By Terence Zhao
If one can say anything about the political climate of this campus, it is undoubtedly that there isn’t much goodwill towards the present presidential administration, to say the least. But the question of the day is, how can we students — and more broadly, a now thoroughly disempowered left — channel the opposition?
If nothing else, the events that transpired last week at Berkeley were a chilling reminder of just how much opposition there is to be channeled — and as a note, I’d just like to reiterate that the student protesters were peaceful, and the violence was carried out by outside agitators. But, more relevantly, thousands of overworked Cal students turning out on a weeknight to disrupt the appearance of a bigoted troll like Milo Yiannopoulos (whose entire fanbase is probably dwarfed by this protest alone) just goes to show how strong people’s sentiments are and, frankly, how much anger there is at the Trump administration and the things Trump and his sycophants stand for.
But how should that anger be expressed?
This has troubled me (and many of my friends) profoundly these past few weeks. On the one hand, I must admit that I don’t really care for Milo, and there’s some part of me that — regrettably — would not be bothered by his demise. And of course, I understand that these macabre thoughts of mine are hardly the answer. Violence, especially mob violence, is utterly undesirable. In the words of John Milton, “For what can war, but endless war, still breed?” Violence begets more violence, and that’s hardly a solution in these trying times.
But, I also want to say unequivocally that simply allowing the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos and Steve Bannon to do and say whatever they please in the name of liberal values like “free speech” is not the answer. Our laws should be used to protect the oppressed, downtrodden and vulnerable, and when we use them to protect the oppressors, justice becomes a farce. And we do have mechanisms that would allow for lawful interventions against the kind of hate speech that white nationalists espouse. Free speech is not absolute: You might have heard of the exemption to the First Amendment colloquially called “shouting fire in a crowded theatre,” meaning that speech which might cause imminent harm — for example, white nationalists inciting violence against African Americans — can be restricted. And when they do incite violence, our response should not just be moral outrage, it should be a resounding and forceful demand for their arrest and prosecution under the laws of this country.
“Knock the crap out of them.” — Donald Trump, regarding protesters at his rallies. (Feb. 1, 2016)
Did we demand Trump’s arrest? No. We just talked about how outrageous his statements were.
And we can’t simply allow the far-right to simply do what they please in the hopes that the ensuing moral backlash will somehow bring victory come 2018 or 2020 — to even be able to suggest such a thing is an act of immense privilege. When the Muslim ban was implemented, real lives were being affected, and for those people, they could not wait for the next election — they needed immediate relief. And immediate relief was supposed to be on the way: Fewer than two days after the Muslim ban was implemented, federal judge Ann Donnelly ordered not only for its immediate cessation, but for U.S. Marshals to take “those actions … necessary to enforce … this order.”
But did we demand that armed U.S. Marshals be sent to JFK to arrest federal agents who were (at that point) unlawfully detaining innocent travelers? No. We once again just talked about how outrageous the ban was, and it would almost another week before the ban would be lifted.
(And keep in mind, we once deployed hundreds of U.S. Marshals in full combat gear just to escort the University of Mississippi’s first Black student to and from class.)
This current administration threatens the very fabric of this country, and we must resist in the most vigorous way possible, and part of that is to hold Trump and his sycophants accountable for these breaches using not just words, but law enforcement agents with their guns drawn whenever possible. The left cannot try to remain polite. If the Trump administration continues to try to circumvent direct orders from federal courts, and if the so-called “alt-right” continues to spew out incendiary language that threatens the immediate safety of our fellow Americans, as Trump did at some of his rallies, our response cannot merely be outrage. Instead, it should be an unequivocal:
Lock. Them. Up.
Because that’s exactly the kind of justice they demanded during their own campaign, no?
Day 20 of 1461. Resist.
Contact Terence Zhao at zhaoy ‘at’ stanford.edu.