Afflicting the Comfortable


Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz is the latest public figure to claim people who disagree with him and object to policies he supports are afflicting him with public shaming. In his case, the people afflicting him are his wealthy neighbors at the summer retreat of Martha’s Vineyard, who have apparently been giving him the cold shoulder. That may well be, but it’s ludicrous that in an asinine bid for sympathy, Mr. Dershowitz has whined about his ostracism and compared it to the McCarthyism tactics of the 1950s. Mr. Dershowitz’s reaction proves that you can’t shame the shameless.


While Alan Dershowitz is not employed by the current administration, he has not been shy about making the rounds of the talking heads television shows, where he has spoken as an advocate for the administration in many respects. He is, therefore, fair game, and he should stop his whining before he makes an even bigger fool of himself. The same goes for actual administration officials who have had their lives disrupted lately when they have been out in public, though not on official business. Being called names by protesters while dining in a restaurant comes with the territory for a public official, and hand-wringing about the loss of civility only serves to protect those whose policies and actions are causing harm far worse than name calling.

The North Wind and the Sun - Wind - Project Gutenberg etext 19994
In this 1919 illustration by Milo Winter for an anthology of Æsop’s Fables, the wind attempts to strip a traveler of his cloak in “The North Wind and the Sun” by blowing gales at him, with the result that the traveler draws his cloak tighter. The sun wins the challenge of getting the traveler to take off his cloak by warming him in sunlight.

Respect breeds respect, and civility engenders civility. At least that is how it’s supposed to work. When the top official in a presidential administration is a low-grade schoolyard bully, however, who cynically uses hateful language to whip up the enthusiasm of his most goonish supporters, encouraging them to act out violently against people they resent, and the bureaucrats and politicians in his administration implement without complaint despicable policies, then, as they should be, all are lumped together by the rest of society as people who have no respect for others unlike them, and therefore are not deserving of respect, and as people who behave without civility toward others who disagree with them, and are therefore not entitled to civility in return.

There is no valid comparison to be made between a bakery owner who refuses to bake a cake for a homosexual couple getting married and a restaurant owner who refuses service to White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. The key to the difference is in Ms. Sanders’s job title, capitalized no less. Refusing service to someone because of who they are, whether homosexual or black-skinned or female, is wrong, both legally and morally. Refusing service to someone because of their actions is a different matter and is protected legally, though there is debate about the ethics of it. It’s something every business owner can and should decide on their own, without then being condemned by public officials who quite unethically use their bully pulpit to whip up public hatred for that business owner.

In this early scene in the 1960 film Inherit the Wind, directed by Stanley Kramer, and starring Spencer Tracy and Fredric March as opposing lawyers, Gene Kelly plays a reporter who mentions his job is to “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”. The saying has been appropriated in all seriousness and without a hint of irony by journalists for over a hundred years, never mind that the originator of the saying, Finley Peter Dunne, meant it as a satirical deflation of journalists’ avowed high-minded pretensions, and that the corporate media often have served as uncritical mouthpieces of the rich and powerful, leaving it up to citizen protesters to truly “comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable”.

Protesters who confront officials in public places are generally anonymous, but Stephanie Wilkinson, owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, had no safe retreat when she confronted Ms. Sanders and asked her to leave, and for that she deserves respect as well as a civil acknowledgement of her principles, rather than an outpouring of hatred and death threats. Calls for civility are pointless under the circumstances, though an opponent of the current president, his policies and his behavior, would be wise not to descend to fighting with a pig in the mud, for the simple reason that the pig wins since he is happily in his element, while you end up muddy and discouraged. When possible, keep to the higher ground.
— Ed.


Toddlers and Their Tantrums


Wednesday evening, February 1st, University of California-Berkeley administrators canceled a scheduled appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor for the right-wing Breitbart News website, after violent protests made the situation unsafe for attendees and Mr. Yiannopoulos. Whatever might have been the content of the speech given by Mr. Yiannopoulos is immaterial to the discussion of free speech here. Indeed the more unpopular and distasteful his views might be to the majority, the more important it is that his right to express himself be protected. The College Republicans invited Mr. Yiannopoulos to speak on a campus famous for giving birth to the Free Speech Movement in 1964, and it makes no difference in the exercise of free speech that their political beliefs are polar opposites to those expressed by the founders of the movement 53 years ago.


“Flibberty Jib” from Ken Nordine’s Word Jazz album of 1957.
The freedom to listen to unorthodox views.


There were approximately 1,500 people gathered in peaceful protest of Mr. Yiannopoulos’s appearance when about 150 Black Bloc agitators showed up and started throwing Molotov cocktails and smashing windows. Black Bloc has been hijacking peaceful protests for thirty years now, and it is they the media give the most attention to, discrediting by their wanton violence the objectives of the peaceful protesters. Many media outlets have mistakenly or lazily lumped the Black Bloc agitators in with the peaceful protesters and chosen to make the narrative about student “snowflakes” too upset about the possibility of an alternative view being expressed on their campus to allow it to happen, and therefore throwing a tantrum violent enough to prompt university authorities to cancel the event. Ironically, and with a touch of surreality considering his own inability to accept criticism or countenance alternative views, Supreme Leader, the Snowflake-in-Chief, had to chime in with a tweet bending the reality of the situation to suit his own pre-conceived notions. How he can hold the UC-Berkeley administration to account for the actions of the loose cannon Black Bloc is anyone’s guess.


The ending of the 1978 remake of the 1950s original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The original movie made a statement on McCarthyism, and the remake could equally
be viewed as a statement on calling out and exposing the unorthodox among us.


Political correctness has certainly gone too far in its own way on the left as McCarthyism did on the right in the 1950s. If you’re having to walk on eggshells around people with regard to what you say it makes little difference whether the easily offended parties are on the left or the right of the political spectrum. Insensitivity and hate speech are problems certainly, but to try to legislate that behavior into oblivion cannot and should not be done. If your own ideas are strong and their ideas are built on lies and ignorance, then open and public argument will eventually – not overnight – shed light on both sides. “The arc of the moral universe is long,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., “but it bends toward justice.” You have to have faith, and not a little patience.
― Vita