The leading indicators don’t look good for America

In economics, a ‘leading indicator’ is something that can be used to predict the future behavior of a market or even a national economy. For example, if the number of building permits issued per month increases, then one might expect that construction activity will soon follow, along with higher stock prices for companies making or selling building materials.

There are also social and political leading indicators. It used to be said that California was a leading indicator for the US as a whole, and in some ways this is or was true. California experienced the increasingly extreme polarization of left vs. right – Berkeley against Orange County – back in the early 1960s, before it became the rule rather than the exception.

Young people are the ultimate political leading indicator, with adjustments for their immaturity and tendency to tilt leftward. After all, they grow up to become our political and cultural leaders.

And young people in the US have changed greatly in the past 50 years or so. Perhaps I should say that they have been changed. It started in the late 1960s, when the system of higher education – which influences young people at the age that they are first developing their political consciousness – underwent a rapid and massive upheaval.

I was in college and graduate school between 1960 and 1970, first as a student and then as a teacher. I continued to teach part-time for a year afterwards, before I realized that I wasn’t suited for academic life. I watched the change happen in real time.

One aspect of it was the politicization of the professoriate. Although there were exceptions, in 1960 there was a general belief that a teacher should be objective; that is, that he should not allow political opinions to color his presentation. It was recognized that to some extent it is impossible to prevent personal politics and prejudices from affecting teaching, but it was expected that an instructor would try his best to be fair when dealing with controversial subjects.

By 1970, it was generally believed that objectivity was impossible, and therefore – a very unsound inference – that no attempt to achieve it should be made. Not all, but many teachers unabashedly delivered political polemics in their classrooms and engaged in political organizing on campus. This was justified as ‘academic freedom’, even though the original concept of academic freedom was about freedom to take positions unpopular in a professor’s discipline, not to pontificate about unrelated political issues.

At the same time, the black civil rights movement and the other ‘liberation’ movements that it inspired drew attention to the fact that culture, history, and contributions to society of groups like African-Americans and women were often ignored in scholarly and popular discourse, and that their disadvantaged position in society was partly a result of this.

The solution that was demanded, however, was not to make existing disciplines mend their ways but to establish new and separate disciplines of Black Studies, Women’s Studies and others. A corollary to the dogma that objectivity is impossible is the one that only a member of a designated ‘oppressed’ group can understand the problems of that group, so the staff of these departments had to be drawn from the relevant groups. Such departments were very highly politicized, sometimes so much so that their members were primarily political activists and only secondarily teachers. Today, some of the most politically active academics, some of them radical extremists, come from departments of ethnic and gender studies.

There were several other related changes. Because minority students were under-represented, universities ‘solved’ the problem by including ethnic criteria in admissions decisions (affirmative action) or going to an open admissions model, in which any high school graduate from a given area who applied would be admitted regardless of grades and test scores (one highly controversial example was the City University of New York).

Sometimes administrators and faculty accepted these changes because they were ideologically in agreement with them, but in many other cases they did so out of fear of violent disruptions if they did not meet the non-negotiable demands of student activists. The success of the politics of fear was in itself a lesson for students.

Also at the same time, the combination of increased admissions of students that were not prepared for traditional university-level academic work, fashionable educational theories which saw grades and competition as destructive to learning, as well as the non-judgmental atmosphere of the time, led to grade inflation. Suddenly, the average grade in most non-STEM courses became a B+ or A- instead of a C, and no one who could drag his or her body to class got less than a passing grade.

When I started college in 1960, it was understood that students who couldn’t meet academic standards would be kicked out, and they were. By the end of the decade, the only real requirement for graduation was attendance.

