ACADEMICALLY SPEAKING: Giving thanks for God after an afternoon in Hell with leftists

Convention and obedience are not mutually exclusive to happiness when they act to help individuals create meaningful and purpose-driven lives.

"Academically Speaking" is a series by Campus Reform Managing Editor Zachary Marschall that, drawing on his firsthand experience working with other scholars across the globe, reveals how radical ideas originating in academia impact Americans’ daily lives. Marschall holds a PhD in Cultural Studies and is an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky. His research investigates the intersections of democratic political systems, free market economies, and technological innovation in the production of national and cultural identities, as well as the exchange of cultural goods, services, and practices.

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Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, an eight-day celebration in Judaism that commemorates the miracle of a scant amount of Temple oil burning for that duration. 

The Maccabees witnessed the miracle after liberating themselves from the Seleucids, an ancient Greek successor state to Alexander the Great’s empire. 

Hanukkah falls differently each year due to differences in the Hebrew calendar. Some years, it is closer to Christmas. 

But in 2021, Hanukkah’s proximity to Thanksgiving is an apt invitation for American Jews to remember that Judaism survives because of resilience and defiance that the Maccabees and countless others have displayed in face of potential annihilation. Furthermore, America has given Jews a secure and safe home. 

But while American Jews should be thankful to their ancestors and country, they must also be vigilant against a creeping anti-Semitism from the political left. Without diminishing the hatred Jews face from the far right as well, this breed of anti-Semitism is cultivated on American college campuses in concert with growing anti-American messaging from scholars, activists, and curriculum. 

The prevalence and severity of ivory tower-driven anti-American sentiment is best encapsulated by a Wisconsin professor who, as Campus Reform reported last month, told his class that “our democracy and all citizens are the hands that are holding the bloody knife that has wounded the USA."

Interestingly, that professor also told his students in the same document that he is “BIG into politics” and that “MSNBC is my station.”

This disavowal of America from the Left is interlocked with its rampant attacks on Israel, which in the context of academia, give the appearance of legitimacy to its barely concealed anti-Semitism.  

[RELATED: Police investigate 'appalling act of anti-Semitism' at Dartmouth College]

On Nov. 17, Campus Reform reported that students at Stockton University tried to physically block two Israeli veterans from speaking at the New Jersey school. Though the protesters’ efforts were unsuccessful, one of the event organizers remarked to Campus Reform that, “Before, [the veterans] used to fight in the war; now they’re fighting in the media.”

That incident happened in the same semester that Barnard College tried to force "Sabbath-observer" Jewish students to use smart devices for COVID tracing during the High Holy Days.

That indifference to practicing Jews recalls the basis for a legal complaint filed against Stanford University earlier this year, claiming that the school’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committee “has maligned and marginalized Jews, by castigating them as powerful and privileged perpetrators who contribute to systemic racism.”

Whether indifference or timidity, this same year has seen the chancellor of Rutgers University apologize to students for a statement condemning anti-Semitism and a national poll revealing that 50% of Jewish students feel a “need to hide their identity" at college. 

But such instances have not stopped individuals in higher education from speaking out over the discrimination from the left. 

“Jews have been overwhelmingly abandoned by progressive activists,” an instructor at University of California Berkeley wrote earlier this year. 

“It is scary to be a Jew in America right now,” a student at the University of Michigan told Campus Reform in July. “Observant men must cover their yarmulkes to not be yelled at or spit on.”

Campus Reform reported on these stories from July through November, but they occurred to me – a collective smack on the head – as one problem while I spent an afternoon in Hell with leftists.

Hadestown, of which I attended a matinee on Oct. 31, is a modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, who travels to the Underworld in hopes of rescuing his wife, Eurydice. 

Hades, the god of the Underworld, allows Orpheus to bring his wife back to earth as long as he does not look back at her during the pair’s journey. The condition is meant to test the pair’s love and trust for one another. Near the end, Orpheus does doubt his wife and Eurydice is sent back to Hades’ domain. 

The show won eight Tony Awards in 2019, including best score and musical, before being suspended due to COVID-19 in spring 2020. The production resumed performances on September 21, requiring masks for the entire audience. 

But though the Broadway musical is only two years’ old, the show is more than a decade in the making. Anaïs Mitchell, who crafted the musical’s book, music, and lyrics, began developing Hadestown in 2010. 

That year marked another stage of the Great Recession, a precursor to Occupy Wall Street, as well as the seventh year of Donald Trump’s The Apprentice television show, which preceded his pivot to birtherism and eventual run for the presidency. 

