Our Enthusiasm for Punching Fascists Could Make the Right Even Meaner
Be defiant — but be smart about it
by AJAI RAJ
To say the election of Donald Trump came as a shock to many people, myself included, is a hilarious understatement. Not quite four months into the actual fact of the man holding office, and that sentence still smacks with the aluminum tang of cheap science fiction.
In his 2014 novel The Peripheral, William Gibson touched ever so briefly, and in the abstract, on the convergence of American politics and reality T.V. The Trump presidency, as cliche as it‘s become to say, is more in the vein of Idiocracy.
In this not-quite-four month time period, the Trump presidency has provided us, the voting public, with a comedy of errors high and low. And yet, one can’t take for granted where the comedy lies, nor who is committing the errors.
As of May 12, 2017, 84 percent of Republicans approve of Trump, according to Gallup. So while the anti-Trump crowd might laugh at the memory of Trump promising that his supporters would win so much, they’d get tired of winning, the pro-Trump faction continues to laugh at the anti-Trumpers.
For every liberal consoling themselves with the fantasy that an impeachment is just around the corner, there’s a guy in a #MAGA hat sneering at snowflakes.
But it’s not all fun and games. Even as the schizoid brain of American politics lights up like a pinball machine with everybody laughing at everybody else, other parts of that brain are adamant that this is deadly serious stuff.
This is, in fact, war. And most people understand on a gut level that in war there is really only one rule — win.
Trump understands this intuitively, thanks to his education at the feet of Roy Cohn. He flouted every Emily Post rule of how to do politics, regressing to something like the Boss Tweed handbook. And he was rewarded for it, handsomely.
But of course, the culture war in America predates even the possibility of a Trump presidency by a significant margin. That war has proceeded, in a warlike fashion, for a fairly long time too. And if that doesn’t change, things are going to get a lot uglier before they get better, if indeed they do.
I’ll admit that I reacted to the election in a fairly typical manner — it pushed me farther left. So when the first protests happened, and a car was set on fire here, a window smashed there, I didn’t think it was much of a big deal.
After all, no one got hurt. I also decried — and still do — the hypocrisy of pearl-clutching conservatives who were eager to denounce the protestors for mere property damage when scarcely a week went by without one or two unarmed black people being murdered by police.
But the question is more complicated than the binary of “violence good/violence bad.” Everyone agrees in principle that violence is bad, except when it isn’t. Especially if they’re not the ones on the receiving end.
Complicating the picture even further, not everyone agrees on what constitutes violence. Physical force against people is violence, obviously. But is property damage violence? What about violent rhetoric? What about rhetoric you don’t like? Ideas that make you uncomfortable?
We don’t need recourse to the Oxford’s here. Attacking people is violence. Violent rhetoric is inciting violence, but does not, in itself, constitute violence.
Property damage? Gray area. Not technically violence, but arguably dickish, especially when small businesses suffer. And anyway, it’s hard to see how smashing a random window harms fascists, or torching a cop car, for that matter, however cathartic it may feel.
The antifa line is that they’re acting to suppress the violence of fascists and the violent rhetoric of fascists, which, left unchecked, will lead to organized fascist violence. Fair enough, if true.
But that’s not what we’ve seen. We can’t quantify how much Nazi violence has been preempted by antifa activity, anymore than we can be assured that the Bear Patrol is working like a charm. I mean, I don’t see any Nazi splinter cells around, do you?
What we have seen is antifas sucker-punching civilians, pepper-spraying them for wearing red hats and other apparently random mayhem. One of the problems with violence is that it tends to spiral out of control. Another is that people who go out looking for a fight are bound to find one, even if it’s not the one they originally sought.
So much for the antifas. As they say on Reddit, change my view.
Loosely connected to the antifa contingent is the “no-platforming” strategy of protest — that is, denying someone a platform to express their politics — that’s been deployed on college campuses for a few years now. If the antifa question is the “hard” side of the question of violence, we can call no-platforming the “soft” side of the question, in that it involves the last two questions.
Do rhetoric or ideas one finds threatening in the abstract count as violence?
I’d answer with a firm no. Absent the potential to actually mobilize others into enacting violence against people, ideas, however otherwise abhorrent, cannot said to reasonably be violence or incitement of violence. Yanking a professor’s hair and giving her whiplash for having the audacity to debate with someone you don’t like, though — that, ghouls and witches, is violence.
We can also speak of the metaphorical violence that’s being done to language at every turn. Calling people “racist,” “sexist,” et al. has all but lost its sting due to overuse. Ever since “alt-right” came into the popular lexicon, it’s hard to even tell what people mean when they call someone a white nationalist or a Nazi.
As Allison Stanger pointed out in her New York Times op-ed, the Southern Poverty Law Center mislabels American Enterprise Institute scholar Charles Murray as a white nationalist, ascribes to him other views which he does not hold and distorts views that he does hold.
Whatever else you may make of Murray, if you’re going to hate him, hate him for what he actually is.
Speaking of amorphous and imprecise terms, another one I tend not to like is “social justice warrior,” or SJW. You don’t necessarily know if the person using thinks of everyone to his political left on any issue as an SJW, or if they’re referring specifically to the kind of worthless goon who would yank a woman’s hair hard enough to put her in the hospital after preventing her from expressing disagreement with someone you hate.
Everyone who grew up in the hardcore/punk scene in the 1980s and 1990s knows itmedium.com
But when used to refer to the no-platforming know-nothing types, I don’t have much of a problem with the term. This essay from 2014 seems remarkably prescient.
“What SJWs do not realize is that they are single-handedly cultivating a generation of fascists,” the essay asserts. “The more extreme the left becomes, the more right-wing and reactionary people will become as a result.”
It happened in the 1980s as a response to the left being overwhelmed with hippies and it will happen again in the future as a response to the left being overwhelmed with SJWs — only, this time, the right-wing will be far more extreme than the likes of Ronald Reagan.
SJWs are paving the way for a future dominated by far-right extremists. These so-called advocates of “social justice” are the best gift that neo-Nazis could have possibly asked for — the most extreme and unpleasant aspects of the far-left amplified for all the world to see.
The more absurd and outrageous SJWs become, the more the far-right gains support and sympathy. If SJWs think that they’re “oppressed” right now … well, they had better be prepared for the future that they’re helping to create.
What we’re seeing now, as the left moves farther left and the right moves farther right, is the center not holding. And frankly, if Trump’s approval ratings among his base stay where they are now, I’m not going to be holding my breath for him to be impeached no matter how many hysterical stories come out with “Russia” in the headlines.
Stay defiant, but be smart about it.
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