It is a popular conservative trope to decry liberal indoctrination run amok on college campuses. As the claim goes, college campuses saturated with left-leaning professors and students generate a lopsided environment where conservatives and their viewpoints are marginalized.
While Republican talking heads may have pushed that premise to the extreme, there are teeth to the argument: liberal professors do far outnumber their moderate and conservative colleagues, and right-wing speakers have been protested and disinvited from campuses at a much higher rate than their left-leaning counterparts.
Paradoxically, however, conservatives benefit most from current campus politics. Four years of putting their ideas “through the gauntlet” of an onslaught of liberal objection hones their arguments. Perhaps that is why the GOP, despite its relative lack of popularity among young Americans, appears to have more “rising stars” than the millennial-teeming Democratic party.
Progressives, on the other hand, are squandering a golden opportunity to sharpen their message. The homogenous nature of campus politics coupled with an impulse to shut out foreign ideas creates a self-perpetuating echo chamber in which group polarization thrives.
Combined with a culture of victimhood, the resulting slew is an unmarketable mess smacking of elitism that ill-prepares future Democratic leaders and renders the Democratic Party unappealing on a national scale.
Nonetheless, liberal and progressive policies are, for the most part, popular among the majority of Americans. After all, according to an NPR poll, 63 percent of Americans prefer the Affordable Care Act as it stands (17 percent) or would like to see it be expanded further (46 percent).
Evidently, there is a substantial disconnect between the perception of the Democratic Party and the reception of its policies. People like the ideas, but not the brand.
Because a recent Pew Research poll found that 36 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of higher education (a 22 percent negative shift in two years) while 58 percent believe colleges actually harm the country, it is reasonable to assume that the unfavorable perception of predominantly liberal elite universities bears some responsibility for the Democratic Party’s image problem.
Can the gulf between perception and ideology be bridged through the redemption of attitudes toward higher education?
To start, young liberals need to shed the toxic “snowflake” label — the brilliantly deployed Republican attack phrase that portrays liberal students as feeble-minded, entitled brats.
It is an ageless complaint that younger generations are less resilient than their predecessors — one that has been echoed in the conservative response to Vietnam War and apartheid protests. Regardless, the “snowflake” line of attack, especially when combined with the amplifier that is social media, has been successful.
Is reverting to this epithet an over-utilized fallback for Republican talk-show hosts and their ilk? Absolutely. But campus liberals, by protesting right-wing speakers (sometimes violently) and disallowing their speech on campuses, play right into the “Generation Snowflake” caricature.
Not only would allowing people like Ben Shapiro, John Brennan, and even Milo Yiannopoulos a platform redeem the perception of universities as bastions of free speech and allow liberals to shed the “snowflake” label, it would also grant young Democrats an opportunity to fashion effective counter arguments to conservative talking points.
After all, when one spends time avoiding debate, it can be awfully hard to successfully engage in a productive argument once the safe space of a college campus is exchanged for the brutal reality of political rhetoric.
Providing unpopular viewpoints a platform would also help mend modern liberalism’s problem with political correctness, which still makes many ordinary Americans feel stifled and confounded. Donald Trump’s election should have been a wake-up call to out-of-touch liberals that people are tired of sanitized political language.
After all, it sounds quite pretentious to talk about the harmful consequences of micro-aggressions (which I personally do believe can accumulate to considerable discrimination) when many Americans struggle to pay their bills and put food on the table.
Of course, that is not to say that the entire idea of micro-aggressions (and other similar concepts) should be swept under the rug; rather, they should only be put in proper context alongside the collection of ills plaguing American society.
By no means is this article meant as a blanket indictment of higher education, which is still the surest path to economic success. Also, I’m sure the majority of professors, regardless of their political leaning, are providing an open environment in which tough political discussions are not muzzled but encouraged.
But there does exist a subset of the college population — both student and faculty — that minimizes opposing viewpoints, and that fragment is creating the perception problem that the Democratic Party is currently grappling with.
As someone who will be applying to colleges this autumn (I am a rising senior in high school), I am not looking to be told what to think, but how to think. I want to go to a place where I am bombarded with assorted viewpoints, not coddled and provided an ideologically pure education. I want myself and my fellow students to emerge not as “snowflakes,” but as battle-tested thinkers, ready and able to defend our own opinions against all comers.
Hopefully, if the Democratic Party and my fellow young liberals can, through the embrace of ideological friction and the eschewal of dominant political correctness, resist the urge to become curators of our collective culture, the “snowflake” epithet can be shed. Maybe then the popularity gap between perception and policy of the Democratic Party will narrow, allowing Democrats to once again find themselves the drivers of national policy.
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