It’s crossing over into the mainstream, just as everyone feared it would
“We all live in campus now,” Andrew Sullivan wrote recently. By that he meant: The norms and mores governing the increasingly unhinged behavior we see on campuses today—mob-like mentality, viciously conformist ideology, intellectual intolerance sometimes to the point of violence—are crossing over into the mainstream and becoming a predictable part of American political life. Those howling bands of students you’ve seen setting trash cans on fire because they’re upset that someone disagrees with them—they won’t stay confined to the quad for very long.
To say this is an impending disaster is an understatement. The collapse of the campus environment has been a terrible thing for American higher education, but it has, up until now, been something of a fishbowl experience: Most of us have been able to stand on the outside of the melee and observe it from some distance. That seems to be changing: By way of example, Sullivan cites Katie Roiphe, the journalist who recently wrote an essay critical of #MeToo for Harper’s; even prior to the essay’s publication, a digital lynch mob attempted to destroy her reputation and her career, with writer Nicole Cliffe offering to pay writers to withdraw their submission from that issue of the magazine. This was before anyone had read the essay, mind you.
A crazy mob attempting to utterly ruin a person’s life because that person espoused a viewpoint with which the mob disagreed: This was, up until recently, largely the province of campus activists and tenured professors. That it is now becoming an acceptable part of general political dialogue is troubling, to say the very least.
There are still ways to counteract this. Parents can raise their children to be thoughtful, circumspect, reflective citizens, not given to emotional meltdowns and furious political obsessions. Educational faculty and administrators—from college and even earlier—can work to inculcate ideological ecumenicism and plurality in their students. Those of us in the public eye—writers, journalists, media types of all stripes—can help to create a political environment that is careful, respectful and intelligent, even concerning the most controversial of topics. Everybody can play a part. But there is the dismal possibility that it is too late—that we are entering a new age of American politics in which, more than ever, reason and informed dialogue will be replaced by screaming insanity, wrecked careers and, increasingly, might-makes-right political violence. This kind of environment has already been a disaster on campus; were it to spread fully to the larger culture it would be armageddon. Don’t let it happen.