trump threatens american science to give “very fine people” new platforms
The right manufactured a free speech crisis on college campuses and President Trump may be giving them a tool to hold the nation’s R&D labs hostage while demanding the spotlight.
According to American conservatives, colleges are overpriced hippie communes where slackers with unkempt hair wearing cargo shorts and birkenstocks indoctrinate hapless kids with Marxism and a visceral hatred of mom, baseball, and apple pie. In reality, not only is this nothing more than a fantasy propagated by right wing pundits for money and attention in their long history of using fear and Red Scares for grift, a lot of critical research without which modern life would be pretty much impossible happens in college labs. And, of course, that doesn’t matter to President Trump, who in yet another appeal to his shrinking, but ever angrier and more vindictive base, signed an executive order that threatens to ostensibly yank funding from colleges that don’t let enough right wing provocateurs on campus.
Thankfully, the executive order in question is rather confusing and vague in how it would judge whether to pull money from colleges or not, and appears to exempt private institutions by more or less letting them make the rules as they see fit. As an article on the subject in Ars Technica helpfully summarizes…
But the order itself doesn’t clearly follow through on Trump’s threats. Those agencies are directed to identify any institutions that receive federal research or education grants and ensure that they “promote free inquiry, including through compliance with all applicable Federal laws, regulations, and policies.” “Free inquiry” is defined within the context of this order as First Amendment-focused for public universities, while for private institutions it is defined with whatever self-imposed policies they have.
The vagueness could well be because Trump’s heart isn’t exactly in this fight, as he famously told the group most responsible in decrying supposed censorship of conservatives on college campuses that they were blowing the issue out of proportion. In that light, we could see this EO as an empty paper victory for the self-proclaimed free speech martyrs to celebrate, but which won’t actually be enforced because a) it’s too vague, and b) colleges could easily counter-sue and say that the government is taking away their right to free speech in forcing them to invite or host guests with which they don’t want to associate their institution. The resulting mess would be stuck in the court system for years to everyone’s great frustration.
But the big concern here is that $35 billion in federal money used to come up with new medical treatments, weapons, communication tools, or result in massive improvements in pretty much everything we use today, might get trapped in legal limbo because a rabid xenophobe didn’t get invited to call immigrants diseased savages at a nearby college and whined to the right people, pun kind of, maybe, subconsciously intended. It’s bad enough to have the far right constantly lashing out against science and technology they don’t understand and have no intention of trying to, but to have them hold it hostage because colleges aren’t interested in listening to them scapegoating anyone and anything different is downright regressive and destructive.
And ironically, for a group obsessed with “the free marketplace of ideas,” they seem incapable of recognizing that maybe their ideas aren’t wanted because they lost in said marketplace, and what they’re doing now is just special pleading to force them down our throats. We’ve heard the far right’s best ideas for centuries now, especially from 1930 to 1945 and then many times since. But just like the guy at the bar who can’t take no for an answer, they keep trying to pull us back and try the same exact pitch again and again with the rhetorical equivalent of “no, I don’t think you head me because if you did, you’d agree with me.” This is to what President Trump and the rest of right wing America want to clear the public podium, now with threats of sabotaging our future in the process if we don’t comply.