Does Trump Want Universities to Be Militarized Surveillance States?

At 3:13am last night, Donald Trump threatened out of nowhere to cut all federal funding from UC-Berkeley. That’s half a billion dollars per year for higher education, research, and healthcare from the world’s leading public education institution.

This is part of a bigger picture. Combined with replacing the Joint Chiefs of Staff with Steve Bannon on the National Security Council and firing the Attorney General when she refused to enforce illegal actions… we’re looking at consistent moves toward autocracy. Higher education is his latest target.

And the details of his threat are the most concerning part: taken to its logical conclusion, his threat requires public universities to become militarized surveillance states that monitor and control your every move.

Here’s the back story.

Alt-right starboy Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak at UC-Berkeley’s student center Wednesday night. If you don’t know him, he’s the alt-right’s go-to speaker for college campus visits.

He’s also a regular target for left-wing protests. Students around the country protest his events and sometimes even cancel them. Last night at Berkeley, things went even farther: hundreds of students gathered in peaceful protest, but about an hour before the event was to begin, some masked protesters turned the protest violent. They shot fireworks toward the building, tore down gates and lightposts, and smashed the windows to the student center.

Fearful for his safety, campus police ultimately escorted Milo away and canceled the event. It’s important to note that the university administration refused to cancel the event and the chancellor even wrote a letter to all students in defense of Milo’s right to speak. The event was only canceled when the police intervened.

Now, let’s get one point out of the way: Milo has the right speak.

Students who try to stifle free speech are misguided for two reasons:

First, it’s unwise to stifle free speech just because you don’t like the message. Claims of “hate speech” rarely meet the legal threshold, and more commonly opposition to free speech serves to undermine the same constitutional right we all need if we want to dissent against Trump. Second, shutting down right-wing speech is just plain bad strategy. By stifling their free speech, we only inflate their power and influence, while confirming the right’s ideas that leftists are regressive. Milo’s next event will be bigger because of this. We need better strategies. Let the kooks speak and show how wrong they are.

I hope my position here is clear. Free speech is important. Unnecessary violence is bad.

But Trump’s response is absolutely insane.

Following the chaos in Berkeley, Trump tweeted this at 3:13am:

In response to a protest on Berkeley’s campus, Trump threatens to cut all federal funding from the entire university.

Consider the insane disproportion of this response. He is proposing to cut $500 MILLION DOLLARS from one of our nation’s most important institutions of higher education, healthcare, and research.

Not to mention that Berkeley is the flagship institution for the University of California system, which is unquestionably the foundation of public higher education in the world and receives $8.5 billion in federal funding every year.

The logical conclusion of his tweet is terrifying: to receive funding, public universities must become militarized surveillance campuses.

I don’t know how to say this more clearly: the university refused to cancel the talk on free speech grounds. The talk was cancelled because of the actions of individuals who are not representative or even necessarily affiliated with the university.

Berkeley cannot be held responsible for all of the actions of every person who steps foot on their public campus. By holding them to this standard, Trump is asking the university to control the actions of every individual on campus. It is truly terrifying to consider the logical conclusion of this belief.

Rule #1 of surviving autocracy: BELIEVE THE AUTOCRAT.

The Los Angeles Times has already written that it’s “unclear whether Trump was actually threatening to cut funding or making some kind of rhetorical point.”

It’s shocking that they lived through the last week and still wrote that sentence. As Masha Gessen points out in her Rules for Surviving Autocracy, Rule #1 is that you must believe what the autocrat says. We cannot allow ourselves to believe that “Oh, he doesn’t really mean that…”

This is a full on threat to public education in our country. It could be the first step toward cutting the $80 billion in annual federal funding for higher education. And it’s a step toward autocratic control of all of our major institutions.

#TheResistance must focus on preserving democracy.

We are living in a time of emergency. Trump will throw head fakes and smoke screens every week, but our attention must stay focused. Our future depends on how well we organize our fight against anti-democratic actions like this. If we ignore these, we are inviting an American Autocracy.

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