Aaron Sibarium (The American Interest): Thank you for agreeing to do this, Heather. To begin, why don’t you tell me what The Diversity Delusion is about, and what inspired you to write it at this particular moment.
Heather Mac Donald: The book is about the identity politics and victim ideology that have taken over college campuses. I was inspired to write it out of a combination of sorrow and rage. Sorrow, because I believe so strongly in the humanist mission of universities and the extraordinary privilege of being able to study the greatest works of civilization. And rage, because I see ignorant students being encouraged by faculty and campus administrators to reject the monuments of human thought on such absurd grounds as an author’s gonads and melanin.
TAI: In the book, you talk about this “metastasizing diversity bureaucracy,” saying it’s not just on campus, but that it’s spread to other institutions too. In particular, you talk a lot about businesses and tech companies indulging in identity histrionics. Do you see this ideology affecting national politics too? Has it started to affect not just private businesses and HR departments, but also the day-to-day political realities of America?
HMD: Absolutely. We have just lived through a month of Gender Studies 101 with the hysteria over the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The tribal victimology that characterizes college campuses is now becoming the currency of a surprisingly large sector of the Democratic Party. Many females have decided that they represent an oppressed class and that such traditional Enlightenment values as due-process and the presumption of innocence are expendable. Campus rape tribunals have discarded essential truth-finding mechanisms such as cross-examination in the service of the #BelieveSurvivors mantra. And now that contempt for rational means of proof is entering the public consciousness as well.
TAI: Just the other day there was a really interesting piece in The Atlantic by Yascha Mounk, discussing a study that found that the demographic most supportive of political correctness was affluent whites with a college education. Minority groups, on the other hand, were solidly opposed, as were less wealthy whites. Has the diversity delusion really affected society at-large, or has it just affected a very small group within society, but one that controls a disproportionate degree of social power?
HMD: The latter group is the most important as far as influence goes. What matters is the dominant narrative, whether or not the majority of people subscribe to it. That narrative sees white males as the source of most everything evil in the world. The hemorrhaging of lower-class, white males from the American economy and civil life, documented by Charles Murray, may be partly influenced by such circumambient contempt.
To further buttress Mounk’s point, the Pew Research Center did a study of so-called gender equity in STEM within the last year and found that the more years of higher education that females had, the more likely they were to say that they had been the victims of sex discrimination.
The reality is undoubtedly the opposite. The more a workplace is dominated by highly educated products of the diversity-obsessed academy, who have been marinated in social justice thinking throughout their schooling, the more its participants will go out of their way to seek diversity throughout the employment ladder. The perception held by the female educated elite of widespread bias against them is ideological, not empirical.
TAI: That brings me to an argument you make at the beginning of Diversity Delusion. You criticize Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s new book, The Coddling of the American Mind, saying it doesn’t explain the ideological dimensions of campus identity politics. Why don’t you find helicopter parenting a persuasive causal story for what’s happening?
HMD: Over-parenting is a real issue. I’m always nauseated when I see young boys on tricycle scooters in New York City. These are highly stable contraptions with two front wheels, yet their riders, all of four-feet tall, are invariably wearing massive bubble bike helmets as if they’re going to somehow crash and split their crania. We are sadly far from the boyhood hell-raising described by H.L. Mencken in Happy Days.
So the risk-aversion on the part of these highly-educated, post-Baby Boom parents is a real problem. But I do not think that that is what is generating the maudlin campus victimology, because the demographics don’t really match up. The brothers of white females are subject to the same overprotective parents, as noted above, and yet they are not, by and large, identifying themselves as an oppressed victim group needing safe spaces and all sorts of reparations. At best, they can present themselves as allies.
Moreover, blacks and Hispanics are, on average—and I’m making a generalization here—not over-parented to the same extent. In fact, there’s often a lack of parenting on the part of fathers. Yet black and Hispanic students are eager to jump on the victim bandwagon. So my alternative hypothesis to the over-parenting, psychological explanation is that this really is an ideological phenomenon.
