A White House aide nominated by President Donald Trump for a federal appeals court seat has a history of denouncing women’s marches against sexual assault, dismissing education about multicultural awareness and accusing a major LGBTQ group of exploiting the brutal murder of a gay student for political ends.
Steven Menashi, a Stanford-trained lawyer who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, wrote dozens of editorials and blog posts in the late 1990s and early 2000s for a number of college and professional publications decrying “leftist multiculturalism” and “PC orthodoxy.” He complained about “gynocentrists,” wrote that the Human Rights Campaign “incessantly exploited the slaying of Matthew Shepard for both financial and political benefit” and argued that a Dartmouth fraternity that held a “ghetto party” wasn’t being racist.
He attacked academic multiculturalism as “thoroughly bankrupt” and, in 2002, defended then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi amid a worldwide controversy over comments asserting the superiority of Western civilization over Islamic culture – for which Berlusconi himself ultimately apologized.
The writings offer a window into Menashi’s worldview, particularly on social issues, and are reflective of the broader conservative movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s. If confirmed by the Senate, Menashi would receive a lifetime appointment on the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers New York, Connecticut and Vermont.
Menashi, whose nomination was announced last week by the White House, published his views first as a student at Dartmouth, where he was a writer and editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth Review, the conservative student newspaper that counts conservative commentators Laura Ingraham and Dinesh D’Souza among its alumni. After graduation, he continued his commentary in conservative publications National Review, The Washington Times and American Enterprise magazine, as well as the publication Doublethink.
Prior to graduating from Stanford Law School in 2008, Menashi was a writer and editor for the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review and a member of the editorial board for The New York Sun, a now-defunct conservative newspaper. Menashi also co-authored with Ross Douthat the conservative blog The American Scene through 2005, and contributed sporadically in the years following.
Menashi, who was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis and an assistant professor of law at George Mason University, joined the Trump administration in 2017 and moved to the White House in 2018, after a stint at the Department of Education as the acting general counsel, according to a copy of his resume.
A Department of Justice spokesman said in a comment to CNN’s KFile that Menashi is qualified to serve, but declined to say if Menashi still holds his earlier views.
“Mr. Menashi is exceptionally qualified to serve as a judge on the Second Circuit. Attempts to blatantly mischaracterize decades-old articles he wrote before he was even in law school do not change that,” the spokesman said. He added that Menashi “looks forward to answering any questions Senators have when he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee.”
On Take Back the Night marches
While at Dartmouth, Menashi often covered Greek life and culture on campus for The Dartmouth Review.
One editorial from October 2000 titled “Heteropatriarchal Gynophobes!” discussed Dartmouth’s ranking as one of “the 10 most antimale schools in America,” by Men’s Health. Menashi – then editor-in-chief – harshly criticized Take Back the Night marches on college campuses, which seek to end violence against women.
“‘Take Back the Night’ marches charge the majority of male students with complicity in rape and sexual violence (every man’s a potential rapist, they say; it’s part of the patriarchal culture)—not to mention the ‘Frats Rape’ accusation that’s chalked on the sidewalks from time to time,” Menashi wrote. “And while campus gynocentrists can throw around these accusations, there’s no similar leeway for men.”
“Offhand remarks or jokes can create a ‘hostile environment’ or ‘stigmatize’ women—and can be punished through official disciplinary action,” he continued. “After all, women may be the majority, they may be the beneficiaries of special academic programs and institutional support, but they remain, by definition, an oppressed minority.”
Menashi cited commentator Christina Hoff Sommers, who had written the essay “The War Against Boys” earlier that year and who he said argued persuasively against “the prevailing view among educators is that girls are disadvantaged, and systematically victimized, in American schools.”
“Men at Dartmouth and similar schools live, as Sommers has written, ‘in a state of permanent culpability,’” he added.
On the Human Rights Campaign and ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’
In a March 2001 editorial in The Dartmouth Review, Menashi turned his focus on the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy organization in the US. Menashi accused the group of hypocrisy for not speaking out on crimes committed by gay men, only crimes committed against them. At the time, the trial was ongoing for the 1999 rape and murder of a 13-year-old boy named Jesse Dirkhising by two gay men. Menashi compared it with the 1998 slaying of Shepard, a gay man whose brutal murder inspired a new wave of gay activism in the late 1990s.
“The gay rights group Human Rights campaign, which has incessantly exploited the slaying of Matthew Shepard for both financial and political benefit, has not said one word about Jesse Dirkhising,” Menashi wrote. “In fact, despite some media queries, they consistently evade the issue.”
Menashi insisted that he wasn’t suggesting a correlation between homosexuality and homicide – something he wrote that only “militant” anti-gay people would do – but rather arguing that “HRC only bolsters the unreasonable claims” by not responding to questions about the murder.
“By refusing to denounce the crime, and to sympathize with the Dirkhising family—or to acknowledge Jesse Dirkhising in any way—HRC only bolsters the unreasonable claims,” he wrote. “In their unwillingness even to discuss the case, HRC implies that the killing says something about American gays. Something bad.”
Writing for American Enterprise magazine for the October/November 2000 edition, Menashi accused universities of hypocrisy as well for offering all-gay dormitories but opposing the military’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”
“For years, tony colleges have sneered at the military for worrying about open homosexuals in the ranks,” Menashi wrote.
“The military says its ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy promotes the unit cohesion needed in combat by reducing sexual tension and respecting personal privacy,” he said. “The colleges say these claims only mask irrational prejudice. University administrators insist troops in mortal combat should be able to handle the tension of living in mixed quarters. But it turns out that college kids living in dorms and frat houses, threatened by such dangers as beer kegs and basketball games, are quite a different matter.”
