In recent years, campus activists have become an increasingly visible aspect of American life. In 2015, Yale professors Nicholas and Erika Christakis came under fire for encouraging students to critically consider a new policy on Halloween costumes. The controversy reached a boiling point when Nicholas Christakis met student demonstrators in a courtyard and attempted to engage them in discussion:
More recently, American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray and Middlebury College Professor Allison Stanger were assaulted shortly after they were driven out of a lecture hall where Murray was scheduled to speak. The protesters succeeded in shutting down the talk by simply speaking over him:
This behavior is condemnable for a host of reasons, the least of which is that much of what the protesters are shouting is just factually incorrect (for example, Murray has long supported gay marriage, but the chant “racist, sexist, anti-gay” is simply too good to pass up). That the protesters eventually resorted to violence speaks to their moral certitude (a phenomenon that can be observed in other, similar protests), which is all the more troubling.
And yet, there are seemingly respectable people willing to defend this kind of savagery. Writing for Slate, Osita Nwanevu argued that the protesters were correct (and presumably, the violence that they employed was acceptable) because Trump: “In the Trump era, should we side with those who insist that the bigoted must traipse unhindered through our halls of learning? Or should we dare to disagree?” At Inside Higher Education, John Patrick Leary quipped that the protesters had “every right to shout him down.”
Disagreement is one thing. But shouting down opponents or – worse – engaging in violence in an effort to silence them is something else.