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Exodus of the Wrongthinkers from American Universities Francesca Block

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Photo illustration by The Free Press

One sentence in a blog post almost ruined Thomas Smith’s career.

“If you believe that the coronavirus did not escape from the lab in Wuhan, you have to at least consider that you are an idiot who is swallowing whole a lot of Chinese cock swaddle,” commented Smith, 65, a law professor at the University of San Diego.

He wrote it back in 2021, in a piece questioning the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic on his personal legal blog, which usually only received a few hundred visitors per day. 

But the backlash was swift. Smith estimates 60 students submitted a formal complaint to the administration and accused him of being racist, using derogatory language, and promoting conspiracy theories with “detrimental consequences.” Smith later updated his post to clarify that his ire was directed at the Chinese government, not its people.

A week later, Robert Schapiro, the dean of San Diego’s law school, announced an investigation into Smith in an email to the student body, stressing that “University policies specifically prohibit harassment, including the use of epithets, derogatory comments, or slurs based on race or national origin.”

So Smith hired an attorney known for defending other “cancelled” professors across the country. The university’s in-house counsel investigated him for two months, and ultimately concluded that the blog post was protected by the school’s academic freedom policies. Smith kept his job, but the ordeal left a sour taste in his mouth. 

“I felt anxious, I felt angry, I felt hurt, and I felt done,” Smith tells me with a nervous laugh. 

He said he loved to teach, but lately he’d been struggling to get published in prominent legal journals due to his traditionally conservative ideas arguing against DEI and ESG policies in corporate America. He also found himself self-censoring in his classes so as not to inadvertently offend his students or colleagues. 

But the attempt to cancel him in 2021 was the last straw. 

“To hell with this,” he thought. In November 2022, he submitted his formal plans to retire. 

Smith is now one of five right-leaning professors out of the 40 faculty at the University of San Diego School of Law who will retire after the spring of 2025. The others include civil rights and labor law scholar Gail Heriot, constitutional law professors Larry Alexander and Steven Smith, and criminal law expert and former law school dean Kevin Cole. 

The retirees are not necessarily leaving because of old age. Heriot will retire from the university—where she’s taught since 1989—at 67, hardly old in the academic world, where being in your 50s is still considered “mid-career.” 

Heriot told me the decision to retire stemmed from her wanting to dedicate more time to her other responsibilities, including her post in the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Cole, 66, told The Free Press in an email that he chose to retire out of a “desire to have more flexibility to travel and work on other projects.” Smith and Alexander are older, at 75 and 80, respectively. 

But while increasing pressure against conservative faculty at the University of San Diego wasn’t the main reason behind Heriot’s retirement, it also gave her no motivation to stay. 

She recalled sitting in a law school faculty meeting last year when one of her colleagues proclaimed that “bad people” on the staff opposed affirmative action. (Another one of her colleagues corroborated this story to me.) Given that Heriot has written multiple articles and co-edited a book about the negative effects of affirmative action, she knew the comments were directed at her.

“That in itself wouldn’t have been bad enough, but that’s just sort of the general atmosphere,” she said. “And the dean is quite clear that he has sympathy for the notion that the conservatives are a problem.” 

Dean Schapiro, in an email to The Free Press, wrote that the law school currently has 10 faculty on “phased retirement who represent a broad range of viewpoints across the political spectrum.” 

“The ideological diversity of our law faculty has been and will continue to be a signature strength of our school,” he wrote. 

Despite being branded as conservative, Heriot said she still considers herself a classical liberal—someone who believes in free speech and individual liberty, but who finds herself disagreeing with modern progressive thought. 

Her experience isn’t unique among her peers.

After 30 years at UCLA’s law school, Eugene Volokh, 56, will leave his post teaching First Amendment law next July for a new role as a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute, a right-leaning think tank based at Stanford. 

Politics professor Eric Kaufmann also left his tenured position at Birkbeck, University of London in July after 20 years to teach a course at University of Buckingham that’s open to the public and called “Woke: the Origins, Dynamics, and Implications of an Elite Ideology.” He also plans to open a new research center at the university called the Centre for Heterodox Social Science. Kaufmann—an outspoken critic of progressive ideology and the target of Twitter mobs and cancellation attempts—told me he’s leaving Birkbeck partly out of a concern that his research could be blocked by members of his university’s ethics committee who dislike him and his views. 

“You have to be a bit more careful. You have to be a little less adventurous, a little more guarded. And it’s suboptimal,” he said of his experience at Birkbeck. “I’m at the point in my career where I thought, hell, I want to just say what I think and research what I want to research.” 