TAI: That’s fair, but my sense is that at most elite universities many if not most of the black kids come from the sorts of middle to upper-class families that Haidt and Lukianoff are describing. Especially since, as you say in the book, affirmative action overwhelmingly benefits wealthy black kids, not poorer black kids it was originally designed to help.
HMD: Well there is certainly an effort to get lower-class black kids. But my perception is that black and Hispanic parents are not as ridiculously insane regarding phantom risks, whether regarding vaccines, genetically modified foods, or crashing a tricycle scooter. I may be wrong.
TAI: Fair enough. There does seem to be some evidence of cross-cultural differences even when you control for socioeconomic status. Which I suppose would support your argument, because if you think that there are subtle cultural differences between affluent white and affluent minority households, you would expect affluent white students to identify as victims more than affluent minority students. But they don’t, which suggests the problem isn’t over-parenting; it’s ideological.
And in the book, you trace this ideology back to poststructuralist theory and deconstruction. Is your view that a group of French academics in the 1960s came up with bad ideas that just happened to spread? Or do you think there’s a deeper story here about modern culture, and perhaps even the Enlightenment itself? If ideology is what caused the diversity delusion, what caused the ideology?
HMD: I would by no means rule out influences outside of the academy. Certainly the violent black student protests of the ’60s occurred before post-structuralism really hit its stride. Poststructuralism did not become widespread throughout American universities until the 1970s. I’m also quite skeptical of the anti-Enlightenment story that’s been embraced by the Left, and also by some members of the Right, in response to Steven Pinker’s new book Enlightenment Now, and to a lesser extent Jonah Goldberg’s.
By contrast, I do think the twists and turns of the civil rights struggle played into all this, and radical feminism has for sure. But there are two important ironies here. First, the original poststructuralist thinkers who created the rhetoric of high theory read the Western canon exclusively. Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man, for example, deconstructed Proust and Plato; they never thought to go in search of female or black writers to fill a quota.
Second, one of the most bizarre tenets of deconstruction was that the self was a mere linguistic trope—there was no self, just language play. But in the 1980s, with the rise of multiculturalism, the self came roaring back with a vengeance. Suddenly academic victimologists were defining the self in the most reductive manner possible, in terms of gonads and melanin. The self became the subject of endless study and theorizing—but it was emphatically not a made-up construct.
TAI: It sounds like you’re drawing a link between the individualistic discourse of the self and the more collectivist discourse of identity politics. Is there a relationship there? Are individualism and collectivism just two sides of the same coin?
HMD: Only to the extent that the individual is a member of a group. I don’t think this is some Michel de Montaigne-esque exploration of the twists and turns in one’s own consciousness. It really is a sense of a tribal identity formed out of a collective sense of oppression. To be a member of these highly competitive victim groups is to be the target unending bias and oppression—a view that, I would say, is at its most supreme level of absurdity on college campuses.
TAI: Emma Green has argued that the most militant progressive activists in the Democratic Party are those who lack a traditional religious affiliation. In The Diversity Delusion, you sometimes use religious, theologically inflected language to describe the worldview of campus identity politics. Do you think the decline of religion has lead people to embrace these totalizing forms of identity as a kind of substitution effect?
HMD: Well, as somebody who’s a radical secularist herself, I don’t buy the traditional religious argument that without a belief in a personal, loving god, life is meaningless. Because, as far as I’m concerned, we are drowning in meaning. Anybody who can live in a world that houses Mozart, Tiepolo, Twain, and George Eliot and still feel a vacuum of meaning is aesthetically blind and deaf.
TAI: On the subject of meaning or lack thereof, let’s talk about sex. You spend about a fourth of The Diversity Delusion discussing #MeToo, Title IX, and what you call the campus rape myth. What, in a nutshell, is the problem with campus sexual politics today?
