Yesterday, as news of Otto Warmbier’s sad and tragic death spread across the Web, a number of people on Twitter recalled and reposted a series of leftist hot takes on Warmbier’s initial arrest and imprisonment. Let’s just say that they did not age well.
Comedy Central’s Larry Wilmore was one of the chief offenders, launching one of his shows with an eight-minute festival of mockery that accepted the North Korean regime’s version of events, mocked Warmbier’s anguished tears, and even posted a graphic calling him an “ass” — based on the initials of a fictional fraternity. The message? Let’s mock frat bros when they go where Daddy can’t protect them. Doubt me? Watch for yourself:
Wilmore wasn’t alone, of course. At the Huffington Post, self-described “revolutionary” writer La Sha went on an extended rant that once again accepted North Korea’s version of events and then imputed to Warmbier a bulletproof sense of white privilege. It ends like this:
What a mind-blowing moment it must be to realize after 21 years of being pedestaled by the world simply because your DNA coding produced the favorable phenotype that such favor is not absolute. What a bummer to realize that even the State Department with all its influence and power cannot assure your pardon. What a wake-up call it is to realize that your tears are met with indifference.
As I’ve said, living 15 years performing manual labor in North Korea is unimaginable, but so is going to a place I know I’m unwelcome and violating their laws. I’m a black woman though. The hopeless fear Warmbier is now experiencing is my daily reality living in a country where white men like him are willfully oblivious to my suffering even as they are complicit in maintaining the power structures which ensure their supremacy at my expense. He is now an outsider at the mercy of a government unfazed by his cries for help. I get it. [Emphasis added.]
I could go on. There was a mocking story in Salon (since deleted), and there were multiple mocking tweets (of course). And these outlets, while undeniably leftist, are hardly fringe. Larry Wilmore is a much-celebrated, mainstream liberal comic. The Huffington Post is one of the most trafficked websites in America. Citing these outlets is hardly like pulling up an obscure online pamphlet from a five-person revolutionary cell in Brooklyn.
I grew up in rural Kentucky and went to college at a conservative Evangelical college in Tennessee. So it’s a bit of an understatement to say that I had limited exposure to the Left before my days at Harvard Law School. I was immersed in a new culture, and what I encountered was both reassuring and ominous. And it’s the ominous side, unfortunately, that is coloring much of American debate.
I met liberals who are even today among the people I respect the most. They have keen intellects, gracious spirits, and virtuous goals. We disagree about means and sometimes disagree about ends, but I don’t doubt their ethics, intentions, or good faith. Liberal professors mentored me, I forged friendships that will last a lifetime, and I still learn from and appreciate the best expressions of liberal points of view.
Classmates told me to “go die” because of my pro-life speech.
But I also encountered cruelty and sheer malice. As I’ve written before, this was the era of the shout-down. This was an era not just of protests but also of malicious retaliation. Classmates told me to “go die” because of my pro-life speech. Some of my friends had their faces pasted on images of gay porn and posted around campus. Other friends were subject to campaigns to call future employers demanding that offers be revoked. The atmosphere was so toxic that GQ magazine wrote a piece describing the law school as “Beirut on the Charles.”
Yet in many ways Harvard embraced these hateful radicals. It gave them a home. It gave them a hearing. It gave them tenure. The most prestigious educational institution in the world was wrapping both its arms around some of the most vicious people I’d ever met. It was at Harvard that I came to understand the dynamic so powerfully described by Tom Wolfe in his legendary essay “Radical Chic.” All too many liberals admire radicals. They envy their commitment to the cause. They’re fascinated by their arguments, by their style, and by their very presence:
. . . and now, in the season of Radical Chic, the Black Panthers. That huge Panther there, the one Felicia is smiling her tango smile at, is Robert Bay, who just 41 hours ago was arrested in an altercation with the police, supposedly over a .38-caliber revolver that someone had, in a parked car in Queens at Northern Boulevard and 104th Street or some such unbelievable place, and taken to jail on a most unusual charge called “criminal facilitation.” And now he is out on bail and walking into Leonard and Felicia Bernstein’s 13-room penthouse duplex on Park Avenue. Harassment & Hassles, Guns & Pigs, Jail & Bail — they’re real, these Black Panthers. The very idea of them, these real revolutionaries, who actually put their lives on the line, runs through Lenny’s duplex like a rogue hormone.
The radicals mix with the liberals, and the liberals empower the radicals. What’s happening on college campuses today? A small fringe defies the rule of law, it shuts down free speech, and it sometimes even physically attacks speakers or their allies. It acts out of cruelty and sometimes even race-hate, spitting out the word “white” as if it’s inherently evil. And yet the liberal establishment caves into their demands (all while lauding their commitment to social justice), even issuing “stand down” orders to campus police that put innocent people in physical peril. The goal? To protect the safety of the rioters.
At best, mainstream liberals deliver mild slaps on the wrist, like the joke punishments given to protesters at Middlebury College. At best, a few brave souls will issue statements and write stern op-eds condemning censorship and academic intolerance. These voices are vital and appreciated, but it often feels as if they represent mere fingers in the dike — doing their best to hold back a torrent of radical rage.
The liberal response to Black Lives Matter is one of the best examples of this sad phenomenon. Millions of well-meaning Americans — justifiably eager for racial reconciliation and often deceived by misleading statistics and sometimes outright lies — have elevated an organization that has dedicated itself to the disruption of the “western-prescribed” nuclear family, celebrates cop-killers, and keeps mounting protests that turn violent (and sometimes even deadly).
It’s too easy to say, “This is how we get Trump.” The issues go far beyond Trump. This is how we get polarization. This is how we get cocooning. This is one way that Americans learn to hate each other. This problem preceded Trump, and it will endure long after he leaves. It’s incumbent on each of America’s great political movements to do their best to police their own, and the Left has failed, utterly, to address the hatred in its midst. Instead its great institutions celebrate it, embrace it, and grant platforms for cruelty and malice. Otto Warmbier is but one victim. There are — and will be — many more to come.
— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.