Forty-thousand versus 25.
Those were the relative numbers of people that showed up in Boston last month for a free speech rally and its counter-protest. It was an absurd spectacle. CBS Boston has aerial photos showing the two-dozen free-speechers huddled on a bandstand with officers milling around them. A fence encircles the area, and outside it many thousands press in as if they were conducting the last moments of a siege. To call the event a case of “dueling protests,” as the media did, is to deny what was right in front of their faces. For the counter-protesters to believe that they were combating a genuine white supremacist menace was delusional.
This ludicrous magnification and the piling on that follows have become a familiar feature of liberal activism. The left-wing digital mob is ever ready to pounce. Brendan Eich was run out of his post as head of Mozilla by a well-publicized shaming campaign that urged people to boycott the Firefox browser. His crime was to donate $1,000 years earlier to Proposition 8, the anti-same sex marriage initiative in California. There was no evidence that he had ever discriminated against any homosexuals in his personal or professional life.
Recently, Penn law professor Amy Wax co-authored an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer stating that much of the social dysfunction in the United States has been caused by the loss of a bourgeois culture (don’t have children until you get married, avoid coarse language, respect authority . . .). “All cultures are not equal,” she stated. As a result, 33 of her colleagues published an open letter denouncing her and asking students to report to them any biased treatment they suffer at Penn.
The 33-to-1 imbalance was crucial to their case. They explicitly wrote to “condemn” her, but their condemnation wouldn’t count unless they drew in enough signatories (which amounted to nearly half the Penn law school faculty). In cases like this, the more people you can get to sign up to oppose an opinion, the more you make the opinionated look dishonorable and undeserving. You don’t have to debate and persuade. You just line up big numbers on one side and small numbers on the other.
It’s a form of self-justification. All the people who came to Boston Common that day with placards saying “END RACISM” and “HATE HAS NO HOME HERE” felt very good about themselves. Their nobility depended on an authentic and villainous adversary. The anti-hate litany was meaningless without a potent force of hate throughout the land.
But it doesn’t exist. The national white supremacist conference that Richard Spencer hosted last November in D.C. drew only 200 people, though the publicity it received would lead you to think that many thousands attended. The fact that today’s liberalism must turn an utterly minuscule group into its prime opposition demonstrates its own emptiness.
And at some level liberals must realize this. Because the numbers of alt-Right, white nationalists are so small, it becomes necessary to smear those whose crime is to believe that the content of one’s character matters more than the color of their skin. That’s how the 62.9 million Trump voters become members of “the alt-Right,” too. At the same time, the liberal media blesses the alt-Left Antifa bullies, those “liberals in a hurry.” Here’s how one of them explains the resort to violence in a Washington Post puff piece: “People assume that anarchism is so extreme. But I associate it with wanting everyone’s needs to be met.”
Over the last dozen years we’ve become inured to the media’s hatred of Republicans. Now it’s been taken a step further, from expressions of animus to bullying, from Internet lynch mobs to “punch a Nazi” to protesters armed with clubs.
When I was young, only cowards would pile on like this. You’d be ashamed to help a gang crush a lone figure. I read Emerson and thrilled to lines such as “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.” I admired Thoreau’s retreat to the woods where what he called the “they” wouldn’t hinder his sight of the essential facts of life.
But there is a different spirit abroad in America. Liberalism used to be about the individual standing firm against prejudice and dead tradition and blunt authority. Now it’s the impulse to shame and shun, the act of the many against the few, the joy people take in lining up behind Goliath. Liberalism used to prize community. Today it gets its kicks from bullying.