Over the summer, I came across a frightening statistic about the current ratio of liberal to conservative professors in New England. Samuel J. Abrams, professor at Sarah Lawrence College, published an article in the New York Times discussing his research into the political breakdown of the professoriate across the country.
“Faculty members in New England are far more liberal than their counterparts anywhere else in the nation”, writes Abrams. Back in the late 80s, the ratio of liberal to conservative professors nationwide was 2:1, but 5:1 in New England. Now, however, the ratio is 6:1 nationwide, but in New England, it is 28:1. 28:1! Think about that for a moment. That’s a steep trajectory of rejection in the academic world.
The troubling issue here is that in universities in New England, dialogue and diversity all tends in one direction. To the extent that it exists at all, there is only open, approved dialogue between the left and the far left. Centrists are undoubtedly mistaken for reviled conservatives by their peers and many conservatives have learned to refrain altogether from publicly engaging where their views are so openly rejected.
I was put in mind of this issue as I spent time listening to General Mattis’ confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee. On several occasions, General Mattis mentioned that he prefers participating in a team of discussants sharply debating issues from many vantage points before he makes decisions, no holds barred, as it were.
“What you must always have is a team of people together who – it may not be a pretty process – but you look at all options. You don’t default to one prematurely. You have your diplomats, you have everyone in the room as well look for every possible solution.” At another point, clarifying about how his views on NATO differs from Trump’s, General Mattis stated: “[President Elect Trump] has shown himself open even to the point of asking more questions. He understands where I stand.”
One thing that these confirmation hearings have reinforced is that in multiple theaters, the world is currently balanced on a knife edge. Under Obama, America has retreated from its leadership as the world’s lone superpower, thereby emboldening China, Russia and Iran. And the Middle East continues to spew discord and trouble, with the spreading of ISIS and the implosions of Libya and Syria.
Hard-won traditions of democracy have devolved rapidly in Turkey under Erdogan’s leadership. Even Jordan is in crisis. Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon official, writes in Newsweek magazine that “The Hashemite Kingdom is perhaps America’s closest Arab ally. But Jordan is in crisis today, even if the Jordanian government will not admit it.”
The world is in a troubled state, needing careful management. And here is a nominee that possesses those leadership skills and a complex intellect. Known as the Warrior Monk, one intriguing thing about him is the reading list he required for the men serving under him in Iraq to prepare them for war and the culture in which they would be living.
“Thanks to my reading,” he wrote in 2007, “I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation, never at a loss for how any problem has been addressed (successfully or unsuccessfully) before.”
Given this, it was embarrassing to listen to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s questioning of Gen.Mattis at the hearing. The public already knew, as the senator had hastily informed us less than an hour after Trump nominated him, that she would vote against the congressional waiver required to allow Gen.Mattis to be confirmed as defense secretary. Not incidental to my opening remarks, she was joined in her vote by Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut and Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, a triumvirate of “no” from New England.
The actual line Gillibrand took in questioning Gen. Mattis was insipid. She spent her time querying his views on women and gay people in combat, having delegated her staff to cherry-pick his writings so she could read out bits to try to catch him in a trap.
He responded to all her challenges with equanimity of temperament, easily evading her tactics. Indeed, the difference between his tempered, in-depth answers throughout the hearings and her ideological questions could not have been more stark.
As Gen.Mattis pointed out to her, “Senator, I have never come into any job with a preformed agenda,” a direct response, in my reading of the moment, to her obvious agenda throughout this process. Indeed, she sounded stuck in a bubble of politically correct thinking, unable to deal with the actual personality before her.
It’s a sad day for New York State when its junior Senator is unable to address a serious, complex and richly intellectual nominee for defense secretary with questions that address the state of affairs in the world and the posture America will take to deal with it during the next four years. So much for leadership from our current political class.
Mara Schiffren is a writer and health coach who lives in North Salem