Even faculty who don’t consider themselves conservative are feeling uncomfortable amid a campus climate that demands adherence to the new left-leaning dogma. Carole Hooven, a Harvard evolutionary biologist who wrote T: The Story of Testosterone, the Hormone that Dominates and Divides Us was branded “transphobic and harmful” by a colleague in her own department after she appeared on Fox News in 2021 to publicize her book and said, “The facts are that there are in fact two sexes—there are male and female—and those sexes are designated by the kind of gametes we produce.”

Hooven later said the social media lashing she suffered “sucked,” sending her into a spiral of “severe depression” and suicidal ideation.” 

“It’s easy to tell people to speak out and tell the truth,” she said. “But the toll that people pay emotionally in terms of mental health is very high, and in terms of practical consideration if you need an income, it’s hard.”

With all this pressure to conform to a progressive ideology, it’s perhaps unsurprising that university faculty across the country are increasingly becoming left-wing.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) conducted a survey in 2022 of nearly 1,500 faculty members and found that 50 percent identify as liberal, 17 percent as moderate, and 26 percent as conservative. There are even fewer conservative professors in law schools—a 2018 study published in The Journal of Legal Studies found only 15 percent of legal professors called themselves conservative. 

At some of the nation’s most prestigious universities, the disparity is even more dramatic. A July 2022 survey of Harvard faculty conducted by The Harvard Crimson found more than 80 percent of faculty identified as liberal or very liberal, whereas only 1 percent identified as conservative (no respondents said they were very conservative). 

But Princeton politics professor Robert George says this trend isn’t all that new. When he arrived at the New Jersey campus in the fall of 1985 as a budding scholar in constitutional law and political philosophy, he told me he was the only “out of the closet, full-bore conservative” among the entire faculty. The faculty was dominated by classical liberals, George said, who were generally open-minded and tolerant of differing viewpoints. 

In his nearly 40 years at the university, George has been granted tenure, earned Princeton University’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, and currently holds the prestigious McCormick Professorship in Jurisprudence. He said he has enjoyed robust discussion and great friendship with his colleagues, even among those who hold strongly different political beliefs. He’s “the opposite of a victim,” he told me, but he also said he’s seen trends among students and faculty that he finds alarming. 

Just a few weeks ago, George attempted to give a talk at Washington College in Maryland on the importance of free speech but was shouted down by a group of protesters criticizing his views against gay marriage. The university ultimately cancelled the event in the middle of his speech. 

George said the classical liberals he used to work with are “a dying breed” in academia today. Instead, university faculty are skewing even further left. FIRE’s report shows the percentage of faculty identifying as “far-left” has doubled from 6 percent in 1990 to 12 percent in 2020, whereas the percentage of those identifying as conservative has dropped from 16 percent to 10 percent. 

“They don’t share the vision that I shared with the old-school liberals,” George said of many of his progressive colleagues, “which is the vision of the university’s mission as one of disinterested truth-seeking, of trying to advance the cause of knowledge quite independently of how the political chips will fall.” 

Heriot said she finds the decreasing tolerance for different views particularly jarring at law schools. 

“Right now we have a conservative Supreme Court. And the idea that a law firm would not want to have lawyers who can make arguments that are persuasive to that court, that is just bizarre to me,” she said.

Heriot said pushing students to think more deeply about difficult and controversial topics should be the norm, not the exception. 

“I hope all law professors are at least a little bit controversial,” she said. “I mean, we are supposed to be causing students to think about things in ways they haven’t thought about before, and the only way to do that is to needle them a little bit with some ideas they may not have considered or may have thought of as incorrect.” 

Schapiro, the dean of the law school, told The Free Press, “All our faculty, regardless of their political affiliation, prepare students to make effective arguments on all sides of a legal issue.”

But Heriot said she worries the student body is no longer receptive to this type of teaching. 

“I guess what I’ve noticed is that law students are less likely to engage now than they were 20, 30 years ago,” she said. 

Now, more than ever, universities are penalizing faculty members for going against the grain.

FIRE’s Scholars Under Fire database shows colleges tried to sanction four professors in 2000 for speech deemed offensive or inappropriate, compared to 213 in 2021 and 145 in 2022. 

A 2023 FIRE report of faculty found more than half were worried about losing their jobs or reputations because of something they may have said. This number grows to 72 percent for faculty who identify as conservative, compared to just 40 percent of those who say they are liberal.

While many conservative professors hold their tongues or quietly retire, others have faced career-ending consequences for speaking their minds.

