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Commentary

Republicans want professor fired for saying she hates GOP for being intolerant and polarizing

Jack Lessenberry

There’s a reason college professors historically were given tenure. It was so they couldn’t be fired for politically unpopular views.

There have been times when intellectuals were fired, persecuted, even killed for unpopular views. Views such as the once-horrifying ideas that blacks were the intellectual and social equals of whites or that women should have the right to vote.

Well, every social and scientific advance has started with an unpopular idea, back to that crazy guy who thought the world went around the sun. That doesn’t mean lots of controversial ideas aren’t stupid.

Many are. But what makes America special is that we have a complete right to express them, thanks to the First Amendment to our Constitution. “Congress shall make no law … abridging freedom of speech or the press,” et cetera.

Well, apparently state Republican Party Chair Bobby Schostak hasn’t read the Constitution. He and other Republicans want University of Michigan Professor Susan Douglas, a nationally respected communications scholar, forced to resign for a column on a website called In These Times.

The column begins: “I hate Republicans.

“I can’t stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz … or any of the legions of other blowhards denying climate change, thwarting immigration reform, or championing fetal ‘personhood.’"

While this has given some people fits, it seems clear that many of those denouncing the column haven’t actually read much of it. Schostak is clearly one of these.

Forgetting the First Amendment, he says “it should not be tolerated by the University of Michigan.” And he denounces Douglas for supposedly “isolating students because of their political ideology.”

She doesn’t do that.

Douglas’s column is in fact a denunciation of polarization and intolerance. She blames today’s Republican Party for being most guilty of this, and puts forth evidence to support this claim.

But she clearly isn’t saying she hates Republicans in the way Nazis hated Jews. She hates the spirit of intolerance, dogmatism, and intellectual rigidity coming from so many Republicans today.

Years ago, she notes, she worked for the Republican leader in the Rhode Island State Senate, and so admired and respected him she could have imagined marrying him had he been younger.

Today, the nation is far more polarized, something she laments. Her column is a compelling argument that the GOP is most guilty of this. Douglas ends by saying she misses the moderate, rational, reasonable Republicans she once knew, “and the civilized discourse and political accomplishments they made possible.”

You can agree, or not.

But she has every right to say this. Schostak is a paid political functionary, but U of M regent Andrea Fischer Newman, who also denounced the column for what it was not, should know better.

Susan Douglas’s most important charge, I think, is that Republicans “have crafted a political identity that rests on a complete repudiation of the idea that the opposing party and its followers have any legitimacy at all.”

Anyone who watches Fox News knows what she means. Republicans have every right to take issue with Douglas. But it is hard to see how they can unless they seriously address this charge as well.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. You can read his essays online at michiganradio.org. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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