At the invitation of a conservative political organization on campus, Sen. Ted Cruz and Michael Knowles are coming to speak at Yale.
Ted Cruz has fallen in line with Trump’s claims of a fraudulent election since the beginning, leading the charge to prevent certifying the 2020 election. He opposes voter rights legislation that would expand absentee ballots, enable online voter registration and make election day a federal holiday. Instead, Cruz endorses bills that curtail access to the ballot box because he believes that expanding voting rights will cause “illegal votes” to suppress the influence of his constituents.
Michael Knowles is a popular conservative commentator and podcast host. He serves as a host for Prager University and has been featured on the Rush Limbaugh Show. On the anniversary of Jan. 6, Knowles implored us to remember “the wise men who traveled a great distance for their leader, the true leader of us all, in defiance of an unjust government.” Additionally, he has called to outlaw widespread mail-ins and ballot drop boxes, also arguing for voter ID laws and substantially shorter election seasons.
Cruz and Knowles exist in the backdrop of a larger movement against the right to vote. This past year, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states have enacted over 33 laws making it harder to vote. These laws are often highly racially discriminatory. This is not happening randomly.
Let’s be clear: Ted Cruz and Michael Knowles are guilty of chipping away at democracy.
There is an important difference between cancel culture and defending democracy from real threats.
We should care about democracy because it is the method by which we can contest injustice. All attempts to address our problems rest on sustaining democratic ideals. Our democracy is flawed. The solution is more democracy, not less. Better democracy, not plutocracy, not oligarchy, not autocracy.
Nevertheless, interested students may argue that attending this event is not an endorsement of Cruz and Knowles’ ideas. Instead, they say, the event is a chance to hear (or laugh at) interesting perspectives from the other side. After all, don’t we want free speech on college campuses? In our classrooms, hearing both sides of an idea is a virtue. It signals open-mindedness and willingness to grow.
This perspective dangerously misses the mark. In the words of political scientists Thomas Mann and Norm Ornstein, “A balanced treatment of an unbalanced phenomenon distorts reality.” Attending the event legitimizes Cruz and Knowles’ ideas as valid positions that can, in theory, be engaged in academic debate. It slowly defangs the terror that we should feel at their attempts to overturn a democratically elected president. I want you to confront the terror. Reflect on why they are scary.
In response to the free speech supporters, I would counter that free speech is only instrumentally good insofar as it promotes a healthy democracy. Blatant lies are bad. We must draw the line in the sand to reject antidemocratic ideas. Those that would sacrifice democracy for political influence do not deserve the veneer of academicism. Would you give Putin a platform?
Essentially, if you treat this talk as just another famous speaker series in the ivory tower, rich with glib ideas you can swirl about in your brain, you ignore your duty to democracy.
Holding fast to democracy starts at the local level by refusing Cruz and Knowles an audience. You have a method of intervention: buy tickets, but don’t attend. Refuse to legitimize the event. You signal to other Yale students, and to the organization that invited them, that democracy is non-negotiable and that you refuse to normalize the abnormal. This is what good civic action looks like. There are many ways to do this, and I am only suggesting one.
Yale is an influential cultural, political, and economic institution. Yale students, flush with that great power, hold the great responsibility to fight for a more just society and a healthy democracy. Democracy is non-negotiable.
On April 11, Ted Cruz and Michael Knowles are coming to speak at Yale. A fair number of students are considering attending.
I think this is an error.
ELY ALTMAN is a first-year in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.