Watching students protest a conservative radio host’s appearance on USC’s campus bothered Michael Adler. That lack of tolerance displayed in fall 2018 wasn’t the same university he remembered in the 1980’s.
The son of a frequently unemployed computer systems engineer and a stay at home mom, Adler and his two sisters relied on free school lunches and food stamps to get through the week. Eventually earning a full-ride scholarship to USC and working his way through college, Adler did not recall political demonstrations obstructing his educational experience. When he saw students violently protesting Ben Shapiro on campus last year, he felt embarrassed as both a USC alum and member of its exclusive and powerful Board of Trustees.
Growing up peeking at a checkbook that was always in the negative, Adler looks back on that difficult time as a blessing that created his strong work ethic and desire to change his life. He doesn’t remember paying much attention to politics until it started affecting his hard-earned money. After studying rigorously while holding a job to graduate with both his bachelor’s and master's degrees from USC in business and eventually earning his law degree from Loyola Marymount University, Adler finished school in 2004 and now is a partner at his law firm in Torrance, Calif.
Adler, who has donated over $1 million to the school, said he believes in giving back. According to Adler, unlike the ambiguities of the American tax system, he likes to know exactly where and what his money goes toward. While his family did depend on government aid growing up, Adler doesn’t believe taxpayers’ money improves the areas where it’s spent. He said he hasn’t seen improvements in mental health services despite a tax increase that was supposed to help with the issue.
Adler identifies as a conservative who disagrees with the tax system that now takes more than 50% of his annual income as a California resident. “What set me in my ways was working hard and having to pay taxes and realizing that there are a lot of people who can make more sitting at home,” Adler said.
Adler shared his political views in February, long before a global pandemic shook the economy and changed everything about day-to-day life. At the time of the interview, Adler said he planned to vote along party lines to support President Trump’s re-election. He insists that his voting tendencies reflect who he truly believes is the best candidate for the job. At the time, he said that he respected the president’s background in business and believed Trump’s skills had helped the economy grow and prosper. This personal philosophy toward voting is exactly what Adler has seen die over the years – especially within the USC student body.
Adler expressed his disappointment with students who protested the USC Young Americans for Freedom town hall event with Shapiro, whose college speaking circuit had invited dissent across America. “I saw students protesting and chanting ‘death to the police.’ I saw a student smash a $5,000 camera of a conservative news station. I saw people intimidated to go inside,” Adler said.
In a followup conversation later, Adler added that while he has no problem with peaceful protest and free speech, he was bothered by what he viewed as “intimidation, violence and disrespectful conduct” toward law enforcement.
This behavior starkly contrasted Adler’s memory of USC.
"USC students’ voices are being silenced out of fear,” he said.
Adler, who started in 1982 and graduated in 1986, couldn’t remember anything like it happening on campus. At the time, President Reagan had just been inaugurated after winning his second term in a landslide. A brief search for campus discontent during this time period unearthed Daily Trojan archives with just one prominent mention of a protest — when a former KKK grand dragon spoke to a journalism class just two months into Adler’s freshman year.
In comparison to earlier difficult political climates, students now seem to have lost the ability to engage in intelligent conversations without taking differing views personally, Adler said.
“They feel threatened. They feel scared to express their views in class, and conservatives have lost the debate stage,” he said.
From a legal perspective, he believes people make decisions best when they are most informed. According to Adler, seeing students protest with the goal of silencing speakers and criticizing conservative student organizations is counterproductive to the benefits of higher education.
"I don’t recall Republicans demonstrating, setting buildings on fire and getting into violent protests when Obama won,” Adler said. Flipping his argument, Adler explained that while he disagrees with many of former President Obama’s policies, he would still love to hear him speak on campus as a way to continue to educate himself as well as a sign of respect for the former president of the United States – respect which he argues most people have lost.
As someone who has done away with all personal social media accounts to avoid cyber-attacks for his conservative views and support for Trump, Adler explains that the future of America is up to the Democrats. He believes if there are four more years of Democrats trying to impeach Trump and work against him, the country will never progress. "If we try to work together, I think America – if not the world – will be great,” Adler said.