Sunday Commentary: America at Political Odds

Milo Comes to Liberal UC Davis

Prior to the arrival of Milo Yiannopoulos there was a sequence of events that demonstrated in a microcosm why we were here – not just why we were at the UC Davis campus on a Saturday afternoon of a three-day weekend, but why we are where we are in our nation’s history.

On Friday night a large group of protesters had blocked access to the venue where Mr. Yiannopoulos was going to speak.  University officials became concerned that it would not be feasible to conduct the event safely and, according to accounts from Milo, the College Republicans had cancelled the speech but that was because “they were told by police that they would be responsible for property damage.”

There are those who believe that this was hate speech (Milo’s speech) and it needed to be shut down.  As one person told me, “Free speech doesn’t mean a platform for violent hate speech, and it will be shut down every time.”

But shutting down the event allowed Milo and his supporters to seize the high ground.  As he told the Vanguard, “I want the university to admit that they intimidated those students into cancelling the event in violation of their First Amendment responsibilities.”

He would quip about the left, “They like diversity, except diversity of opinion.”  Not that I think, after listening to attacks from the right on President Obama for eight years, they have any moral high ground to stand on here.

But to me, the essence of this event happened before Milo even arrived on the UC Davis campus.  There was a small contingent of protesters who stood to the side with signs.  That drew attention from the larger crowd.

Entering the fray was a young man who might embody the contradictions of the so-called alt-right.  He told the media that he was a student at Sac State.  He wore a suit, a close haircut, and a relatively unkempt beard.  He walked up to the protesters and flipped them off, posing for cell phone cameras.

As the media descended on him and interviewed him, another young man in a beanie got between him and cameras and they flipped each other off in their faces.  They squared off for some time before disengaging.

In a way this represented the divide between the left and the right – not just in this small space on campus but in the nation as a whole.  The inability to find common ground, common decency, common civility.  This week saw the President-elect attack the iconic civil rights figure, John Lewis, and the response by many Democrats who will boycott his inauguration.

This small moment in a much larger struggle reflects the broader reality, not just of the Milo Yiannopoulos event but in our nation.  Each side points the finger – in this case quite literally – to the other side, believing that the other side is worse.

Milo Yiannopoulos, coming to what he called liberal UC Davis, in a way embodies the reverse of California itself in a sea of a much more conservative United States.  California heavily voted for Hillary Clinton, but take out California and the rest of the nation narrowly voted for Trump.

Milo may have been flanked by 200 supporters on Saturday, but he knew he was in the belly of the beast – outnumbered, these students say they feel vulnerable as well in the broader community.

He would tell the crowd that they were going to have a march and show the university that they would not be able to shut people up “because you have the wrong opinions.”  He would call UC Davis the most liberal university, only to back off slightly to say that UC itself is a bastion of liberalism.  Only his words were more colorful and he used some f-words along the way.

He explained that he came to UC Davis and other universities like it, to challenge this very establishment.  In a way he was the fish out of water in a broader sea of liberalism, but he mentioned to the students a reminder that they had won.  That in a few days, Donald Trump will become president and the supporters were fondly counting down the days until their nightmare ends, and the left’s nightmare begins.

The idea of safety is a theme that bears exploring in this divided political world.  While the US has traditionally thought of the notion of political violence as reserved for third world dictatorships and emerging democracies – this year has brought home the reality that we are no longer, if we ever had been, immune to violence and the creation of unsafe spaces for public discourse.

For his part, Mr. Yiannopoulos bluntly rejected the notion that his presence is a safety issue.

“This new language of student safety – the idea that someone’s physical safety could be endangered by some sassy gay brit with the wrong the opinions – ridiculous.  They use the language of physical safety to try to scare you into not speaking up for your values,” he told the crowd.  “There is no threat to student safety from someone with the wrong political opinions.”

But in this political divide, there is a very different view on the other side.  With the election of Trump, many groups – especially the LGBT community, immigrants and Muslims – fear what the future will bring.  The feel exposed, vulnerable, and without the safety of protections that may have existed previously.

Moreover, this is not a fear of words or views, but of the actions behind those words and views.

As BeeBee Buchanan put it, people like Milo, “are quite literally profiting off of our bodies and our pain. When we say that these words, and these speakers, are dangerous, we don’t mean ideologically or in the abstract. We don’t mean in a battle or contest of ideas. We’re talking about our lives.”