HMD: We have a bizarre hybrid of promiscuity and neo-Victorianism, which is characterized by a belief in ubiquitous male predation but which also looks to males to be the unique guardians of female well-being. When you destroy the traditional restraints on the male libido as sexual liberation did—those restraints being chivalry and gentlemanliness on the one hand and female modesty and prudence on the other—you’re unleashing a force that the female libido can rarely match. Sexual liberation was premised on a fallacy that males and females are identical in their sexual drives. They are not. Nor are they identical in their emotional (and hormonal) responses to intercourse.
TAI: You suggest at one point that the only good thing about Title IX is that it is actually remoralizing campus sexuality in a weird way. That it paradoxically results in a more conservative or, as you call it, neo-Victorian sexual ethic.
HMD: More studying and less sex. That is not something to be regretted. Colleges are not primarily for partying and one night hook ups. I’m sure there have been instances of truly unconscionable male aggression towards females, and in those instance the female deserves help.
But just as I am not sympathetic to rape victimology when the girl was patently an equal partner in a drunken hook up, I also don’t feel overwhelmingly distressed by the situation that males find themselves in, unlike many of my fellow conservatives. Just as a female can, with almost 100 percent certainty, avoid becoming what is viewed on campus as a rape victim by acting prudently and not getting blackout drunk, by not taking off her clothes and getting into bed with a guy whom she may or may not know, so, too, can every college male usually avoid the predicament of being falsely accused of rape by walking his girlfriend home after a date, kissing her goodnight, and writing her a love poem back in his own dorm room. If the bureaucratization of campus sex, with campus rape bureaucrats promulgating preposterous ten-page legalistic rules for coitus, results in less campus sex, there is simply no social cost, unlike, say, the over-regulation of natural gas production, which results in less of a socially useful product and activity.
TAI: In the book you express a certain degree of skepticism about the one-in-five rape statistic bandied about by many feminists. Why do you find this and similar numbers unpersuasive?
HMD: There are two main reasons why I find those statistics unpersuasive. First is the survey instruments and how they’ve been interpreted. The mother of all campus rape surveys was a study that was published in 1985 in Ms. magazine by University of Arizona professor Mary Koss. Koss found that 42 percent of the college females whom she characterized as rape victims went on to have sex again with their alleged assailant. I propose that that is a behavior that is inconceivable in the case of what most people would understand as rape. Koss also found that 73 percent of the campus females whom she characterized as rape victims, when asked directly whether they have been raped, said they had not. In other words, the feminist claim that we’re living through an epidemic of campus sexual assault depends on doing something that feminists have told us one should never, ever do, which is to ignore what females say about their own experiences.
But the other reason that I reject this narrative about an epidemic of sexual assault is that if it were the case, we would have seen a stampede decades ago to create single sex schools where girls could study in safety. Instead, the stampede of girls to get into this alleged maelstrom of sexual violence increases in ferocity each year. Highly educated Gen X mothers pay $200 an hour in Manhattan to tutor their toddler girls for the most prestigious pre-K school in order to increase their chances of admissions to a highly elite college campus 12 years later.
Unless females are too clueless to look out for themselves and to get the word out: “Don’t go to those frat parties, they are one big gang rape,” one has to assume that this epidemic of sexual assault is not occurring.
TAI: You mentioned something interesting there: Whatever the actual statistic turns out to be, everyone knows that the lion’s share of sexual assault occurs in frats. They’re far and away the worst offenders. So couldn’t someone respond to you, “Yes, it would be irrational for women to go to these schools if they believed there was a one in five chance they would be raped. But they don’t really believe that, because they know that almost all these cases occur within a very small set of social spaces. And presumably they think they will be smart enough to avoid those spaces while in college.” If that were the thought process, the fact that women continue to go to college wouldn’t be evidence that they don’t believe the one-in-five statistic; it would just be evidence that they don’t think they are personally likely to end up among the one-in five.
