If you think that the mobbing of Charles Murray at Middlebury College in early March was the final stage of campus bullying, especially after denunciations came from conservatives and liberals alike, you missed the events at Claremont-McKenna College two weeks ago. People who came to hear Heather Mac Donald, who argues that the excessive scrutiny of policemen has led them to back off from their work and thus has increased crime levels, couldn’t enter the building. Protesters screamed at and pushed them, also threatening bystanders and journalists if they got too close. Heckling the speaker wasn’t enough. We saw full-on intimidation of anyone interested in the event.
Meanwhile, in the northern part of the state, a decision was made that tells us indirectly how we must respond to these actions. The student government at University of California-Davis voted to make the American flag display optional at future meetings. Some of the members don’t like the flag. As one of them put it, “The flag to a lot of people represents capitalism, colonialism and the genocide of indigenous people, and this is why we don’t want the flag in meetings.”
From now on, members who do honor the flag must petition the body 24 hours in advance in order to request the flag’s presence in the proceedings.
When they took that vote, did they think about the men and women who fought and died beneath the flag? Of course, the backers of the “optional” proposal had other American actions in mind — Vietnam, Jim Crow, the Wall — but in renouncing the flag, they include the sacrifices American soldiers and peace officers have made in defense of the very freedoms and prosperity the students themselves enjoy.
This is more than just a historical fact of America’s fight against fascism, communism, and, on the Union side, slavery. It is also a principle of civilization. The principle is this: You cannot maintain civil order, if people don’t realize that if they cross certain lines, violence will be done to them. If you break the law, you will be arrested and confined. If you resist, worse will happen. This is the guarantee of a functioning society.
Which brings us back to the hooligans at Claremont and Middlebury. They don’t see themselves that way, of course. They think their shut-down, back-off tactics are morally justified by the abominable nature of their antagonists. They refuse to accept the results of the election (“Not my president!”), and they deny admission of conservatives to any public sphere they control. We cannot expect them to draw down because of poor news coverage and sharp criticism. Certainly, the feeble pledges of investigation issued by administrators don’t faze them one bit. They are impassioned, and it will take a lot more than censure and persuasion to make them stop.
A ludicrous inversion has taken place. The speech of Charles Murray, Heather Mac Donald, and other conservatives whose ideas cross the race taboos of the left are claimed to be violent. It is now one of the truisms of identity politics that words can hurt. As Toni Morrison said in her 1993 Nobel Prize speech, “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.”
So free speech by conservatives is violence. On the other hand, the left’s real violence is free speech, and when the police arrest protesters who intimidate attendees, block entrances, and shout down lecturers, they’re interfering with free speech rights. As a Middlebury professor and two alums said at Inside Higher Ed after the affair, “If free speech can justify a platform for Murray, it also justifies students talking back.” The ridiculous understatement of the words “talking back” shows how distorted the perspective of the angry campus left has become.
The solution is clear. The next time the protesters commandeer public grounds and threaten innocent citizens, they must be seized, immobilized, and carted away. Until that happens, the upheavals shall continue.
If they do, specific campuses and speakers will not be the only casualties of the protesters. Every fair-minded person, not to mention law-abiding patriot, finds these scenes of unpunished rampaging profoundly demoralizing. When you watch the mobs at work and the authorities seemingly powerless to contain them, your faith in America wanes. It violates a deep sense of right and wrong. You waver between fury at the obscenity-shouting, arm-locking 20-year-olds and despair for the future.
We need a political leader to step forward and cry, “Enough!” Gov. Ronald Reagan did so at Berkeley, calling in the troops and clearing the grounds. It made him a hero and launched him to the White House. Donald Trump, too, showed that leaders can face down the protesters and win. Who else has learned the lesson?