There’s the example of Joshua Katz at Princeton University—the tenured classics professor who penned an op-ed in Quillette in the summer of 2020, calling the campus’s Black Justice League “a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands.” The university ultimately revoked his tenure in May 2022, ostensibly for a relationship he had with a student 15 years earlier, for which he had already been punished with a one-year suspension without pay. 

But many conservative professors, including Katz himself, believe the investigation into his past relationship was just an excuse to punish him for his controversial statements. 

And then there’s the story of Ilya Shapiro, the Georgetown law professor who came under fire and nearly lost his job at the university for a tweet he posted in January 2022 implying that Biden’s Supreme Court pick would be a “lesser black woman.” After a five-month investigation and suspension, Shapiro resigned from Georgetown less than a week after being reinstated. In an email to The Free Press, he said he didn’t feel the university would uphold its commitment to free expression. 

“Someone would inevitably claim offense to something I said or wrote, inside or outside the law school, and I’d be back in the inquisition,” he wrote. “It was an untenable situation, so I made a noisy departure and have been using the platform the incident gave me to shine a light on the rot in academia.” 

Stephen Porter, a tenured statistics professor at North Carolina State University, criticized his department’s DEI policies—first internally in 2016, and then in a public blog post in 2018. The department accused him of “bullying” and ultimately removed him from his post in the PhD program in July 2019, but kept him on staff. 

Porter sued, alleging the department violated his First Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s dismissal this past July, arguing that Porter displayed a “lack of collegiality” not protected by the Constitution. FIRE called the decision “a hit to academic freedom.” 

Porter’s lawyer, Samantha Harris, said she’s now trying to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. She told me she’s defended over 30 faculty since she started her practice in March 2021—including Princeton’s Joshua Katz and University of San Diego’s Thomas Smith.

Joshua Kleinfeld is an up-and-coming conservative legal scholar and philosopher at Northwestern University. The 45-year-old tenured professor told me navigating academic society today is like carefully avoiding a bomb on the battlefield. 

In order to survive, he says, scholars like him need to build skills beyond research, writing, and teaching. They need to develop a special type of judgment—knowing when to pick their battles, when to self-censor, and when to steer clear of a trigger that could potentially explode their entire career. 

“People who disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy have to make a very painful choice,” he said. “They can speak their mind and accept the fact that their professional life will be a war zone. Or they can hold their tongue and avoid that controversy, accusation, and battle, but at the cost of a part of their soul.” 

Francesca Block is a writer for The Free Press. Read her last piece about “Stanford’s War Against Its Own Students.” Follow her on X, formerly Twitter, @FrancescaABlock.

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May 24, 2024 Heather Cox Richardson

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On Wednesday, May 22, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who had been the candidate for anti-Trump Republicans, said she will vote for Trump. Haley ran against Trump for the Republican presidential nomination and maintained a steady stream of criticism of him, calling him “unstable,” “unhinged” and “a disaster…for our party.” Since she suspended her campaign in early March, she has continued to poll at around 20% of Republican primary voters. 

There are two ways to look at Haley’s capitulation. It might show that Trump is so strong that he has captured the entire party and is sweeping it before him. In contrast, it might show that Trump is weak, and Haley made this concession to his voters either in hopes of stepping into his place or in a desperate move to cobble the party, whose leaders are keenly aware they are an unpopular minority in the country, together. 

The Republican Party is in the midst of a civil war. The last of the establishment Republican leaders who controlled the party before 2016 are trying to wrest control of it back from Trump’s MAGA Republicans, who have taken control of the key official positions. At the same time, Trump’s MAGA voters, while a key part of the Republican base, have pushed the party so far right they have left the majority of Americans—including Republicans—far behind.

Abortion remains a major political problem for Republicans. Trump appointed the three Supreme Court justices who provided the votes to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that recognized the constitutional right to abortion, and he has boasted repeatedly that he ended Roe. This pleases his white evangelical base but not the majority of the American people.

According to a recent Pew poll, 63% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while only 36% think it should be illegal in most or all cases. But Republicans are continuing to push unpopular antiabortion legislation. On Thursday, Louisiana lawmakers approved a law classifying mifepristone and misoprostol, two drugs commonly used in abortions, as dangerous drugs—a category usually reserved for addictive medications—making it a crime to possess abortion pills without a prescription. 

Louisiana prohibits abortions except to save the life of the mother or in cases in which the fetus has a condition incompatible with life. The law requires doctors to get a special license to prescribe the drugs, one of which is used for routine reproductive care as well as abortions. The state would then keep a record of those prescriptions, effectively a database to monitor women’s pregnancies and the doctors who treat them. Louisiana governor Jeff Landry, a Republican, is expected to sign the measure into law. 

