University of Michigan Communications Professor Susan Douglas is at the center of a controversy over a column that she wrote for In These Times entitled “It’s Okay To Hate Republicans.” The title was changed after Douglas complained that it did not represent the content of her column which began with the line “I hate Republicans.”
Douglas is the Catherine Neafie Kellogg Professor of Communication Studies at The University of Michigan and Chair of the Department. Her past work includes Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work Is Done (Times Books/Henry Holt, 2010); The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Undermines Women; and Where The Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media (Times Books, 1994; Penguin, 1995). She received her B.A. from Elmira College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Brown University. She has written for The Nation, In These Times, The Village Voice, Ms., The Washington Post and TV Guide.
Authors usually do not choose their headlines. Indeed, it is a common complaint. I never have any say in the headlines of my columns in USA Today and other newspaper and I have been burned in the past with some headlines. Most readers do not realize that authors usually see the headlines for the first time when they do — when the piece is published.
On this occasion, the headline does not seem wildly out of place given the leading line. However, Douglas originally entitled the column “We Can’t All Just Get Along.”
In These Times ran an Editor’s Note:
Editor’s note: This article was originally titled “We Can’t All Just Get Along” in the print version of the magazine. The title was then changed, without the author’s knowledge or approval, to “It’s Okay to Hate Republicans.” The author rejects the online title as not representative of the piece or its main points. Her preferred title has been restored. We have also removed from the “Comments” section all threats to the author’s life and personal safety.
The column’s content however have created a firestorm. Douglas begins with “I hate Republicans. I can’t stand the thought of having to spend the next two years watching Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Darrell Issa or any of the legions of other blowhards denying climate change, thwarting immigration reform or championing fetal ‘personhood.'” She even said that she once liked and even worked for a Republican but that “Today, marrying a Republican is unimaginable to me.” That type of “some of my best friends were Republicans but I would not marry one” approach does not sit well with some students.
She then says that if things have become too poisonous . . . well, the Republicans started it: “This isn’t like a fight between siblings, where the parent says, “It doesn’t matter who started it.” Yes, it does.” She cites “Spiro Agnew’s attack on intellectuals as an ‘effete corps of impudent snobs’; to Rush Limbaugh’s hate speech; to the GOP’s endless campaign to smear the Clintons over Whitewater, then bludgeon Bill over Monica Lewinsky; to the ceaseless denigration of President Obama (“socialist,” “Muslim”).”
The column has been denounced as hateful by students and outside groups. Some have raised Michigan’s anti-discrimination policy which states that people affiliated with the university cannot create “…an intimidating, hostile, offensive, or abusive environment for that individual’s employment, education, living environment, or participation in a University activity.” I strongly disagree with those who are seeking to punish Douglas for her writings despite my equally strong disagreement with the column. This is a matter of free speech and academic freedom in my view. If such views are now subject to academic discipline as matters of hate speech, there will be little left of free speech on campuses.
We have previously discussed the alarming rollback on free speech rights in the West, particularly in France (here and here and here and here and here and here) and England ( here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here). Much of this trend is tied to the expansion of hate speech and non-discrimination laws. We have even seen comedians targets with such court orders under this expanding and worrisome trend. (here and here).
Having said that, Douglas works hard to justify hate for others. After listing sins going back to Spiro Agnew (despite equally insulting statements about Republicans by Democratic leaders), Douglas concludes “So now we hate them back. And for good reason. Which is too bad.”
I think the whole piece fits in the “too bad” column. It is too bad that an academic feels the need to justify hate for an entire group. It is too bad that she shows little willingness to acknowledge similar attacks from her side. However, none of that justifies calls for discipline for an academic in speaking her mind on contemporary issues. She was clearly venting in an honest, albeit provocative way. Like many academic writers, she was clearly interested in starting a debate and she succeeded. If people view this as hate speech, it is still free speech and the solution to bad speech is good speech.