As the United States continues to grapple with domestic and global security concerns ranging from the sometimes violent ostracizing of minorities to the continued nuclear threat from North Korea, near the top of President Donald Trump’s agenda is… wait for it… making sure privileged white people can say whatever they want on college campuses.
To be more specific, at his weekend address to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Trump said that he would soon sign an executive order mandating that colleges and universities across the United States take steps to protect “free speech” if they wish to receive or continue receiving federal research funds.
He told the crowd:
‘We reject oppressive speech codes, censorship, political correctness and every other attempt by the hard left to stop people from challenging ridiculous and dangerous ideas. These ideas are dangerous. Instead we believe in free speech, including online and including on campus.’
Conservatives have rallied around the cause of free speech as a number of prominent agitators have faced backlash at college campuses, including through such means as the cancellation of a speaking event Milo Yiannopoulos had set for the Berkeley campus of the University of California in early 2017.
To be clear, while students did demonstrate against that talk, the bulk of the violence that forced the cancellation of the event stemmed from the actions of an established area anarchist group, and the school condemned the behavior.
Similarly, when conservative activist Hayden Williams was recently punched in the face on the same campus, the school condemned the behavior, and the perpetrator was not enrolled there or formally affiliated with them in any capacity. Still, Trump actually brought Williams on stage at CPAC, turning the isolated, non-representative incident into a flashpoint.
What are colleges and universities supposed to do? Screen everyone for adherence to the GOP’s standards of “free speech” before they’re allowed on campus? How is that “free” at all? Free speech includes the freedom to dissent — it’s really not that hard, although this issue isn’t new in Trump’s rhetoric.
Last year, the president told The Daily Caller that he thinks it’s “embarrassing” for the United States to allow protesters at all, commenting after many demonstrators gathered against his then-nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, the credibly accused sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh:
‘I don’t know why they don’t take care of a situation like that. I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters. You don’t even know what side the protesters are on. In the old days, we used to throw them out. Today, I guess they just keep screaming.’
He has gone after those who dare dissent many other times, too. Repeatedly during the lead-up to the 2016 elections, for instance, he urged his supporters to physically confront and harass protesters, and they repeatedly complied with his wishes.
That doesn’t even cover the many times that he has gone after the mainstream media for daring to report facts that are not in line with his administration’s talking points. As part of that criticism, he has suggested that certain media outlets should lose their broadcast license in a similar fashion to his assertion this week that colleges should lose funding if they don’t comply with conservative standards.
The prospect of the administration seeking to legislate what is and isn’t allowed to be protested is troubling and unsettling, to say the least.
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