BY GRANT BONHAM
Two weeks ago at University of California, Berkeley, protests became the focus of national attention when violence erupted, resulting in Milo Yiannopoulos’s speech being cancelled. CNN showed live footage of destruction and BuzzFeed switched between videos of the protest and the nonviolent dance party, and by the next morning, President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw funds from the university. The immediate shock of the protest waned, but two pillars of our democratic society, the freedom of speech and assembly, were left disturbed. Police at the event canceled Milo’s speech altogether when they felt violence from the protesters threatened the speaker and his audience. Milo’s speech at University of California, Davis, a month before was canceled, and a protester was shot at a Milo speech at the University of Washington; it has become commonplace for protestors at college campuses to shut down Milo wherever he goes. Milo’s rhetoric is intentionally provocative toward the left: he aims at upsetting social justice warriors, those who, mainly on the internet, support socially progressive views and political correctness. He even verbally attacked a transgender student as another pull for attention. These actions and the overall provocative nature of his speeches accurately represents the total shallowness of his beliefs. While Milo garners large media attention, his political framework is rarely exposed and he relies mostly on insulting his opponents and personal attacks. Provocative or not, fireworks and rocks were thrown at the police at UC Berkeley, and roughly $100,000 in damage was caused over a man who gave a speech at the University of Colorado about why ugly people hate him.
When Milo’s speeches get cancelled, his popularity surges. The videos of violence by people protesting him skyrocketed his upcoming book back into the number one spot on Amazon and earned him an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News, where he was able to propagate his message to a larger audience. Conversely, the 150 black bloc protesters that caused the violence were condemned nationwide. Walking away from the event, it has become abundantly clear: fighting ideas like Milo’s with acts of violence and destruction will not work, and silencing people like Milo will only make them stronger. But time and time again, liberal students protest against the speakers invited by their conservative counterparts. Rather than the current obstructionism used by liberal majorities the focus should move to political reconciliation starting with a defense of those being attacked by conservative speakers. The aggression must end. Instead liberal communities must defend our fellow students who, like the transgender student who was verbally attacked by Milo, face the brunt of these verbal assaults. Why is an accepting and open community that hears hate speech unable to be strong enough to defend those who are most afflicted? Instead of stymieing those who are aggressors against the values of our campus communities, why can liberal campuses not be strong and solid in our defense of those needing it most? The protest failed before it began because the response to hate should not be inherently hateful and destructive. The response to these right-wing extremists has to be a denial of the emotions that place them there and an even greater expression of policies and emotions that rally against a provocateur like Milo. Milo wants to win on the battleground of hate, and as long as liberal students are willing to engage him there, he will always win. Ideas that clash do not need to be ideas that cause physical battle, and if acceptance is at the root of these differences, then acceptance must be the guiding force to extinguish intolerance.
Milo presents an incredible challenge for those wanting a liberal society where a plurality of views can be freely expressed, but a challenge that should be accepted nonetheless. The strength of an ideology lies in its ability to withstand criticism and debate. But the protestors, who do not promote a cohesive message, lose the ideological battle by not accurately addressing Milo’s specific claims and intolerance. Continually rejecting his presence rather than challenging his policy promotes a view that liberal campuses are inherently trapped in their own information bubble that constantly feeds into their own echo chambers. Milo is inherently aggressive, but the peaceful dance party represented an incredible response to his aggression. These demonstrations of love and celebration are incompatible with his anger and easily avoid playing into his speech. But the push for acceptance and debate must go beyond the response to Milo and needs to shape the overall response to the right’s increasing extremism.
The majority of university students sit toward the left end of the political spectrum, and if only those aged 18 to 25 voted in the presidential election, Hillary Clinton would be our president. And the momentum of young voters that can be carried for generations into more elections. But the Democratic Party, and its supporters, need to form a cohesive political message and shed their anti-Trump rhetoric that engulfed the final months of the 2016 election. Instead of protesting and calling all conservatives fascists, why can’t a party built on social egalitarianism do better?
Donald Trump is our president and Milo represents a pro-Trump media wing that has gained popularity over the last six months and is now front and center in the American political sphere. His ideology and his followers represent a real and large presence in the United States, one that every liberal and Democrat will have to face. But being reactionary and outraged at ignorance and sexism will do nothing to defeat these ideas. The Democratic Party needs to rebuke these figures with sound policy and a return to the populist roots, or it will crumble to provocateurs like Milo and Donald Trump. Momentum must catalyze and move into a political platform for future success. Fighting the nominations of Betsy Devos and Jeff Session go deeper and create policies that form the surface for a stronger party to stand on. Positioning the Democratic Party’s pro-populist message against the useless anti-trade scrutiny of Mr. Trump will move the party toward realistic policy objectives, exposing Mr. Trump’s hollow policy goals. Most importantly, the Democrats need to develop a targeted, consumable ideology and prove once more why their policies trump the sensationalism of these right-wing figures.