I would never vote for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg because he’s an advocate for “nanny” governments that tell us how to live our lives, what to eat, what cars to drive, and much more. Nevertheless, I agree with much of what he told University of Michigan graduates early this month.
In a commencement address titled “Go Out and Defeat the Demagogues,” Bloomberg encouraged Michigan graduates to keep an open mind to new and different ideas. “Colleges have always exposed students to challenging and uncomfortable ideas,” the former mayor said. “The fact that some university boards and administrations now bow to pressure and shield students from these ideas through ‘safe spaces,’ ‘code words’ and ‘trigger warnings’ is, in my view, a terrible mistake.” Many students and some faculty members booed Bloomberg for expressing politically incorrect ideas.
That’s what’s happening at far too many of our public and private universities. The latter can do whatever they want because they don’t receive public funds, but state-supported colleges have a responsibility to expose their students to a wide range of diverse views and opinions. As Bloomberg said, “Keeping an open mind to new ideas is essential to your (the students’) professional success.”
“We are witnessing a disturbing change in the nature of American politics — a rise in extreme partisanship and intolerance for other views,” he continued. We know that’s true as we witness political bloodbaths on the national, state and local levels. Think Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval vs. State Controller Ron Knecht and/or Carson City Republicans vs. Assemblyman “P.K.” O’Neill. We’re witnessing all or nothing politics; “I don’t win unless you lose.”
“Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas, and each demonizes the other unfairly and dishonestly,” Bloomberg told the Michigan graduates. “This is not a new phenomenon, but it has reached a dangerous new level.” Has it ever! I can’t remember a period in my lifetime where politics has been this much of a blood sport. It’s a perilous time for moderate politicians and political columnists, among others.
Unless I follow your party line or your political ideology, I’m a terrible person who should be prevented from expressing unpopular ideas and writing for this newspaper. If I don’t endorse your candidate, you should write vitriolic letters to the editor and insult me and my family. That’s how it works these days, and I find that approach thoroughly disgusting.
Returning to the university scene, consider the recent case of Jason Riley, a conservative African-American Wall Street Journal columnist, who was “disinvited” from speaking at Virginia Tech University due to faculty concerns about topics raised in Riley’s new book, “Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed.”
“We’ve reached a point where conservatives must have their campus speakers approved by left-wing pressure groups,” Riley wrote in the Journal. “If progressives aren’t already in absolute control of academia, they’re pretty close.”
I’m happy to report, however, my personal experiences at the University of Nevada in Reno tell me closed-minded progressives haven’t yet captured UNR. An open-minded political science/international relations professor has invited me several times to speak to his students on U.S.-Latin America relations and has never pressured me to be politically correct; he isn’t either, I’m pleased to add. I’ve had some spirited discussions with left-leaning students, but they have yet to “disinvite” me.
Ex-Mayor Bloomberg says the way to stop demagogues is to support politicians who have the courage to take risks and those who are willing to compromise. That’s what I intend to do. How about you?
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.