Friday, December 2, 2016
A "Turning Point" for a Witch Hunt: The TPUSA Professor Watchlist and Trump's America, Inc.
While much and excellent analysis of Turning Point's recently launched foray into the repression of academic freedom is already available, Id like to make a few observations that I haven't seen so far.
What we know is that this 23 year old brain-child of the Alt-Right's Breitbart and Fox News contributor Charlie Kirk follows in the ugly footsteps of earlier efforts like David Horowitz' "101 Most Dangerous Professors."
Professor Watchlist seeks to reincarnate the same objectives: the repression of academic freedom.
Yet unlike earlier such witch hunts, for example, avowed Communist hunter Joseph McCarthy's, Kirk's objectives seem both bigger and narrower.
Bigger in that Kirk's the Executive Director of Turning Point USA and thus the self-identified guru of a movement to "promote the principles of free markets and limited government" to this generation of college students. Indeed, his motives are even bigger, as we'll see shortly.
But Kirk's aims are also narrower in that, however despicably misguided, McCarthy appears to have actually thought he was acting on behalf of his country, Kirk's aims are to promote not a country, but a brand: America, Inc.
McCarthy, in other words, believed something--however warped.
Kirk, however, wants to sell us a this shiny bauble called "America." And he doesn't want it getting tarnished by these inconvenient things called facts. His isn't patriotism--however distorted. It's marketing--and among the obstacles in his way are those pesky professors who might dare to critique capitalism, or call out bigotry--or (god forbid) insist that climate change is real.
To call Kirk a "conservative boy wonder," as does Julie Bykowicz of Bloomberg news is, in fact, something of an misfire.
He's more like an up-and-coming poster child for the Alt-Right whose connections to the dark side of the hard right blogosphere is well-documented by Pam Vogel of Media Matters.
That Kirk's cynically transparent attempt at repression is cast in the rhetoric of protecting naive and impressionable youngsters from the indoctrination of "Leftist" professors is, of course, the effort to clamp down on the critical evaluation of ideas, arguments, theories, or worldviews.
It's not the repression, in other words, that's new.
What is perhaps different about Kirk's brand of trying to silence academics who don't conform to his free-market, anti-regulation, just say no to government ideology is that its underbelly is crawling with the "alt-right." As we know, thanks to Trump, they're that new breed of white supremacist that can brook neither science nor literature, neither the truly civic nor the philosophical because knowledge undermines their claim to authority.
Professor Watchlist isn't then just the latest bit of right-wing buffoonery to intimidate academics. Once you browse through its selection 0f 200 professors, it becomes clear that it's an attempt to remake the academy into a marketing tool for an entire worldview--one that's white, patriarchal, heterosexual, fundamentalist Christian, and very very wealthy.
McCarthy likely couldn't have dreamed such a big white dream.
And nothing could be more terrifying to these America, Inc. marketers than what a "liberal" professor does--what I do--everyday in class: demand that my students think. On their own. Equipped with respect for facts, attuned to a wide range of ideas and arguments, ready to examine their assumptions and convictions, and humbled by the recognition that what we want to believe doesn't necessarily cohere with what the evidence supports.
That's called "education," and neither Charlie Kirk nor his Trumpster backers have the least bit interest in anything so potentially transformative or radical.
After all, that might let in the ideas of other people.
Indeed, it's precisely critical thinking that the Turning Pointers seek to stamp out, and hence it's no wonder that an academic witch hunt would find new life in the incoming Trump regime.
Perhaps young Kirk is just trying to find his own way onto the Trumpster Gravy Train of "free market" fascism. If so, what better way to make a name for himself among the millennial voters of 2020 than something splashy like making students into spies on their professors?
No time like the present, what Charlie Kirk has figured out is that among the last best bastions of critical inquiry, real science, and that dissent that comes in the form of art, music, theater is the academy.
Hence it's precisely universities and colleges that must be conquered, subdued, and made to conform to the worldview of a president-elect whose own disposition is not "merely" racist, homophobic, and misogynist--but profoundly and perversely anti-intellectual.
Trump's world cannot brook dissent. And we academics are a dissident lot.
What better avenue for the transformation of citizens into technocrats for the corporatist state than to fear-monger and harass their teachers into a curriculum (if we can call it that) devoted to insuring that the Trumpsters who've extorted and hate-mongered their way into power get to stay there, making ready for Mr. Kirk's run for national office.
Kirk wants to make it as easy as possible to participate in the alt-right regime. Turning Point will sell you t-shirts and buttons with catchy smart slogans like "Socialism Sucks" and "Taxation is Theft" right on the website replete with photographs of a virtually all white sea of smiling college students apparently ready to turn in their brains for "Make America Great, Again!" baseball caps.
Hell's Bells, you can turn in your professor right on the "Professor Watchlist" website. There's a form waiting just for you.
And that's what brings me to the addition I'd like to make to the growing defense of not merely of the academy--but of the value we must preserve for truth, for facts, for science, for that capacity for critical thinking no decent polity can survive without.
Then again, the Trumpsters aren't interested in the country, the public good, or human decency.
This is all and ultimately about money, and in whose bank accounts it accrues interest.
