On The Latest Round of Rioting at UC-Berkeley

There was yet another riot at the University of California-Berkeley over the Easter Day weekend, and judging by the all cell phone video footage that quickly wound up on the internet it was a pretty nasty affair. Such unpleasantness on the campus was a staple of the evening news way back in our boyhood, and lately it seems to be another one of those annoying ’60s fads that is back in fashion again.
This time around the violence is somehow different, though, even if it does seem destined to end in the same desultory way. Last time around Berkeley became famous as the birthplace of the “Free Speech Movement” that demanded free expression of an emerging New Left sensibility, but by now the New Left’s pony-tails have turned gray and its radical demands have become the status quo and the tie-dyed diaper baby grandchildren currently attending the university are famous for demanding speech codes and safe spaces from any sort of dissent. Those subsequent ’60s riots were a response to the Vietnam War, the wisdom of which remains debatable but undeniably involved more than 58,000 American fatalities and countless more casualties and was something you could at least understand somebody rioting about, but the previous riot at Berkeley was a response to a campus lecture by an inconsequential alt-right provocateur and self-described “faggot” named Milo Yiannapolous, which is something that most people would sensibly ignore.
Saturday’s riot happened during one of the many peaceable protests occurring around the country demanding that President Donald Trump publicly release his tax returns, which attracted one of the many counter-protests by supporters of the president, but even in Berkeley that wasn’t enough to cause a riot. So far as we can tell from all the cell phone video footage and some fine reporting by Esquire Magazine, of all places, it was the mix of black-masked self-described “anarchists” on the left and some self-described “white nationalist” types on the right that proved more combustible. The conditions for this happening are especially ripe at Berkeley, but hardly unique to that campus.
Most of the left eschews black masks and brown shirt tactics and anarchy, preferring their safe spaces and ’60s-era notions of non-violence, but they do have among them a troublesome number of people who are quite enthusiastic about all that. The vast majority of Trump’s most ardent supporters and pretty much all of the more reluctant ones have no use for white nationalism or its street-brawling ways, preferring law and order and old-fashioned notions about free speech, but by now there’s no denying they also some rather unsavory compatriots in their midst. You’ll find the extremists almost anywhere by now, and if you throw in the complex issues of race and class that you’ll find almost anywhere there’s reason to worry that Saturday’s riots could happen just a neighborhood away from anybody.
In both the distant and recent past we’ve faulted much of the left for making excuses for the more egregious behavior on its side, and been proud of the principled conservatives who took pains to distance themselves from those hippie-bashing hardhats and newfangled white nationalists who claimed the mantle of conservatism, but these days we have to admit that the Republican president did promise to pay the legal bills of anyone at his rallies who punched a protestor and openly longed for the good old days when they’d be carried out in a stretcher. Even the most peaceable sorts on both the left and right can get pretty confrontational in the comments section of any internet news site these days, all the panel discussions on all of the cable news networks seem more a verbal riot than a real debate, and even in the Senate it took the “nuclear option” to get a quite reasonable and even rather boring nominee confirmed to the Supreme Court.
We’re old enough to remember the ’60s, though, and can console ourselves that the country somehow stumbled its way through that tumultuous decade of far more violent and arguably more reasonable riots. The country had to stumble through the ’70s and all the rest of it to get to his damnable moment in time, where both the left and right seem to have jettisoned notions of free speech and full disclosure, and neither is willing budge an inch enough to disavow for their most unsavory compatriots, but for now it’s just a bunch of crazies pushing around trash dumpsters and duking it out on the always-crazy streets of Berkeley. The cell phone footage makes it look something from the last days of the Weimar Republic, but if they’d had cell phone cameras back then, and everyone could see hot very ridiculous it looked, perhaps it wouldn’t have ended so badly.