Trump has repeatedly promised to weigh in on the mifepristone question but, likely aware that he cannot please both his base and voters, has not done so. On Tuesday, May 21, though, he stepped into a related problem. Since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision overturned Roe v. Wade, antiabortion activists have begun to talk about contraception as abortion, with some warning that it is “unbiblical.” But in February, 80% of voters polled said that contraception was “deeply important” to them, including 72% of Republican voters. On Tuesday, Trump said he was open to regulating contraception and that his campaign would issue a policy statement on contraception “very shortly.” He later walked back his earlier comments, saying they had been misinterpreted.

On May 19 the same judge who tried to remove mifepristone from the market by rescinding the FDA approval of it, Trump-appointed U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, blocked the Biden administration from implementing a new rule that requires sellers at gun shows and online to get licenses and conduct background checks. The rule closes what’s known as the “gun show loophole.” According to the Penn State McCourtney Institute for Democracy, 86% of Americans want mandatory background checks for all gun purchases. 

Trump himself is a problem for the party. His base is absolutely loyal, but he is a deeply problematic candidate for anyone else. As Susan Glasser outlined in the New Yorker yesterday, in the past week he chickened out of testifying in his ongoing criminal trial for paying hush money to an adult film actress to keep damaging information from voters in 2016 after insisting for weeks that he would. He talked about staying in office for a third term, ran a video promising that the United States will become a “unified Reich” when he wins reelection, and accused President Joe Biden of trying to have him assassinated. He will be 78 in a few weeks and is having trouble speaking.

In addition to his ongoing criminal trial, on Tuesday a filing unsealed in the case of Trump’s retention of classified documents showed that a federal judge, Beryl Howell, believed investigators had “strong evidence” that Trump “intended” to hide those documents from the federal government.

Also revealed were new photographs of Trump’s personal aide Walt Nauta moving document boxes before one of Trump’s lawyers arrived to review what Trump had, along with the information that once Trump realized that the men moving the boxes could be captured on Mar-a-Lago’s security cameras, he allegedly made sure they would avoid the cameras. The new details suggest that prosecutors have more evidence than has been made public. 

This might explain why, as Asawin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley of Rolling Stone reported today, Trump is pressuring Republicans to pass a law shielding presidents from prosecution in state or local courts, moving prosecutions to federal courts where a president could stop them.

Yesterday, Marilyn W. Thompson of ProPublica reported on yet another potentially harmful legal story. There were a number of discrimination and harassment complaints made against the Trump campaign in 2016 and 2020 that Trump tried to keep quiet with nondisclosure agreements. A federal magistrate judge has ordered the Trump campaign to produce a list of the complaints by May 31. Those complaints include the charge that the 2016 campaign paid women less than men and that Trump kissed a woman without her consent. 

Trump’s current behavior is not likely to reassure voters. 

Yesterday he wrote on social media that “Evan Gershkovich, the Reporter from The Wall Street Journal, who is being held by Russia, will be released almost immediately after the Election, but definitely before I assume Office. He will be HOME, SAFE, AND WITH HIS FAMILY. Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, will do that for me, but not for anyone else, and WE WILL BE PAYING NOTHING!”

There is no good interpretation of this post. If Trump does have that sort of leverage with Putin, why? And why not use it immediately? Is he openly signaling to Putin to ignore the Biden administration’s ongoing negotiations for Gershkovich’s release? Trevor Reed, who was arrested in Russia in 2019 when visiting his girlfriend in Moscow, noted: “As a former wrongful detainee in Russia, I would just like to remind everyone that President Trump had the ability to get myself and Paul Whelan out of Russia for years and chose not to. I would be skeptical of any claims about getting Evan Gershkovich back in a day.”  

Reed was freed in 2022 as part of a prisoner swap arranged by the Biden administration. 

Last night, at a rally in New York, Trump accepted the endorsement of alleged gang members, rappers Michael Williams (Sheff G) and Tegan Chambers (Sleepy Hallow). In 2023 the two men were indicted with 30 other people on 140 counts, including murder, attempted murder, illegal possession of firearms, and at least a dozen shootings. Sheff G was released from jail in April after posting a $1.5 million bond. 

Then, Trump’s people claimed that 25,000 people turned out for the rally, but they requested a permit for only 3,500, and only 3,400 tickets were issued. Aerial shots suggest there were 800–1,500 people there. 