I took a good look at the sources Professor Watchlist utilizes to determine whether a professor merits inclusion on the list.
No surprise, it's Breitbart. The homeland of the Alt-right, or far more honestly, the one-stop shop for the resurgence of the white supremacism of the likes of Richard Spencer.
Consider Abdul-Malik Ryanm, Director of Religious Diversity, DePaul University. He's accused of having "publicly criticized supporters of Israel" and "supporting the idea of a Caliphate before the rise of Isis."
Two things must be said about Ryanm's inclusion on the list.
First, the only source offered is Breitbart (http://www.breitbart.com/), a fake conspiracy-driven news site devoted to nurturing a deeply bigoted and violent worldview, and the home of Trump's choice for chief council, the bombastic, antisemitic Steve Bannon.
Second, as John Stewart Mill warned long ago, even speech that's false, distorted, and offensive must be protected in any republic that offers the promise of civil liberty. For none of us can say with certainty that we are definitively right, that others are definitively wrong, or that new evidence might alter our disposition towards the world.
Free speech must be free.
It's that bulwark of democracy that is becoming an endangered species as we near the Dark Ages heralded by the Trump inauguration.
Charlie Kirk, however, seems quite comfortable with preserving the rights of fake news reporting that is Breitbart--but more than happy to stifle the rights of Professor Ryanm--and anyone who'd dare to evince a view anathema to Mr. Kirk's ideological-own.
That's called calculated self-serving hypocrisy.
It's the standard operating procedure of the ideologue who pretends to the sober task of ferreting out those who'd dare question the authority a worldview he "knows" is right and true, all the while insisting he values documents like the Constitution and the Bill of Rights--so long as they favor him and his.
Much the same story can be told about virtually every professor on the watchlist. We dare to discuss socialism, racism, feminism, Islamophobia, Homophobia, the causes of terrorism, climate change.
Even more threatening, we're doing science and performing scholarship. We're writing novels and making art. We actually make the world better.
The heralded bioethicist Arthur Caplan (NYU) is singled out for allegedly daring to compare Trump's plan to mass deport millions of undocumented immigrants to "the repugnant tradition of Hitler."
That the only source we have for confirmation of this claim is the far-right Campus Reform whose reason for being is to "expose liberal bias on college campuses." The source itself is certainly enough to make us suspicious, but that's beside the point. Whether or not Caplan made any such comparison, it's his to make. And if we're going to respect academic freedom, it's ours to consider, accept or reject.
College students are not children.
But, of course, they must be if professors are to be demonized as scary indoctrinators.
And on the list goes, a lazy mutual masturbation of self-confirming references: Breitbart, Campus Reform, David Horowitz' particularly vicious Discover the Networks (http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/default.asp), and Project Veritas.
It's hardly surprising, of course, that a disproportionate number of the names on the list are women and/or persons of color and/or Muslims.
How Mr. Kirk hasn't wandered into me, I have no idea. But, much like a number of professors elsewhere, I've now requested admission to the list so that I can stand with my fellows in defense of academic freedom.
I'm a woman, a feminist, a stalwart defender of science.
Just because there aren't any disgruntled students who want to turn me in to the Turning Pointers--why should that keep me off the list?
Indeed, it seems that simply having a "Middle Eastern" or "African American" sounding name is probably sufficient for inclusion, or god-forbid identifying as feminist or queer.
George Yancy writes that the watchlist is a "new species of McCarthyism."
That's right--with one caveat: Kirk's ultimate aim isn't merely to ferret out alleged "Communists," it's to make way for the Trumpian Century of America, Inc--a Free Marketer's Big Dream made for fellas who are just--and only--like him.
Here's what I think Professor Watchlist richly deserves: ridicule.
Raucous loud ridicule for its slovenly self-confirming research, it's transparent racism, heterosexism, and white supremacist objectives.
Incredulous laughter at its idiotic, if dangerous, pretense to a movement to train students to believe the world is storehouse of endless resources awaiting their entrepreneurial brilliance and exploitation.
Gazillions of professors demanding admission to its "watchlist" of infamy.
To be clear, my advocacy of ridicule isn't because there's anything funny about this menacing volley at surveillance and repression.
In fact, Turning Point's Professor Watchlist epitomizes that against which we must be fully prepared to take a stand in the name of something even greater than our democratic values: our commitment to tell the truth and to work for a world not dominated by the prerogatives of wealthy white Christian men.
Ridicule is simply the best way to make immediately and abundantly clear that we in the academy--we who are intrepid enough to teach, to write, to think during the coming Dark Age of Trump--aren't going anywhere.
In fact, we're the frontline of resistance.
Every day. Every class.
Perhaps young Mr. Kirk would have been interested in my course this term on the question whether Just War Theory can any longer speak to contemporary war, terrorism (including state and corporate sponsored terrorism), or the uses of secret torture prisons in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.
Perhaps he'd like to sign up for my course next Fall where we'll consider what constitutes institutionalized violence such as slavery, internment, racism in imprisonment, marriage, or compulsory heterosexuality.
Or just maybe he'd like to wait for my course on Critical Theory and contemporary applications of the Communist Manifesto.
Your choice, Mr. Kirk.