HMD: One-in-five is an almost unprecedented level of criminal victimization, suggesting it is hard to avoid campus rape. To repeat, even if it were the case that these alleged sexual assaults occur only in selective parts of campus such as frat parties, I just don’t understand why girls keep going to them. If rape is so pervasive, even if just in frat parties, I would think that there would be a “strong-women-together” shared knowledge of, “Do not go there.”
TAI: I think some of this comes down to one’s priors about human rationality—can we really expect hormonal 18-year-olds to think the way you’re thinking? Of course, some progressives make a different argument entirely. They say rape culture isn’t just confined to frat houses; it’s everywhere, on campus and off, which means women have the same odds of being assaulted at college as they do anywhere else. That is, they think the risk is extremely high no matter what women do.
HMD: They may well argue that it’s not just confined to frat parties, that it’s a campus-wide problem. But again, this is denying any kind of efficacy to females. Whether it’s confined to frat parties or is spread out throughout drunken campus hookups, there are very simple steps that girls can take to avoid getting raped. Do not drink yourself blotto. The drinking that happens on the part of females is done quite often to deliberately lower their sexual inhibitions. Do not get into bed with a guy you don’t know. Don’t take your clothes off. Doing those things sets in motion processes and impulses that are hard to control once you unleash them.
Do we believe that girls are capable of using their reason to evaluate risk and take simple precautionary measures, or not? If they’re not capable of doing that, I don’t know whether they even belong in college.
You say if rape culture is so pervasive, you might as well go to college because it’s going to be everywhere. But you could still have single sex schools. You could ask the adults to once again say, “No sex in dorms,” instead of saying, “Here’s a 20-page contract modeled on a mortgage to sign before you have sex.”
TAI: That all makes sense. But I still think there’s a tension in your analysis. You say that sexual aggression is motivated by the male libido, and that once you set this force in motion it’s very difficult to stop. But then you say that college campuses are these libertine spaces in which there are no constraints on the male libido at all. In other words, the thing that motivates people to commit rape is sexual desire, and the constraints that used to keep that desire in check no longer exist on college campuses. Absent any statistics, knowing just those two facts, shouldn’t we expect there to be moresexual assault on college campuses than other places? That seems to be the logical implication of your view.
HMD: Yes. In theory, that is a potential contradiction and a good observation. I would say that I don’t agree with the characterization of these incidents as rape, but you do have males acting boorishly and taking full advantage of the drunken hook up culture, in which females are voluntary co-participants. But unless we want to resurrect Victorian values, making the male the sole guardian of female well-being—and believe me, I’m not necessarily opposed to that—unless you want to return there, it makes sense to say females have the power to protect themselves virtually 100 percent of the time.
TAI: It sounds almost as if you’re making a kind of feminist argument for women’s empowerment. That’s the language you’re using—“power.” Have you ever put it in these terms to college audiences, and if so what has the response been? Because although you’re denying a lot of the Left’s empirical premises, you’re also asserting that women have agency—an idea the Left can’t get enough of.
HMD: I have addressed campus rape more in adult situations like the Federalist Society. On campuses, I’ve mostly been speaking about race and policing. But I can predict that their response would simply be an illogical one, which is that we insist that females are identical to males in all ways, but they are helpless victims at the same time.
The other likely response would be, “Oh, you’re blaming the victim.” I have put the question to many a campus rape bureaucrat and said, “If you really believe there’s this epidemic of campus rape going on, doesn’t it behoove you to try to stop it? Shouldn’t your primary responsibility be female safety, and given that a message of female prudence and modesty would be an almost 100 percent prophylactic against what you insist on calling rape, why don’t you send that message of female prudence and modesty?”
And what I’m told by the campus rape bureaucrats is, “Oh, we would never send that message because then people would presume that females are responsible for being raped, and we all know that they’re not.” That means that these bureaucrats are more interested in preserving the principle of male fault than they are in guaranteeing female safety.
