Punching Nazis and Talking to Conservatives

Senior [Name Obscured] implores liberals to attempt to understand opposing opinions, instead of reacting violently to them.



A protestor punches alt-right leader Richard Spencer during Spencer’s Jan. 20 interview with the Australian Broadcasting Company.

As Michelle Obama said “When they go low, we go high.” And oh, man, that protester went high — right up to Richard Spencer and smashed him in the face!  Didn’t it feel great to see that dumb Nazi get what he deserved?

Well . . . no.

Sure, bashing Spencer, leader of the the alt-right, a white supremacist political movement that has been compared to Nazism, makes us feel righteous.  It distracts us from troubling executive orders and controversial, at best, cabinet picks.  However, no matter what you think of Richard Spencer, that punch validated his views and those of his supporters; that liberals are intolerant of opposing views.  Resorting to violence shows that you have lost the argument, and that instead of persuading, you want to intimidate.

We should not be punching our opponents; we should be talking to them.

Political discourse has not devolved to this level overnight, and it will not recover in a day. Donald Trump used inflammatory speech during his campaign, saying things that were downright shocking at the time. “Lock her up!” and “Build the wall!” became staple chants at his rallies.  He attacked Hillary’s credibility and looks, and the left responded in kind, lowering the standards for political speech from disliking the other candidate to treating them as scum.

“When they go low, we go high” is a touching sentiment, and gives the left a feeling of the moral superiority that it may once have had, but when the high is a punch to the face, I dread the low.  I fear this ideological rift may not be overcome before it declines further.  Imagine this happening during the Romney/Obama campaign.  You may have found either candidate’s policies disagreeable, if not downright stupid, but the deeply personal attacks were relegated to the fringes of the parties.  The campaign rhetoric of each candidate was relatively respectful.  This is no longer the case, and while it started with Trump, it certainly did not end with him.

I personally have noticed this tension manifesting itself in Shaker not with fistfights, but with contrary opinions being suppressed.  I have also noticed an increasing leftward pull with each passing day, with the “Wall of Immigrants” and Mr. Kuehnle himself reading that blog post on the announcements the day after the election that, though heartfelt, was a thinly veiled anti-Trump speech.  “Bigotry, hatred and intolerance are not Democratic values, they are not Republican values and they are most certainly not American values,” may have been true before this election, but now it is just a sparkling past we long for in the valley of this ideological rift.

The worst example of this intolerance and hypocrisy occurred at University of California Berkeley, where the campus College Republican group invited Milo Yiannopoulos, who recently resigned as a senior editor of Breitbart News, the alt-right’s favorite news source, to speak Jan. 31.  Protesters threw bottles and smashed windows to oppose Yiannopoulos, who Twitter has banned for inciting abuse and harassment.  Protesting, picketing, and using a bullhorn would have met his speech with appropriate opposition.  However, for the Berkley campus, which was the capital of free speech in the 1960s, this behavior, which forced cancellation of Yiannopoulos’ speech, was reprehensible.

I wasn’t exposed to the other side until, during this election, I had a long political discussion with my conservative friend.  I had never humanized the other side until then.  Talking with him helped me to realize that respectable, sensible, likeable people can hold views that I do not.  When he first started expressing his opinions, I thought, “You’d have to be crazy or stupid to believe something like that!”  But I know my friend, and he is neither of those.  This discussion showed me that you can disagree with people, but still respect them.  Since then, I’ve moved slightly right as I’ve learned more about the other side. I have also become more skeptical of my own beliefs.

I will likely never agree entirely with my friend’s views, but I would never think of throwing a brick through his window to stop him from expressing his opinion.

If you want to call the other side dirty, you must first emerge from the muddy pit that we willingly jumped into along with Trump.  And please, talk with your words, not your fists.

Editor’s Note: This essay was updated March 22, 2024 to obscure the author’s name at their request.

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