Soft Totalitarianism’s Legal Brigade
Back in 2015, after the culture war Waterloo that was the Indiana RFRA fight (that was the event in which Woke Capitalism flexed its muscles), an elite law professor who was a closeted Christian reached out to me with some dire predictions about what was coming for faithful Christians. I wrote about his warnings, and dubbed him “Prof. Kingsfield,” after the legendary law professor in The Paper Chase. From that 2015 post:
Like me, what unnerved Prof. Kingsfield is not so much the details of the Indiana law, but the way the overculture treated the law. “When a perfectly decent, pro-gay marriage religious liberty scholar like Doug Laycock, who is one of the best in the country — when what he says is distorted, you know how crazy it is.”
“Alasdair Macintyre is right,” he said. “It’s like a nuclear bomb went off, but in slow motion.” What he meant by this is that our culture has lost the ability to reason together, because too many of us want and believe radically incompatible things.
But only one side has the power. When I asked Kingsfield what most people outside elite legal and academic circles don’t understand about the way elites think, he said “there’s this radical incomprehension of religion.”
“They think religion is all about being happy-clappy and nice, or should be, so they don’t see any legitimate grounds for the clash,” he said. “They make so many errors, but they don’t want to listen.”
To elites in his circles, Kingsfield continued, “at best religion is something consenting adult should do behind closed doors. They don’t really understand that there’s a link between Sister Helen Prejean’s faith and the work she does on the death penalty. There’s a lot of looking down on flyover country, one middle America.
“The sad thing,” he said, “is that the old ways of aspiring to truth, seeing all knowledge as part of learning about the nature of reality, they don’t hold. It’s all about power. They’ve got cultural power, and think they should use it for good, but their idea of good is not anchored in anything. They’ve got a lot of power in courts and in politics and in education. Their job is to challenge people to think critically, but thinking critically means thinking like them. They really do think that they know so much more than anybody did before, and there is no point in listening to anybody else, because they have all the answers, and believe that they are good.”
That came to mind this morning when I read this jaw-dropping Washington Free Beacon story of Yale University persecuting a conservative law student. Excerpts:
Administrators at Yale Law School spent weeks pressuring a student to apologize for a “triggering” email in which he referred to his apartment as a “trap house,” a slang term for a place where people buy drugs. Part of what made the email “triggering,” the administrators told the student, was his membership in a conservative organization.
The second-year law student, a member of both the Native American Law Students Association and the conservative Federalist Society, had invited classmates to an event cohosted by the two groups. “We will be christening our very own (soon to be) world-renowned NALSA Trap House … by throwing a Constitution Day Bash in collaboration with FedSoc,” he wrote in a Sept. 15 email to the Native American listserv. In keeping with the theme, he said, the mixer would serve “American-themed snacks” like “Popeye’s chicken” and “apple pie.”
Here’s the text of the offending e-mail:
“Trap house” is slang for “place to buy drugs,” but it long ago passed over into general discourse. As the WFB noted, the popular dirtbag leftist podcast “Chapo Trap House” has been profiled by leading media without anyone ever raising any objection that the use of the term is racist. But that’s not good enough for some black Yale law students, who filed complaints over it with the university. More:
Just 12 hours after the email went out, the student was summoned to the law school’s Office of Student Affairs, which administrators said had received nine discrimination and harassment complaints about his message.
At a Sept. 16 meeting, which the student recorded and shared with the Washington Free Beacon, associate dean Ellen Cosgrove and diversity director Yaseen Eldik told the student that the word “trap” connotes crack use, hip hop, and blackface. Those “triggering associations,” Eldik said, were “compounded by the fried chicken reference,” which “is often used to undermine arguments that structural and systemic racism has contributed to racial health disparities in the U.S.”
Eldik, a former Obama White House official, went on to say that the student’s membership in the Federalist Society had “triggered” his peers.
“The email’s association with FedSoc was very triggering for students who already feel like FedSoc belongs to political affiliations that are oppressive to certain communities,” Eldik said. “That of course obviously includes the LGBTQIA community and black communities and immigrant communities.”
