Chalk and Awe

Daily Best of the Web   —   Posted on April 5, 2016

Chalk and Awe

The following is an excerpt from OpinionJournal’s “Best of the Web” at The Wall Street Journal written by the editor, James Taranto.

Chalk and Awe
If you find Donald Trump’s presidential campaign a source of pure despair, allow us to offer some mitigation. The campaign is having at least one salutary effect, as reported by the New York Times:

Students at several college campuses are clashing with their administrations and debating the limits of free speech after finding chalk messages voicing support for Donald J. Trump scrawled on campus property.

Last week [now the week before last], at Emory University in Atlanta, officials scrambled to respond to a student demonstration after roughly 100 messages were found on campus. The students felt that there was an anti-diversity subtext to the so-called chalking written on campus about Mr. Trump.

That description of the controversy illustrates the sheer insanity of 21st-century campus culture. An expression of support for a candidate is what is known in First Amendment law as “core political speech,” and there is no exception that permits censorship of any speech because it has “an anti-diversity subtext,” whatever that even means.

To be sure, Emory is a private institution, so that its administration is legally unconstrained by the First Amendment. But a regime of censorship runs counter to the Emory motto, Cor prudentis possidebit scientiam: “A wise heart seeks knowledge.” What does an unwise heart do? The Emory Wheel, a student newspaper, has the answer:

“I’m supposed to feel comfortable and safe [here],” one student said. “But this man [Trump] is being supported by students on our campus and our administration shows that they, by their silence, support it as well . . . I don’t deserve to feel afraid at my school,” she added.

But maybe this is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a teachable moment. Emory’s president, James Wagner, showed some spine in a meeting with the aggrieved students:

“What do we have to do for you to listen to us?” students asked Wagner directly, to which he asked, “What actions should I take?” One student asked if Emory would send out a University-wide email to “decry the support for this fascist, racist candidate” to which Wagner replied, “No, we will not.” One student clarified that “the University doesn’t have to say they don’t support Trump, but just to acknowledge that there are students on this campus who feel this way about what’s happening . . . to acknowledge all of us here.”

As the Times notes, Wagner eventually issued an equivocal official statement and an unequivocal unofficial one:

“As an academic community, we must value and encourage the expression of ideas, vigorous debate, speech, dissent and protest,” he wrote.” At the same time, our commitment to respect, civility and inclusion calls us to provide a safe environment that inspires and supports courageous inquiry.”

Mr. Wagner was then filmed scrawling a chalk message of his own: “Emory stands for free expression!”

“Thanks in large part to the Emory University students who pathetically panicked after seeing pro-Trump messages written in chalk on campus sidewalks, pro-Trump messages are now appearing on other college campuses,” the blog Legal Insurrection reported over the weekend. “The whole thing is going viral on Twitter under the hashtag #TheChalkening.”

Legal Insurrection has a series of photos, still more of which can be found at the Twitter accounts Students for Trump and Old Row. This new Free Speech Movement reinforces one of the prime arguments Trump supporters make for their candidate: that he stands against political correctness.

In an interesting if overlong piece for Qz .com, Gwynn Guilford—who describes herself as “far from being a Trump supporter; in fact I object to most of his views”—describes waiting to get into a Trump rally:

In line as friendly bonds cemented, I heard lots of similar statements—that Trump is “taking down PC” (meaning, “political correctness”), that he “talks like us,” that he’s willing to speak the truth by using terms like “anchor babies.” By rejecting PC culture so vociferously, Trump is “tapping into passions that have been lying latent in certain portions of the American psyche,” said [philosopher David Livingstone] Smith.

One needn’t think Trump would make a good president to be heartened by the campus revolt against political correctness. In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, Howard Gillman and Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California, Irvine, have discouraging news from a First Amendment seminar they taught at the UCI law school:

From the beginning of our course, we were surprised by the often unanimous willingness of our students to support efforts to restrict and punish a wide range of expression. Not a single student in the class saw any constitutional problem with requiring professors to give “trigger warnings” before teaching potentially disturbing material.

Surveys across the country confirm that our students are not unique. According to the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale, 72% of students support disciplinary action against “any student or faculty member on campus who uses language that is considered racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive.” Too few students grasp that one person’s offense can be another’s expression of truth to power.

Gillman and Chemerinsky—the latter of whom is a prominent leftist—urge readers not to blame the students for what they see as an educational failure: “Rather than mock students or ignore their concerns, we need to make sure they understand the context of the Constitution’s free speech guarantees.”

But it may be that even they are giving their students a bit of a bum rap. Perhaps some in their class knew better but declined to say so out of social-acceptability bias. It is possible that the left-wing cry-bullies demanding “safe spaces” are not representative of their cohort, merely good at getting attention, and at extracting concessions from administrators who generally share their political outlook.

There are, of course, narrowly defined limits to free speech, including libel, invasion of privacy, fighting words and incitement to violence. The New York Times story notes that “some students see the Trump name as synonymous with hate speech” and therefore worthy of censorship—though it fails to point out that “hate speech” is fully protected by the First Amendment.

That tells you all you need to know about the politically correct mindset. It not only seeks to censor uncongenial speech but wishes to declare an uncongenial individual ineffable—in effect, to render him an unperson. Unlike free speech, political correctness knows no limits. It is the essence of totalitarianism.

For more “Best of the Web” from The Wall Street Journal’s James Taranto click here.