Political correctness has struck on yet another U.S. campus. Students at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, awoke last Monday morning to find pro-Trump slogans chalked on sidewalks and other public places all over campus. Sidewalk-chalking is a time-honored campus promotional technique, although in these touchy-feely times, it is becoming frowned upon by humorless authorities in some precincts as a form of vandalism.
A significant number of Emory students, however, found the overnight chalkings objectionable for another reason: They allegedly communicated messages of hate, racism, and intolerance that were calculated to cause offense. Claiming to be “in pain” and feeling threatened, a group of around 50 students promptly launched a protest on the quad and then in front of the university administration building. Emory University president Jim Wagner met with some of them, and afterwards expressed his sympathy with the students:
During our conversation, they voiced their genuine concern and pain in the face of this perceived intimidation. After meeting with our students, I cannot dismiss their expression of feelings and concern as motivated only by political preference or over-sensitivity. Instead, the students with whom I spoke heard a message, not about political process or candidate choice, but instead about values regarding diversity and respect that clash with Emory’s own.
In other words, the mere mention of Trump’s name was enough to send hypersensitive hearts fluttering. In today’s politically correct parlance, the mere chalking of Trump’s name constituted an impardonable “microaggression” that should have been buffered with a “trigger warning,” instead of simply brazenly written on sidewalks and steps for everyone to see.
Such emotionalisms might be forgivable had the anonymous chalker produced swastikas or foul racial epithets. But the mere fact that the Trump campaign has said allegedly insensitive things about women and minorities was enough to drive numbers of thin-skinned Emory students into a tizzy.
To those whose memories of college and university studies predate the 1990s, today’s academy is a largely alien world, implacably hostile to every species of traditional American cultural, religious, and political value, and insulated by layers of soothing bureaucracy and reassuring Utopian rhetoric from the realities of the workaday world. Students are taught to recognize and report “micro-aggressions” (trivial or unintentional offenses) to campus authorities, who then chastise offenders — usually faculty members from a now-vanished academic culture where speaking one’s mind freely was considered a valid exercise of free speech. Properly sensitized faculty members are expected to give “trigger warnings,” or notification of the potential for offense at something that is about to be said or shown. In this way, the university experience is being transformed from a preparation for the real world into a sort of artificial childhood where feelings are easily hurt and counselors are on hand to speak in soothing tones to the injurer and injured alike.
The consequence of trigger warnings and microaggressions is a chilling of free speech on campuses. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is becoming more and more acute as each succeeding crop of freshmen arrives at college softer, more effeminate, and more thin-skinned than the previous.
The doctrine of free speech means nothing if the right to offend is taken away. Free speech by definition is offensive speech; speech that offends no one is the sort of bland pablum served up by bureaucrats seeking to please all masters and by those whose speech does not extend to the expression of independent thought.
Donald Trump is offensive to many people, and with good reason. But he and his supporters embody what the right to free speech is all about: the right to be offensive, blunt, plain-spoken, crass, even vulgar, regardless of whose sensibilities are offended.