Here’s why liberalism is not my cup of latte

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is the author of 10 books on international and American politics, including his latest: “New Warfare: Rethinking Rules for An Unruly World.”

Marty Rochester

I once wrote: “I have spent much of my adult life as a liberal. All the while, however, I sensed that, as I was aging, I was becoming more alienated from the left. It is not that I have abandoned liberalism. Rather, liberalism has abandoned me.”

In the Trump era, there has been much criticism of modern conservatism: the threat to democracy posed by the rise of an authoritarian populist movement in America and elsewhere, the increase in the ranks of neo-Nazi sympathizers corresponding with an increase in anti-Semitism, and other developments associated with “the far right.” 

Indeed, we should be truly worried about the turn that conservatism has taken in the name of God, country, the NRA and the Republican Party.

That said, we should also be concerned about the turn that liberalism has taken lately under the banner of “progressivism.”  I’m talking about the “far left”: the antifa (anti-fascist)  hoodlums, Black Lives Matter militants, radical socialists and others who as recently as the Bill Clinton presidency would have been considered fringe elements as “deplorable” as the far right but now fit easily in the mainstream and base of the Democratic Party.

Thankfully, a huge number of Americans share my contempt for both sides, reflected in the latest Gallup poll, where “barely half of the respondents could bring themselves to pick a party at all, with just 28 percent identifying as Republicans and 27 percent as Democrats” (Katherine Mangu-Ward, “When Smug Liberals Met Conservative Trolls,” New York Times, March 11).

Here, I want to focus on what has happened to liberalism, not only because it relates to my own ideological odyssey but also because I am writing primarily for a Jewish audience, which is known for its predominantly liberal bent. It is a mystery why most Jews remain loyal to the Democratic Party despite the fact that its brand of liberalism has become increasingly illiberal.

The end of traditional liberalism can be seen in the bizarre behavior of two institutions that are representative of how contemporary liberalism has taken a wrong turn: Harvard University and Starbucks.   

One might hope that Harvard, rated No. 1 in most rankings of American universities, would set a standard of excellence in promoting not only intellectual rigor but also the values of academic freedom and free speech, as well as pluralism and diversity, that liberalism long has stood for. However, like most universities these days, Harvard is acting contrary to these tenets. 

Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker, in “Enlightenment Now,” writes that “academia has become more politicized — not more polarized, but more left-wing.” The liberal-leaning bias of university faculty has been well documented, with most studies showing registered Democrats  outnumbering registered Republicans more than 10-to-1 on most campuses. 

Harvey Mansfield, one of the few conservative professors at Harvard, has said that he counts only three conservatives among the 44 faculty members in his Department of Government, whose mission includes teaching about representative democracy but seemingly excludes the views of half the country. The Harvard Crimson has reported that in recent years, 96 percent of Harvard faculty political donations in the College of Arts and Sciences went to Democrats. 

Pinker writes that while the version of diversity that should matter the most in higher education is diversity of ideas, universities – obsessed with using racial, gender and other such bean counting to populate the professoriate and student body –  instead prefer “people who look different but think alike.” Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish studies at Harvard and another marginalized conservative voice at the college, has condemned the groupthink she has observed there.

Liberal orthodoxy was the subject of a Harvard Law School panel in April 2013, which noted that only 13 percent of the faculty at the country’s 100 largest law schools were Republican; in the case of those faculty donating more than $200 to a political party, 81 percent gave to Democrats, with the figure rising to 91 percent at Harvard Law School. Jack Goldsmith, a conservative professor at the law school, commented that students have observed “open hostility to conservative views in classrooms.” 

So much for the First Amendment, free inquiry and tolerance. Lawrence Summers, the former president of Harvard, might have had his own institution in mind when he warned of “creeping totalitarianism” in the ivory tower (Weekly Standard, Jan. 18, 2016).

Meanwhile, Harvard has been careful to carve out “safe spaces” for students supporting BDS and BDSM. In addition to Harvard faculty sponsoring numerous panels on the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement over the years, the Committee on Student Life has approved the formation of a group devoted to bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism (BDSM). While conservative thought is virtually banned, you can partake of not only BDSM but also workshops on “What What in the Butt: Anal Sex 101,” a popular Sex Week offering.

By the way, who said Harvard is elitist? You, too, can now enroll at Harvard – no application needed – and, for only $10,000, go online and quickly get a new graduate certificate in “Social Justice.” Just don’t look for any certificate programs in “Capitalism” or “Personal Responsibility.”

Speaking of capitalism, Starbucks is one of the icons of corporate America and one of the most liberal companies in the country. It is so liberal that after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2015, Howard Schultz, the firm’s founder, directed all baristas at its 8,000 stores to start up “race conversations” with customers as they were ordering their lattes, expressos and frappuccinos. The “Race Together Initiative” proved goofy and short-lived. 

Starbucks keeps trying to top itself when it comes to political correctness and proving its liberal credentials, and is only looking goofier. 

In April, there was an unfortunate racial incident at a Philadelphia Starbucks that received major national media coverage. Two African-American men were arrested and handcuffed by the police after they were accused by a barista of trespassing merely because they were wanting to use the restroom while waiting for a friend and had not yet ordered anything. It was not clear if this ugly incident stemmed from institutional racism, as opposed to one employee’s implicit bias and stupidity. 

It did not matter, as Starbucks immediately went into damage-control mode. Even though Starbucks has a reputation for ubersensitivity to identity politics, CEO Kevin Johnson felt it necessary to announce May 29 as a day of nationwide store closings in order to conduct bias sensitivity training for all his 175,000 employees. 

If this seemed an overreaction, things got worse.

One of the groups that Johnson had handpicked to help conduct the training sessions was the Anti-Defamation League, given its long history of fighting anti-Semitism and other bigotry. When far-left groups such as Black Lives Matter objected to the involvement of the ADL, accusing it of being racist due to its support for Israel in the Palestinian conflict, Johnson caved and dropped the ADL. 

Johnson was also responding to a tweet by Tamika Mallory, national co-chair of the Women’s March, who accused the ADL of “constantly attacking black and brown people.” This was the same woman who recently had been photographed with Nation of Islam leader and world-class anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan, whom she called “the greatest of all time.”

This is what liberalism has become. Its core constituencies now consider the ADL “bigoted” while a Farrakhan rates GOAT. And neither Starbucks nor many Jewish Community Relations Councils around the country spilled a drop of coffee, white chocolate mocha or otherwise, over this. 

So pardon me if today’s liberalism does not appeal to me.