When I was in journalism grad school at Chicago’s Northwestern University in 1977, thirty members of the American Nazi Party wanted to march in Skokie – a nearby town of 70,000 in which more than half were Jewish and approximately 5,000 were Holocaust survivors.
There was a big to do and some years later, through court cases and a lot of soul searching among liberals and the ACLU, they did get to hold their march. But most everyone knew what the Nazis were up to. They wanted to hold a group of people they hated as hostages of the first amendment – challenging them to turn their backs on the equality and freedoms they espoused by not allowing their tormenters to taunt and goosestep right before them in their backyards.
This kind of childish bull crap happens every so often when hate-speaking racists get frustrated or empowered enough with their own irrelevance and see a road through which they can satisfy their own rotting inner core by spewing their venom outwards into the crowd that they believe are somehow suppressing their rarefied ways of life.
In a nutshell, this is what’s going on right now with best-selling right wing author, lawyer, media personality and full-time liberal hater Ann Coulter and her campaign to speak – or perhaps not to speak but to raise hell about it – at the American university in the country best known for championing these freedoms since the turbulent 1960s – UC Berkeley.
Bill Maher recently excoriated the administrators at Berkeley for inviting, then disinviting, and then re-inviting Ms. Coulter to campus amid massive protests from students on both sides of the political spectrum espousing either outcome. So did any number of right wing politicians and wags on Twitter – calling the kids on campus the kind of names you hear from bullies in grade school. I won’t repeat them here but they bring to mind every dumb, desperate insult you’ve ever heard about any group. Instead, I will repeat the phrase ex Law and Order actor and stand up comic Richard Belzer once used to describe Ms. Coulter to Mr. Maher when he also excoriated her on Mr. Maher’s own show years before for airing her rancid rants in the segment just before his – A fascist party doll.
You see, I have the freedom to do this without retribution here because this is MY BLOG. Just as the students and administrators of Berkeley have the right to ban Ms. Coulter or anyone else they like since the school is THEIR CAMPUS.
Since it is not public property, like the streets of Skokie, Berkeley is not subject to the same rules of public assembly as a village or town is. In essence, they can invite and/or disinvite anyone they like. Much like me – a gay, Jew – could be banned from the Eagle Scout meetings Attorney General Jeff Sessions used to attend in Alabama in 1964 when he was 18 and that sort of stuff wouldn’t have even been questioned. You can’t tell an Eagle or Boy Scout what to do. They’re part of a private organization. You can only publicly shame them and force them to accept you.
This is, in essence, what is going on now. I can’t claim a portal into Ms. Coulter’s brain – thank her Lord, however you imagine HER/HIM/IT to be – but if past is prologue she has ZERO interest in any sort of give and take intellectual discourse a college campus tries to foster. She is a renowned bomb thrower who delights primarily in provoking the other side by racist generalities and fiery, and very personal, bon mot bombs aimed at any sort of liberal hero, particularly those who have publicly come out against her.
Exactly the same thing can be said of younger and renowned Twitter-banned alt right “pundit” Milo Yiannopoulos – who tried the same thing at Berkeley some months prior, with similar controversial results.
Now if I had my way I’d just let the two of them speak their heads off and picket them. After all, this is so far still the kind of America where we honor dissent – no matter how hateful, nasty and misguided.
On the other hand, if I were just angry enough, I might support the argument that if their intent is to just put on a hate show that just incites violence they are the equivalent of shouting “fire” in a crowded movie theatre.
There are a myriad of public speakers one can get to “perform” at an institution of higher learning for educational purposes and if we truly want to view extreme right wing viewpoints maybe going after Rupert Murdoch or one of his two sons co-running the 21st Century Fox (Note: A misnomer for a 21st century liberal like me if I’ve ever heard one) empire might be a better first, second or third choice.
Still, it’s up to right wing student groups to get who they like so I might be convinced – or trade Coulter with, let’s say, hmmmm – is there an ultra Liberal Ann or Milo? I can’t think of one off the top of my head. Maher is not quite categorical enough and even liberal provocateur Michael Moore reaches out to the other side. Heck, his last film – Michael Moore in Trumpland – was entirely about that.
And that is the point.
Do not masquerade immature name-calling and hate speak and insulting generalizations about whole swaths of the population as some post modern performance art that will show the truth about hypocritical liberals, lazy thinking millenials and their one-sided institutions of higher learning. You can’t claim you’re the pretend Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central when the mood hits you and in the same breath appear on cable news shows as a serious purveyor of facts.
A talk that exists primarily to garner yourself publicity and verbally assault various minority ethnic groups in the name of free speech is not what I wish for my students or their intellectual futures. Though certainly they’re free to indulge in it. Like they occasionally do with the Kardashians, Top Ramen and Pizza Hut.