Reacting to the Senate impeachment trial on Twitter (a phrase that, in its utterance, implies some lack of judgment), Brown political science professor and recently retired Rhode Island Ethics Commission chairman Ross Cheit made this bold comment:
Now, I’m no Brown professor, but as a higher-ed consumer on behalf of my children, I can’t say Professor Cheit’s blithe insistence that he would fail a long-time Harvard law professor reduces my poor opinion of Cheit’s institution. Was a time when we would have expected an Ivy League educator to want his students to undertake to make challenging arguments, even if wrong. Cheit’s students probably do well to keep their mouths shut, except when regurgitating, and one suspects they already know it.
But to the point, Dershowitz’s argument wasn’t wrong, albeit perhaps too subtle for the wits of modern academia. If self-interest is purely a matter of being reelected, it is indistinguishable from public interest from the perspective of the office holder. One can hold this view while still believing the president cannot commit a crime in the public interest, but that… requires an underlying crime.
Now, we can go back and forth on how that term should be defined in the context of the Constitutional authority of coequal branches of government (as I did on Facebook), but withholding aid, of itself, is not a crime. It’s a policy, which is what we elect the president to decide.
But, the professor might say, the president only withheld the aid for “personal gain.” Well, what is “personal gain”? Nobody has alleged that Trump made some profit on a hotel or something or that he sought a kick back from Ukraine. The “personal gain” is entirely his chances of being elected.
Pause and think about that. On its face, it is obvious that doing something that helps him get elected has public support and, therefore, the American public considers it to be in the public good. In this case, it’s even more obvious. Even if all the allegations are true, President Trump would have been working to expose the probable abuse of office by the front-runner from the other party. From that perspective, if Biden wins, then the corruption ramps up. It is a public good to stop that.
Of course, the public can disagree, and the opposition party can certainly make its own arguments, but that brings us to electoral politics, not impeachment.
How does a political science professor at an elite university not see that? More importantly, how does he not see it as an opportunity to exercise his own intellect to defeat an argument with which he disagrees?
The answer increasingly appears to be that elite universities are not primarily designed to promote a thinking elite, but rather an ideologically homogeneous one.