— Bud Norman


Seizing the Means of Counter-Production

The violent protests at presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump’s campaign rallies are not only continuing but escalating their level of violence, and with each new outrage we expect the protestors are nudging their hated nemesis a bit closer to the presidency. Such is always the counter-productive nature of all protest movements driven more by rage than reason.
We’ve seen it often over our lifetimes, starting way back in our childhood when the hippies and the yippies got their hated nemesis Richard M. Nixon elected president on a “law and order” platform. The Weather Underground and other outright leftist terrorist organizations, along with the general craziness of the bra-burning and free-love counterculture out to undermine the extra-legal social arrangements, also helped to make the reliably anti-communist but otherwise not very conservative Nixon seem palatable to an understandably nervous America. Even then we were able to see that the anti-war crowd’s best bet to end the war early was to go “Clean for Gene” and knock on middle America’s doors and make a polite pitch with a clean-cut appearance for the candidacy of anti-war but otherwise boring Minnesota Sen. Eugene McCarthy. Riots and bombings were more emotionally satisfying, though, even if the war was thereby prolonged for several more years before the commies foreign and domestic were at last able to secure a victory.
Since then we’ve seen the same mistake made several times on both the right and the left. The borrowed-from-the-left “direct action” strategy of the radical anti-abortion Operation Rescue movement not only shut down the local abortion clinics but also the essential Kellogg Avenue artery of our hometown back in the ’90s, and we well recall how the anti-abortion polling numbers went down even in this church-going and instinctively anti-abortion community. When a bunch of a drag queens dressed as nuns starting shutting down Catholic worship services in San Francisco a short while later, and shutting down some nearby thoroughfares as well, their polling numbers went down even in that unchurched and libertine metropolis. The radical anti-government terrorists who wound up blowing a gaping and deadly hole in downtown Oklahoma City helped re-elect the bossy government of President Bill Clinton and discrediting its most principled and non-violent critics, that less deadly but appallingly un-hygeinic “Occupy Wall Street” movement helped elect the current Republican majorities in Congress, and we can’t think of any protest movement that has ever succeeded on a platform of blind rage.
These anti-Trump riots seem likely to become the definitive example of the phenomenon. Trump’s rise to the status of presumptive Republican presidential nominee has largely been the result of his arguably xenophobic and undeniably blunt if nonetheless carefully vague pronouncements about illegal immigration, all fueled by a suspicion that there’s a revanchist Latino afoot, and a bunch of protestors waving Mexican flags as they violently disrupt a perfectly legal American political rally is unlikely to allay those already well-founded suspicions. If they at least succeed in forcing his just-as-awful Democratic opponent to embrace their unabashedly revanchist ambitions and violent methods they’ll be doing even more of a favor to their hated for the nemesis, as we read the momentary demographic moods, and they would have been far better off going clean for Hillary.
Their hated nemesis has his own record of encouraging violence at his rallies, and there really is arguably something xenophobic about the shifting policies he’s proposed that could be well defended without any resort to xenophobia, and there’s an unmistakably lawless and disordering ring to his Nixonian appeals for “law and order” and simultaneous promises to shake everyone thing up, but the video of Mexican-flag-waving thugs creating chaos will surely make it palatable to a perhaps-decisive portion of the electorate. At the moment the only likely alternative seems Hillary Clinton, whose long-planned coronation by “the man” will also be attended by such riotous behavior, and probably none of those anti-Trump protestors will ever realize how very counter-productive their righteous rage proved to be.
Trump’s unlikely status as the presumptive Republican nominee has been driven more by pure rage than reason, too, and against the same ill-defined “establishment” that the incoherent opposition on the left claims to be railing against, so we can’t predict any happy outcome no matter who prevails. Nothing good came out of any of those rage-driven protests movements we’ve ever seen, and neither of these seem at all promising.