Befitting its homage to antiquity, Hadestown can only be seen for the progressive crusade that it is when viewed through its origin myth. 

The musical’s Hades is a ruthless business owner who loves walled borders and capitalist exploitation. He wears a pinstriped suit that recalls the menacing sheen of smarmy villains in classic gangster movies who use their wealth and power to corrupt and intimidate. 

Mitchell’s Hades embodies a Donald Trump that is set against the populist politics of the Great Recession. 

The show opened during his presidency and two years after Shakespeare in the Park’s production of Julius Caesar encountered nationwide criticism for making its assassinated tyrant the spitting image of the president dressed in a trench coat and overly long wide necktie. 

But while Hadestown’s depiction of Trump reveals the production’s politics, that is not the point. 

The last article in this series investigated how queer politics totalizes its political critique of norms and traditions to advocate for the revolutionary dismantling political, economic, and social systems. 

It is that revolutionary impulse to dismantle that drives Hadestown. 

Early in Act I, prior to the protagonists’ descent into the Underworld, a bohemian Orpheus pursues a down-and-out Eurydice. The setting resembles a bar featuring a joyous, carefree ensemble singing about love and leisure. 

The characters, however, never tell the audience who they are apart from their desire to evade labor and hardship. 

In the song “Living it on Top,” Orpheus sings

That pronouncement is the extent of his character development.

Mitchell has reimagined figures from antiquity as being on an anti-capitalist crusade to liberate the earth from Hades’ wall, enterprise, and rules. 

The show’s politicization of love between two individuals makes the characters’ attraction to each other the expression of their socio-political commitments against what a Trumpist god of the Underworld represents. 

But the musical does not specify what it would put in place of those things. For the protagonists, the opposite of whatever Hades represents is the endpoint. 

And because they do not stand for anything other than an imagined utopia where there are no rules and no burdens, the characters are never for anything but themselves. 

If that empty vision for existence sounds familiar, it is because it echoes Terry McCAuliffe’s failed 2021 campaign for Virginia governor. McCauliffe, a Democrat and the commonwealth’s former governor, ran his ego-driven campaign solely on the basis that he was not Trump. 

McCAuliffe lost because American voters are slowly realizing that not-being-Trump is not enough for good and effective leadership. By itself, the absence of something is not a viable alternative.  

And that is what Hadestown does not grasp.

After their successful fight for liberation, the Maccabees lit the Temple oil because that is what their religion commanded. They fought against the Seleucids for the freedom to worship and obey God. 

Religion, and Judaism in particular, gives structure to happy life-long partnerships and families. It ordains time to find purpose in work, solace in prayer, and leisure on days of rest. 

Its rituals and shibboleths help people locate others with the same values and beliefs, which help create communities that can thrive together but also protect one another.

When academic scholars and administrators profess anti-Americanness and their political impulse to overturn social institutions and norms, they are acting on their disdain for cultural norms and boundaries.

[RELATED: Radical students destroy 9/11 flag displays across country]

These same anti-American figures then champion the terrorist group Hamas in syllabi and in statements because the chant “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free” embodies that same revolutionary zeal for destruction that makes campus leftists feel their anti-Semitism is trendy, intellectual, and moral. 

Convention and obedience are not mutually exclusive to happiness when they act to help individuals create meaningful and purpose-driven lives.

In that respect, Christianity embraces these values similarly to Judaism. Campus Reform’s coverage even demonstrates that Christians are often bear the brunt of campus radicals’ attacks on religious liberty and freedom of speech. 

But whereas Christianity has been the dominant religion of the United States, Judaism has only thrived in this country from Jews’ ability to assimilate while also preserving their religious and cultural traditions.

That combination compounds the problem of Jews in the eyes of leftists at a time when campus radicals are intent to undo anything that perpetuates “model minority” success those instances of upward social mobility affirm the norms, institutions, and conventions that create American greatness. 

Last month, The New York Times reported on published academic research that found American progressives are less happy that conservatives.  

Maybe that is why utopias fail. The most idealistic fringe thinkers are always the least able to understand how happiness and fulfillment are obtained. 

In their crusade for queer liberation and all the political, economic, and social upheaval that revolutionary change entails, campus leftists are condemning both American norms and a religion with strong traditions out of spite and resentment. 

These radicals are sad, pitiable figures. But that does not make their anti-Semitism any less dangerous or their anti-American sentiment any less alarming. 

Rather, the sad state of the American far left should be cause for those of us that love God, His laws, and the social norms and conventions that allow us to live as purposeful individuals, to give thanks for the meaning, liberty, and happiness that these things provide.