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March 16, 2023

The Vulgarization of America

Multiple generations of Americans have been led to believe that feelings are a substitute for argument (or trump argument altogether).

Last Thursday, United States Circuit Court Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan attempted to give a speech at Stanford Law School, where he had been invited to speak by the local chapter of the Federalist Society. In yet another example of bad behavior that is becoming increasingly common on university campuses, a mob of obnoxious students shouted, screamed and hurled epithets at Duncan, preventing his talk. When Duncan requested assistance from administrators who were present, Stanford’s Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Tirien Steinbach took the podium and not only defended the students’ conduct (“I look out and say, ‘I’m glad this is going on here.’”) but suggested that Duncan was the problem, that his “abhorrent” views caused students to suppress free expression, and that his judicial opinions represented an “absolute disenfranchisement” of Stanford students’ rights.

One might assume that Judge Duncan had handled some controversial case where Stanford Law School students were parties to the litigation. But Dean Steinbach was referring to Duncan’s opinion in United States v. Varner. Norman Keith Varner was (is) a sex offender with multiple convictions for possession of child pornography. After his federal conviction, Varner insisted that he was transgender and requested that his court records be changed to use his new name — Kathrine Nicole Jett — and female pronouns. The District Court denied Varner’s motion; on appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (in an opinion written by Duncan) ruled that the federal courts had no statutory authority to entertain Varner’s motion.

Oh, the outrage. Ultimately, the event descended into such chaos that Duncan had to be escorted from the building by federal marshals.

Notwithstanding Stanford’s issuance of a written apology, plenty of writers in the past week — Aaron Sibarium at the Washington Free Beacon, David Strom at HotAir, Ed Whelan at National Review, George Will, Evita Duffy-Alfonso at The Federalist — have responded to the incident and condemned the attacks on free speech on college campuses.

But what shocked me was not just the utter lack of respect for others’ constitutional rights displayed by law students at one of the nation’s “top” law schools; it was the appalling vulgarity. These students were yelling obscenities at a federal judge and holding up signs with the coarsest language imaginable. (I could not provide it even if I were inclined to — it is unprintable in most newspapers.) The protesters apparently thought this was clever.

Stanford Law School students, like those at other top-tier universities across the country, are allegedly the creme de la creme of American society; the “best and brightest”; our future judges, professors, educators and cultural leaders.

If this is the best we can do, we’re in trouble. But it’s worse, really, because the abolition of standards of polite public conduct is not a phenomenon limited to those whose means permit them to attend the most upscale institutions. It’s everywhere. From top to bottom, the vulgarization of American culture continues apace. Every single day on social media sites like TikTok, one can find videos of people stealing, vandalizing property, and beating each other up in fast food restaurants, on airplanes and at airports, at concerts and other public venues. The violence is typically accompanied by screaming obscenities.

In addition to the mob brawls, America’s cities are plagued by problems created by homelessness. Individuals suffering with serious mental illness and/or addiction are permitted by our political class to urinate and defecate in the streets. There have even been instances of sexual behavior in public places like train stations.

Protesters (largely women) have come to think that whatever cause they feel deeply aggrieved by will be more compelling if they make their statements naked — or at least topless. The “Free the Nipple” movement has achieved legalized public toplessness for women in several states.


The entertainment industry is one of the worst offenders. Top-selling music artists have used the “n-word” and slang terms for prostitutes for decades now — BORRRRRRING — so the shock value that sells has to get more extreme. Albums and songs have titles with coarse words for male and female genitalia, and extol physiological responses to sexual stimuli in gutter language. When performing their big hits at awards shows, the artists simulate sexual acts of various types on stage.

Even small children are not protected. Drag Queen Story Hour has rapidly degenerated from men sporting garish makeup, wearing women’s clothing and reading “Goodnight Moon” to toddlers, to men sporting garish makeup, wearing almost no clothing, twerking and mooning toddlers.

How very enlightened.

And then there are the so-called “Pride Events,” where parents are taking their small children to go see grown-ups dressed in sadomasochism and bondage attire (and often little else), being led around on leashes with animal masks, and other fetishistic behavior.

Teachers and administrators in public and private schools are sexualizing the curriculum, placing pornographic books in the school libraries, and discussing their own sexual preferences and viewpoints in the classroom — even with the youngest children.

Innocence is out; indoctrinating children to validate adults’ impulses, feelings and experiences is “in.”

Several trends have contributed to this decline. First, contemporary messaging suggests that the most important attributes of your identity are those associated with your sexuality. Second, academia, the media and the entertainment industry love to proclaim that vulgarity is synonymous with creativity. Third, multiple generations of Americans have been led to believe that feelings are a substitute for argument (or trump argument altogether).

These viewpoints are manifestly false. Individually, they can do plenty of damage. But together, they have formed a corrosive miasma that is eroding the very fabric of American culture.


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