MAGA voters don’t care about any of this, apparently, but non-MAGA Republicans and Independents do. And this might be behind Haley’s promise to vote for Trump. The unpopularity of the MAGA faction might allow Haley to step in if Trump crashes and burns, so long as she kowtows to Trump and his base. Or it might be calculated to try to repair the rift in hopes that the party can cobble together some kind of unity by November. As The Shallow State noted on X, Haley’s announcement showed that “Trump is fragile.”

But Haley’s statement that she will vote for Trump does not necessarily mean her voters will follow her. Deputy political director for the Biden campaign Juan Peñalosa met with Haley supporters in a prescheduled zoom call hours after Haley’s announcement. On Thursday afternoon the campaign issued a press release titled: “To Haley Voters: There’s a Home For You on Team Biden-Harris.”

MAGA Republicans know their agenda is unpopular, and they are working to seize power through voter suppression, violence, gerrymandering, and packing the legal system. But there are signs a bipartisan defense of democracy may be gathering strength.  

Notes:

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nikki-haley-says-she-will-vote-for-trump/

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nikki-haley-announcement-2024-race-donald-trump-south-carolina/

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/haley-shes-dropping-feel-kiss-ring-trump/story?id=107370200

https://meidasnews.com/news/trump-accepts-endorsement-from-indicted-gang-members

https://newrepublic.com/post/181931/maga-spin-trump-bronx-rally-size

https://blog.lime.link/visualizing-crowd-sizes/

https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/fact-sheet/public-opinion-on-abortion/

https://www.politico.com/news/2024/05/23/louisiana-abortion-pill-criminal-penalties-00159735

https://time.com/6977434/birth-control-contraception-access-griswold-threat/

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/26/us/politics/republicans-birth-control-ivf.html

https://apnews.com/article/trump-contraception-birth-control-abortion-2024-8f73bb1b3a5864b24157f15eb272a3e6

https://www.vox.com/scotus/2024/3/26/24112540/supreme-court-mifepristone-fda-alliance-hippocratic-medicine-abortion-pills

https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-judge-blocks-biden-backed-rule-expanding-gun-background-checks-2024-05-20/

https://missouriindependent.com/briefs/new-rule-to-close-gun-show-loophole-finalized-by-biden-administration/

https://www.mprnews.org/story/2023/07/25/poll-majority–support-universal-background-checks-gun-licensing-assault-weapons-ban

https://www.newyorker.com/news/letter-from-bidens-washington/there-is-literally-nothing-trump-can-say-that-will-stop-republicans-from-voting-for-him

https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/trump-republicans-pass-law-jail-1235027139/

https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook/2024/05/10/maga-mike-vs-speaker-johnson-00157258

https://abcnews.go.com/International/trevor-reed-american-freed-russia-prisoner-swap-hurt/story?id=101641167

https://www.propublica.org/article/trump-campaign-harassment-bullying-lawsuits

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/21/politics/mar-a-lago-documents-walt-nauta-donald-trump/index.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/2024/05/21/trump-florida-classified-documents-motions/

https://www.cnn.com/2024/05/23/politics/nikki-haley-biden-trump/index.html

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Could Trump Turn the Bronx Red? Olivia Reingold

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Former president Donald Trump greets supporters at his rally in the Bronx’s Crotona Park on Thursday, May 23, 2024. (Jabin Botsford via Getty Images)

In an overgrown field in the Bronx, a borough that has not voted red in a presidential election since 1924, Orthodox Jews, fraternity brothers, George Santos, Dominican immigrants, off-duty firefighters, and thousands of others are craning their necks for a view of Donald J. Trump. 

“Thank you, thank you,” Trump mouths to the crowd over the tune of “God Bless the USA.” 

He strides up to the podium, in a breeze that rattles the American flags behind him but is no match for his frozen blond quiff. Thousands of hands spring into the air, pumping rhythmically to chants of “U! S! A!”

“Hello, New York City, and hello to all the incredible tough, strong, hardworking American patriots right here in the Bronx,” roars the former president. “Who would think—who would think?”

Who would think, indeed. Not Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who for the past five weeks has been trying to pin a felony conviction on Trump involving hush money he allegedly gave to a porn star. Two days earlier, Trump had shuffled out of the courtroom, quiet except for a quick interview where he told reporters, “Remember. . . I’m not allowed to say what I’d really like to say,” referring to the gag order barring him from publicly commenting on the case. 

