False equivalence in a post-justice America

False equivalence is once again rearing its ugly head, as pundits attempt to balance their outrage at the fact-free excesses of the right by calling out the left for being intolerant of opposing views.

Just this morning on CNN, Fareed Zakaria, whom I generally respect, indulged in a little handwringing about students protesting against speakers engaged by their schools who represent an “unpopular” view. Apparently a group of kids walked out on VP Mike Pence during a commencement address. How rude!

This is somehow supposed to be a sign that the left is as bad as the right is about violating civil liberties.

I’m sorry, but that is just not so.

Non-violent demonstrations are central to our civil liberties. They may not be “polite;” they may not conform to an abstract metric of tolerance; but sometimes they are the only means within the grasp of an underclass (no pun intended) to express their strong disagreement, even outrage, at views or behaviors with which, not only do they disagree, but which they find downright abhorrent.

Of course the Ann Coulters of this world should not be barred from speaking; and, of course, colleges should be free to host public speakers who represent extreme views.

However, everyone knows there are reasons why prohibitions exist against yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.  Commonsense should predict that provocateurs will provoke dissent.

It appears that, for the most part the demonstrations that fuel rightwing outrage over their civil rights, are noisy but peaceful, except when “unidentified outside agitators” deliberately invade the protests to initiate violence.

Those “outside agitators” cannot simply be assumed to be sympathetic to the left. It is far more likely that they are either anarchists whose, sole objective is to raise havoc and undermine all authority; or that they are individuals who wish to disrupt the disruption and shed an unflattering light on the left.

They are in any case, an exception to the rule that protests against right-wing speakers are generally peaceful despite the noise.

Should demonstrators be scolded for “intolerance?” I don’t think so.

The fact is that some rightwing viewpoints on social justice issues which have traditionally been considered far outside acceptable boundaries have recently been elevated to a public platform that they have not enjoyed in recent memory. Inevitably the response is visceral.

This is a values judgment. There simply is no other option.

We have already undergone an election in which all the remaining norms of political etiquette and even truthfulness have been forcefully jettisoned by the man who actual succeeded in claiming the White House. Brutality and intimidation were celebrated by the winning candidate. We are learning that it was much less of a level playing field than we even imagined!

How are people on the unjustly marginalized perimeters of power…the actual majority…supposed to react?

The argument that we are somehow guilty of intolerance because we cry out against advocates of social injustice and bigotry is unworthy of our constitutional heritage.

Please, media voices: stop trying so hard to appear “fair” to the extreme right. Fairness has never been something they respect.

About Sue Prent

Artist/Writer/Activist living in St. Albans, Vermont with my husband since 1983. I was born in Chicago; moved to Montreal in 1969; lived there and in Berlin, W. Germany until we finally settled in St. Albans.

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