Got that? Simply being a member of the Federalist Society is to out yourself as either a bigot, or bigot-adjacent, in the eyes of Yale Law School. Yale is considered the top law school in the United States. Yale Law School’s diversity director believes that if a student who identifies as a member of a Sacred Victim class feels offended by something, that that alone is sufficient to establish it as a fact. As the story explains, Yale kept pressuring this student, who is Native American, to apologize — but the student refused. Then Yale said to him, basically, you’ve got a nice legal career ahead of you; it would be a shame if something happened to it.
This student, who is not named, has a spine: he still refused to live by Yale’s lies.
You’ve got to read the whole thing. This is important. This is hugely important, for the reason Prof. Kingsfield said: institutions like Yale are where the American legal elite are formed. These are the men and women who are going to populate the judiciary. Yet we can see from this story that Yale is a place that privileges minority claims of grievance, however flimsy and thin-skinned, over fundamental liberal rights. This is exactly what I talk about in Live Not By Lies:
Further, these utopian progressives are constantly changing the standards of thought, speech, and behavior. You can never be sure when those in power will come after you as a villain for having said or done something that was perfectly fine the day before. And the consequences for violating the new taboos are extreme, including losing your livelihood and having your reputation ruined forever.
People are becoming instant pariahs for having expressed a politically incorrect opinion, or in some other way provoking a progressive mob, which amplifies its scapegoating through social and conventional media. Under the guise of “diversity,” “inclusivity,” “equity,” and other egalitarian jargon, the Left creates powerful mechanisms for controlling thought and discourse and marginalizes dissenters as evil.
You, reader, might not give a damn what happens to a student at Yale Law. But you had better not be so foolish as to think that what happens at Yale Law has nothing to do with you. Four of the current Supreme Court justices (Alito, Thomas, Sotomayor, Kavanaugh) graduated from Yale. In fact, the only one who didn’t graduate from an Ivy League law school is Amy Coney Barrett (Notre Dame). Look:
“They’ve seen that if you go to Yale, you’re more likely to get a Supreme Court clerkship than if you don’t, and if you get a Supreme Court clerkship, that puts you on the glide path to a federal judgeship,” says Widlanski, who earned his J.D. degree from Columbia Law School.
The Ivy League, Yale foremost, is where the regime trains its best legal minds. And right now, Yale is administered by people who are willing to persecute students who get anywhere to the right of the radical left. Interestingly — but unsurprisingly — the Yale diversity commissar said in writing to the unnamed student that the fact that he is a racial minority means he might not be punished as harshly.
This is not America. I mean, this is what America is becoming, but this is not who we are supposed to be. I always bring up Live Not By Lies in these cases, because I want people to understand that we are not in normal times now, and that the US is governed by a regime — not only the state, but also civil society institutions — that is illiberal to the point of being totalitarian. People don’t see this, because we’re not living under Stalinism 2.0. But what do you call it when the most elite law school in the nation goes after a student on the basis of flimsy accusations by political actors, and pressures him to save his career by apologizing for his ideological offense, even though he maintains correctly that he did nothing wrong?
This is what we’re dealing with. Again, from Live Not By Lies:
For example, an American academic who has studied Russian communism told me about being present at the meeting in which his humanities department decided to require from job applicants a formal statement of loyalty to the ideology of diversity—even though this has nothing to do with teaching ability or scholarship.
The professor characterized this as a McCarthyite way of eliminating dissenters from the employment pool, and putting those already on staff on notice that they will be monitored for deviation from the social-justice party line.
That is a soft form of totalitarianism. Here is the same logic laid down hard: in 1918, Lenin unleashed the Red Terror, a campaign of annihilation against those who resisted Bolshevik power. Martin Latsis, head of the secret police in Ukraine, instructed his agents as follows:
Do not look in the file of incriminating evidence to see whether or not the accused rose up against the Soviets with arms or words. Ask him instead to which class he belongs, what is his background, his education, his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning and essence of the Red Terror.
Note well that an individual’s words and deeds had nothing to do with determining one’s guilt or innocence. One was presumed guilty based entirely on one’s class and social status. A revolution that began as an attempt to right historical injustices quickly became an exterminationist exercise of raw power. Communists justified the imprisonment, ruin, and even the execution of people who stood in the way of Progress as necessary to achieve historical justice over alleged exploiters of privilege.
In the case of this unnamed conservative Yale student, Yaseen Eldik and the Yale administration might as well send down this instruction:
Do not look at the evidence to see whether or not he really is a racist; ask him instead to which professional legal societies he belongs, and what his race is. Those are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning and essence of the Pink Terror.
