Again, things aren't nearly so bad as when Wilson's Attorney General, Mitchell A. Palmer, set about to eradicate the "disease of evil thinking." That's a pretty low bar for an open and tolerant society. Still, in the last few months, many institutions have been struggling to clear it. Rutgers University invited Condoleezza Rice to be a commencement speaker, but she was bullied out of it. Brandeis University offered Ayaan Hirsi Ali -- a Somali-born women's rights champion and critic of Islamic fundamentalism -- an honorary degree until protests from faculty and students kiboshed that. Azusa Pacific University recently chickened out of a speech invitation to Charles Murray.
I visit about a dozen campuses a year, and at nearly every one, it's common to hear tales about how the social or administrative policing of thought crimes is all the rage. The latest buzz phrase is "microaggression." These are allegedly racist, homophobic or sexist statements made by people with no bigoted intent. Essentially, if someone can rationalize a reason to take offense that's all the proof required. Microagressions are the new vectors for the "disease of evil thinking."
Off campus, things haven't been much better. Watch MSNBC for 10 minutes and you will learn that Republicans are simply champions of "white supremacy" deserving no respect or quarter. I have no sympathy for disgraced L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling's views about race, but there's something troubling about how so many people are comfortable with vilifying a man for something he said in private, possibly even during couples' counseling. While conservatives and libertarians have lamented various calls to silence dissent, mainstream liberals seem unconcerned by calls to prosecute climate change skeptics.
In Washington, Democrats increasingly resort to charges of racism or sexism whenever they hear ideas they don't like. Democratic House leaders Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer have dubbed critics of Obamacare "simply un-American." Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid insists the libertarian Koch brothers are "un-American." President Obama himself has a knack for suggesting that he cares about America while his opponents don't. He also likes to suggest the time for debate is over on the issues where he's made up his mind.
Defenders of the thought-crime crackdown will fairly insist today is different from things in Yenowsky's day. Fighting bigotry is an obvious good, unlike the crackdown on domestic radicals. Yes and no. Sure, fighting bigotry is right and good, but so is defending the United States from those who would do it harm. The test isn't in the motives but in the methods. Today, it is a kind of evil-thinking not to be part of the war on evil thinking. And so the cause of tolerance demands evermore intolerance.