— Bud Norman

American Politics in the Mud and the Blood and the Beer

America’s politics had already started to resemble a particularly lively episode of “The Jerry Springer Show” or some other ratings-grabbingly confrontational reality show, but over the past week it has started looking more like a late Weimar Republic-era beer hall in one of the angrier neighborhood of Munich. There’s been a long slow slide into this muck, and at this point there’s plenty of blame to go around.
The violent disruptions that have recently taken place at campaign rallies for Donald J. Trump, the self-described billionaire real-estate-and-gambling-and-professional-wrestling-and-reality-show-and-scam-university mogul who is currently the frontrunner for the nomination of the Republican Party, are by now familiar tactics of the left or the liberals or the progressives or whatever else you want to call the peace-and-love-and-sensitivity side of political spectrum. Our first inklings of political awareness came watching the fuzzy black-and-white images of Democratic Mayor Richard Daley’s quite forcefully responding to the sometimes peaceful and sometimes violent Democratic protesters outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, which was widely cheered on by many of the Republicans and the rest of the war-and-hate-and-insensivitity side of the political spectrum we were leaning toward, and was by far the most ratings-grabbing reality show of that memorably confrontational year, and although things had seemed to simmer down somewhat for a while since then it’s been popping up in our news-reading ever since.
Being admittedly obsessive about our free speech rights we have kept a careful eye on any reports of campus speakers being shut down, or gatherings of people with common political goals being disrupted, or newspapers having their circulation disrupted, or internet pundits having their punditry censored by hackers, or handicapped black people assembling with others to petition for redress of their grievances being beaten by racist thugs, or tax-payer paid professors associated with journalism departments calling for “some muscle” to remove a pesky reporter, and we have long noticed that it’s almost invariably people on the peace-and-love-and-sensitivity side of the political spectrum who are doing the bullying.
The peace-and-love-and-sensitivity side of the political spectrum retains this side of its censorious nature even when it obtains power, as we have also repeatedly seen. Somehow President Richard Nixon emerged from the conflagrations of our childhood, but was brought low just five years later by revelations that he’d had something to do with the bugging of a a Democratic official’s phone and had suggested using the Internal Revenue Service to harass his opponents, but the mot peace-loving and exquisitely sensitive sort of president can bug pretty much everyone’s phone and actually use the IRS to harass his political enemies and it goes largely unremarked. The current “Hope and Change” president has repeatedly castigated his political opponents for wanting dirty water and dirty and inviting them along for the ride to his utopia only if they sit in the back of the bus, and exhorting his supporters to punish their enemies and get in their faces and if they bring a knife you a gun, and threatening to talk “truth to power” to the almighty Fox Network, all of which was either ignored or celebrated by more adulatory media, and yet he assures those same media he surely bears no blame for the rise of the likes of such a shock jock insult comic as Donald J. Trump.

