On Wednesday afternoon, I explained that Milo Yiannopoulos’ greatest supporters are those who oppose him. Later Wednesday evening, those who waged war at UC-Berkeley proved me right. They did so by attacking Milo’s supporters, police officers, and private property.
And this morning, President Trump responded by threatening the University of California at Berkeley’s federal funding. It’s no small threat. Federal funds for Berkeley amounted to $370 million in research money for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Overall, 34 percent of the University of California’s $25 billion annual budget comes from the federal government. That money represents influence.
Trump is right to wield it.
While the left is howling in protest at Trump, what happened at Berkeley last night is outrageous. After all, the true victim of last night’s violence was not Yiannopoulos or his supporters. It was the existential purpose of education: the vigorous interaction of different ideas. Today, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom is tweeting that Trump is punishing all Berkeley students in response to the actions of a few. But that’s wordplay. Trump’s threat is proportional. It rests on the contingent action of Berkeley administrators. If they take action to protect free speech, then the federal funds will keep coming. If they fail to do so, as they failed last night, then the federal funds go sayonara.
There is a deeper issue here. Berkeley’s leadership – as with the leadership of many American universities – adopt an overt, institutionally biased approach toward free speech. While they must tolerate free speech on campus to some degree, they also ensure that counselors and safe spaces are available for the small minds that cannot tolerate countervailing opinions. Such expenditures are a waste of taxpayer money (counselors are not free), but they also represent the institutional implicit endorsement of anti-Milo et al. protests. And by making it difficult for those like Yiannopoulos to speak, Berkeley and co. effectively prejudiced his opportunity to speak. And the opportunity for students to hear him or others like him.
Moreover, the bias with which speakers are invited onto American campuses is equally indicative of liberal group-think. Read the commencement speaker lists for most major American public or private universities, and you’ll see that the majority of speakers are liberal. It’s a reality equally reflected in American college reading lists, and campus speech sentiments. In short, pushback against anti-conservative bias is not just overdue, it is urgent.
Why do I feel this way?
Put simply, because absent that pushback, students will lack the educational experience that they need and deserve. Education is strengthened by professors who encourage a diversity of readings and celebrate a diversity of opinion. But unless Trump threatens to cut off federal funding, it’s clear that that opportunity won’t find the support from administrators it needs. How many of those students who acted violently last night will face expulsion? I suspect not many.
Interestingly, in 2017, many liberals are obsessed with George Orwell’s book 1984. They seem to believe that Trump is “Big Brother.” And aside from Trump’s lack of 101 workshops for innovative torture, and his inability to change the dictionary every day, 1984 is a good book. Sadly, many on the left probably haven’t read it. But they must. Because the real lesson of 1984 is not that tyranny lurks in centers of government power. The lesson of 1984 is that tyranny is only possible by the acquiescence of the people. The acceptance of the individual, as Orwell exemplified, that “it’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.” History teaches us that free expression is our best guardian against tyranny. Last night, at Berkeley, that guardian was slaughtered. We must ensure it is reborn.
If Berkeley and co. want to wage covert action against free speech, they have that right. But President Trump has the responsibility to ensure we the taxpayers don’t pay for it.