I’m totally baffled by the general looniness that seems to pop up when the liberal-left side talks about Republicans and the wealthy. And it all “trickles down,” so that students parrot the same attitudes. Today a student of mine from last year, who’s smart and nice, said in passing that the Tea Partiers are “racist.” I said, “I don’t think so,” and he at once said, well, that’s what he’d learned in the press. And he acknowledged that that was all he knew — the particular press he’s exposed to.
And of course it’s not just students. Faculty are far more monolithic in their views, as we all know. Even in settings that are supposedly not political this always come up. So almost the only sorts of political comments I ever hear made in passing by colleagues are anti-conservative dismissals. There’s no “other side.” I’d have to go to specifically conservative events or groups, of which there are very few anyway, to be among people with different assumptions. E.g., a faculty seminar I took part in last year, which was on the whole pleasant and at times interesting. At our last meeting the organizer congratulated us all for having had such a good dialogue, and at one point he sort of praised us for not getting embroiled in political disagreements –actually, I seemed to be the only one of a dozen professors who was clearly not on the same general leftist page as all the others. And then in the same 10-minutes of comments he made an in-passing blast at the Tea Partiers. Now, I don’t at all mind that someone is critical of them. What I find irritating is not just the ideological uniformity but even more so the presumption that everyone thinks the same way. It seems never to dawn on most academics that someone in their midst might actually disagree with them about politics. I have semi-friendships with a few colleagues who don’t share my politics and twice in the last year I’ve said to them that I did not agree with what they had just said in passing, and pointed out their annoying assumption to the contrary. In one case the colleague apologized, and recognized my point. Usually I don’t bother even addressing this since it happens all the time with colleagues, in the oddest settings where our politics need not be mentioned at all. E.g., I remember the swim coach in a master’s class I took maybe 8 or so years ago saying in-passing one day, before we got started, that someone should bomb the White House. Perhaps when I was on their side, years ago, I too used to talk this way and notice it now only because I’m such a minority in academe? But no, thinking back, I don’t believe the atmosphere was so one-sided, so uniform, a few decades ago. Yes, there was general disdain for non-leftists, but not such publicly revealed assumptions that all our colleagues shared our views. They didn’t (which led to some arrogant pride that “we” were on the left, and others were too stupid to be), and we knew it in many cases, and though we gossiped about it privately, there wasn’t, as I recall, the same prevailing and unquestioning view that people felt comfortable airing at any moment, without ever attempting to find out what their colleagues actually thought about anything.