By: Nico Tuccillo (Proud Liberal)
"Liberals think they're tolerant, but they're not."
This was a headline I saw on CNN yesterday. The article describes how the “self-righteousness” and “moral superiority” of college students walking out on commencement day speakers is antithetical to the liberal ideal of tolerance. Fareed Zakaria argues that “it is only by being open to hearing opposing views” can people of different political leanings make progress. Everything he is saying is right. Yet so, so wrong.
First of all, liberals believe in tolerance under the law. We strive for a world where everyone, regardless of their skin color, religion, sexuality, and yes even political viewpoint, has the same rights and freedoms as everyone else. We do not strive to be polite to commencement day speakers. Tolerance, liberal tolerance, is a manner of constructing a society in which we say “the government, the enforcers of the rule of law, shall not discriminate.” This is where Zakaria makes his first mistake -- he is being too cute by half, misconstruing a conversation on rudeness or politeness with one on tolerance. Would you like to talk about how walking out of a commencement speech is “rude,” or might make that speaker “uncomfortable?” Sure, have that (entirely different) conversation. But to suggest college students are “intolerant” is an unwarranted leap, a myopic view of the situation that simplifies and betrays the true ideals of liberalism, and a college education.
Often on right-wing talk shows and radio shows, you can hear some of the following common phrases. “Colleges are supposed to teach tolerance of different viewpoints, but they’ve failed at this.” “These coddled liberal college students think only their voice matters.” “Colleges preach free speech, but when I go on their campus I get eggs thrown at me!” I am always infuriated when I hear this, because it is an attempt to demonize and politicize higher education so as to erode trust in it. Yes, you short-sighted troglodytes, colleges are supposed to teach a habit of listening to and understanding different viewpoints. Yet their job is not one-dimensional. Colleges don’t do just one thing, they don’t have just one purpose. For example, they also teach critical thinking. They teach their students to attend to the world with penetrating eyes, looking for reason and identifying when neither reason nor logic exist. Yes Zakaria, we college students are in fact open to hearing opposing views. But after recognizing that that view is full of hate, and lies, and seeks to stir up xenophobic or homophobic resentment, no, we do not have to sit in our chair on commencement day. That’s not being intolerant, that’s being an intelligent human being actively protesting against hurtful rhetoric. That’s not refusing to listen to conservative viewpoints, that’s taking a stand against what is wrong and what is false.
Zakaria mentions the Notre Dame students who walked out on Mike Pence, and the Bethune-Cookman University students who walked out on Betsy DeVos. He points to these instances as cases of “liberal intolerance.” Baloney. Complete and utter baloney. Mike Pence was a proponent of electroshock therapy for LGBT individuals. He opposes workers unions and gay marriage. Betsy DeVos comes from a rich family that makes money off of putting kids in for-profit schools. Her education budget and congressional hearing remarks make it clear that she does not oppose discrimination in schools, wants to cut funding for the poorest children in our country, and cares nothing for the ideal of education. The fact that these two individuals are speaking at a college commencement should be laughable. Hey sorry you were so easily offended Mr. Pence and Mrs. DeVos! The fact that students walked out on them should be a testament to critical thinking, it is the right thing to do. More often than not, colleges bring in speakers whose opinions differ from those of many students on campus. But do not ever tell me that we’re being “intolerant” by protesting Milo Yiannopoulos, a known racist, or anyone else that clearly harbors racist, xenophobic, and hateful ideals for the world, especially, in the case of Betsy DeVos or Ann Coulter, in order to make money.
“No one has a monopoly on morality.” This is indeed true Zakaria, thank you for pointing that out. But to insinuate college students have forgotten this creed is insulting and misleading. A liberal education teaches us this very fact so that, when we go out into the world and encounter the Ann Coulters or Donald Trumps, we can analyze what they say and do and come to a reasoned conclusion on its morality. Separating and deporting families? Constructing a giant wall that will do nothing? Stripping $800 billion from Medicaid? Cutting health care from 23 million Americans? Allowing Big Oil to drill in Alaskan wildlife preserves? Scapegoating Muslims and Latinos? Refusing to protect the rights of transgender individuals? No, Mr. Zakaria, no. These, and the many others like them, are intolerant actions. And my walking out of a commencement day speech given by an individual who espouses these views is not “avoiding to engage.” I have engaged, and it’s become clear that these are ideas the whole human race should avoid. And I know you agree with that, as would anyone educated enough to see past the intuitive-sounding rhetoric.