Ross Douthat's new New York Times file photo.
Ross Douthat doesn't think much of diversity. He feels it's fake; that it's liberal and therefore self-congratulatory and hypocritical. As he described in his book about his Harvard education, he scorned Harvard for promoting diversity when the students really weren't diverse, since even the minority students usually came from money. Douthat sees no benefit in ensuring that the majority can't exclude the minority out of tribal loyalty, since tribal loyalty is what Douthat has depended on for success his entire life. If we genuinely lived in a meritocracy, which Douthat says we do, Douthat would need to be an intelligent, thoughtful, hard-working and talented writer to find success. Obviously that was not going to happen, so Douthat depended on money and connections instead. There are very few spots at the top and keeping some of them open for someone who is not Ross Douthat is unfair because it reduces his own odds of success. Douthat managed to become successful anyway, thanks be to God, and now puts on his vestments, picks up his Bible, mounts the short staircase up to his pulpit, and begins to sermonize. He comes to us not in anger but in sorrow, to examine the actions of the parishioner Elizabeth Warren, who has sinned against her community in the Eyes of God. Sayeth "Cotton" Douthat. She has made a "clumsy" effort to explain why she believed her family story about Cherokee ancestry.
The whole story has a tragicomic, Nathaniel Hawthorne meets “Curb Your Enthusiasm” feel. It’s easy to imagine Warren originally checking a box more on a whim than out of any deep determination to self-identify as Cherokee. (She didn’t use the minority-applicant program when applying to Rutgers, where she attended law school, and she identified as “white” during an early teaching job at the University of Texas.) Then it’s easy to imagine her embarrassment when the diversity wars of the 1990s made that whimsical choice something from which she couldn’t dissociate herself without intense public awkwardness. Those wars faded, she no longer listed herself as a Native American, she thought the whole thing was behind her ... until she went into politics, where no secret stays buried. The appropriate response to such a tale is probably sympathy rather than scorn. What does deserve scorn, though, is the academic culture in which an extremely distant connection to a Cherokee ancestor ends up being touted by a law school as proof of its commitment to diversity. A diverse faculty and campus can be a laudable goal. But the point is to build academic communities that actually contain a wide variety of experiences and perspectives, not to wax self-congratulatory because you’ve met a set of ethnic quotas. The story of Elizabeth Warren, “woman of color,” represents a reductio ad absurdum of the latter tendency, which has been all too prevalent in elite universities — giving us affirmative-action programs that benefit West Indian immigrants more than the descendants of slaves, and faculties that include a wider range of skin tones than of political and religious views. (my bold)Amen, Brother Douthat! Why aren't there more conservatives, especially religious conservatives, in elite universities? Why isn't everyone at Harvard just like Rev. Cotton Douthat? Just imagine--a world of Ross Douthats, in which it wouldn't matter that you are awkward and self-conscious, pompous and moralizing, and terminally uncool because everyone else was the same way! All the cool people would look just like you! George Clooney would have facial hair designed to point out that he does, too, have a chin, and the president of the United States would turn red when a good-looking woman looked at him. Dear God in Heaven, would that not be bliss? A Nation Of Douthats!
For many colleges and universities, then, this contretemps represents a timely gift: a chance to think anew about these issues, before the pursuit of a cosmetic diversity leaves them looking as ridiculous as poor Elizabeth Warren does today.Why have a superficial diversity of race, nationality and gender when you can have real diversity--more fundamentalist Catholic conservatives?