For many on the left, they see Milo “as a prominent representative of white nationalism and ‘men’s rights,’” as well as “a champion of hate speech against people of color and women.”

At a time of anxiety about what a new Trump administration will bring, populations of vulnerable citizens are wary about institutionalizing and legitimizing these views.  As the students wrote in December, “The invitation to host Milo Yiannopoulos at UC Davis is particularly harmful given the current sociopolitical climate in the United States. Milo Yiannopoulos is a popular spokesman for the ‘alt-right,’ a movement dominated by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, Christian Identity groups, and racist skinheads whose white supremacist, misogynist, anti-immigrant agenda has been bolstered by public figures such as Donald Trump and Steven Bannon.”

Of course, Milo sees himself as a “sassy gay brit with the wrong opinions.”  And, while he acknowledges his views are expressed in “an outrageous way,” he believes that “I don’t have opinions that are particularly outrageous.”

The irony is that while the right rejects the notion that people of color and people with non-traditional gender identity should feel unsafe, the expression I see from conservatives in this community, from the marchers on campus yesterday, suggests that they do not feel physically safe – on the UC Davis campus or in the Davis community – to express their views.

So why should the LGBT community, the Muslim community, the Hispanic community feel safe in Trump’s America?

This is the world that we continue to live in with a dramatic and ever-increasing divide between the left and the right in this country.  For eight years, the right rejected Barack Obama as illegitimate – they challenged his policies for sure, but also his right to be president, his place of birth and his faith.

Now we enter the Trump era and we have already seen the same on the part on the left.  This is the political world we live in, and things are not going to change any time soon.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. JosephBiello

    I have yet to see an estimate – approximate to be sure, but systematically determined – of the number of people at the protest on Friday night or at the Milo march on Saturday.

    In a town of 65K people with 25K-ish students, we see a march of, approximately, 100 people – clearly some of whom have been brought from elsewhere specifically by the organizers.    One sixth of one percent of the population (on either side of this issue) becomes the representative for the population as a whole.  This is the problem that we must keep in the front of our minds – the media, like our own eyes, are drawn to the train wrecks which are offered by the extremists.    Looking at this train wreck is human nature – we must resist the urge to extrapolate from this train wreck that the extreme views are representative of the larger population.

    Believe it or not, we are at the safest time in the history of the US and the most tolerant time in the history of the US.    That doesn’t forgive the problems nor the extremists. That does not say we must not continue to improve. That does not mean that I don’t understand my privileged place in this society. However, we must not succumb to the lazy interpretation that the extremists are somehow representative of the broader population.



    1. David Greenwald

      I think it was closer to 200 people. I would consider that a decent sized turnout, particularly with one day notice.

      Now, by comparison, in 2011, there were somewhere between 5000 and 10000 people at the quad for the protest on Monday after the pepper spray. The entire eastern half of the grass was covered with people and extended onto the western part as well.

      1. JosephBiello

        Ok,  1/3rd of 1 % – many of whom were just there to look.

        I just read your article on the Flenaugh press conference.   It seems that Milo and his ilk are effectively distracting us (as a campus)  from real issues such as that.



    2. Tia Will


       we must resist the urge to extrapolate from this train wreck that the extreme views are representative of the larger population.”

      I would have agreed with this statement right up until the results of the election came out. One thing that I think that we cannot ignore is that MY’s statement that his ideas are not that outrageous although he expresses them in outrageous ways. Here is a real danger. Here is a man that for their own safety proposes that women should stay off certain parts of the internet ( Gamergate), who states that women should be restricted in the number of STEM courses and positions that are allotted to them, who eggs on his supporters to physically threaten an actress ( Leslie Jones), who claims that he is not a part of the alt right, but fails to disavow any of their positions.

      I would not have believed it before the election, but now I am deeply concerned that many of our fellow citizens would agree that what he proposes on a regular basis is not outrageous but that it is the right of white men to limit the opportunities of others whether those others are women, immigrants, members of other religions or races. This is what he is advocating and he is on tape saying so repeatedly.

      1. Tia Will

        Language has been increasingly used to provoke, intimidate, humiliate, hide insecurity… instead of articulately informing, educating, convincing…”

        One particular assertion of MY bothers me in particular. He states that his ideas are not particularly outrageous although he does express himself in outrageous ways. Until recent events, I would have disagreed with this statement, and I completely agree that MY is not the only holder of white male supremacist views which may be the basis on which he claims that his ideas are not outrageous. To be clear MY is far from the worst purveyor of these attitudes, but he is clearly garnering some of the most attention.

