I’ve been thinking on this topic for a bit, and each time I start to write about it, I pull back, as I sense that some people will balk at it. So I want to start by doing a bit of a history lesson.
After the Civil War, when the slaves were freed in the South, there was a period called “the Reconstruction.” It was labeled as such because the south had tried and failed to become a separate nation, and reintegrating those states into the union and rebuilding what had been destroyed was an act of, well, reconstruction.
During the early part of the reconstruction, poor whites (meaning most of the white people in the decimated south) and freed slaves worked together, and lived together, and they started to actually bridge the gaps between the races and live like human beings should.
But the rich–who were all white– saw this. And they did a simple little thing that stunted race relations and caused most of the Jim Crow issues. They said to poor whites, “why would you associate with those people? Why would you be willing to work with them, to make the same wage? You’re white!”
And so started a cycle of disregarding of best interest for the sake of the rich whites, because in their hearts, all white people are supposed to believe that if they just do what the other white people tell them, they, too, will be rich.
Except it doesn’t happen.
I start with this story because I want to draw a parallel. Numerous conservative politicians, and almost every single one with a racist or religion-based platform, vilifies the liberal academic elite.
There are three problems with this:
- If you have been to a college campus, the higher-ups are generally NOT liberals. And if they are politically, they aren’t in terms of policy.
- “Elite” is a word bandied about, but if you’re talking about the average professor, that doesn’t measure out. For one thing, few people fear us as professors (students often feel they can bowl over us with their insistence on demanding certain things). But we also are not social elite, and there are a number of us– particularly in my generation– who didn’t come from money. I am a tenure track professor in a top rated program at the top undergraduate public institution for teaching in the country. And I do alright, but I’m still driving the dented, messed up Hyundai I drove when I was a graduate student. I’m not buying and selling people.
- Creating the stereotype of the “liberal academic” doesn’t recognize the reason why an academic would be liberal.
But through the use of the idea that liberal elites at colleges are trying to destroy our traditions, loudmouth unqualified unhinged people win political office. They’re “outsiders” who didn’t do all that “book learning” and aren’t part of the supposed Liberal Media that is the child of the liberal academic world. The liberal media, btw, is home to FOX News and Breitbart. If you really believe that the news has a liberal bias, you need to actually look at the news. It leans both ways, with the louder and more dangerous voices being the conservative ones. Or if you want me to put that another way, just ask yourself who you’re more afraid to be stuck in a cab with: Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow?
Here is the true issue, however: worker bee level academics are more liberal than not. There’s a reason, though, and it’s sort of simple. It’s so simple I bet anyone who is reading this will have figured it out already. But for the sake of making a good argument, let me explain.
If you are white and rich in America, you want to be conservative. It’s good for you.
If you aren’t, you should be watching very, very carefully right now, because your politicians are not doing anything that will benefit you. Conservatives rarely do anything that will actually help the working poor, the working class, or even the tiny fading middle class. That’s not to say they always actively hurt it (they don’t always–this administration certainly is, though). But conservatives aren’t going to help make your life better. And the reason is in their name, if you read carefully. They don’t want things to change. Your life getting better is a change. And to make your life better, we’d need money or influence (probably both). That influence and money has to come from somewhere, and right now the rich white folks at the top have it, so… they work to not give it to you.
That’s smart, really, if you’re rich and white.
But they fleece the poor by claiming that what they do in their own interest is good for everyone. They even tried recently bringing back the Reagan era “trickle down” commentary. Trickle down has never happened. And it never will. Because to trickle down, the people at the top have to let something go. And they aren’t doing that.
So if you’re not a legacy at an Ivy League college, and you’re getting an education, you’re going to learn what is best for you. That’s how college works. I have never walked into a classroom to teach rhetoric and said “you should all be liberal!” I have, however, said “okay, let’s look at the policies of these candidates.” It’s an innocent way of teaching, a fair way of teaching. But the result is almost always that the students lean liberal afterward (unless they are ignoring the facts and being purely partisan). And it’s not because of any voodoo or any sort of conspiracy.
Try, for a second, to not be partisan at all. Ask yourself, if you were college aged and in fear of the job market after you finish your education, looking at a generation like my wife and myself who have essentially second and third mortgages in the form of our student loans, who you would support politically. Would you want to go in with the guy who wants to reduce educational spending and find ways to keep the government from giving you any sort of tax breaks on your student loans, or would you want to go with the guy who would propose that college be free?
That one alone led to numerous college students supporting Bernie Sanders.
It wasn’t that colleges were pro-Bernie Sanders. I was, actually, but I never said that to a single student until Sanders was out of the race (then, when asked, I admitted that I voted for him and not Clinton in the primary). It wasn’t that there was a liberal agenda.
It is the agenda of a college that leads to liberal thinking, but not in the way that conservatives would like you to think. College pushes a few things above all else: 1. critical thinking, 2. understanding of culture, 3. preparation for a career. Those three things will lead almost anyone to be more liberal than conservative because being liberal is considering your own best interest in this world. Unless you’re a have, you want to change things.
Conservatives who complain only have themselves to blame. At its heart, conservatism isn’t bad. It defends the status quo, but conservatives who bend can do plenty of things to make the world better. But when a party in America allows itself to be misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic and racist, when it alienates those who work the hardest, it creates a situation where one doesn’t have to do much to prove that the other side is better.
I’m a bleeding heart liberal college professor. But only because conservatives want to tell my wife that she can make less on the dollar than me while they legislate what she can do with her vagina. They want to steal the rest of the land that belonged to my ancestors for the sake of their poorly executed oil grab. They want us to think that because they treat Kaitlyn Jenner alright they get a pass for their rampant bathroom transphobia laws and oppression. They want to cut taxes for people who have more money than they know what to do with on the backs of taking more money from people who live paycheck-to-paycheck (or don’t even).
I’m the guy conservatives tell you that a poor person should be. I didn’t do it all by myself, because no one does, but there’s a narrative where I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. And this coming tax cut, astonishingly, will benefit me.
I’m still a bleeding heart liberal, though, because I want what is best for others, too. I don’t want someone to suffer so I can get an extra 3 or 4 dollars each pay period.
And I learned to be that way as an academic. Because it makes you intelligent, and it enables you to make careful critical decisions based on what is happening all around you.
The only reason to be scared of education and of educators is if you’re lying and deceiving people.