So what has come out of the post-sixties American system of higher education? Here is a list:

  • Indoctrinated students, taught factually incorrect and politically biased material by activist professors
  • Students unable to distinguish between academic studies and political polemics
  • The rise of identity politics, in which political decisions are based on race or ethnicity
  • Postmodernism, in which truth itself is subordinate to identity
  • Laziness and lack of perseverance
  • The belief that the best way to achieve political goals is by violence or threats of violence
  • A general belief that success is coming to you and doesn’t need to be earned
  • A lack of respect for the norms of a free society, especially freedom of expression

Barack Obama is a product of this system and was elected by products of it. His anti-Western bias and intellectual laziness come directly from his academic mentors, such as Edward Said. His election was a triumph of identity politics.

There has been little improvement since the 1960s. Recently, the values of democracy and free speech have come under attack on campuses allegedly to protect tender students from disturbing ‘triggers’ and providing them ‘safe spaces’ to avoid ideas that might make them feel threatened. Administrators and faculty, who by now are mostly baby boomers and younger, have responded in the most craven way possible.

In some cases students have been allowed to give free reign to brutal fascism without even having to come up with excuses. For example, on several campuses, anti-Israel students have disrupted lectures or classes by Israeli officials, pro-Israelis or even left-wing Israelis who criticize government policy, simply because they are Israelis. Faculty members that are even slightly pro-Israel have been hounded off campus and given no support by their administrations.

When they graduate and take actual jobs, the former students begin the maturation process that was delayed by their four or more years at the university (the Israeli custom of military service before university studies is far superior in this respect, despite a similarly politicized faculty). If they work in private industry, they might even be forced to take responsibility for the success – not just the attempt – of their endeavors, although this is by no means guaranteed. Many never take responsibility for anything, not at work and not in their private lives.

The changes that began in the 1960s and 70s molded the generation of Americans, led and exemplified by Barack Obama, whose members are now presiding over America’s abdication of its world leadership role. They are the products of its elite universities, holding important positions in government, media, nonprofits and academia.

Judging by the ideological climate on campuses today, the next few years promise to be even worse. The leading indicators tell us so.

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4 Responses to The leading indicators don’t look good for America

  1. Keefe Goldfisher says:

    You’ve outlined the source, the how and why of it, of all other problems to come. I’m hearing from teachers that there is a real push in the college and millennial population to elect Bernie Sanders… election as a social media event, like a reality show for politicians, just a lot more exciting because it’s the Presidency! To be honest, Sanders would have to be truly malevolent to be much worse than Obama, but he doesn’t represent a salutary course for the country at a time of maximized threat. This would be the blundering that’s often attributed to Obama, but in the latter’s case represents true intent.

    There exists no honest explanation of communism and socialism as history in the academy to explain Sanders away. The stifling of thought and discussion has permeated everything in the culture. In truth, schooling and education has become a sanctuary academy for enforcing ‘good’ thoughts.

    Ben Franklin’s answer about keeping our young democratic republic is made vivid: It’s ours, if we can keep it.

    We need stickum on the hands for this one.

  2. Robman says:

    As someone from Obama’s generation, born within two months of him, and having attended schools of comparable prestige during comparable time frames, my observations:

    In the main, Vic is right. The bright spot, such as it is, involves the fact that roughly half of American high school grads don’t go to college. And, among those that do, there is a significant segment who do not study liberal arts, but rather, “hard” subjects such as computer science or engineering. Americans who avoid the liberal arts departments of universities avoid the b.s. indoctrination Vic describes so well.

    For my own part, I went to the University of Michigan in the early 80s, and the University of Chicago in the late 80s. I was in liberal arts departments in both cases, and while the majority of professors were liberal left, there were a few conservatives scattered here and there. At least now and again, one was exposed to another point of view. From what I hear about the situation today, this is much harder to find.

    I went to business school for my MBA part-time from 2000-2006. The school from which I graduated, University of Findlay, was not overly politicized. I had a number of conservative professors there; in business school, most of them are.

    I can say this: At no school I attended, U of Michigan Ann Arbor, U Chicago, or U Findlay, was one guaranteed graduation for showing up. People who screwed off didn’t graduate. The standards where I went to school, thankfully, were high, even if liberals abounded. I was in one class at U Findlay, a financial analysis class, in which of about fifteen students who started, only two – me being one of them – successfully completed the course.