        For a view of what else is out there, previously under a rock somewhere, but now seemingly gaining some credibility, I recommend checking out the “educational videos” of Nathan Damigo, previously noted to have turned up at the planned UCD event.

        I recommend the “educational piece” on how women destroy civilization, but there is something here to suit every taste on the white male supremacy agenda. I previously would have disregarded this as fringe, but given the results of the election, I no longer see this type of speech as a distraction to be ignored.

      2. JosephBiello

        @Tia You interpret the results of this election through that particular lens.  This is exactly what Milo et al. want you to believe – that the election validates their extremism.  This is patently not true.   Take a look, for example,  at the Sunday NY Times today article on “the women who voted for T[****]”

        While I completely disagree with their rationale – and I find their arguments to contradict themselves – I don’t see anyone there espousing  Milo-esque extremism.

        People voted for T[****] for a myriad of reasons. Many “held their noses and voted for T[****]” thinking that the alternative was the greater of two evils.   I disagree with all of them.  However, to turn around and interpret the results as a binary choice – as Milo would like you to do – is an enormous oversimplification.







        1. Tia Will


          You interpret the results of this election through that particular lens.”

          In that one particular comment regarding this one particular event, I did.

          I am in no way saying that this is the only factor. The results of the election were clearly multifactorial. But I believe that we ignore the white male supremacist agenda as one of those factors to our own peril. It is easy to dismiss MY because of his “outrageous” presentation. This should not be used to deny that a system of beliefs that claims a white, Christian, “conservative”, male agenda as the direction that the country should be heading does not exist and arguably is gaining in political traction.

        2. Ols Keith

          Tia Will, you’re trying to make a huge case out of the far right hinge of conservatives which in no way represents most conservatives.  Just as the right has their extrenmists the left does too.  Do the far left extremists represent most of the progressive/liberal views, not in any way.  Both sides have their outliers.

        3. Dave Hart

          A friend of mine quipped on the phone a couple days after the election when some of the p-elect’s cabinet choices began to emerge that it reminded him of the scene in Ghostbusters 2 where all the demons and horrid things began to come up out of the sewers and swirl around no longer imprisoned and unencumbered.  That is the essence of this election and how it has reminded us of the most dangerous elements to democracy in our society.

          White male privilege is arguably the nastiest and most dangerous evil that undermines the physical safety of all of us.  E.g., MY’s friend Shkrelli who took a life-saving drug that sold for a nominal price and increased it to $750 a dose could only be done by a person who feels so entitled that he is actually proud of it.  White cops who shoot a black, unarmed fleeing suspect in the back.  The widespread opposition to abortion by the mostly white male dominated organizations and churches (Westboro Baptist) who call for the murder of doctors and vocally support those who actually kill.  Dylan Roof.  All supported by the tacit approval by respectable conservatives who would never advocate such actions but who resist any attempts at drawing attention to their ideological responsibility for such ideas.

          The great wound of this country is the system of slavery in the 19th century.  We fought a civil war around the issue and yet, we as a nation never attempted a formal reconciliation process.  No formal apology.  It festers.  It was about white (male) supremacy and because of the weak political will by all major political parties after the civil war, the wound was deepened in the reaction to Reconstruction with the popular sport of black lynchings from the 1870s through the 1940s.  White supremacy was out in the open even through the 1960s in opposition to MLK.  It never gave any ground in the hearts and minds of people who were its biggest supporters and who owned most of the major media until its ugliness forced them into a sort of retreat since the 1970s.  But the core of racism was always white male privilege.  It is the core of all discrimination regardless of gender, sexual orientation, religion, you name it.

          You can’t be a white male supremacist and a moderate.  YM and his friends are fundamentally flawed spiritually.  I do agree the best way to react to them on an adhoc basis where they show to give a speech is to ignore them.  But make no mistake, they are the face of true evil and a reminder of our national disgrace and failure to do the right thing for the last 150 years.

  2. Howard P

    They say a picture is worth 1000 words… photo ops have replaced meaningful discussion… finger flips replace cogent, persuasive speech… sound bites are replacing position papers… most slogans/chants are kinda’ like finger flips… they move no football forward.

