Instead of protesting right-wing provocateurs and shock jocks, make their events irrelevant through your silence.
Since President Trump took office in January, massive protests against his Administration and its allies have sprung up around the country with dizzying frequency. These protests have proven remarkably effective, perhaps most notably when millions took to the nation's streets and airports once the President made good on his promise to ban Muslim immigration. That discriminatory policy's subsequent defeat in the courts was a major blow toward this White House's credibility and effectiveness, but a major victory for American institutions and the power of free speech.
Their opponents' ability to stymie the White House's agenda with nothing but righteous outrage has left President Trump and his allies feeling deeply embarrassed. They are eager to see these demonstrations discredited and silenced. The President's favorite excuse is to accuse protesters of taking paychecks in exchange for their time, which this writer and Trump critic can only wish were true. Needless to say, these claims do not hold up under scrutiny and President Trump looks all the more petty and desperate for insisting on repeating them. It was Trump's own campaign, after all, that was caught paying actors to fill the crowd at his campaign launch event.
Someone should look into who paid for the small organized rallies yesterday. The election is over!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2017
Unfortunately for my fellow liberals, not all right-wing provocateurs are as talentless as the President when it comes to discrediting their opposition. Eager for a bogeyman to blame and a headline to grab, the right's shock jock pundits are rushing to meet conservative media's demand for credible examples of protesters acting foolishly. A few high-profile incidents on or near college campuses over recent months have played right into their hands.
A protest against a since-ousted Breitbart News writer at the University of California, Berkeley turned riotous and violent in February. The particular individual slated to speak, whose name warrants no further attention than he's already received, is a truly despicable figure in our political landscape who has essentially become famous by going out of his way to provoke protests against him. It should also be stated here that many of the most out-of-line protesters were not affiliated with the university at all. Since the incident, far-right thugs have taken to Berkeley to provoke further violence. Despite these qualifiers, the circumstances surrounding the February riots fed a narrative of campus-based intolerance toward conservatives that the right has been carefully cultivating for years.
To be clear, the right has legitimate concerns about their representation on college campuses, and liberals should take those concerns seriously. At least in my opinion, we are all better off when we are able to engage in a fair and open dialogue on campuses and other public spaces. In the absence of such dialogue, Americans have begun self-selecting their way into friendly partisan corners. This reality breeds the kind of blind partisanship and distrust that allowed someone like Donald Trump to win office in the first place.
Nevertheless, I think it is fair to say that much of the right's rhetoric surrounding campus incidents has grown to become hyperbolic at best, and deliberately divisive at worst. Today, it is nearly impossible for a right-of-center media broadcast to run through the day's news without revisiting the incident at UC Berkeley, or of so-called "liberal bigotry" more generally. Through their insistence on revisiting these incidents regardless of the passage of time, conservative media moguls reveal that their focus has little to do with righting a wrong and everything to do with selling outrage for its own sake.
This brings me to Ann Coulter, a seasoned veteran of right-wing punditry, who has brought the issue of campus protests back to the forefront. Ever the clever marketer, Coulter promoted an invitation to speak to UC Berkeley's College Republicans to a national audience, garnering a predictably visceral reaction from both conservatives and liberals alike in the process. The same anarchist groups (most of whose members, to reiterate, are not affiliated with the university) promised to cause trouble should the event proceed. Fearing more raucous protests, UC Berkeley cancelled the event and were met with conservatives' collective outrage. The resulting controversy has led to a flood of undeservedly positive media coverage for Coulter, who once called then-candidate Trump's promise to ban Muslims her "best birthday gift." I suspect this has been Coulter's intention all along.
So what does this all mean for liberals, whether they be on campuses or elsewhere? Mostly, I just want to remind folks that many public figures on the right derive their legitimacy exclusively from their ability to get under liberals' skin. People like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity are not beloved for their intellectual heft, but because they are happy warriors who can be relied upon to discredit and embarrass their political opponents each and every day. It is the source of their riches and fame, and they consequently spend more time preparing for these opportunities than anyone has ever spent planning an ill-advised campus protest.
People like Ann Coulter already enjoy a national profile and can reach millions of like-minded Americans instantaneously. If you are a student at a majority-liberal campus, the likes of Coulter do not come to town for exposure, or to win over hearts and minds. They have come to provoke you, and they are remarkably effective at doing so. If you really want to deny them the platform they so desperately seek, simply ignore them. Attention is what they desire most. Irrelevance is their career kryptonite. Let the nation's provocateurs and carnival barkers speak to empty auditoriums. Save your righteous outrage for those in the White House and Congress who work for you. Your voices have proven powerful before, and they will continue to be powerful, lest we fall into the clearly labeled traps laid by disingenuous partisans.