Voters have the sense to resist notions like critical race theory. A generation from now, they may not.
Only a few years ago, several well-established features of the current political landscape were too absurd to be taken seriously. Defunding the police was a ridiculous idea; critical race theory would be a giant step backward in race relations; leftist radicalism was a fringe element of the Democratic Party. Suddenly all have gone mainstream.
Recent election results have seemed encouraging. Voters rejected a ballot measure to defund the police in Minneapolis, and Glenn Youngkin’s gubernatorial victory in Virginia was in part a referendum on critical race theory. Voters punished Democrats for their sharp move to the left. But there is a less reassuring way of looking at these results. In Minneapolis, 44% of voters wanted to replace the city’s police department with a Department of Public Safety, which would have been mandated with a “comprehensive public health approach to safety,” and remove the minimum funding requirement for police. This is an astonishing level of support for sheer lunacy.
In Virginia, Terry McAuliffe and his race-baiting radical agenda lost by less than 2%. Only a short while ago most Americans would have been appalled to find that almost half of voters were foolish enough to want a lawless society, accept the teaching of racial hatred to children, and embrace radical leftist ideology.
So how much should last year’s election results reassure us? That depends on whether you think that the popularity of these destructive ideas has peaked or is still on the rise. A powerful new force caused the surge in popularity: radicalized college campuses. Is this force really spent?
Both critical race theory and antipolice sentiment had been part of campus radical chic since the 1980s, and enthusiasm for socialism is also concentrated among recent college graduates. Are these radical-left ideas still gaining strength on campuses? Has campus influence on society peaked, or is it still growing? I fear the answers to those questions aren’t encouraging. Leftist radicalism is still strengthening on college campuses, and campus influence on our society still is intensifying.
Why is this happening? The shocking developments of the past few years are the result of a plan formulated by Marxist radicals of Students for a Democratic Society in 1962 and published in the Port Huron Statement. SDS decided that given their lack of success at the ballot box, their only choice was to try to seize control of academia and use universities to convert young people to their ideology. That plan seemed fanciful at the time because the campuses were balanced politically, but radicals patiently built their numbers until they had achieved a 5-to-1 left-right faculty ratio by the turn of the century. That dominance allowed radicals to control most new faculty appointments, and the left-right ratio accelerated dramatically, reaching about 12 to 1 by 2016.
Where are we headed now? On campus, radicalism grows stronger each day. The current left-right campus faculty ratio is probably about 15 to 1, but new appointments are being made at a rate of about 50 to 1. As we approach complete leftist saturation among professors, college campuses will become even more intolerant, irrational and politically aggressive.
More important still, academia’s influence on society will intensify as the number of people who have graduated from radicalized campuses increases and the number of those who graduated with a conventional college education declines. A generation—students from about 2000 to now—has graduated from one-party campuses. Where will we be when two generations have done so and another generation has died off?
One thing stands in the way of the onward march of this malevolent force: the public’s common sense. Parents have mounted spirited campaigns against teaching critical race theory in schools, but will this pushback weaken as the number of politically indoctrinated college graduates rises?
We shouldn’t wait to find out. We must stop the political radicals who have a stranglehold on U.S. campuses. Why isn’t that happening already?
Parents and students feel a need for credentials, even while the credential of a college degree has been corrupted. A more important factor is that public perception hasn’t caught up to the reality of academia. Older adults cherish memories of their time at college. Campus buildings are as impressive as ever, and the names of the institutions like Harvard and Yale are still magical, but a stream of poisonous ideology flows daily from academia into American culture. Woke district attorneys may be a proximate cause of the current crime wave, and woke teachers feed children the ideology of racial hatred, but the root cause of these and other related woes is America’s corrupted universities. Our future depends on whether the public can overcome its autopilot embrace of these institutions and take a clear-eyed look at what they really are. If not, future election results won’t be so encouraging.
Mr. Ellis is a professor emeritus of German literature at the University of California, Santa Cruz and author of “The Breakdown of Higher Education: How It happened, the Damage It Does, and What Can Be Done.”
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
Appeared in the January 15, 2022, print edition as ‘Can Politics Get Better