    Language has been increasingly used to provoke, intimidate, humiliate, hide insecurity… instead of articulately informing, educating, convincing…

    “There’s something happening here… what it is ain’t exactly clear…”

    1. Howard P

      There seems to be a trend towards ‘tribalization’ or possibly a ‘pack mentality’… if you do not agree with ‘the clan’,  you are an ‘outsider’/threat/enemy… that needs to be maligned/ridiculed/excluded, and/or punished.

      Slogans/chants reinforce the clannishness… and add nothing to the discussion.

      Such attitudes are antithetical to a healthy society, no matter which “direction” from which those winds blow…

  3. Tia Will


    Such attitudes are antithetical to a healthy society, no matter which “direction” from which those winds blow”

    With this statement, I could not agree more as well as with your post of 7:21.


    1. Howard P

      Ahhhh… what a concept… “common ground”?

      If one looks for disagreement or collaboration, one will find it.  Another old story about the old man at the crossroad… the first traveller comes up, asks the old man about what people are like in the next town… the old man asks, in reply, what are the people like where you come from?  The traveller said that they were mean, petty, and obnoxious… the old man said, you’ll find the folk in the next town the same… there is, of course the flip side with the second traveller… who said he came from a place where the folk were friendly, generous, supportive…the old man gave the same answer as he did to the first…

  4. Don Shor

    As he told the Vanguard, “I want the university to admit that they intimidated those students into cancelling the event in violation of their First Amendment responsibilities.”

    Sure, right after he retracts this statement and gets his bosses at Breitbart to retract their headlines that used his misinformation.

    1. Howard P

      Would you settle for a simultaneous ‘disclosure’?  

      There may have been false reports of hammers/vandalism… in the moment, who is responsible for “fact checking”?… barricades being “breached” by individuals is documented fact, per the videos.  Certainly not evidence of them being “torn away”.

      You’ll note that I don’t think I’ve ever used the jerk’s name… yet, I have to think there is a possibility that he didn’t make up the possibility/or untrue rumors that there were, indeed, acts of vandalism… in emotionally charged situations, it’s real easy to start a rumor, and “give it life”, where people inclined to do so, give it credence… maybe time will tell.  I just don’t know.

      Today is the true anniversary of MLK’s birth… not tomorrow, which is a fabricated holiday as is Presidents’ Day… originally Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthdays, but two was too many holidays, and they fell on “inconvenient” days, not allowing for school and other gov’t employees to enjoy a 3-day holiday, particularly when the snow was ripe for skiing here in CA… and get a clue… Washington was not born on Feb 22!

      Recommend folk honor Dr King with the tone of the words they use today… I know, that’s just “a dream”… I’ll attempt to…


  5. John Hobbs

    Even the AP gets it:Breitbart=KKK

    “Now we enter the Trump era and we have already seen the same on the part on the left. ”

    I hope that there are enough old radicals extant to make the left a much more effective thorn in the administration’s side.  There is no common ground to be found. The malignant ideas and ideals of the right wing are incompatible with decent society.

    1. Dave Hart

      I totally agree.  I am hoping that the existential threat to democracy that has been unleashed will get our old and more importantly young radicals to in some way harness the strong negative emotion of the anarchist elements that will show up to counter the white male privilege.

      As shown in the photos at the top, there are people, allies I assume, that choose protest slogans that make them as individuals feel as though they have won a point against repressive forces, to slam their opponents.  But words matter.  On both sides.

      The goal of public protest should convey a clear vision of what a better world would look like.  The protesters get and “A” for showing up; they get a “C” for messaging; they get a “D-” for allowing YM to use their protest to get more press attention.

      1. Ols Keith

        young radicals to in some way harness the strong negative emotion of the anarchist elements 

        Yes, just what this world needs, more strong negative emotion.

        white male privilege

        That damn white male privilege rears its ugly head again.  It’s the scourge of America.


      2. Howard P

        The goal of public protest should convey a clear vision of what a better world would look like.

        I am hoping that the existential threat to democracy that has been unleashed will get our old and more importantly young radicals to in some way harness the strong negative emotion of the anarchist elements 

        Perhaps this could be resolved by nihilism… or, not… will leave that question to folk who study/know philosophical issues… but to a STEM guy, the two statements, in  the same post seem very weird…

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