The New Trump University
If you’ve been watching television the last few weeks, you may have seen some advertisements encouraging you to take free online courses from Hillsdale College. The offerings I have seen are for “Constitution 101,” “The True Story of Our America,” and “Discover the Origins and Key Ideas of the Modern American Left.” Knowing a little bit about Hillsdale --- it’s an independent, Christian college in southern Michigan which does not accept Federal funding of any kind and has become a darling of politicians like Ron DeSantis --- I was particularly interested in seeing what the content of “Origins of the Modern American Left” might be.
The New Yorker’s April 3, 2023 issue ran an article by Emma Green entitled “The Christian Liberal-Arts School at the Heart of the Culture Wars” about Hillsdale. According to Green:
The Hillsdale education has several hallmarks: a devotion to the Western canon, an emphasis on primary sources over academic theory, and a focus on equipping students to be able, virtuous citizens. There is no department of women’s and gender studies, no concentrations on race and ethnicity. It’s a model of education that some scholars consider dangerously incomplete. It’s also a model that communities across the country are looking to adopt.
That description may seem innocuous --- the glaring omissions of race/class/gender studies notwithstanding. But there’s more to Hillsdale than that, and therein lies its popularity with the MAGA-oriented public.
For the past 20 years, under the leadership of Larry Arnn, Hillsdale has established itself as a college that has not been sucked into the left-wing woke downward cultural spiral. While it claims it is not partisan, their website states:
Sadly, reports show that increasing numbers of schools are indoctrinating students with a false and dishonest narrative of our nation’s history, presenting America as essentially and irredeemably flawed. Your Liberty Walk brick shows that you’re on the battlefield of education, promoting the knowledge and understanding necessary to preserve liberty.
“Liberty Walk” features statues of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thachter, lined with a donor-sponsored brick walkway. Green notes in her article, that as she walked around the campus “it was also impossible not to notice the whiteness of the student body and the faculty. Every professor I met was a white man, except Khalil Habib, a politics professor, who is Lebanese Catholic. Hillsdale pointedly refuses to compile statistics on its students’ racial backgrounds.” She also reports the campus is not exactly LGBQT friendly, as one might suspect. Perusing a list of the College’s guest lecturers also speaks to the school’s orientation: Clarence Thomas, Amy Coney Barrett, Dnesh D’Souza, and Christopher Rufo who, according to Green, is “the researcher and conservative activist who spearheaded the campaign against critical race theory, (he) gave a talk at the school last spring called “Laying Siege to the Institutions,” in which he argued that conservatives will never win the fight against progressivism “if we play by the rules set by the élites who are undermining our country.” That said, I decided to look at what the online course advertised as “Discover the Origins and Key Ideas of the Modern American Left” might be teaching prospective Hillsdale students.
One of the first things one discovers when you hit the link for this course is that the actual title is: “The American Left: From Liberalism to Despotism,” which certainly says a lot. Claiming to provide an “in-depth explanation” of how the political Left became “radical,” the link claims that by taking the course
Hardly the language of an institution that claims to be “non-partisan.” But let’s consider what each of these bullet-points is really stating.
“The differences between midcentury liberals and the radicals who revolted against them.” One can only assume this means that the late-Sixties “liberation” movements (Civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, indigenous people’s rights, worker’s rights, etc.) were further Left than the Establishment’s “New Deal” (midcentury)liberals. We can’t quibble with that distinction. New Deal liberals had given a wide berth to the segregationist Southern Democrats/Dixiecrats who, because of Lyndon Johnson’s “radical” Civil Rights legislation (Voting Rights Bill, Civil Rights Bill), migrated to Nixon’s Republican Party (the “Southern Strategy”) in 1964. In Hillsdale’s ecosystem, the move away from white, male-dominated political power is, in fact, a move toward “despotism.”
“How post-sixties radicals gained power in government bureaucracies and educational institutions.” While it is difficult for me to find any evidence that this a true statement, Hillsdale College believes this --- as do MAGA-supporting Republicans and it fuels their anger and “victimization” conspiracy theories. Let’s look at some facts: since 1972, where have “post-sixties radicals gained power?” Certainly not in the federal executive, legislative, or judicial branches! And, while there is great sturm-und-drang regarding the supposed “indoctrination” happening at universities across the country, all polling shows a strikingly evenly divided nation: Gallup’s March 2023 numbers are 25% Democrat, 25% Republican, 49% Independent. Since 1972 the Presidency has been controlled by Republicans for 28 years and the Democrats for 24, with control of the House and Senate almost equally divided as well. The Supreme Court, since the demise of the Warren Court in 1969 has become more and more Conservative --- hardly a group of “post-sixties radicals.” This Hillsdale course, then, has some questionable premises underpinning it.
“The principles of neoliberalism that arose in the late 1970s and how these ideas changed the morality and economy of America.” Clearly, the “changes in morality” has to do with women’s reproductive rights and gay rights --- rights a white, male dominated culture cannot tolerate. The changes in the economy, one would have to guess, have to do with what the Right believes is the establishment of a “socialist Welfare State.” The incessant attack on “entitlements” (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, C.H.I.P.S., Veterans programs, unemployment compensation, etc.)from the Right --- and in this course (?) --- is a central plank of the MAGA “platform.”
"The reasons America’s political and business elite embraced the woke ideology of the Left during Barack Obama’s second term.” The buzzwords here are obvious: “America’s political and business elite” and “woke ideology.” The animus the Maga-Right holds for what they label “political and business elite” has grown out of the Tea Party and MAGA white, male fear of losing power and dominance over politics and business. Once again, it is not at all clear WHO these people are, exactly, other than anyone who holds even a remotely progressive view of how business and politics should operate. In the same way, very few on the Right can clearly or precisely define “woke ideology” other than it being anything connected with progressive ideas about economics, civil rights, education, or social justice.
The final statement for the Hillsdale “Liberalism to Despotism” course is this:
These lessons are designed to explain the nature and direction of politics today and to provide a path for a return to republican government in America.
It is interesting how a school that supports a political movement which consistently denies a variety of groups their voting rights, a political movement which overtly gerrymanders districting (through state legislatures) to maintain “supermajorities” to subvert the will of the people and supports demagogues and right-wing “radicals” can claim to “provide a path for a return to republican government.” In the wake of the January 6th insurrection, Hillsdale College, and its “Christian liberal-arts” orientation seems hypocritical, at best, and dangerous at worst.