Imagine a bunch of chairs had been set up for a speaking engagement, and someone had tried to destroy as many of them as possible to decrease the number of people that could attend the engagement. (Assume too, for the sake of argument, that the number of chairs determine the possible audience size: the grass on which they are set up is wet and muddy, so people wouldn’t just be able to sit on the ground, and the speech will last for a tiring while, so standing is off the cards too.) For all intents and purposes, this appears to fall on the spectrum of silencing, albeit of a seemingly benign sort, and I suspect most of us would agree. When it therefore came to my attention that some students were last month taking as many free tickets as possible to Dick Cheney’s originally scheduled speaking engagement, I couldn’t help but be a little miffed. Such actions admittedly come from well-intentioned political activism. However, not only does it take advantage of the Cornell Republicans’ good will, but, more troublingly, it demonstrates the increasing political sectarianism within American society.
The reason that American politics is so divided today, according to Allie Stuckey, “The Conservative Millennial,” is not just because of disagreement over individual social issues, but because the nation disagrees fundamentally over “what America is and what America should be.”
David Lat, a former federal prosecutor in New Jersey, analyzed President Donald Trump’s attacks on the media from a legal perspective at Cornell on Tuesday evening, saying Trump could have a significant influence on how the public perceives the media but is unlikely to add legal restrictions to news outlets. Lat, who founded the legal commentary blog Above the Law, said the political climate in the last year has led to a wider range of views on what speech the First Amendment protects. The Yale Law School graduate, who was an assistant prosecutor in Newark before transitioning to writing, said Trump’s repeated derision of media as “fake news” is largely bluster. The president does not have the power to make direct, drastic changes to the First Amendment’s protections because the process of altering the Constitution is extremely slow and requires a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of Congress or at a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of states. “It would be very difficult for Trump to do anything about the media and the First Amendment despite his obvious distaste for aspects of media,” Lat said.
Two weeks into her presidency at Cornell, Martha Pollack on Monday proclaimed an unwavering commitment to free speech, reaffirmed the importance of diversity and inclusion, and responded to questions about much more.
ByTroy LeCaire, on behalf of the Cornell Political Union |
On Tuesday evening, the Cornell Political Union hosted Michael Johns, Sr., a conservative political activist and Tea Party leader, to speak to the body about President Trump’s ideology and his perspectives on American populism. He spoke mostly to explain, not to defend, and attempted to offer his perspective and confer an understanding of this brand of politics. We considered this talk valuable and necessary, and are proud that we hosted it. We also believe Mr. Johns was wrong — at the end of our event, we voted to reject Mr. Johns’ ideology on a vote of 40-14. When we first announced this event, it was met with a great deal of interest and excitement from the Cornell community.
For the first time since assuming office, President Elizabeth Garrett met with the University Assembly Tuesday, emphasizing that she wants a University that promotes open dialogue but also has sensible rules of conduct. “We need to look at what we do regarding freedom of expression, but in such a way that we can have expression, association and constructive dialogue, while at the same time acknowledging that we’re a University,” Garrett said. “We are not about shouting, we’re about discussing.”
“Vigorous debate” needs to be balanced with the fact that the University’s goal is to promote regular learning and the fact that there are also faculty and staff on campus, Garrett said. Still, she emphasized her commitment to free speech. “You won’t find a bigger supporter of free speech than I am,” Garrett said.