As the Asian-American case against Harvard University and the school’s admissions policies proceeds to trial, it’s interesting to note the difficult position in which it puts conservative journalists, politicians, and intellectuals.
The lawsuit claims that Harvard has discriminated against Asian-Americans for years, noting that Asian-Americans must achieve much higher test scores than blacks and Hispanics if they are to be admitted to super-selective institutions.
This kind of discrimination is one of the cardinal practices of identity politics in America today, and one would think that every figure on the right who loathes that kind of leftist tribalism would speak out about Harvard firmly and clearly.
That position would have consequences, though. Liberals and progressives defend the practice proudly and loudly, with touches of accusation thrown in that cast every opponent of it as racist. Conservatives who assail universities that judge whites and Asians by one standard, and blacks and Hispanics by another, run the risk of popping up in social media in connection with the KKK.
But there’s something else that mutes the public conservative’s objections to admissions practices at super-selective colleges. That’s just it—they’re elite. They’re the winners, and the winners in the rising generation go there to be groomed for success in the 21st century. Every ambitious man and woman wants their children and grandchildren to attend those fine institutions.
Yes, conservative leaders and commentators know that faculty and administrators in higher education despise them, but those schools are nonetheless the ticket to the professional elite. They don’t like the idea of their progeny majoring in English, gender studies, or sociology, where anti-conservative bias is so deeply embedded in the curriculum that opposition to conservative ideas is now understood as axiomatic in the discipline (for instance, the idea that male-female difference is all socially constructed). But they rejoice if sons and daughters end up in medical school or engineering, where political correctness has a small influence in day-to-day learning.
The truth is that the conservative elite are just as enamored of the Ivy League and flagship state universities as the liberal elite are. A top scholar at a conservative think tank in Washington will tell everyone about his daughter’s acceptance by Stanford just as eagerly as will one at the Brookings Institution. It doesn’t matter that Stanford is erasing Father Junipero Serra’s name from the environs. It’s Stanford!
And let’s add another factor. These conservative eminences themselves attended elite schools. Bret Stephens attended the University of Chicago, David Frum went to Yale, George Will went to Princeton, George W. Bush is a Yalie, the Koch brothers went to MIT, Rich Lowry attended the University of Virginia, and so on.
Identity politics didn’t deem to hurt them in college admissions. They attended Tier One campuses, secured prestigious posts, and made their way smoothly onto and up the ladder of success. They can’t easily look at a white or Asian individual who claims to have been discriminated against on racial grounds without thinking, “C’mon, if you were really that good, you would have made it.”
This is one more area where President Donald Trump tapped into a populist anger that establishment conservatives didn’t know existed. Or, if they sensed it, they didn’t respect it. They haven’t undergone the demoralizing feeling of being disadvantaged and passed over on the grounds of race. They haven’t felt dismayed when looking for a job, finding a plum possibility, then reading on the job posting a diversity statement that puts them at the bottom of the list.
Life has been good to them, and they can’t help feeling that if life hasn’t been good to others, well, unless those others are members of “historically disadvantaged groups,” it’s probably their own fault.
Trump doesn’t think that way. He’s rich and powerful but from Queens, not Manhattan. He went to the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania but worked in real estate, not the professions. He never absorbed the ideology of identity that is a virtual gauntlet that professionals must weather in their schooling and training.
He recognizes the nauseous effect of a tweet by a white liberal columnist at USA Today (and who attended University of Maryland and Georgetown) that read: “Dear white people who are upset that you can’t dress up as another race or culture for Halloween: your feelings don’t matter. The only feelings that matter are of those who feel disrespected/mocked by you appropriating their culture for entertainment. Show some common decency.”
Dear white people who are upset that you can't dress up as another race or culture for Halloween: your feelings don't matter. The only feelings that matter are of those who feel disrespected/mocked by you appropriating their culture for entertainment.
Show some common decency.
— Kirsten Powers (@KirstenPowers) October 23, 2018
Take a look at the responses to this tweet, and you realize why Republican politicians are foolish when they run away from identity politics. Not that many Americans attended elite colleges, and they are refreshingly free of the uptight politically correct etiquette that people who have run through those leftist enclaves have absorbed.
Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory University and senior editor at First Things magazine.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.