“Hello, New York City, and hello to all the incredible tough, strong, hardworking American patriots right here in the Bronx,” roared the former president. “Who would think—who would think?” (Jim Watson via Getty Images)

But now, in front of a sea of at least 8,000 in Crotona Park, the prospect of becoming a convicted felon seems far from Trump’s mind. “We are going to turn New York City around, and we are going to turn it around very, very quickly!” he proclaims to cheers from the crowd.

Though New Yorkers are famously Democratic, more of them seem to be warming to Trump’s America First message. Perhaps it’s the rising crime, or the migrants who are increasingly begging in the streets, or the fact that it now takes a family of four at least $318,000 a year to live here. Whatever it is, according to a Siena College poll this month, Joe Biden has lost 20 points in New York City, compared to his 2020 victory when he won 76 percent of the vote in Trump’s hometown. Meanwhile, Trump is up seven points, with Biden’s lead cut to single digits in the 2024 race for president.

One New Yorker who needed no convincing is John Wang, a 44-year-old acupuncturist born in China who became a U.S. citizen in 2011 and has already voted for Trump twice. He says people like him—Trump voters—are the “silent majority.” He brought along his 7-year-old son, who played in the grass with a fake million-dollar bill bearing the face of the billionaire from Queens.

“I’m from communism, I know how bad it is,” says John Wang, a 44-year-old acupuncturist born in China who became a U.S. citizen in 2011. “Now I feel like here is getting like China.” (Photo by Olivia Reingold for The Free Press)

“He was born in Manhattan,” says Wang of his son, who can name every single American president throughout history, in order. “Then we moved to Queens, and by the time I had my third child, we moved to Long Island ’cause you can’t live in the city anymore—it’s too dangerous.”

Wang says he was sick of worrying about getting pushed onto the subway tracks, which is exactly how one New Yorker died in March, allegedly shoved by a perpetrator with a violent past who was out on bail. Wang, who enlisted in the Marine Corps in order to become a citizen, tells me he was drawn to the U.S. because it would allow him to openly practice his Christian faith. Now, he’s troubled by the media, which “tells people Donald Trump is a dictator,” and by the anti-Israel mobs who cover their faces and “don’t know what they’re screaming for.”

“I’m from communism, I know how bad it is,” says Wang, wearing a bright red MAGA hat and work boots stamped with the Stars and Stripes. “Now I feel like here is getting like China.”

Top Democrats thought this wouldn’t happen on their turf. The morning of the rally, Rep. Ritchie Torres, who represents the portion of the South Bronx that includes Crotona Park, told an MSNBC panel that he’s “confident that the people of the Bronx are not going to buy the snake oil he’s selling.” U.S. House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also told a local affiliate that Trump could not “trick” Bronx residents into supporting him. “It is truly an embarrassment to him, and I am looking forward to the response of everyday Bronxites talking about how they feel about him coming to their backyard,” said the congresswoman, whose district is east of the park.

But the people of the Bronx—and New Jersey, and Queens, and Long Island, and upstate New York, many of whom traveled miles to come see the former president whip the crowd into a frenzy—told me otherwise. 

Adam Solis, a 33-year-old who’s half-Dominican and half–Puerto Rican, says AOC does not represent even “one percent” of the values of the Bronx, where he’s lived his entire life. 

“A lot of the morals and the traditions that come out of the Bronx have always been right-leaning and conservative,” he says, his two diamond earrings glistening in the sun. “We all believe in God here in the Bronx, we believe in tradition, we believe in family values, the nuclear family—these are all pillars of our existence.”

Trump supporters in the Bronx chant “U! S! A!” (Spencer Platt via Getty Images)

I hear members of the crowd murmuring in multiple languages—Spanish, Chinese, Hebrew, and possibly Portuguese. “Ay, dios mío,” gasps one middle-aged woman, her enormous false eyelashes peeking from beneath the brim of a MAGA hat. Deeper into the crowd, a twentysomething woman perches on a man’s shoulders as if at a music festival, calling out in ecstasy: “Weeee love yooooou, Trump.” When Trump mentions New York, a redheaded boy cups his hands around his red cheeks to scream, “Yeah Trump, turn it red!”

While most other rallygoers are screaming at the top of their lungs, Samuel Heath-Quashie is less starstruck. Still, come November, the black 19-year-old student at Bergen Community College in New Jersey tells me he plans to cast his first-ever vote for Trump.

“It’s not like I look up to him like he’s my god,” the teen shrugs. “He’s a man—he does things I don’t agree with. But so does Biden, and at the end of the day, I want someone who’s going to help the American people.” 

