. And when it bursts, America goes with it.
Many conservatives made a catastrophic mistake by treating college as an aberration rather than the coming norm. Sixties radicalism did not stay on campus, there was no reason to think that its more contemporary incarnation would. And with a larger slice of the population being processed through the academic abattoir, the social effects would be much worse.
And they are.
The University States of America is a great place if you’re a socialist member of an oppressed class whose great dream is to dwell on a campus for the rest of your days attending protest rallies, experimenting with your genders, while refraining from having a family, and working on your vision of utopia until you eagerly accept a euthanizing injection rather than live with the indignities of old age and then get turned into mulch. It’s a really bad deal for everyone else.
Unfortunately we all live on a campus now. Even if you’re on a farm with only dirt roads for miles in every direction your life is being governed by rules created in a campus government. The trends on campuses will soon show up in your regulations, federal and local, in the culture and in your schools. Its totalitarian grip is weaker in some places than others, but it is never absent.
On the great national campus, some of us are students and others are townies, there to serve and be sneered at by institutions that no longer represent us or answer to us. But after all the student rebellions, it might be time for an anti-student rebellion, for an uprising of the townies against the gownies. The student rebellions showed us how weak institutional authority is. The day may be coming when the students who taught us that lesson will have to learn it instead.