Photo credit: Mpspqr/Wikimedia
By Conor Friedersdorf
Had Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for the White House somehow infiltrated the ranks of Emory’s student activists and blackmailed the university’s President James W. Wagner, it could scarcely have orchestrated a spectacle more helpful to Trump’s prospects, or damaging to the values that protect vulnerable groups, than what they accomplished on their own this week. After someone wrote “Trump 2016” in colored chalk around campus, several dozen student demonstrators objected that the banal campaign message scared, upset, or offended them, and administrators responded by going Orwellian.
Can you imagine how campus progressives would have reacted if a university president threatened to have someone punished or charged with trespassing for chalking “Obama 2012” or “Bernie 2016” on campus sidewalks? But these students see no need for viewpoint-neutral standards about politicking in presidential elections.
For starters, leftist activists are far more likely than anyone else to use sidewalk chalk and should be pushing to dispense with existing, rarely enforced campus regulations. The medium is unusually suited to the powerless, too: It is cheap, easy to use, and very hard to suppress. Yet they’re signing on to surveillance and punishment for chalk-wielding activism, as if it hasn’t even occurred to them that their allies stand to lose the most from future crackdowns, whereas Donald Trump 2016 could foreswear sidewalk chalk forever without suffering from it at all. I don’t know whether these students have an incoherent theory of how power works, or haven’t thought the matter through, but future leftist activists may rue their behavior.
What’s more, if the sidewalk-chalker is unmasked and punished, the effect will be to fuel the popularity of Trump 2016, not to undermine it. This is so obvious to everyone outside the bubble of campus leftism that I begin to wonder if activists at Emory don’t understand that, or just don’t actually care about outcomes beyond their bubble.
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