One day, he says, he hopes to move out of his parents’ home in Fair Lawn, New Jersey, but inflation has tanked those dreams. When I ask him if he’s found any apartments he’d be able to afford, he says, “Yeah—they’re not good. They have mold and they have bugs.” He pauses, grimacing. “And I don’t like mold or bugs.” 

“A lot of the morals and the traditions that come out of the Bronx have always been right-leaning and conservative,” said Adam Solis, 33. (Selcuk Acar via Getty Images)

Across the lawn, I find Mika Kol wandering around, asking if anyone has a lighter she can borrow. She’s wearing micro jeans shorts and a hat bearing the legend “I <3 Jesus,” and I assume she’s a Fashion Institute of Technology student. Close: she tells me she’s an online seller of vintage designer clothes under the alias “trustfundgoth.”

“I voted for Biden last time because I thought it would make my mom happy, and she pays my bills,” shrugs Kol, 25, who tells me she is a Jew of Iraqi heritage born in Texas. 

She said she started having second thoughts during the summer of 2020, when other fashion sellers pressured her to give ten percent of her profits to Black Lives Matter, which she calls “Fraud, Inc.” “All that social pressure made me feel like, you know what, I can’t stand woke people. They’re just holding the left hostage.”

And then she realized: “I could say whatever I want around conservative people, and they’ll just be happy that I’m there.”

When I exit the park, I happen upon dozens of police officers in riot gear. Young men and women—draped in keffiyehs and many in N95 masks—are standing behind them on a giant rock, shaking a sign that says, “Fuck Trump / Fuck Biden / The people of the Bronx / We run this shit.”

Anti-Trump protesters gather outside the rally. “It’s just wasteful energy,” said Youssef Naim, 24, of the demonstrators. “Trump is going to win, for sure.” (Stephanie Keith via Getty Images)

“They don’t give a fuck about you,” the protesters chant at the Trump crowd, clapping between words. 

I ask a young man, standing next to me, dressed all in black, what he thinks of the scene. 

“It’s just wasteful energy,” says the man, who introduced himself as Youssef Naim, 24. He said no matter how loud the protesters chant, “Trump is going to win, for sure.”

“And that’s not me saying that’s because he’s a better person—that’s because of a multitude of things,” says Naim, an art teacher who adds that he’s nonetheless leaning toward voting for Robert F. Kennedy Jr. 

But he has no trouble explaining Trump’s appeal: “A lot of people had this experience that they did better when Trump was in office, paired with Biden shitting himself and having dementia.” 

I ask him if the protesters, who are now marching toward the subway, see what he sees, that the former president could actually become the sitting president once again. 

“Half of them probably don’t. The other half are here because their friends are here, and then a select few just don’t want to admit it.”

Olivia Reingold is a field reporter at The Free Press. Follow her on X @Olivia_Reingold and read her piece “They’re Black Democrats. And They’re Suing Chicago Over Migrants.” 

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What If Raising Awareness Doesn’t Help? Suzy Weiss

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“I was walking up the terminal in Newark airport early in the morning recently when I walked past a gate that had been festooned with mylar balloons spelling out ‘Autism Awareness.’” (Image via X, illustration by The Free Press)

Mark your calendars, because July is Fibroid Awareness Month. Maybe you already celebrated National Fibroid Awareness Week—yes, there is both a month and a week—which starts in mid-April and, little-known fact, overlaps with National Infertility Awareness Week. In April, we’re also meant to have awareness for foot health, stress, irritable bowel syndrome, congenital diaphragmatic hernias, STIs, Parkinson’s, limb loss, and frogs

It’s easy to dismiss these holidays as marketing ploys, or the purview of bloated HR departments in search of new excuses to send emails. But look closely and you’ll notice that the mission of Raising Awareness, along with its cousin, Ending Stigma—we often Raise Awareness to End Stigma—has carved into our popular culture a huge place for itself. 

Still, there are a lot of emails. 

A search of my inbox surfaces calls to raise awareness for mental health (which gets its own month, May), veterans’ experiences, guns, epilepsy, and antisemitism.

To raise awareness for domestic violence, a building in downtown Pittsburgh was lit with purple lights. A bakery I like encouraged me to buy pink macarons for breast cancer awareness. I was walking up the terminal in Newark airport early in the morning recently when I walked past a gate that had been festooned with Mylar balloons spelling out “Autism Awareness.” It was 6 a.m. The gate was empty. Travelers, autistic and not, had presumably shoved off to their destination. 