Those sorts of idiots who have beset Trump’s rallies probably would have been there even without seven years of Obama’s outrageous rhetoric and disastrous policies, however, they’d be at the rallies of anyone who was leading the Republican race, and they’ve even been at the rallies of both Democratic contenders, so there’s still plenty of blame to go around. You can point to a failed educational system, for one thing, especially when the fellow who stormed the stage with an incoherent rage during one of Trump’s incoherent rages turns out to to be the very peace-and-love-and-sensitivity son of a public educator, as well as the general idiocy it has caused. You can certainly point on such organized peace-love-and-sensitivity groups as MoveOn.org, which has helped organize the out-of-control protests at Trump rallies, and until we get a full-throated denunciations of these acts from self-described socialist and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who may or may not be the front-runner in his party’s race, we’ll also suspect him. You can point to that ’68-era terrorist Bill Ayers, who helped launch the current president’s unlikely career and was boasting about shutting down Trump’s free speech. You can point as always to certain media, who always fall for one certain line of authoritarian garbage but not another, and somehow manage to ignore more sensible alternatives. You could point to a reality show and professional wrestling and us-versus-them and betting-on-the-come but otherwise peace-love-and-sensitivity-and-free-sex pop culture that has lately supplanted the accumulated wisdom of western civilization, and we believe you’ll see something to blame in that direction as well.
What’s most unsettling about this latest go-round of leftist or liberal or progressive or whatever you want to call the peace-and-love-and-sensitivity side of the political spectrum’s thuggery is the apparent eagerness of so much of the rest of us to get right down in the mud and blood and the beer and commence the brawl. Trump has long relished the “at least he fights” reputation his bold “tweets” have earned him, and he expects a similarly bellicose attitude from the people pledging allegiance to him. Throughout a series of escalating attempts to disrupt his rallies he has urged supporters to “be a little more violent” and maybe “he should have been roughed up” and if anyone suspects a tomato throwing “knock the hell out of them” and “in the good old days they’d rip him out of that seat so fast” and “don’t try to hurt him, but if you do I’ll pay your legal bills,” and “I’d like to punch him in his face.” One of Trump’s supporters, prior to the past weekend’s escalated disruptions, did punch a protestor in the face as he was being led by police out of the building, and Trump is thus far unclear on whether he’ll pay for the legal bills, such legal matters always being long-drawn out by Trump, but so far there’s been no full-throated denunciation. This all comes as Trump is trumpeting his ability to unify the country, but at this point even his most mythical deal-making powers seem sufficient to pull that off.
The pony-tailed 78-year-old who punched the already-under-arrest protestor was arrested on assault charges, but proudly told a television news camera that he’d do it again and “maybe next time we’ll have to kill him,” but he looks to be one of those previously uninvolved voters that we’re supposed to be grateful to Trump for bringing into the party. He explained that the protestor had extended a middle finger at the crowd, and “wasn’t acting like an American,” but we can’t the times that we’ve read and heard Trump supporters saying that they support him because his candidacy is intended as that very same gesture.
Nor does Trump offer any indication that he’d be any less censorious and authoritarian when in power. He’s publicly promised that his press critics would “have problems, such problems” if he became president, he’s described the peaceful Tiananmen Square protests as a “riot” and the Chinese government’s mass-muderous response as “strong,” and he’s spoken a brand new truth to power against the almighty Fox Network, which is now apparently a left-wing organ.
Perhaps there’s nothing to do at this point but bring that gun to the knife, or the nuclear weapon to whatever V-2 rocket they produce, and perhaps the only solution at this point is to burn it all down, as many Trump also come right out and say they hope to do, but we’d like to think there’s still some hope for an appeal to reason.
At this point we have cast in our lot with the candidacy of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and we still hold out hope he offers something better than getting down in the mud and the blood and beer. Although we concede that certain media will convince a certain portion of the public that he’s a crazed beer hall putsch nutcase, at least they won’t the video footage to prove it. We’d urge you to take a look at how Cruz handles those occasional disruptions that come with politics even in the best of times, and how a friendly invitation to talk about ideas and the skills of a former national collegiate debate champion and oft-successful Supreme Court litigators handles their noisy sloganeering, and consider the chance that America might yet respond to such a campaign. We know that such dry policy wonk stuff doesn’t fare well against the professional wrestling and reality shows and peace-and-love-and sensitivity stuff, but these days nobody has a majority market share, and we’re too old to be down in the mud and the blood and the beer.

