Fishbein: Cancel “Canceled”

To end bigotry, learning social impact skills means much more than “protest.”

by Dan Fishbein | 2/14/19 2:15am

 When convicted illegal campaign contributor Dinesh D’Souza ’83 tweeted Tuesday morning about his lecture at Dartmouth Monday night, he had little to say about the content of his “A World Without Walls” speech. Perhaps D’Souza — who started his career as provocateur by outing gay classmates while editor of The Dartmouth Review and has since gone on in his numerous books and movies to make abhorrent statements that do not merit repetition — felt as though his followers already knew what his brand of hatred had to say about the border. More likely, though, D’Souza saw an opportunity to stir up his base. “...the campus leftists yelled, chanted, obstructed, & even cried!” D’Souza wrote. “Despite the best efforts of these little fascists-in-training, the event went on ...” Fox News reporter Heather Childs parroted this idea in her coverage of D’Souza’s visit, claiming on Twitter and television that protestors had “harassed” and “verbally attacked” him. 

Neither D’Souza, the College Republicans nor the activists deviated much from the script of alt-right “resistance” that observers of politics in 2019 should by now feel familiar with. D’Souza called Dartmouth a “hostile environment,” not far from David Horowitz criticizing “the hatred” the College showed him during his October visit. The College Republicans claimed that their invitation for D’Souza to speak demonstrated their commitment to defending “free speech.” Not too long ago, Tucker Carlson theorized that “an axis of left-wing corporate power, academia, media and lawmakers have all aligned to curb your right to speak freely”; in fact, he or some other Fox News talking head might be calling for a defense of “free speech” this very moment. Unfortunately, the sign wavers and chanters — and, just as with Horowitz, the public kissers — again demonstrated that as long as people like D’Souza want money and infamy and Republican students want to feel victimized, the “social justice warriors” will let the Right indulge this persecution fantasy through these theatrical “protests.” 

The protesters of far-right provocateurs should stop giving them what they really want, this same-old outrage that sells well in conservative tabloids. If students want to take action against hatred, they can still do so, but they must choose different means. An effective Left would give the Right what they claim to want but should fear: willingness to “engage those ideas,” in D’Souza’s words. 

Such engagement need not take the form of an actual debate. It remains to be seen whether campus agitators like D’Souza would oblige a strenuous question and answer session. Perhaps D’Souza and his far-right friends have deluded themselves into thinking they’d win, as evidenced by College Republicans executives’ description of D’Souza as a “well-respected, well-regarded individual.” If these executives wanted an actual debate rather than a race bait, maybe they could call up Condoleezza Rice or David Brooks to represent the best of what their side has to offer. Between now and then, though, when it comes to D’Souza and others making blindfolded whiffle bat swings at polemics, students need not feel that they themselves must debunk the junk. This should come as good news to students who might, justifiably, feel targeted by vitriolic viewpoints and do not wish to hear D’Souza’s dehumanizing words (although, according to another D’Souza tweet, a “vast majority” of those who called him “racist” were white). Would-be protesters can stay home, because professors have already done this homework. Academic reviewers have called D’Souza’s work “a parody of scholarship,” “out of context” and “a fact-twisting, error-laden piece of paranoia.” Maybe Republicans would call that liberal bias. Then it would become clear which side obstructs truth. 

To make their ideas really win, Leftist students don’t need to argue with their opposition — they need to get to work. The data shows that certain social conditions foster the sort of white nationalism people like D’Souza seize upon. The 2016 American National Election Survey asked respondents to rate how strongly they felt toward the importance of their whiteness, white solidarity and feelings of white victimization. The people who felt these three categories were “very” or “extremely important” had a strong correlation with not having a college degree, being unemployed or making a household income under $30,000. 

As Dartmouth students, many of us will go on to have an outsized contribution on our society and our world. I do not mean to say that Dartmouth students can simply descend from this Ivy tower and wave their magic degrees to make everyone equal. But facts prove that white nationalism stems from low education and poverty. Facts prove that to combat these real problems, defunded public schools need teachers and administrators, and a broken economy needs equitable policymakers. Facts prove that to combat the effects of racism and inequality that result in part from white nationalism, urban hospitals need doctors, and incarcerated people need effective lawyers. All these jobs require a stellar skillset, for which Dartmouth provides one of the best training grounds.

If students want to continue to protest with flashy signs, chants or hookup partners, they have every right to do so. Safety and Security will make sure that students don’t get hurt, D’Souza will make fun of them and College Republicans will feel like they have proved a point. We have seen this process play out time and time again. In my four years here, Milo Yiannapolous has come, Horowitz has come, D’Souza has come. More will keep on coming, and students will keep on protesting. We don’t need to see more protests that fuel these provocateurs’ fire. What we need to see more of is a generation of committed young people blessed with an opportunity to learn how to solve problems do their best to prepare themselves for future battle against the unjust and inequitable socioeconomic structures that haunt America today. What we need is to give D’Souza his engagement of ideas.