“Tourette awareness” is something I’ve learned about thanks to Baylen Dupree, a TikToker I follow along with 9 million other people, who posts videos of her involuntary tics. I’m not picking on Dupree: she’s just one voice in a massive chorus of chronic illness sufferers who display their symptoms—this part is often referred to as a “journey”—to the world on social media. The goal—say it with me now—is to raise awareness for their conditions. 

Awareness is a big tent. Under awareness goes anything wacky, intimate, perverse, or otherwise eye-catching that allows you to accrue followers who you can then sell things to. A running influencer who spreads awareness about chronic illness, specifically Epstein-Barr, swears by Better Nature Tempeh. Brittney Mahomes hawks Auvi-Q, an EpiPen approved for toddlers, while raising awareness about food allergies. “Disabled Eliza” uses a duster made by Flash

It’s not a coincidence that the most shocking conditions get the most eyeballs. Perhaps we tell ourselves it’s “consciousness-raising” or “bringing visibility to an issue” or “using our influence,” but let’s be real: it’s voyeurism with a built-in pardon. Being authentic, finding community, and ending stigmas are, on the surface, good things. The internet is for everyone—no one should be judged, much less punished for, things they can’t control, whether it’s a rare blood disorder or a deformity or a disability. People can and do share whatever they want online, but it’s worth noting when authenticity demands intimate details for twisted incentives.

I am not proud to report that I was recently served up a video on Instagram Reels of a cute girl named Hannah. Hannah is an 8-year-old who suffers from a new-ish eating disorder—it was introduced to the DSM in 2013—called AFRID, or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder. She is a clinically picky eater whose “safe foods” include Goldfish crackers and string cheese and whose “fear foods” include guacamole, spaghetti, applesauce, and cucumbers. The video showed Hannah trying mashed potatoes for the first time. She said the bowl of food made her “uneasy” before spooning three incredibly tiny bites into her mouth, which made her gag and nearly cry. 

A YouTube video explaining Hannah’s journey to a diagnosis—which includes her mother sharing her height and weight—is festooned with hashtags including #arfidawareness, #eatingdisorderawareness, #autismawareness, #mentalhealthawareness, and, at the end, simply #awareness. 

I watched a few more short videos—she tried a plum, orange Jell-O—before I stopped myself: Why in the world am I watching a child that I don’t know struggle through eating a honeydew? Why is anyone watching this? 

The comments included notes from cheering teens, nosy moms, judgy nutritionists, and perverted men. There are hundreds of comments. Hannah isn’t a niche internet oddity. She has 1.4 million followers. She went on Good Morning America, where she told the host, “Whenever I try food I think about all the people that I’m helping.” She added, “It motivates me.” But becoming well should be its own reward, something judged by parents and doctors and therapists.

ARFID is not well known, so until the proper research can be done and more resources cultivated, the segment laments, “Hannah is doing what she can: raising awareness.”

Awareness hasn’t always been an excuse to gawk, or an eternally open-ended project. 

Growing up, I remember running 5Ks on Sundays for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. There were pale pink wreaths of balloons and pink bagels and many, many ribbons. There was always a woman flanked by other women on a platform announcing that some massive amount of money had been raised to put toward breast cancer research, resources, and earlier detection. They gave out pamphlets for how to self-screen for lumps. I still do examinations in the shower because of it.

But somewhere along the way, that kind of real-world awareness got surreal. 

Awareness these days doesn’t ask for much. It also doesn’t offer much. It invites you to be on your phone and just let the awareness wash over you. There used to be an ask, usually money, tied to awareness, but lately we’ve let things get loose and let awareness drift away from any end. Finding a cure for autism, diagnoses for which are booming, has become passé. The new drugs to combat obesity weren’t the result of awareness, but discovery. It’s unclear how being aware of endometriosis or limb loss or Tourette is going to help any of those people, or ourselves. We’ve let people run roughshod over our consciousness in the name of awareness. 

It’s worth asking: What are we not raising awareness for? Maybe it’s the influence of Big Pharma on our increasingly sick lives and of Big Tech on our increasingly corrupted ways of dealing with it. 

I hope fibroids and frogs and IBS get proper research funding. I hope Hannah—the little girl searching for more foods to add to her safe list—gets better. But I wonder if she is destined to join the fight for children’s internet privacy, or if one day she’ll be declared cured and allowed to retire the Instagram page and fade away into normalcy, or if she’ll keep on trying to find new safe foods, in front of her followers, forever.

Suzy Weiss is a reporter at The Free Press. Read her piece, “Hurkle-Durkle Is the New Way to Self-Care Ourselves to Death,” and follow her on X @SnoozyWeiss.

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