TAI: One last thing, before we move on from this topic. My understanding is that the sexual assault surveys you’re talking about often find rates of sexual misconduct are quite a bit worse in the LGBT community, or at least among gay men. Did you look into those statistics at all when writing your book? Do you think they’re accurate?
HMD: I mentioned that the 2015 surveys commissioned by the American Association of Universities on 27 college campuses found that the LGBTQ communities reported much higher rates of sexual assault than everybody else. I don’t, in the book, posit an explanation for that. But it is certainly interesting.
TAI: I ask because you could argue that the social pressures that encourage an over-identification with victimhood among women wouldn’t be quite as strong among gay men—whereas the male libido would be, almost by definition. Which might imply that there really is a lot of rape on college campuses, not just regretted sex, but that the root cause of this epidemic is unrestrained sexual desire as opposed to some nebulous power structure.
HMD: I disagree with your assumption that the LGBT community would be less susceptible to victimhood.
TAI: Among gay men specifically though?
HMD: I don’t think there’s any vast difference between lesbians and male homosexuals on campuses as far as their political clout. There is an entire campus bureaucracy dedicated to LGBTQ’s allegedly oppressed status, a status that has admittedly been somewhat subsumed of late now that trans is the top victim dog. But until trans came along, being gay on campus probably enjoyed the highest victim ranking.
TAI: We could spend all day talking about sex, but I want to end with a couple of questions about race. One thing you do through the book is quote at length from various activists—including PhD candidates in grievance studies departments—to show that among other things these kids are really bad writers. It’s not just that their ideas are silly; their grasp of the English language is virtually non-existent. One explanation you identify is affirmative action and mismatch theory: You say ethnic and gender studies departments evolved as a way to pass kids who would otherwise flunk out of the institutions they’re attending. Could you elaborate on that argument a bit? And do you think that there are any other potential causes of the decline in academic standards?
HMD: People are terrified of correcting black students or Hispanic students, because of the chance that they will be accused of racism. If you’re asking me to talk about the problem of mismatch theory and how there has been a push to create whole academic fields where one simply specializes in oneself—as if being female were somehow an accomplishment (it’s not)—that push originated with the problem of racial preferences that admit students into academic environments for which they are not prepared.
This is not a problem that is exclusive to race. Suppose MIT decided that it needed more females in its entering class so that it could appease the diversity gods at the National Science Foundation, currently pressuring every STEM department in the country to produce gender equity by whatever means necessary. If MIT admitted me to its freshman class, and I had a 650 on my math SAT on an 800-point scale, and my peers, by and large, had 800s on their math SAT, I would struggle miserably in my first year. I would not be able to keep up with freshman calculus or advanced calculus which understandably and unimpeachably would be pitched toward the average level of academic preparedness of my peers. I would flounder. I would very likely drop out of my STEM track, and I would then have two options. I could say I was admitted without competitive scores, and I am now suffering the consequences. Or I could I say that I am in a patriarchal environment which is causing me to feel trauma and flounder because I am surrounded by implicit bias.
Not surprisingly, students who are the alleged beneficiaries of preferences tend to choose the implicit bias or institutional racism explanations for their problems. There was a very good study that was done at Duke University that found that incoming Black male freshmen intended to major in a STEM field at a higher rate than white male freshmen. But by the time of graduation, the attrition rate of Black males out of STEM majors was enormous, leaving the field almost exclusively to whites and Asians. Meanwhile those Black male students gravitate into much easier fields that do not have the same objective rigorous standards. That’s part of what we see with these absolutely abysmal writing examples that I’ve put forward in the book. Not just bad writing but also bad thinking.
