Personal Reflections on Election Reactions in Academia and Society
In this essay I will briefly discuss some of my post-election (2016 and 2020) experiences in academia as a right-of-center faculty member at an (501c3, allegedly “non-partisan”) institution composed of hardcore leftists, as well as how this relates to attitudes found in the broader American society. I understand that the National Association of Scholars is non-partisan and I am of course not endorsing any political figure or party; instead, I am just mentioning, broadly and without specifics, what my general political views are, and noting the intolerant and sometimes silly behavior of people, in academia and in the larger society, with respect to those whose views they oppose.
Let us begin with 2016. I can broadly classify two species of faculty responders to the outcome of the 2016 presidential election—the “Assumers” and the “McCarthyites.” The first group, less overtly hostile but perhaps more subtly annoying, automatically assumed that all of their fellow faculty members were progressive leftists who also voted for their favored candidate (in this case, Clinton). They could not conceive of the possibility that an educated professional, a PhD or MD, could be anything less than a card-carrying leftist. They certainly could not imagine any faculty member voting for Trump. To their mind, only some vague “others”—knuckle-dragging Neanderthals with whom they could never associate—would have such horrid views. Thus, on the day after the election, these faculty went around to all, bemoaning the result, threatening to “leave the country” (which they never got around to doing, to my extreme disappointment), and making disparaging remarks about those “others” who have “destroyed the country.”
On the other hand, the “McCarthyites” actively tried to sniff out and expose political enemies among the faculty. One would be minding one’s business, doing one’s work, when one of these individuals would sidle up to you, eying you suspiciously, asking pointed questions about the election to “draw out” your opinions. Telling these people—as well as the “Assumers”—that such discussions, particularly with their openly partisan and hostile tone, were inappropriate for the workplace, particularly at a 501c3 institution, had no effect. They just couldn’t help themselves. Just as surely, in the weeks and months to come, similarly pointed and hostile political comments to the new president, his voters, and his supporters would percolate into virtually every faculty meeting and discussion.
Naturally, the hysterical students went ballistic, demanding and receiving mental health counseling because of the outcome of a free and open presidential election. The administration, faculty, and staff, all immersed in their own biased political bubble, and no doubt feeling equally aggrieved, approved of the students’ requests and never reflected on how offensive that all was to school employees who voted for Trump. Thus, the political choice made by certain employees—the free exercise of their democratic rights—was perceived by others as so immoral and objectively terrible as to justify student claims of being traumatized and thus in need of counseling. Truly remarkable.
Responses to the 2020 election were somewhat attenuated by the COVID-19-induced online working environment and a lack of much physical interaction. Despite this, I can expect comments, by my colleagues and the school administration, about the election and its aftermath to be forthcoming. I think it reasonable to expect with great certainty that a Biden presidency will not result in student demands for counseling. One wonders as well: What if a conservative student, if any exist at my institution, asked for counseling because of an election outcome that he did not like? In this case, would the school oblige? It is doubtful.
We also must ask: How is the broader American society dealing with the 2020 election, and how may these attitudes influence academia? More recently, the Left is debating between: (a) punishing and persecuting everyone and anyone supporting Trump, and (b) making smugly self-righteous and arrogantly condescending calls to “forgive” and “understand” Trump supporters in order to have “healing.” At my institution, we have not yet—yet!—descended into point (a), but there are some initial signs of (b), so let’s consider (b) for a moment.
Will academic institutions use virtue signaling to shame people on the Right? We do not yet know, but what my reaction would be to this is clear. I do not require or desire “understanding” or “empathy.” Having done nothing wrong, I certainly don’t need “forgiveness”; one need not be “forgiven” for exercising the voting franchise in a so-called democracy. And I am sure that others in America today feel the same way. We don’t need your “forgiveness” or “understanding” or “empathy,” and we certainly don’t need your condescension. The smug moral certitude, the outrageous sense of self-righteousness, and the incredibly condescending attitude of these people is simply astonishing. They do not seem to realize that we see nothing at all wrong with our beliefs and electoral choices, and that the idea that we require their “forgiveness” is actually exacerbating the seemingly intractable divisions in American society. Of course, some on the Right may view their counterparts on the Left as wrong and immoral. The difference is that those on the Right typically do not engage in public virtue signaling, offering to bestow their sanctified “forgiveness” on others.
We have to understand self-righteous virtue signaling as a thirst, a will, for power. Indeed, it is a desire for more power that underlies much of this attitude from our academic colleagues, and from others in society who also adopt these sanctimonious poses. By wrapping themselves in a cloak of righteousness, they attempt to convince, or coerce, others to accept a particular set of beliefs. This is the genesis of their claims to be “on the right side of history” and their insistence that their views and their views only constitute “justice”—with, by definition, their opponents being the “unjust” who are on the “wrong side of history.” Therefore, these tin gods of virtue wish to sit upon their throne of moral authority and decide whether to bestow or withhold their “forgiveness” and “understanding” to us, their benighted ethical inferiors. Indeed, according to such people, we should all be thankful if they decide to bestow rather than withhold “forgiveness” and “understanding.” This attitude is ridiculous and it deserves scorn and ridicule.
Readers may ask why I haven’t yet pushed back more forcefully against what has already happened at my institution, including the “Assumer” and “McCarthyite” behavior from 2016. I did not see much benefit in responding to the passive aggressive “unofficial” behavior that I have described. I am now more focused on opposing the worst excesses of “social justice” hysteria at my institution, and if that hysteria at my institution ends up including political persecution subsequent to the 2020 election, then my opposition to the hysteria will of course include defense of my political beliefs.
Based on my recent experiences, I would like to conclude by warning readers of some of the tactics used by the intolerant academic Left to silence dissidents. Because of academic freedom statements in faculty handbooks and institutional policies, and because of the protections for “concerted activity” from the National Labor Relations Board, direct censorship of dissident faculty opinions typically does not (yet) occur. Instead, the academic Left, which includes the administration, targets dissidents indirectly. For example, you may suddenly be subjected to unfair criticism of your job performance, sometimes stated in spiteful emotional terms, so as to undermine your position at the institution. Objective measurements of your performance, such as student evaluations, scholarship, and online class recordings can help with defending yourself from these attacks. However, if “woke” students become aware of your dissident opinions, it is possible that their evaluations can be tainted by political bias; one would have to study the all of the data to identify student comments that are obviously biased and not reflective of actual faculty performance. But be aware that these sorts of indirect attacks are to be expected, so you should prepare for them and be able to defend yourself against them.
Image: Gage Skidmore, Public Domain