Political correctness is a vague and ill-defined concept, but hatred of it is one of the most consistent animating philosophies of Donald Trump's supporters. It's discouraging, then, that self-proclaimed progressives at a number of universities are playing right into Trump's hands by giving legitimacy to complaints about PC-based censorship on campus.
The college left's treatment of Breitbart tech editor (and pro-Trump provocateur) Milo Yiannopoulos, whose visit to DePaul University last week was interrupted by Black Lives Matter protesters, is a perfect example. Yiannopoulos is currently touring colleges—at the invitation of conservative and libertarian students—telling everyone how evil, censorious, and militantly illiberal the left has become. His over-the-top shtick–"feminism is cancer" is one of his favorite mantras—relies upon the idea that the left is intolerant of offensive ideas.
In response to his antics, the left continues to provide ample fodder for the validity of his hypothesis. At DePaul, protesters stormed the stage and appeared to threaten Yiannopoulos with a light blow to the face. Indeed, censorship and outright violence has derailed a number of campus speakers who were deemed controversial for one reason or another, from the arch conservative #NeverTrumper Ben Shapiro (now an antagonist—or rather, protagonist—in the Yiannopoulos saga) to Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich.
I disagree with Trump supporters on almost everything, including their belief that political-correctness-run-amok is some great national concern. But the American university is certainly one place where this concern has relevance: it is true that students and faculty members are routinely investigated for merely saying the wrong thing.
As I argue in a recent column for The Daily Beast, progressives will never defeat Yiannopoulos and his ilk if their reaction to his free speech experiment is to prove him correct about their censorious intentions:
After his DePaul appearance, Yiannopoulos headed to the University of California at Santa Barbara, where students literally carried him to the stage on a throne.
Campus censorship is a moral wrong on its own. But look, progressives: if you want to stop the Trumps and Yiannopouloses (Yiannopouli?) of the world, you might want to ask yourselves if continuously proving them right in the eyes of their fans is the best strategy.
Students who disagree with Yiannopoulos are welcome to call him out: ask him tough questions, hold civil demonstrations before and after his events, invite speakers that counter his narrative. But censoring him doesn't stop him: it does the opposite. It makes him a hero. He benefits from it.
And so does Trump.