I don’t think that most people follow their own morals. That’s a funny thought, considering that most people have political opinions that they take quite seriously, vote based on those opinions, and sometimes engage in political activism on their behalf. Surely our political opinions are based on moral values right? Sure, the big-pictures of our politics are based on solid morals, I just don’t think that anyone, irrespective of political affiliation, really practices what they preach. Specifically, I find evidence of my claim by examining the evils that people fail to condemn:
A Trump supporter shoots a liberal protester outside of a conservative event and very few Trump supporters complain. A gang of Liberal protestors pepper spray a Trump supporter at a similar event and very few Liberals complain. By casually overlooking the bad deeds committed by our political allies I believe that we American citizens too often betray our own moral codes, engendering ever uglier environments of mistrust and corruption.
I can’t tell you how many more videos I’ve seen of political activists beating the hell out of each other: a man choked on the subway for wearing a “make america great again” hat, a protestor with a sign suckerpunched at a trump rally, a man leaving a trump rally bleeding from a head wound after a group of hounding protesters whacked him on the back of the head. The Daily Caller and Breitbart have lists with titles like “10 Violent Actions Against Trump Supporters” while Slate and The Atlantic have articles of their own with titles like “A Continually Growing List of Violent Incidents at Trump Events.”
Of course, there will always be nutballs in politics, but right now, I’m relatively unbothered by the behavior of nutballs. I’m bothered by the behavior of my otherwise ethical countrymen on all points of the political spectrum, who I expected to condemn these obvious cases of petty nonsense. I’ve seen plenty of articles that point the finger across the political fence, but I’m pretty disappointed by all the posts and articles that I have not seen by armchair opinionmakers pointing their fingers at members of their own camps.
Let me give you an example. Of February 1, 2017, conservative Breitbart Editor, known internet troll, and probable douchebag Milo Yiannopoulos was prevented from delivering a speech at Berkeley after a gang of liberal so-called “antifa” protesters caused wanton violence and set fire to public property. In response, Twitter and Facebook exploded with opinion posts. Interestingly, the overwhelming majority of these posts came from conservatives condemning the destruction, with little or no complaint from the liberal community.
Try this experiment: go onto twitter or facebook and search posts for “Milo Yiannopoulos Berkeley.” You’ll probably find hundreds of posts, similar to the ones that I researched myself, which include many by large news organizations like Fox or the New York Times. You’ll very quickly see that 95% of these posts are made by conservatives, posting the same videos of fire and mayhem in front of the gay-pride lights at Berkeley with text like “Liberals don’t want free speech. They are the real fascists.” At most 5% of the twitter or facebook posts are made by liberals, and of those, many are aimed against Milo and Donald Trump, such as “This is what happens when you bring hate speech to Berkeley. #shutitdown.” After scrolling through hundreds of posts, I only saw a single Liberal voice say what I had hoped for: “Shame on you Berkeley Leftists.”
On the other hand, conservatives act no better. You might recall March 19 2016, when a video spread across the airwaves of a conspicuously black Hillary supporter getting suckerpunched at a Trump rally in Tuscon.
Now try a similar experiment: go back to Twitter or Facebook and search old 2016 posts for “trump rally violence.” Of this massive statistical sample, you’ll see once again that 95% of the posts are from liberal people, posting the same videos of bleeding liberal protestors and pointing the finger at Trump: “Trump is disgusting. Anyone think he’s starting to look too much like Hitler?” And in the same way that the Liberals were silent about their own violence, conservatives were silent about this event. Only about 5% of the social media posts came from conservatives, and of those, many blamed Obama for inciting the violence: “Guess who funded the protesters to disrupt the rally? It’s the same Nazi Obama again.” This time, I didn’t see a single conservative write a post that said: “Shame on you Trump mob. Don’t count me in with your violence.”
In these two examples, it appears to me that neither side has much moral backbone or perspective. They’re happy to point the finger at their political opponents, but it hardly occurs to them to reproach members of their own camp for doing essentially the same thing. As the news site Rare.us reported in March, “Both groups continue to spiral out-of-control. Many political observers have responded tribally. One side blames ‘professional leftist agitators’ for the chaos, the other, ‘fascist right-wingers.’ Both are true.”
