We’re living through a revolution, but not the revolution you think.
You’ve probably heard that this presidential campaign is the beginning of the end for the American political establishment. It’s not. Everyone who’s read a history book knows that the end of one establishment usually leads to the rise of another, pretty much indistinguishable from it. But it might be the beginning of the end of something much more foundational to American politics: respecting the dignity of those we disagree with.
In politics, tactics are telling. And when we observe tactics, we see that at least one Republican presidential campaign bears a striking resemblance to a movement on the opposite end of the political spectrum: the rise of exclusionary, powerful, and often oppressive “safe spaces” on college campuses.
These so-called safe spaces are segments of the public square, usually on college campuses, that have been hijacked by illiberal liberals who make them into spaces where only some are safe, and others are in actual danger.
What Trump is doing so successfully isn’t new; he’s using the narrative of oppression.
Donald Trump’s rallies, where incidents of racist aggression have become more and more common, take a page from the radical Left’s handbook by offering just such an exclusive space to the one group that is consistently excluded from other so-called safe spaces: lower and middle-class straight white Americans. As was recently pointed out in The Atlantic, what unites Trump voters is that they feel politically voiceless and powerless. They have watched their jobs dry up, their homes be repossessed, their costs for basic health care soar, and themselves become targets for ongoing insults from the Left. They’ve been called racist for being angry at President Obama’s refusal to enforce immigration laws; bigots for thinking homosexual behavior is wrong; extremists for standing up for innocent human life by opposing abortion on demand, and backwards for wanting to exclude men from the women’s restroom. And they can’t say anything about it without having their words twisted and thrown back in their faces — all in the name of “tolerance.”
It’s only a small step from “I feel voiceless” to wondering who stole your voice. At a Donald Trump rally, it’s clear who’s to blame: the politicians, the judges, the Left, the illegal immigrants. What Trump is doing so successfully isn’t new; he’s using the narrative of oppression, a narrative employed by groups across the political spectrum, to overcome rational analysis and inflame the survival instinct of his constituency. It’s worked so well partly because of the political climate created by the radical Left.
#share#While everyone was watching videos of protesters being hustled out of Trump rallies last week, here’s what happened under the radar in California that illustrates the point.
The campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) at California State University–Los Angeles invited conservative author Ben Shapiro to speak to their group about trigger warnings and illiberal liberalism in general. Just a week and a half before the event was to take place, Cal State–Los Angeles’s president, William Covino, canceled it, saying that Shapiro couldn’t participate in an event that would feature only his view. He would have to appear on a panel with a diverse group to “better represent our university’s dedication to the free exchange of ideas.”
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This explanation was pretty laughable, considering the school has a Red Light rating (i.e., highly restrictive of rights) from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a group that monitors restrictive speech codes and threats to freedom of speech and expression on American college campuses. But then, adding insult to injury, Cal State–Los Angeles tried to force YAF to pay for the security deposits from the canceled event. YAF threatened legal action, and after a few tense days, Covino backed down and allowed the event to take place as scheduled, though he made it clear that he “strongly disagrees with Mr. Shapiro’s views.” He did, however, promise to ensure “a climate of safety and security” for the YAF event.
But at the event that “climate of safety” devolved rapidly. As Shapiro prepared to speak, hundreds of screaming protesters surrounded the building and prevented YAF members from entering the event. They assaulted a female Breitbart reporter multiple times.
Belonging to an oppressed group gives us a pass on civility, it seems.
When Shapiro began speaking, over the din of angry voices outside, about how an obsession with diversity jeopardizes freedom of speech, protesters triggered the fire alarm inside the hall and then barricaded the doors so that no one could get in or out. Afterwards, security had to escort students (and Mr. Shapiro) out the back doors to ensure their safety from the screaming crowd. Because of the disturbances, Mr. Shapiro was unable to give his scheduled talk at all.
To cap it off, a protester interviewed after the event said, “I’m here helping to reduce the hate.” What she means is this: An event featuring a perspective she disagrees with counts as “hate,” and the only way that she can reduce that hate is to scream, throw water on people, barricade people into a room, set off the fire alarm, and make sure that they can’t leave through the front doors without fearing for their safety. At least at Trump rallies there is sometimes a semblance of civility.
In American politics today, there’s power in being oppressed. Belonging to an oppressed group gives us a pass on civility, it seems; if we can prove that we’re being discriminated against, we are suddenly justified in discriminating against others.
#related#Donald Trump gets this, and his message allows people to feel that they’re oppressed and that they’re justified in lashing out. The illiberal liberals on college campuses get this, and use a narrative of being owed restitution for oppression to silence people they disagree with. This is the real fault line in American politics: On one side are the people who believe that we can disagree and still respect each other’s human dignity, and on the other side — in those ever-widening “safe spaces,” now on both sides of the party divide — are those who do not. No matter what happens in this presidential election, Americans who believe in civil discourse and in the human dignity of all, regardless of agreement on other issues, have to figure out ways to bridge this gap. What’s at stake isn’t four years in the White House. It’s our whole political way of life.