TAI: Just now you used the phrase “objective rigor,” in contrast to some of the postmodern thinkers you were discussing earlier who reject the very notion of objectivity. Is part of the problem that we’re afraid to make comparative judgments about intelligence? Because I think that’s certainly something we see whenever someone like Charles Murray gets brought up. It’s not just that there’s an academic skills gap we don’t know how to close; it’s that mentioning the gap itself is verboten—we’re supposed to pretend as if there aren’t any differences in IQ whatsoever. Not just group differences, mind you. The very basic idea that some people are smarter than others, without taking race or gender into account, still rubs many elites the wrong way.
HMD: I couldn’t agree more. This summer, the Trump Education and Justice Departments withdrew guidelines that the Obama Education and Justice Departments had sent out to colleges outlining how they could best implement racial preferences within the confines of the law. The Trump Administration withdrew those guidelines and substituted something from the Bush Administration that was much less enthusiastic about racial preferences.
And predictably, the coverage of the Trump Administration’s actions in the mainstream media was completely silent about why colleges feel compelled to use racial preferences in the first place. There was virtually no mention of the academic skills gap. Indeed, the New York Times framed this as an ongoing fight for equity and integration, using language from the ’60s to imply that schools today are like Ole Miss barring the door to Black students and that we still have to force them to integrate themselves. This is preposterous. Every selective school in the country is twisting itself into knots to admit as many underrepresented minorities as possible, via the folly of racial preferences that only sets up students to struggle if not fail completely.
So, yes, it is completely verboten to mention the academic skills gap. It only comes up fleetingly in the context of, “Well, we’re not spending enough taxpayer dollars on schools.”
TAI: Do you think that perhaps part of the reason it’s so verboten is that intellectual ability now carries such a huge premium in the knowledge economy that it has become easier to identify cognitive acumen with moral value, as fallacious as that identification is? Could it be that various economic and cultural forces are pushing us to conflate intelligence with human dignity, which in turn makes it much harder to speak frankly about these differences? We subconsciously worry that to make judgments about intelligence is to make judgments about moral worth, so if we’re committed to moral equality, we have to pretend as though everyone is equally intelligent.
HMD: That’s a very profound analysis. I think that one danger of this universal frenzy, the idea that everybody should go to college, is that it devalues occupations that don’t require high levels of cognitive sophistication and implies that there are certain jobs that are not worth doing. That is a trope you hear with a certain degree of regularity from the New York Times and others in discussing poverty.
In many ways, we’re a more meritocratic society than ever before in human history because we have largely cast aside the traditional kinship rules that would determine who gets hired (the Trump family White House notwithstanding). Yet we also have an incessant assault on meritocracy because of identity politics and the notion that the National Science Foundation has embraced: that the only good science is diverse science. That’s ridiculous. But nevertheless, every STEM faculty in the country is being forced to interview and hire females simply because of their gender rather than their scientific qualifications.
TAI: You paint a fairly pessimistic picture of the academy throughout the book, but toward the end you do offer a couple of glimmers of light. What’s the solution to all this? Is there any hope?
HMD: Well I do have a chapter on the Great Courses, which are video lectures by college lecturers who are screen-tested to make sure that they are able to present their material in an accessible way. My point was not that this provides a serious alternative to college; rather, it’s just to say that there’s a vast untapped desire for traditional humanistic learning that has not been colonized by high theory and identity politics. Adults feel like they have a gap in their education and hunger for teaching that speaks unapologetically about great literature, great philosophy, and ideas that changed the world, without all the harping on unending oppression.
I’m not sure that the Great Courses themselves can point us out of the dilemma, but certainly they demonstrate an untapped desire. I write about UCLA in 2011 jettisoning its requirements that every English major take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one course in Milton. This was an absolutely reasonable requirement given the importance of those authors to English literary tradition, yet UCLA replaced it with requirements in various identity-based theories. At the time they did this, UCLA had the most popular English major in the country because it was still wedded to a traditional historical approach to the study of literature. This is something that college students themselves want. One of the Great Courses lecturers on medieval history told me that if you ask students what they want to study, they’ll say kings and queens and knights, not the construction of the gendered self.