Actions like setting fire to private property, pepper-spraying, sucker punching, inciting mob fights, screaming insults, they are all clear injustices which violate universally accepted basics of decency. When any moral person sees such actions, they should completely ignore the political affiliations of the perpetrators and immediately condemn the actions. But we see instead we humans are, in large numbers, capable of looking past obvious injustices when political nonsense is involved.
For me, this state of affairs suggests a very large problem with political culture. This culture of tribal loyalty isn’t just isolated lunatics or twitter trolls. It comes from large news sources and respectable households. In my own daily life I experience such one-sided silence from the most thoughtful and ostensibly peaceful people in my community. To me this indifference signifies larger problem: we citizens are capable of deeply disrespecting our own personal principles.
“Wait just one minute.” says the strawman political observer. “It’s not true that we’re ignoring common rules of decency. Some of these cases represent difficult philosophical questions, not just cut-and-dry cases of right and wrong.” I disagree.
Take the case of alleged white supremacist Richard Spencer who was suckerpunched in the face on January 20 2017 during a CNN interview. Following this event was an explosion of liberal discussions on facebook and articles in the news about “whether or not it’s ok to punch a Nazi.” Some arguments were righteous: “Nazis killed people in the past and anyone who spouts nazi philosophy is recklessly inciting violence against more people. Freedom of speech doesn’t apply to this Nazi because his speech is intended to hurt people.” Others were more sensible: “If you punch a Nazi in the face, that only makes him into a martyr and makes his platform more popular.”
Similar discussions on facebook and articles in the news exploded after the very violent Berkeley protests which shut down the scheduled speech of Milo Yiannopoulos. The arguments were the same: “Freedom of speech doesn’t apply to Milo Yiannopoulos because his speech is intended to hurt people. Sources told us that he planned to report undocumented students at Berkeley and encourage the audience to call ICE.” Others were more sensible “If you set fire to a Milo speech, then Milo only gets more popular.”
I say that these questions are much easier to resolve than they appear. We only need to consistently condemn violations of common decency. As proof, try this little exercise: think of the strongest ethical role model in your life. Maybe it’s Jesus. Maybe it’s MLK or your Karate Sensei. Maybe your favorite role model isn’t a completely perfect person; for me it’s my Dad. Ask yourself, “would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. punch an apparently nonviolent person in the face?” Maybe he would take up arms in the case of a war, but would MLK have decided that there was sufficient evidence against this man to suckerpunch him? Can you imagine MLK in that video jumping up and wrecking this particular man’s face? I can tell you that I definitely cannot imagine my Dad doing it.
Do you know why it’s so hard to imagine MLK doing that? Because the person who punched that Nazi probably isn’t a paragon of ethical behavior. He’s probably just some young childish angry guy. And he probably doesn’t deserve our approval. Same goes for the thugs who set fire to Berkeley. One of them, sources later discovered, was an imbecile who posted to Twitter pictures of the beating that he inflicted on a nonviolent Milo supporter with the text: “hey come get your boy, he got ROCKED #miloatcal.” This guy is no MLK, he’s a turd.
We can’t afford to identify ourselves with these fools. When conservatives fail to condemn the suckerpunchers at trump ralllies or when liberals fail to condemn the arsonists at Berkeley, the opposition takes careful notice. This implicit approval raises the stakes in the minds of liberal activists who see that they can no longer rely on moderate Trump supporters for protection at rallies. Not to be undone, activists still show up to protests, but they show up more fearful, more angry, and better prepared for a fight which they are more likely to get. In this way, armchair enablers have made on-the-ground activists more likely perpetrators and targets of future violence.
In the meantime, I haven’t heard anybody complain that thousands of prisoners in Maximum Security facilities spend 23 hours a day in solitary confinement for 30 years or that that drone strikes kill 1 intended target for every 47 innocents.
We moral thinkers have a duty focus on real issues like these, fully condemn petty violence, and set ourselves as examples for our countrymen. If we don’t, then someone else will. I’d personally prefer that they don’t.