As President Trump and his Republican quislings continue to undermine our democracy, the punditocracy obsesses over another apparent threat to the nation: liberal intolerance. When New Yorker editor David Remnick disinvited former Trump strategist Steve Bannon from his magazine’s annual festival, The Wall Street Journal ran an article bemoaning the “growing list of news organizations that have reversed their decision to engage with conservatives after a public outcry.” On The New York Times’ op-ed page, ex–Journal opinion editor Bret Stephens crossed into Crazytown when he concluded that “what this really means is that Remnick is no longer the editor of The New Yorker. Twitter is.” He added that the magazine was “on the road to [becoming a] left-wing version of Fox & Friends.”
This controversy followed another media firestorm sparked by an apology published in The Nation for a poem that offended some readers. The poet, Anders Carlson-Wee, also expressed regret, explaining on Twitter that the negative reaction was “eye-opening.” But the first response was another rebuke: His apology, it seems, was ableist toward the visually impaired. In a front-page article in The New York Times Book Review, author Thomas Chatterton Williams asked: “How did we arrive at this fraught place where the use of nothing more sinister than a body metaphor can assume the power to cause harm?” The blame, he argued, belongs with “the country’s rapidly shifting mores, which are the product of new generations increasingly fluent in, in thrall to and in fear of the hyperspecialized language and norms of academia.”
Now I don’t think The New Yorker should have invited Bannon, and I don’t think The Nation should have apologized for its poem. But in the case of the former, Remnick published an 829-word statement explaining why he’d changed his mind after listening to his staff, his readers, and other conference participants. And The Nation ran a lengthy letters section in which both the poem and the apology came in for criticism, including from columnists and contributors to this magazine.
The Nation and The New Yorker may be the current marks, but the true target of these attacks is the liberal academy. Writing in The Spectator, Toby Young opined that “the real problem on college campuses is not the whiny, neurotic students, but the post-modern neo-Marxist professors who are manipulating them.” Fox News’s Tucker Carlson and the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald agree that the ideology of the modern American university is “clearly literally destroying the country” (Carlson), driven as it is by the proposition that “whiteness is a source of all evil in the world [and] lethal to people of color,” and also by “a contempt for objectivity and truth seeking” and “a belief that all females exist in a state of oppression by rape culture” (Mac Donald). New York’s Andrew Sullivan worries that students who are brainwashed by “the imperatives of an identity-based ‘social justice’ movement’” will likely tip the “broader culture…away from liberal democracy as well.” In a previous column, I noted the obsession of writers and editors on the Times’ op-ed page with what columnist David Brooks once termed the “snowflake fragility and lynch mob irrationalism” of college students mixing “into one perfectly poisonous cocktail.”