Hillsdale’s Honor Endures a Preposterous, Vicious Attack

By | 2018-07-28T16:01:07+00:00 July 27th, 2018|
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The conformist nature and indiscriminate animus exhibited by the hive mentality of the anti-Trump brotherhood is a marvel to behold. Future students of abnormal psychology will vie with political historians to take the measure of this exercise in narcissistic virtue signaling and cult-like tribal futility.

The phenomenon would be risible if it were not so pathetic. President Trump goes from victory to victory. A partial list of his triumphs includes the rising stock market, indices of economic growth, consumer confidence, unemployment figures, to say nothing of the president’s judicial appointments, reform of the regulatory environment, and bold diplomatic initiatives. And yet the brethren act as if the president is some unique stain on the escutcheon of America’s honor.

And it is not just the president himself who is declared toxic. Everyone and everything associated with him is judged ritually polluted. How extraordinary, for example, that people who work for the president are hounded in public restaurants and harassed at their homes. The insanity, to say nothing of the brutish incivility, is breathtaking.

A Pact with the Devil?
Writing the other day in The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf opened a new front in this malevolently childish campaign against the president by attacking Hillsdale College and its president, Larry Arnn. The tort? Inviting Vice President Mike Pence to deliver a commencement address at the college. “Is Hillsdale College Gaining the World and Losing Its Soul?” Friedersdorf asks in the title of his long and vituperative essay.

Is it? It pains Friedersdorf to report that Hillsdale enjoys widespread support among conservatives and, with an endowment of nearly $600 million for a student body of 1,400, is on solid economic footing. It unashamedly puts the American Founders and traditional humanistic education at the center of its curriculum. Since its founding by abolitionists in 1844, Hillsdale has accepted students regardless of race, sex, or religion. It has the added advantage of taking no government money. This means that it has also largely escaped the smothering intervention of government regulation. It has no deans of diversity, for example, or Title IX coordinators. Its dorms are segregated by sex—and, yes, there are only two sexes acknowledged. In his nearly 20 years at the helm of Hillsdale, Larry Arnn—a widely recognized scholar of Winston Churchill—has done an enormous amount to raise the academic standards of the small college while also greatly expanding its influence and reach. Its newsletter Imprimis goes to some 3.8 million readers and serves as an effective ambassador for the College’s core ideas.

Friedersdorf knows all this. But the burden of his long essay, full of lengthy quotations from prominent anti-Trump crusaders, is that President Arnn has made a pact with the devil. Not only did he invite Mike Pence to campus, several Hillsdale graduates actually work in the Trump Administration. Quel horreur!

Double Standards Are Better Than None
Friedersdorf writes that “some associated with the institution fear that cultivating ties to politicians and a power-seeking ideological movement will inevitably tempt a mission-driven educational institution to compromise its values, setting a corrosive example for the principled undergraduates it attracts.”

Curiously, no one associated with Hillsdale is quoted as voicing any such fear or reservations. This is not surprising. They seem to exist strictly in Conor Friederdorf’s imagination.

The balance of his essay is divided between scurrilous comments about Pence, a summary of an interview between Hugh Hewitt and Larry Arnn, and the usual calumnies about Trump. Arnn and Pence talk about the importance of morality, Friedersdorf reports, with Uriah-Heep like unctuousness, but “Trump is no one’s idea of a moral man.”

Bill Clinton was unavailable for comment.

Readers of Ronald Searle’s Molesworth books [oops! I of course did not mean the brilliant illustrator, R. Searle, but the author, Geoffrey Willans] might think that with the mention of Bill Clinton I am indulging in the “tu quoque, clot” fallacy. You accuse me of X, but I retort you are guilty of X, too. With knobs on.

That’s not what I am after here, though. It is true, as some wit observed, that if the Left and NeverTrump Right did not have double standards, it would have no standards at all. That’s a vein that could be profitably mined in Conor Friedersdorf repellant attempt at character assassination.

Regarding Moral Compromise
But there is a deeper issue that anyone concerned with the health of our public discourse ought to ponder. Conor Friedersdorf’s real objection is that Larry Arnn should engage in “moral compromises in order to achieve political outcomes.” But what is the “moral compromise” he has in mind? Is inviting the vice president of the United States to campus such a compromise? Is taking pride in seeing graduates of the college one presides over work for the president such a compromise? For no other institution or administration in history would this be true.

Friedersdorf ends his essay by inviting Hillsdale students, alumni, and faculty to write him if they “see anything dissonant about Mike Pence’s words and his actions, or between his actions and the values that Hillsdale purports to value.” In other words, “Send me some dirt!”

The unstated premise here is that Donald Trump is uniquely flawed and, therefore, that any association with him must fatally taint those who come in contact with him.

But if you reject that premise then Friedersdorf’s essay appears both preposterous and vicious. It is preposterous because Arnn’s and Hillsdale’s association with the administration is as ordinary as apple pie. It is vicious because, despite its posture of innocuous curiosity—“Do I have any of this wrong, Hillsdale students, alumni, and faculty?”—its aim is to do real damage to one of the most intellectually distinguished and morally serious educational institutions in the country. It is a despicable essay, but exactly what I have come to expect from Conor Friedersdorf and The Atlantic.

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About the Author:

Roger Kimball
Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. Mr. Kimball lectures widely and has appeared on national radio and television programs as well as the BBC. He is represented by Writers' Representatives, who can provide details about booking him. Mr. Kimball's latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press, 2012). He is also the author of The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee). Other titles by Mr. Kimball include The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (Encounter) and Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age (Ivan R. Dee). Mr. Kimball is also the author ofTenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (HarperCollins). A new edition of Tenured Radicals, revised and expanded, was published by Ivan R. Dee in 2008. Mr. Kimball is a frequent contributor to many publications here and in England, including The New Criterion, The Times Literary Supplement, Modern Painters, Literary Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Public Interest, Commentary, The Spectator, The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Telegraph, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and The National Interest.