What America has been becoming lately

Originally Published in Megapolis Express
Moscow, Russia

May 10, 1994

By R.B. Scott

This is what enlightened America is coming to.

Not long ago a graduate student at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, placed a snapshot of his pretty new bride on his office desk. Visitors dutifully took note. What they noticed most was what her skimpy bikini revealed.

No doubt he anticipated flattering comments, even few envious if lurid the teases, although goodness knows the latter are "verboten" these days on liberated, painfully politically correct college campuses across the nation.

What took him by surprise were the sexual harassment official complaints filed by several anonymous female colleagues claiming they had been harassed by the inanimate picture on his desk. Had they asked him to remove the pictures and been rebuffed?  Apparently not.

The university came down on the side of what the law of the land seems to be these days, despite centuries-old Constitutional protections to the contrary. It banned the pictures and inserted an official reprimand in the young man’s permanent file. In these hypersensitive times, it is the kind of black mark that could keep him from landing a good job in academia when he graduates.  

Here’s another example of what America is becoming:

At one of America's elite universities, The University of Pennsylvania, a black students group and their allies summarily confiscated -- read it: stole -- all 17,000 copies of the school's daily newspaper, which carried an opinion column written by a radical student with frightening racial views. The university administration excused the mob action against the free speech -- America's most sacred birthright -- by saying it was a "logical reaction to free speech." 

They have a point, twisted though it may be.

Time was when college newspapers existed for the sole purpose of stirring-up trouble by publishing disquieting views of one form or another. Firebrand opinions would stimulate heated debate in cafeterias and pubs which, in turn, would spur sales of hot coffee, cold beer and moldering sandwiches.  It was a uniquely capitalistic process. Passionate discussions often fostered academic growth and, occasionally, provoked fist fights too.  Both are often the results of heated discourse. Fisticuffs could lead to arrests.  Apparently grand larceny won’t lead to arrests from this point forward.

Despite absolute constitutional protections, attempts to restrict free speech have been commonplace for three centuries. Assaults on this basic freedom usually come from the “Powers That Be” – Presidents, governors, mayors, the rich and famous.

Now days, the people who want to gag all but “politically correct” speech are well-meaning groups and people like the American Civil Liberties Union, The National Organization of Women, practically every university, leading corporations and, most ironical of all, the free press itself.

In corporate America, the PC cops are usually the feel-good people in the human resources department.  HR’s mission is to enforce proper behavior in the workplace.  The rules proscribe what you can not do or say to a fellow employee. They also explicitly or implicitly dictate what kinds of personal opinions are acceptable at work. It is worth noting that some corporations have also attempted to restrict employee speech in non-work-related public settings.   

The corporate enforcers of opprobrium can be aided by practically anyone, even ("especially,” some would argue) those with an axe to grind against a peer or even a boss. They can pass along what they experienced as well as what they heard from others. And, they can do it confidentially, knowing they will never, ever be called to account for the accuracy of their claims or required to face the person they accused.

Like the real Gestapo, HR and its collaborators can stalk and entrap.   They can be the victim, judge and jury simultaneously, never mind obvious conflicts of interest and fairness.

Being politically incorrect undid Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, a brilliant if ultra conservative law professor at Harvard; almost felled another high court candidate, Clarence Thomas, a black man.  Recently, Republicans turned the tables on litmus test-inclined Democrats and assassinated the character of Lani Guinier, a provocative and capable black female attorney who was President Clinton's choice for chief of the Justice Department's civil rights division. In each character assassination-by-innuendo, the free press was a willing, if not eager, accomplice.

What America has come to is this: in the interest of giving offense to none, citizens of goodwill have become increasingly reluctant to disagree with each other on ticklish issues of race, gender, ethnicity and sexual-orientation matters.  The few who speak their minds risk being labeled reactionaries.

Our reluctance to explore what makes us very different from one another, makes us less likely to discover what makes us alike. In the stifled atmosphere of PC-speak and –think America, one wonders how long the United States can maintain its global reputation for tolerance, and as welcoming melting-pot for people with fresh ideas and revolutionary opinions? 

Frustrated by a year of hyper-sensitized treatment from peers and teachers at a major American university, it is no surprise that a female native American student spouted: "Just what the hell do these people think, anyway?" 

Given the mindless track America has been on lately, the answer to her question may be: "not much!" 

Have a nice day!