“In fact, the situation is so dire that colleges nationwide are establishing separate barracks for gays, not only as a haven from homophobic sophomores, but also to guard against emotional troubles gay students face in mixed living quarters,” he later added.
On multiculturalism and diversity
In the same March 2001 editorial on the Human Rights Campaign, Menashi touched on identity politics and compared college applications listing race to the Nuremberg Laws created in 1935 to segregate Jews in Germany.
“Identity politics subsumes individuals in a tribal unit, and defines them not according to the dictates of their conscience or mind, but according to the historical circumstances of the tribe, and its relationship to actual or would-be oppressors,” wrote Menashi. “Elite institutions generally nourish the disposition. Sixty years after the promulgation of the Nuremberg laws, universities persist in cataloguing students according to race on college applications and official documents. And our cultural and political beliefs are said to be a function of our bloodlines. What a subversion of the liberation of mind promised by education.”
“When students are taught to see all of history through the lens of racial conflict, it’s not surprising that they will adopt this view in their actual lives,” he continued. “Thus, campuses boil with racial tension, accusations of prejudice, and overt competition between ‘identity’ groups, demanding parochial academic programs, resource centers, and so on for the benefit of their own kind, from a limited pool of funds.”
In several editorials for the newspaper, Menashi defended a fraternity that threw a “ghetto party,” widely seen as racist, on free speech grounds. Mostly white partygoers donned Afros and toy guns, according to a contemporaneous story by The Associated Press.
Menashi wrote in December 1998, after the episode made national news, that no one carried toy guns and only one person sported an Afro. In a post in August 1999, Menashi argued the “ghetto party” was “harmless and ultimately unimportant,” along with a “lu’au” party that caused a minor controversy within Dartmouth.
“Last November, amidst the controversy over the ‘ghetto’ party, The Dartmouth Review warned readers about a chilling effect on free speech,” he wrote. “Students, even if they believed the ghetto party to be harmless, were intimidated into condemning the party and its sponsors. They weren’t convinced it was racist, mind you. They were intimidated by protests, posters, rallies, letters, and campus activists who chastised as racist all dissenters.”
“The lu’au itself, like the ghetto party, was harmless and ultimately unimportant,” he added. “The actual threat is a predominant ideology that forces students into silence when a privileged few object to their language or presentation—no matter how absurd the objections may be.”
In another 1998 editorial, Menashi wrote that a pre-orientation program offered at Brown University for minority students called the Third World Transition Program – which Menashi wrote as “the Third World Training Program” – was used by the school “to fully indoctrinate them in leftist multiculturalism.”
“Every fall at Brown University, newly-admitted minority students arrive on campus four days before their peers. They spend that time in Brown’s ‘Third World Training Program,’ an intense seminar focusing on issues of race, class, gender, assimilation, and identity. When the rest of the student body arrives on campus, they are forced to watch a film depicting a conversation between a black man and a white man. At the conclusion of the film, the white man breaks down crying from guilt,” wrote Menashi. “Next, the insidious part: the entire freshman class is divided into small groups and assigned a ‘facilitator’ to discuss race, class, and the rest. Naturally, those who participated in the Third World Training program are the most outspoken; they have just completed four days of instruction in PC orthodoxy.”
After college, Menashi continued his critiques of multiculturalism awareness.
In an essay for the summer 2002 edition of Doublethink, a now-defunct magazine published by America’s Future Foundation, Menashi reviewed “Decade of Denial” – a book by conservative commentator Herbert London.
Menashi called academic multiculturalism “thoroughly bankrupt,” arguing it was about “denigrating western culture in order to promote self-esteem among ‘marginalized’ groups” and not about understanding other cultures.
“Academic multiculturalism, for one, has been exposed as thoroughly bankrupt. The country would be aided in its current effort, certainly, if its students were familiar with other cultures, conversant in Arab history, and knowledgeable about Islamic law,” he wrote. “But in fact they know very little of substance about other cultures, and as the FBI’s post-September 11 pleas for Arabic and Pashto translators made clear, they’re not learning non-Western languages, either.”
“It is now evident that multiculturalism was never about understanding non-Western cultures; it was about denigrating Western culture in order to promote self-esteem among ‘marginalized’ groups,” he added. “The lazy cultural relativism endemic to academe also appears discredited after Americans have encountered true, undeniable evil. As we rediscover our shared civic life in the wake of national tragedy, perhaps Americans will come to share London’s idealism— and rebuild our weakened common culture.”
Defended Berlusconi comments on Islamic culture
In one case, Menashi defended comments on Islam even when those who espoused them eventually rejected them.
In a December 2002 review of a book called “The Survival of Culture” for The Washington Times, Menashi defended Berlusconi for stating “the obvious” when he wrote of “the superiority of Western civilization over Islam.”
“Throughout the book contributors address the issue of cultural relativism, the most conspicuous example being the brouhaha surrounding Silvio Berlusconi’s proclamation of the superiority of Western civilization over Islam,” wrote Menashi. “Appearing in Germany shortly after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Italian prime minister said: ‘We must be aware of the superiority of our civilization, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights, and in contrast with Islamic countries respect for religious and political rights.’ Mr. Berlusconi did nothing other than state the obvious. Yet politicos throughout Europe quickly denounced his comments and Mr. Berlusconi eventually recanted.”
“The European tendency, writes columnist Mark Steyn in his contribution to this collection, is to see deviation from basic guarantees of political decency ‘as just another “alternative lifestyle” lesbianism, vegetarianism, totalitarianism, whatever,’” added Menashi. “This may save some public figures the burden of judging others, but it constitutes a flight from reality.”
“I’m sorry that a few words dragged out of the general context, badly interpreted, have offended the sensibility of my Arab and Muslim friends,” Berlusconi said. “An artificial controversy has blown up based on nothing and fed by irresponsible comments from the opposition.”