Should UVa De-Platform Mike Pence?

by James A. Bacon

One might think that former Vice President Mike Pence would have earned a little cred for standing up to Donald Trump in overseeing the counting of electoral votes that resulted in the 2020 election of Joe Biden. So furious about this supposed betrayal is Trump that he has declared he would rule out asking Pence to join his ticket if he decides to run again for president in 2024. But in some quarters, the former VEEP is so racist, so sexist,  so homophobic, and his views are so reprehensible, so beyond the pale, so hurtful, that he should be denied the opportunity to speak at the University of Virginia.

With financial support from The Jefferson Council, on whose board I serve, the Young Americans for Freedom have invited Pence to speak at UVa on April 12. Five days ago, the editorial board of the student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, expressed strong disapproval of university leadership’s decision to allow the speech to take place.

“Dangerous rhetoric is not entitled to a platform,” says the editorial headline. “Speech that threatens the lives of those on the Grounds is unjustifiable,” reads the sub-head.

Yes, you read that correctly. Not only is Pence’s speech bigoted, hurtful, and violent, it literally threatens the well-being, safety and even the very lives of UVa students!

Fortunately, the impulse to condemn thought crimes is not universal in the UVa student body. In a Cavalier Daily column today, Sarita Mehta, a fourth-year student who serves as the student representative on the Board of Visitors, defended Pence’s right to speak. She shares the opinion that Pence espouses views that are racist, bigoted and hateful, but she does recognize that nearly half the country voted for him.

“The polarization and division that asphyxiate our democracy require not a further disregard of other opinions, but the summoning of every ounce of courage to look at the world as it is,” she writes. “The duty of a university is to present the world unfiltered, allowing students to determine for themselves what is wrong and right and to engage with the discomfort of difference.”

So far, UVa leadership has remained silent on the matter, which the CD editorial staff writers interpret, probably accurately, as acquiescence to the speech.

I urge you to read the Editorial Board’s entire piece. While it may be a minority view at UVa, it is an influential one — and it is scary that people think this way. The portrayal of Pence’s opinions is so distorted as to defy belief. I find myself offended (though not triggered or needing a safe space) by nearly every sentence in the column — especially the insinuation that the former VP is only one step removed from being a White supremacist.

Referring to the 2018 Unite the Right Rally,  the writers taint Pence by association with President Trump — “the man who called those same white supremacists ‘very fine people.’ Though Pence’s language may not be as overt as the white supremacy expressed during the events of Aug. 11 and 12, we must all be concerned about the message his rhetoric could imply we accept.”

Set aside the endlessly repeated lie about “very fine people” — which referred to people on different sides of the Civil War statue debate, not to White supremacists. The writers are saying that Pence’s beliefs (or what they perceive as his beliefs based on tendentious descriptions of them) are so vile, so atrocious, that they “threaten the well-being and safety of students on the Grounds.”

This is totalitarian logic. UVa is not paying for Pence to come. No one is compelling anyone to listen to his speech. But there are students and other members of the UVa community who would like to hear what the former Vice President of the United States has to say… rather than accept distorted representations of his views from those who detest him. Those people have rights, too. But in the minds of the CD editorial writers, their rights don’t warrant consideration of any kind. The tender feelings of a minority trump (so to speak) the rights of all others to listen to speakers they would like to hear.

I shudder to think what will happen when the CD snowflakes depart their academic bubble and enter the real world, where tens of millions of grotesque people who voted for Pence insist upon saying what they please, and there are no means to deplatform them. Imagine the endless triggering that will take place. While I appreciate the fact that the UVa administration appears to be siding with free speech on this particular issue, at some point it must reckon with its failure to prepare its students for the real world.