    My point being: There are places where standards of excellence still exist. Not enough, but they are there. At the steel mill where I now work, most of my coworkers do not have a college degree, though they might have some college and more often, technical education. They represent a very large segment of Americans who do not take academic types all that seriously, and who largely reject the left-liberal political/ideological paradigm. This is what makes us different from Europe, and what MIGHT save us from the fate they are experiencing there now.

    All that said, it is amazing that the likes of Bernie Sanders is even taken seriously. He is a kook, plain and simple. That people are so incredibly ignorant of what he really represents, what the consequences of his policies have been proven to be, is very scary. It is also just as alarming that Hillary Clinton, who would certainly have been arrested and jailed for her crimes twenty years ago, has not been indicted, probably won’t be indicted, and is continuing to run for president. All of this reflects the utter corruption and failure of our educational system that Vic describes so well.

    We are down but we might not be out…but on the other hand, we might in fact be out.

    Right now, there is no America, as this has been traditionally understood. America is, at best, in a state of suspended animation or a coma. It might be dead.

    There are Americans, but no America. Just as there are Gypsies but no nation state of the same, just as before 1948, there were Jews but no Jewish state.

    What is in place of America is Obamistan. In Obamistan, the rule of law is of questionable relevance, and the same can be said for the Constitution.

    The real-world impacts we have seen thus far of what Vic describes above, in terms of elites being products of this incredibly corrupt higher educational system, is that we have a president who was almost certainly re-elected in a rigged election, a president who has used the IRS as a tool of repression against opponents to a massively unprecedented degree, a president who has committed out and out treason with the Benghazi incident and the selling out of American national security interests – not just Israel’s – with this sham “nuclear deal” with Iran, and the media is largely silent, and nothing substantial is done to stop him.

    I don’t know how any of this turns out but I expect the next year – Obama’s supposed last year in office – to be particularly scary. I think it is within the realm of possibility that the military will have to take unprecedented steps, in line with their sworn duty to defend the Constitution against ALL enemies, foreign and DOMESTIC, before we are rid of Obama. And that is if we are not saddled with the likes of Hillary or Sanders as a successor, in a massively rigged election.

  3. Keefe Goldfisher says:

    Donald Trump talks about 4 things that resonate well with a disgusted public and don’t seem to buttress him amongst his co-party members: Muslim immigration to the US, not securing the borders nor dealing with illegals in a consistent manner, supporting the armed services and building up our defenses and national security apparatus, supporting the police forces of the nation.

    These should be non-controversial, but the thought that Mr. Trump will behave like every other politician and say what it takes to get elected by harping on these 4 issues and then do as he pleases afterwards, puts the Right and the Left in a tizzy. Obama has not absorbed real criticism while in office, but a type of imagined post-administration forensic analysis of his failings has to be begun now. The harm he has done is prodigious, so the time after he’s out of office will be triage… take the issues that can be healed first, and let the others suffer. Whatever Mr. Trumps failings, the mere fact that he can force our elites to discuss these 4 things in a spirit of defiance of general political correctness and absurd intellectual conformity is a major plus for him.

    Noah Rothman at Commentary Magazine went into a long list of execrations of Mr. Trump that may all be factual and not estimable, but I doubt that, except for the West-Pointers and other servicemen we have in Congress, that there is a candidate that cannot be reproached for derelictions of conduct. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we want someone with good principles who listens and is not on a mission to diminish and divide us. Hard not to improve on Obama, even with Mr. Trump or Mr. Sanders.

  4. Shalom Freedman says:

    This piece helps me better understand a development I have known exists, the politicization of the university world, and its turning away from objective scholarship and search for truth. It does in my opinion portend ill for America.
    In this it is one of many long – term indicators about a U.S. future less rosier than would be hoped.

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