Affirmative action for Republicans

Published September 1, 2022

By Thomas Mills

Yesterday, the John Locke Foundation’s Carolina Journal wrote a piece bemoaning the lack of Republican professors at UNC-Chapel Hill. Of course, the implication is that conservatives don’t have voices on college campuses. The other implication is that universities should hire more conservatives. And I thought they opposed affirmative action. 

The study, conducted by a conservative web site called The College Fix, says that professors at Carolina are “16 times more likely to be registered as Democrats than as Republicans.” According to their report, in the departments they examined, the school has 204 Democrats, 13 Republicans, and 67 unaffiliated professors. They couldn’t identify the party registration of another 121 faculty members. 

First, nothing is more common these days than conservatives whining that they’ve been slighted. The GOP has morphed from Reagan’s Party of Ideas into Trump’s party of resentment. If Republicans were a sitcom figure they would be Ralph Kramden or Archie Bunker. Everybody is out to get them and they yearn for the good old days that exist only when looking backwards through rose-colored glasses.

Second, of course most academics and intellectuals are more liberal. Conservatives have spent the last three decades denying science and empirical knowledge. They are just now coming around to believing in the reality of climate change, though many are still in denial. Even George H. W. Bush said the supply-side nonsense that holds tax cuts pay for themselves is little more than “voodoo economics.” They have embraced their anti-intellectual bent and wear ignorance on their sleeves, bragging about their lack of education and denigrating the value of liberal arts degrees

To put it another way, about 50% of Republican primary voters still support Donald Trump. Enough said. 

Third, conservatives and Republicans with college degrees tend to be more interested in making money than research or teaching. They are perfectly happy to take the benefits of a higher education degree and put it to work for themselves, but they are less interested in putting that degree to work helping other people. Of course in their minds, making money is helping other people through the all-powerful free market. It’s the Randian rationalization that their self-interest is in the best interest of society as a whole. So why would they accept less money in academia when they could make far more in the world of business? 

Finally, conservatives are, by nature, averse to change and much, if not most, of the research in universities and academia is about uncovering new ideas and introducing them to the world. William F. Buckley famously described a conservative as “someone who stands athwart history yelling Stop!” That philosophy stands in stark contrast to the people in academia who are exclaiming “Eureka!” Those people are searching for innovative concepts that can improve the world or, at least, our understanding of it. 

Nothing illustrates conservatives antithesis to academic change more than the debate over history right now. Republicans, the political wing of the conservative movement, desperately want to hang onto the narrative we’ve told ourselves about the country for the past 250 years. Progressives want a more honest telling of our national story, especially where race is concerned. 

Conservatives prefer a tidy image of benevolent, brilliant men who came together to construct a virtually infallible constitution and founded a country based on virtues and universal truths. While they are correct that the men who wrote the Constitution and started the fledgling republic on a continent largely unexplored by Europeans had high ideals, the reality is much more messy and many of those same men failed to live up to the standards they expressed. The conservative story really doesn’t hold up very well under the scrutiny of scholarship. 

Republicans like to crow that Democrats were the party of segregation and Jim Crow. To a point they are correct, but, back then, Democrats, especially in the South, were the conservative party. In the 1890s, they opposed Fusion politics, a coalition of Republicans and progressives that included African Americans and small farmers who demanded more corporate regulation, higher taxes, investments in public education, and better access to the polls, among other things. When Fusion won the state in the mid-1890s, a Democratic backlash led to the disenfranchisement of Black voters and the beginning of the one-party South. 

But that’s not where history ended. And it’s not where politics ended, either. Politics were much more nuanced than the polarized parties of today. National parties had far less influence than state ones in the first half of the 20th century and even into the latter half, with liberal Republicans up north and conservative Democrats down South. 

With the introduction of the New Deal under Franklin Roosevelt and the integration of the armed forces under Harry Truman, conservative Democrats in the South began leaving the Democratic Party, first as Dixiecrats and then, at the urging of Goldwater and Nixon, as Republicans. By 1968, the GOP in the South became the party for disgruntled White voters who resented Lyndon Johnson for signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Combined, the two laws ended segregation and made African Americans a voting force in the South for the first time in the 20th century. It also began the resentment and victimization that defines the Republican Party today and led to the nomination of Donald Trump as GOP standard bearer. 

But for Republicans, history stopped when Democrats were the party of White supremacy and Republicans were the party of voting rights. That’s why, I shit you not, the John Locke Foundation is making a movie about the Wilmington Massacre that’s a “captivating, fast-paced love story.” The fiction they put on screen is the same fiction they believe today. 

That Republicans make up a small percentage of intellectuals and academics is really not surprising at all. They don’t want change or progress. They are vested in their desire to turn back the clock despite all of the evidence that the advances we’ve seen since the New Deal and Great Society have made our country more fair and equitable. They are an anti-intellectual party while academia is an intellectual institution.