To a certain extent, schools are betraying their own students by forcing this stuff down their throats. The driving force in this entire enterprise is the idea that America today remains endemically racist and sexist and that any disparity in group representation in any institution is, by definition, the result of bias as opposed to differences in culture, skills, behaviors, and preferences. As long as that idea of endemic racism and sexism remains the dominating force of elite thought in this country, it’s not going to be possible to beat the diversity delusion back.
Then there’s the whole free speech issue, which we haven’t talked about, but which I regard as a mere epiphenomenon of victim ideology. We’re not going to solve that one either, without taking on the structural bias claim head-on. Even if more faculty issued high-sounding statements about the value of free speech, it’s not going to make a damn bit of difference as long as students are told that they are existentially threatened by circumambient racism and sexism and therefore entitled to silence others by force to protect their very lives.
TAI: And of course, the same people who speak of free speech in these lofty terms often accept the premise that American society is irredeemably racist. At one point in the book you mention Peter Salovey, the President of Yale University who says he supports free speech but then turns around and parrots all the talking points about circumambient oppression, thereby legitimizing the ideological technology that’s used to suppress free speech.
HMD: Absolutely right. Salovey is one of the most appalling examples of a president who kowtows to this destructive ideology. There was an even more recent example, in the wake of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hysteria: A professor at the University of Southern California public policy school, James Moore, sent around an email in response to calls to “believe survivors.” Moore said, paraphrasing here, Well, if anyone in the future is ever the subject of a false criminal or tort claim, you may find yourselves to be bigger supporters of due process than you are now. Accusers sometimes lie. This provoked an absolute meltdown on the part of the school. The dean of USC’s public policy school, Jack Knott, sent around an email message exactly like Salovey’s, talking about the importance of free speech but then asserting that Moore’s mild email was antithetical to the school’s values and would make it even harder for USC’s oppressed female students to survive. So these administrators pay lip service to free speech, but then go and stoke the furies.
TAI: We’ve been talking for an hour and I don’t want to keep you too long. Nevertheless, I feel I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask one final question: In the lead-up to the 2016 election, some conservatives argued that, as bad as Trump is, he was still a better choice for President than Hilary. And part of that argument was that political correctness and identity politics were overtaking America, and that Trump was our last hope to fight back.
This line of thought seems to have been resurrected the past few weeks with Kavanaugh. Now even some Never Trumpers like Bret Stephens are saying, “You know I gotta hand it to the President, he stood up for due process and didn’t let the Left totally destroy a good man’s life. Yes, he’s crude and he’s an asshole, but at least he’s fighting back.”
Is that true? Has Trump been effective at resisting identity politics, or do you think it’s a lost cause at this point?
HMD: Interesting. Well, is he effective? He’s certainly fighting back. The question is, “Is he fighting back effectively, or is he just going to create more backlash?” Is he inflaming the delusional idea that America is endemically racist and sexist more than he is putting it to rest. Again, that’s an empirical matter. I’m not sure.
I do think it’s salutary to have somebody who, at various moments, has appropriately responded to an excess of political correctness. For example, during the first Republican presidential debate, he refused to take the guff from Megyn Kelly about being a misogynist and said, “I don’t have time for political correctness.” I cheered that response. I view Trump as an incredibly painful dilemma: I support his policies but deplore his personality. I don’t think he’s a racist and sexist. I just think he is the worst possible example of an adult male. He is thin-skinned, gratuitously vindictive, the opposite of magnanimous. I would think it would be very hard to raise a boy today with that as our premier male role model.
Do the ends justify the means? A lot of people I know, a lot of my peers, are fully on board with that logic, and they’ve ended up whitewashing Trump and turning him into an unqualified set of virtues, which is hard for me to stomach. It’s a real question: At what point do you draw the line and say that the corrosive effect he’s having on our public virtues outweighs the good that he’s doing on policy matters such as immigration and policing? I don’t know.