“The Art of the Slur,” Revisited

Sophia McClennen, writing for Salon, maps the amateurishness and ignorant Professor Watchlist that appeared recently. She also references a Jorge Tiede post on the Academe Blog “The ‘Professor Watchlist’ of the 1930s,” providing what should be the obvious history of such scaremongering. The top photos with her article appropriately juxtapose Senator Joe McCarthy with more recent rightwing gadfly David Horowitz.

The article, and particularly the picture, reminded me of an article of mine from a decade ago, “The Art of the Slur.” In it, I write:

Horowitz has gathered attention for the “straw man” he sets up in The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America — the good that America can achieve is being subverted by a group of nefarious academics. His remedies, listed in an “Academic Bill of Rights,” mingle statements no one can disagree with — such as, “The central purposes of a University are the pursuit of truth… Free inquiry and free speech within the academic community are indispensable to the achievement of these goals.” — with a call to arms increasingly embraced by right-wing students, namely, affirmative action for conservative faculty.

Still, he never details the damage done by those academics he sees as the enemies of America. Instead, he takes a page from McCarthy’s playbook, and just offers a slur:

My most difficult task in writing this book was living daily with the knowledge it provides of the enormous damage that several generations of tenured radicals have inflicted on our educational system; and of being cognizant of the unrelenting malice that so many of them hold in their hearts for a country that has given them the great privileges and freedoms they enjoy as a birthright.

As McClennen points out, this is as much nonsense today as it was a decade ago. Professors are not inflicting damage on our educational system, nor do they have “unrelenting malice” toward the United States. I would argue, like Evan McMullin, that the greater malice toward the Constitution (at least) comes from the right. It has, for generations–as proven by that earlier rightwing hero ‘Tailgunner Joe’ in his rantings throughout the early 1950s.

Not surprisingly, Trump learned a great deal about politics at the knee of McCarthy’s top aide, Roy Cohn. Today’s young attacker of ‘the professors,’ Charlie Kirk, has apparently been learning from Horowitz. In a blog post, he writes:

It’s no secret that some of America’s college professors are totally out of line.

Everyday I hear stories about professors who attack and target conservatives, promote liberal propaganda, and use their position of power to advance liberal agendas in their classroom.

Turning Point USA is saying enough is enough.  It’s time we expose these professors.

Today, Turning Point USA is proud to announce the launch of ProfessorWatchList.org, a website dedicated to documenting and exposing professors who discriminate against conservative students and promote anti-American, left wing propaganda in the classroom.

This is ‘stuff and nonsense.’ That’s no secret.

In his “Submit a Tip” section, Kirk asks, “How did you find out about this professor?” The three sources allowed are “Article/News Report,” “1st Hand Experience,” and “Word of Mouth.”  In other words, nothing of substance is required–particularly if one is a believer in the ‘liberal bias’ and dishonesty of the ‘lamestream’ media. The result promises to be just like that of Horowitz’s book. As I wrote:

The book consists mainly of assertions with little substantive verification, many of which are close to the truth but have been twisted into inflammatory claims. He attacks Richard Falk, the emeritus professor at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, as a member of the left-wing International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL). While Falk did give talks for them, he was never a member. Horowitz also makes statements about what goes on in classrooms without ever having visited them. In correspondence with me, he claimed he had once tried to visit a class — but a film was being shown. The slight, anecdotal “information” he gleans from a former student or two is sufficient for his purposes.

As I did a decade ago in opening my classroom door to Horowitz (he hemmed and hawed, and never came in), I offer Kirk the chance to visit my classroom and even talk with my students. I am not on his list, but I certainly could be (as could thousands of others). There are professors on every campus who would also invite such visitors, no matter their political leanings.

And that’s the key: Most of us professors, no matter our personal political leanings, no matter the extent of our participation in the political sphere, act pretty much the same in our classrooms. We tend to respect student opinions, working gently to point out their errors, and don’t often try to convince them of things outside of our various expertise. What Kirk, like Horowitz, McCarthy and so many others are doing is promotion of a deliberate lie, a conflation of separate arenas of life. They are (or were) attempting to make scapegoats of professors in order to promote their own personal and political agendas.

I wish all of them could spend some real time on campus.

They might learn a thing or two.