Trump supporters shout down California Dems at Whittier College

Supporters of Donald Trump shouted down the California attorney general and assembly speaker during a question-and-answer session at Whittier College.


The event ended early after pro-Trump hecklers, upset about Becerra's lawsuit against the Trump administration over DACA, continuously shouted slogans and insults at Becerra and Calderon. A group affiliated with the hecklers later boasted that the speakers were "SHOUTED DOWN BY FED-UP CALIFORNIANS" and that the "meeting became so raucous that it ended about a half hour early."

The event, held in Whittier College's Shannon Center theater, was free and open to members of the community, and featured introductions from both Whittier's president and student body president. Becerra and Calderon were to have an hour-long question-and-answer session using audience questions randomly selected from a basket. As soon as they began the discussion, however, hecklers decked in "Make America Great Again" hats began a continuous and persistent chorus of boos, slogans, and insults.

Video captured by an alumnus captures the difficulty of hearing the discussion:

Video uploaded by two of the hecklers, Arthur C. Schaper and Harim Uzziel, captures the entirety of the affair, complete with chanted slogans and insults, such as "lock him up," "build that wall," "obey the law," "respect our president," "Americans first," and "You must respect our president!" It also captures audience members repeatedly asking the hecklers to stop, and campus security officials approaching the group. 

So two wrongs make a right?  Glenn Reynolds has some thoughts.

On the one hand, I think that all campus speakers should be free to speak without interruption. On the other hand, I can't help but note that in California, that rule hasn't been observed equally, and quite a few left-leaning government and university officials have taken sides with lefty disruptors. So I have to hope that this sort of thing – a sort of mutual assured destruction – will cause them to rethink their positions and endorse free speech for all. Sometimes people need help learning:

There's an old joke about a boy who complains to his mother that his little sister keeps pulling his hair.

"Oh," responds the mother, "she doesn't know that it hurts."

A few minutes later, the mother hears the girl scream and runs into the other room. "She knows now," the boy explains.

Principles that apply only part of the time aren't principles at all, and tit-for-tat is a robust strategy for encouraging cooperative behavior, as Axelrod & Johnson have found. I've warned the left for years of the incentives their unprincipled behavior was creating; perhaps now that people are starting to react to those incentives, they'll finally listen, instead of denouncing civil society and free expression as obsolete bourgeois values. Because I'd like to live in a world where everyone can be heard, but I don't think you get to that world by giving free rein to (government-supported) bullies who want to shut down the "wrong" people.

And the folks at FIRE are entirely right that the protesters here are liable to prosecution (and correctly so) for shutting down the debate, and if such prosecutions became the trend, I'd welcome that. But, really, it's easier for everyone to have a climate where everyone is free to speak without being shut down. But that climate has – intentionally – been allowed to slip away, and no one should be surprised to see people on the right take up tactics that seem to work, with impunity, for the left. We could have avoided this situation, if only the folks in charge had wanted to. As I've said before, "The thing is, you don't get Hitler because of Hitler – there are always potential Hitlers out there. You get Hitler because of Weimar, and you get Weimar because the liberals are too corrupt and incompetent to maintain a liberal polity." If something like this is all it takes to get them to do their jobs, we'll have done better than, frankly, I expect.

If I thought there was a chance in hell that a tit-for-tat policy on the right would force the left to alter its behavior, I'd be all for it.  But you and I both know there's no chance for that, so the question is one not of strategy, but, as Reynolds observes, of principle.

I disagree that "principles that apply only part of the time aren't principles at all."  If you are going to apply the concept of "principle" to the group, that may be true.

But I've always believed that principles are personal – either you live up to them or you don't.  And if each of us individually is not going to follow the dictates of conscience and stand for something permanent and immutable, then "principles" aren't worth their salt.  It is always wrong to shout down a speaker regardless of his politics.  The left doesn't think this is true.  But isn't that what separates us from leftists?

The incident at Whittier should start a healthy debate on the right about free speech and what to do about the left's destruction of the First Amendment.

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