President Trump said at CPAC that his proposed executive order on campus speech would financially punish higher educational institutions for not respecting the First Amendment. Presumably, this means more forcefully regulating what groups can speak from campus locations like the quad.
Critics of the proposal have argued that, in reality, Trump’s description is a form of doublespeak seeking to undermine the foundation of higher education: academic freedom.
How his supporters channel an attack on freedom as a defense of freedom furthers that rhetorical work of doublespeak.
We see this in an op-ed for Fox News by Charlie Kirk, one of Trump’s most ardent millennial supporters and founder of the “free speech” advocacy group Turning Point USA. Kirk not only praised the order but also lays out clearly what he hopes is the target for the order. Kirk wrote: “From the 1960s forward, the people who are hostile to free markets and First Principles have been using the ‘academic setting’ of the college campus where ideas are ‘freely exchanged’ to promote only one point of view and to attempt to silence and eradicate the other.”
What Kirk is attacking is not merely the content of a “liberal” professor’s lecture, however misguided he is on that. He is using a call to ideological “balance” as doublespeak for the forced promoting of ideas that those who are educated have decided against. And he is using “free speech” as his bludgeon.
How is this playing out on campus? Consider this recent story from the conservative “news” outlet Campus Reform: “Poli sci dept nixes ‘White Privilege is a Myth’ student event ad, cites ‘fake facts.”
According to the story, the political science department at Rider University, a private but nonsectarian college in New Jersey, uses a school listserv to notify its faculty and students about events on campus those audiences might have an interest in. This time the department chairperson decided not to inform students of a Turning Point USA event that questions white privilege because, as the headline implies, white privilege is a generally accepted fact in political science and other academic disciplines. The department had promoted other Turning Point events in the past.
The email the chairperson sent to Turning Point, if accurately quoted by Campus Reform, says: “The Dept cannot support an event that is entitled ‘White Privilege is a Myth’ because the event advertises a false reality, that is not based on scientific facts and a clear understanding of historic realities. It promotes ‘fake facts.’”
The president of the local Turning Point chapter told Campus Reform: “For [the chairperson] to go out of her way to judge [the white privilege event] as something that is promoting fake facts, I think that is a shame. At least political science department chairs should always try to present all viewpoints to all their students instead of shielding them from opposing views that they may hold.”
Rhetorically, the words from the local chapter president mirror the doublespeak in Kirk’s op-ed. Both imply the goal of a university, particularly its faculty, is to promote “all viewpoints,” a nod toward freedom. This balance fallacy frames a refusal to play along as at best protecting students and at worst political bias, against freedom.
Yet to force one person to promote the ideas of another, especially when that person decided it doesn’t match reality, is obviously not free. It is its antithesis. Trump’s executive order if or when it appears may sadly continue this propaganda.