In my book, I call on people to stand by those persecuted by the Left in power. I hope this law student will come forward, and that an army of his fellow Americans — especially within the legal community — will speak out for him. The Pink Terror has to be stopped. This baizuocratic regime and its commissars have to meet uncompromising resistance.
By the way, it has not been lost on me this morning that despite his many faults, Donald Trump appointed to the federal judiciary members of the Federalist Society — the kind of jurists that Yale Law school, in its DIE drunkenness, despises. If Trump runs in 2024 and wins, it’s going to have something to do with the fact that ordinary Americans have awakened to the threat to their liberties from the regime, and are willing to choose any port in a storm. It is all but impossible to get any Democrat not named James Carville to understand that, but it’s true. Most ordinary Americans would not find it easy to sympathize with a Yale Law school student, I’d wager, but they can easily be made to understand that they do not want to live in a country in which the judges making decisions that affect their lives have been formed by an elite law school culture that considers them to be the Enemy, simply because of their political beliefs, or the color of their skin. Note to future Republican administrations: look for SCOTUS nominees outside the Ivy League!
One more thing. For Prager U, Ami Horowitz visited Yale Law School and asked students to sign his petition to abolish the US Constitution. He captured students on camera agreeing with him that the Constitution is a white supremacist document. Turns out that 65 percent of those Yale Law students he spoke with signed his petition.
These are future federal judges. Watch:
UPDATE: Aaron Renn’s always-excellent newsletter The Masculinist features today some practical advice for resistance. He points out that conservatives are fools if they expect their acts of resistance to be treated the same as the same acts done by the Left. But he also points out that one’s progressive bona fides will not matter if the Left targets you as a thought criminal:
Those on the left are often blindsided by attacks because they naïvely believe that because they agree with all the right positions and are even working to implement the left agenda, they are the “good guys.”
They too often discover to their chagrin that this is not how it works.
For example, the head of the library system where I live was recently forced out after a black employee said the library was “run like a plantation.”
The woman who was library CEO was a progressive Democrat. In 2005 when she was on the city council, she was the sponsor of the Indianapolis Human Rights Ordinance that banned discrimination against LGBT people (at a time this wasn’t even popular among many Democrats). She rescued a community development corporation that served a black neighborhood after a corruption scandal. She actually closed a library branch in one of the city’s premier white gentrified neighborhoods while investing in minority ones. She even lives in a majority black neighborhood. And her husband recently died of cancer.
None of it mattered. Somebody called her a racist and she was tossed in the trash like yesterday’s newspaper.
There are some lessons to take from this episode.
First, no matter how impeccable your record is, it won’t matter when some opportunist attacks you. Even if you run an organization dedicated explicitly to racial justice, this won’t necessarily protect you from being cancelled.
Second, progressives in these situations often destroy themselves through foolishly apologizing when they’ve done nothing wrong. Sometimes when someone takes offense at something we’ve done, even if we don’t think we intended or even did anything wrong, we reflexively apologize for somehow making the other person upset. We often do this because the other person and our relationship with him is more valuable than being right.
But what works at the individual level doesn’t scale to the institutional level. If you are involved in a public matter like this, an apology is an admission of guilt. It’s just like signing the confession at the police station. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it improve things. The library CEO apologized for vague and unspecific events, suggesting she didn’t actually do anything objectively wrong. It didn’t help her at all.
Now, if you genuinely have done something materially wrong, then taking responsibility for that is the right thing to do. But publicly apologizing just to assuage someone else’s anger won’t work. There’s a reason politicians “never apologize, never explain.”
Third, when you are being cancelled, no one will defend you – not your close friends and associates, not mentors or former bosses, not any colleague who can personally attest to your character.
Now, you might get lucky and someone actually will defend you. Conservatives in these situations are more likely to have people publicly support them. But don’t count on it.
Not a single civic leader in Indianapolis publicly defended the library CEO. From that we can deduce that when someone tries to cancel those leaders, no one will defend them either.
If you are the leader of an organization or in any public position, you’d better have your crisis plan ready to go if and when something like this happens. You can’t rely on getting a fair hearing or any support in the face of a cancel mob.
It is very important for every prominent conservative and classically liberal legal personage to speak out loud and unapologetically in defense of this persecuted Yale student, and to raise hell with this Pink Terror regime there.