— Bud Norman

A Tough Crowd at West Point

President Barack Obama is fond of giving speeches at colleges, where he can still rouse some of the old rock star enthusiasm among the empty-headed multi-cultural studies kids who haven’t yet returned to their parents’ basements and started paying off their student loan debts with their tips from the artisanal sandwich shop, but for some reason the military academies have always proved a tough crowd. Wednesday’s commencement speech at West Point, which was much ballyhooed as a major foreign policy address, is the latest example.
The sympathetic reporters at CNN described the response from the graduating cadets as “pretty icy,” while the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail generously upgraded that to “tepid,” but we would dispense with the meteorological metaphors all together and say the infrequent and scattered applause was perfunctory or grudgingly polite. According to CNN this was because the speech was “philosophical,” rather than the obscenity-laced sort of battle cry that George C. Scott delivered at the start of “Patton,” we presume, and aside from the stony silence the network didn’t find much fault with the oration. We suspect the reaction had more to do with the absolute balderdash that the speech contained, and that those rigorous engineering courses required at the academy have somehow enabled the graduates to think clearly through the speech’s frightening implications.
In keeping with commencement speech custom, Obama began with a jocular reference to the campus sporting teams, an apparent reference to his “Choom Gang” days as an addled schoolboy, and the obligatory flattering of the graduates. He then flattered himself with a suspiciously rosy assessment of the world today, including a “growing economy that can provide opportunity for everyone who’s willing to work hard and take responsibility here at home,” a decreasing dependence on foreign energy, freedom being championed in public squares around the world, and unrivaled American military supremacy. The record number of people who have given up looking for work, the president’s blocking of oil pipelines and closing of federal lands from drilling and efforts to regulate the tracking revolution that have made us more energy independent, the routine crushing of those who speak for freedom in an increasingly chaotic and less democratic world, and the president’s proposal to reduce America’s military spending to a level less than the annual debt payments all went unmentioned but apparently not unnoticed by the icy audience.
From that point the president started talking tough, bravely battling the usual straw men opposing his policies. There are those who would ignore the rest of the world and those who would launch constant wars against it, the president helpfully explained, but in his wisdom he has found a third option. America will continue to lead and enforce international order, he assured the graduates, but he established some rather strict criteria for when it would use military force to do. The country will still respond to a direct attack against the homeland or the country’s “core interests,” although it is not reassuring that a president feels obliged to offer such assurances, but the president seemed to imply that anything less will be death with by strongly worded statements and hashtags and “multi-lateral actions.” As proof of the wisdom of this approach the president cited Iran’s nuclear endlessly ongoing negotiations over its still-chugging nuclear weapons programs, aid to the Syrian rebels who are being thoroughly routed by the red-line-crossing regime, the sparsely attended recent election in chaotic and menaced Ukraine, and of course the negotiations over those still-kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls that the president mentioned several times, so it’s hard to imagine this getting much applause even from the multi-cultural studies students at the average university.
The scariest part was when the president warned that “We can’t try to resolve problems in the South China Sea when we have refused to make sure that the Law of the Sea Convention is ratified by the United States Senate…” It’s scary that the president makes mention of the Law of the Sea Convention, which has been a pipe of the dream of the globalist left ever since they started negotiating the thing back in the early ’70s, and has been a dead issue in American politics ever since President Ronald Reagan showed what real foreign policy leadership is by nixing it in ’82. The president says that all of his military advisors believe it will make the country safer, apparently because they’d rather enforce an international border that insists on limits that China and all the other potential major military adversaries dispute, but he also says that every economists agree that bringing another 10 million or unskilled non-English-speaking immigrants into the country will revive the economy. Scarier yet is that the president has announced to China that he’s unable to resist its increasingly belligerent claims on its neighbors territory until the little-known yet widely hated treaty that has been dead since the ’70s is ratified. He might as well announce that we’re unable to help any kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls or other female victims of Islamic radicalism until the Era Rights Amendment is passed.
We don’t wonder why the newly commissioned officers of West Point were so unenthusiastic toward the speech, but of course they weren’t the intended audience. More important to the president were those increasingly anxious supporters who still bother to listen to his speeches, and with a few remnants of the old Bush-era anti-war movement protesting outside the campus with papier mache drones he was anxious to reassure them that although he has to pander to the blood-lusting general public he’s not going all neo-con on them. The tough talk was also intended for the potential adversaries who might be calculating that now’s the time to make that long-desired land grab or smash that long-troublesome foe, but they probably understood the speech as well as those West Point graduates seem to have done. Nervous allies in Kiev, on the bombed-out battlefields of Syria, in the Israeli and Saudi bureaus that are following the Iranian nuclear program, and all over the South China Sea probably offered even less applause.

— Bud Norman