Let's Just Watch the Ball in Berkeley, Okay?

Becky O'Malley
Friday September 22, 2017 - 03:29:00 PM

Okay, folks. It’s time to start ignoring all of those nutcases, both right and yes, left too.

I know I’m not the right person to use sports analogies, but I did play softball occasionally in school. I do know that what really counts is keeping your eye on the ball.

Say, for example, you’re at bat: pitcher in front of you, catcher behind. Suddenly up in the bleachers a big guy in a clown suit with a neon pink wig and a bunch of balloons jumps up and starts hollering. Then maybe another guy wearing the same outfit but with a yellow wig jumps him from behind, and now they’re both hollering and rolling down the steps.

And here comes the pitch! You swing—and miss. If this happens three times, you’re out. Do it enough, and you lose the game.

While the good people of Berkeley and environs are busy watching the Altered Right and the Hard-Assed Left duke it out on the sidelines, the game is happening on the field, and our side is losing. 

Berkeley—Berkeley!—is all atwitter because a few mouthy self-identified conservatives have announced that they plan to make speeches on the UC campus next week. They’ll be outside (pray for rain) on public plazas in the daytime. Just exactly what harm will they do? 

It matters not one whit that Milo Whatsis plans to come to Berkeley next week and yammer away. It’s so unimportant that I can’t even be bothered to look up how to spell his (adopted) name one more time. 

Don’t even get me started on the irrelevance of Ann Coulter, just another babe wannabe. But she’s probably a no-show anyhow. 

And David Horowitz! The guy’s on his fourth or fifth iteration of slavish devotion to various authoritarian anti-democratic ideologies from left to right with a side excursion into fundamentalist religion. I’ve known him off and on since he was an irritating red diaper baby, still on the left at first. Despite all the changes of heart he’s had since we were young, he’s remained in a Hobbesian state of nature: nasty, brutish and short. 

Some people in Berkeley who really should know better are still seeing fascists under every bed. They don’t seem to understand that words have meaning, and not every armed bully qualifies as an actual no-kidding political big-F Fascist. While all too many of us are busy looking under the bed, the really dangerous villains are breaking down the front door.  

It isn’t even Donald T. we’re talking about here, bad though he certainly is. It’s the other members of that criminal gang he’s joined: yes, the Republicans. Even if DT were impeached tomorrow, we’d still be at risk with the clearly vicious bunch who have managed to seize control of the U.S. Congress without benefit of side-arms or weighted sticks.  

Let’s defer to the master here, Paul Krugman, whose words which I read in the Times at breakfast say what I was planning to say myself better than I could have: 

“Graham-Cassidy, the health bill the Senate may vote on next week, is stunningly cruel. It’s also incompetently drafted: The bill’s sponsors clearly had no idea what they were doing when they put it together. Furthermore, their efforts to sell the bill involve obvious, blatant lies. 

“Nonetheless, the bill could pass. And that says a lot about today’s Republican Party, none of it good.” 

However, luckily, as of the noon news, John McCain seems to have saved the game again—this time. But all the bad things that the very introduction of this meshugenah bill says about today’s Republican Party are still true, and you can be sure that the Repugs have more mischief in their playbook. 

There’s even an argument that if Trump goes down, indicted or impeached, Pence might be worse because he’s better behaved or better looking or at least has a better haircut, any of which might make him a better candidate than Donny T. in 2020. 

So what can we here in Berkeley do about all this? Republicans are thin on the ground in all of Alameda County and in fact in most of the Bay Area. But there are many national efforts to change the party mix in the Congress, and working with any of these is time much better spent than picking fights at alt-right events around here. 

It’s past time to ignore antics of the clowns in the bleachers, notablythe arrogantly entitled Free Speech Week which is being promoted by a pathetic group of White-Boy-Wannabes, some of whom appear to have been admitted to U.C. Berkeley. 

When all of this commotion started, I criticized Mayor Arreguin for suggesting that Berkeleyans should just stay home and ignore the pro-Trumpers who were descending on Berkeley to rally in a city park sans permits after the original Milo riot. I still think it was important at first blush to represent, to stand up for, yes, corny as it may seem to some, “Berkeley values”. 

But we’ve been there and done that now. This week I have to agree with anyone who suggests that residents and UC faculty, employees and students should just stay away from the campus and deny the obnoxious speakers the attention they crave. 

Some of the academic boycott advocates, however, are right for the wrong reasons. 

A math professor whose Wikipedia entry indicates that she’s a German national was featured in the NYT today as a leader of the boycott crusade among the UC Berkeley faculty. She seems to have Issues with the U.S. Constitution: 

“In Germany today, Professor Wehrheim said, “you will get jailed for certain speech — and I think that is absolutely the right thing.” 

Well, no. It’s certainly the wrong thing, sorry. Germany has been wrong before, and that’s wrong. Keeping dangerous ideas in back alleys, shielded from the challenge of the playing field, is still a mistake. 

One of my great-grandfathers came to this country to dodge the German draft. His family, who lived near Hamburg, where Professor Wehrheim went to school, opposed the Prussian army. They had five boys and five girls, and all the boys emigrated to avoid being drafted. Yet when I made the acquaintance in Hamburg of a second or third cousin who was descended from one of the sisters who stayed home, he showed me, in horror, that one of his suburban neighbors flew the swastika flag.  

Will Germans never learn? Have they learned yet? Evidently they have a real neo-Faschist party which is expected to take some seats in Parliament in the next election.  

Our First Amendment tradition here in the United States is not only about freedom to speak, but also about the rights of the rest of us to hear what others are thinking, no matter how horrendous it might be. (This is sometimes called the Meiklejohn theory. See Wikipedia for a full discussion.) 

If there are dangerous ideas being explored in dark corners, I want to find out about them before they’re acted upon by some violent conspirator. Professor Wehrheim and her colleagues do not have the right to deny me that knowledge. The University of California as an arm of the state is and should be obligated to allow free speech without regard to content. 

Still, I’m choosing to skip all of the fun on campus this week, I think. A certain journalistic sense of obligation urges me to exercise my right to hear what the jerks are up to, but I also have the right to ignore them. I’ve been to three of these travesties now, and really they’re much more about the outfits the players are sporting than their ideas, on both sides. Just say no to the whole show, I say. 

I really really really hope that the black-clad antifa boys and girls, the Berlin-in-the-thirties re-enactors, will have enough sense to stay home or at least to dress in mufti to avoid creating photo-ops for the people they claim to dislike. Anyone who shows up in costume will be immediately suspected, at least by me, of being an agent provocateur for the wrong team. 

Which brings us back to the ball field. What’s going on now, right now, what is a genuine threat to our democracy, is the concerted neo-Republican effort to destroy every achievement not only of Barack Obama, but yes, of the Clinton administration, the Johnson administration, and even (never did I think I’d say this) of Nixon and Bushes I and II. 

Polically active people need to keep their eyes on the ball on the field and ignore the distractions created by Milo and the gang.  

It can’t get much worse, you say? Yes, it could. Wait for it, watch for it, and ignore the clowns.