Magazine | October 1, 2018, Issue

When Rage Is All the Rage

(Noah Berger/Reuters)

If you can cast your mind back a few weeks into the past, or 3,356 crises ago, people were miffed that a new movie about the 1969 Moon landing didn’t include a scene of the American flag being planted on the lunar surface. Some young people shruggedhey, who cares if we see Chuck Aldrin or Buzz Lightstrong or whoever do the colonial thing? Some older folk didn’t care either, because they agreed with the sentiments of Ryan Gosling, who said the Moon landing was more of an all-humanity kinda thing.

It’s not surprising. Anything that is a specifically Ameri­can accomplishment somehow becomes a symbol of everyone, and everything that’s a universal human failing somehow becomes a uniquely American sin.

Well, you say with a weary heart, must one boycott? It’s difficult to keep track. Yes! One must. The ACLU tweeted out the other day:

“The right to protest. The right to assemble freely. The right to petition one’s government. These aren’t just rights. These are also obligations.”

I am obliged to freely assemble only when my wife brings something home from IKEA. I am certainly not obliged to protest — at least the way the ACLU might intend. Another tweet said:

“Disruptive. Messy. Loud. That is what democracy looks like.”

Also a four-year-old’s birthday party. The idea that democracy is most authentic when it has the character of a tantrum at Chuck E. Cheese’s is beloved by the Left, which equates volume with virtue and incivility with authenticity. Example: Let’s say there’s a hearing for a Supreme Court justice. Senator Gilderblap is asking the questions:

“When you ruled in favor of this corporation, finding for the corporation instead of the people, the people who had worked there for years, actual human people who cried and loved and felt joy and were full of life and blood and tears and sweat — well, not full of tears, or sweat, I expect they excreted those, but my point stands. You decided that the people were wrong, and the corporation was correct. And a lot of those people today are dead.”

“Senator, if I understand your question, you’re referring to a ruling I made based on a Supreme Court decision in 1837, the matter of Quincy et al. v. Amalgamated Harpoon? I would expect that those people would be dead, yes.”

“You expect them to die, sir? You expect it?”

“The case, if I recall, had to do with whether workers, who were suing a whaling company, could introduce a verdict they claimed was from the court of Neptune the Sea God, and the court did not recognize the authority of Neptune, being fictional. The matter at stake — ”


A protester has just interrupted the proceedings and is being loud and disruptive. The proceedings are stopped while a bored guard escorts the ranty person out. This is, indeed, what democracy looks like, and sounds like, and it is messy, depending on whether the protester spits at the guard. But it accomplishes nothing — aside from supercharging the enthusiasm of people who believe they have just yelled truth to power. The Supreme Court nominee does not hang his head, rethink his judicial philosophy, then stand and place his hand on his heart and say:

“I stand before you chastened by that brave soul who realized her obligation to protest — ”

(“DID YOU JUST ASSUME MY GENDER?” comes a shout from the corridor.)

“ — and I realize now that people’s passionate opinions should carry more weight than petty concerns such as ‘law’ and ‘constitutionality.’ I shall strive from this moment on to make sure not only that my rulings advance certain causes, but that my rulings shall have meter and rhyme, and can thus be chanted en masse, preferably with a drum-circle accompaniment.”

Not to say that protest doesn’t work. Large-scale demonstrations that sum up a national mood on an issue and lend momentum and a sense of inevitability are quite effective. But several thousand women showing up wearing vaginal headgear with placards demanding the immediate smashing of the patriarchy are not the equivalent of Martin Luther King. I HAVE A SCREAM is not quite as inspirational.

Antifa is messy, loud, and disruptive. Rage bros with masks clubbing chubby Odin worshippers, or burning limos, or smashing windows, or setting things on fire to cancel a speech — they fit the ACLU definition, you’d think. As the ACLU also tweeted: “Protest isn’t supposed to make anyone comfortable.”

Ah, but it does. There’s an aspect of intellectual onanism to the culture of constant protest. I will not to go this store: I protest! I will applaud the person who just blurted out loud irrelevant phonemes during a Kabuki-style hearing: Thus, I too protest! This burger chain gave money to FASCISTS? I tweet my protest, and feel the warm tingly reminder that I am good. I will not watch this movie! I will turn away from this TV show! I will use Bing instead of Google! For a while! Until I feel as if I’m not getting the search results I could!

When everything is a protest, or a protest against a protest, you’ve bought the Left’s line: The personal is the political. Perhaps it’s best to take the world à la carte. Sneer at the Nike ads, enjoy your football. Skip the Moon movie but maybe watch it when it’s on Netflix. Do the most important thing when necessary: Vote.

If you want to vote Trump in 2020, that’s your business, but you have some allies. Messy! Loud! Disruptive! Apparently Trump is the ACLU’s guy. Who knew?

In This Issue


In Defense of the Constitutional Order

Books, Arts & Manners




Kevin D. Williamson responds to a reader's thoughts on his article, “More Important than Motorcycles.”
The Week

The Week

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