This month, Harvard University officially revoked its acceptance of a Parkland High School student, a shooting survivor who supports the Second Amendment, over racist language he used in text messages when he was 16. Meanwhile, former Central Park 5 prosecutors have lost their jobs three decades after the case because of a Netflix movie released two weeks ago called When They See Us. And by the time you read this, the Left will likely have bullied another small business for breaking their rules on gender and cake.
I learned about bullying in a small Ohio high school, both by being bullied and—shamefully—as a bully myself. I came to understand that bullies are frustrated by their own lack of power (there’s always someone bigger going after them), and, unable to do anything to the real target, find someone weaker to torment. It is never meant to be a fair fight. There’s also a third element, the adult in the room who stays quiet and lets it all happen: a football coach or room monitor at my high school, the elders at Harvard in 2019 America.
Trying out for football at my high school meant being bullied by the varsity. If you were lucky, they only stole your food and made you embarrass yourself singing to the group. For others, it was sodomy with soap bars or caustic creams smeared in your jock. It always happened after the coaches mysteriously disappeared during practice breaks.
Some guys quit the team, some just endured, some sought empty relief bullying others. I did the latter, mercilessly teasing a poor kid weaker than me during lunch periods when the room monitors would mysteriously disappear; nobody really liked him. I was cruel in a way I wish I’d hated then the way I do now. He was an easy target, and 44 years ago, I thought bullying him would make me feel better. I couldn’t beat up the varsity football team that humiliated me, so that kid was the surrogate. Nothing I have done before or after has made me feel more ashamed.
We know about bullying. So let’s not pretend that what is happening around us, politically driven by the Left, is anything but that. Deeply frustrated that the living embodiment of anti-progressive values was elected in 2016 over a candidate genetically created as the successor for the post-Obama utopia, the Left went looking for someone weaker than itself to work out its rage after Trump proved too tough a target (see the Mueller Report, now three months old, so ineffectual that most in Congress see no need to even read it).
One writer made the frustration clear: “America finds itself in the grip of an endless and inscrutable daily mystery: How is it possible that the president—whose chief occupations seem to be tweeting, lying, lying about what he tweeted, watching television, and committing crimes—is not on the hook for anything? Not for the lying, and not for the criming [sic], and not even for the endless truculence and meanness.”
So the Left picks on kids now because they can’t get Trump. Harvard, apparently forgetting how its past presidents brought their slaves to live on campus and its decades of discriminatory practices against Jews and other “undesirables,” has taken away Parkland survivor Kyle Kashuv‘s scholarship because a couple of years ago he used the term “n*gger” in a shared Google doc and repeatedly in texts to “friends,” who then sent those to Harvard admissions demanding his head. Use the wrong words, no matter how long ago or in what context—my high school coaches called us f*ggots when they felt we weren’t working hard enough—and it is not your action that is attacked; it is you. Kashuv is a racist now and forever, literally beyond even re-education.
For his part, Kashuv has not tried to defend his 16-year-old behavior. Instead he has apologized for his “egregious and callous comments.” He added:
When your classmates, your teachers, and your neighbors are killed it transforms you as a human being. I see the world through different eyes and am embarrassed by the petty, flippant kid represented in those screenshots. I believe those I’ve gotten to know since know that I’m a better person than that.
Kashuv was one of those celebrity school shooting survivors, but not one of the nice ones who stood beside George Clooney and demanded more gun control. Kyle supports gun rights. So while his ostensible sin was a teenage wasteland version of racism, his actual transgression was being an easy surrogate for Trump. Meanwhile, Twitter played the role of the leering varsity players standing in a semicircle cheering on the violence being done to a freshman.
The same goes for Harvard’s Ronald Sullivan, a lecturer at their law school and dean at one of Harvard’s residential houses for over nine years. He was fired for serving on #MeToo poster child Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. The bullies who attacked him claimed his decision to represent someone accused of abusing women (Weinstein has yet to go to trial and thus would be presumed innocent in some alternate universe) disqualified him from “serving in a role of support and mentorship to students.” Except Sullivan really was fired as a surrogate for Weinstein who is a surrogate for Trump, the guy who managed to get himself elected after bragging about pussy grabbing. Harvard Law School’s adults stood silent in practice while teaching classes in theory about how a robust defense of even the worst defendants is a cornerstone of justice.
Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer prosecuted the Central Park 5 in 1989, helping to wrongly convict juveniles of rape. Fairstein kept her job at the New York City District Attorney’s office until 2002, and then went on to write 20 bestselling novels. Lederer is still a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office and had taught law at Columbia University for the last seven years. However, a week after the release of a Netflix dramatization that Fairstein says took liberties with the facts (among other things, the movie ignored evidence that some of the teens were likely accomplices to the rape and committed other violent crimes), online mobs and university students successfully demanded that Fairstein’s publisher dump her and that Columbia force Lederer to resign.
Ken Burns’ more careful documentary about the same case didn’t call forth the same fierceness, but then again it came out in 2012 in the warmth of the Obama years. Today, Fairstein and Lederer are the designated surrogates for Trump. Trump, who in the 1980s shot off his mouth about nearly everything in his hometown of New York City, is being blamed for helping to unfairly convict the boys because of statements he once made. People are demanding that he, along with Fairstein and Lederer, issue an apology.
The attempted political assassination of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was the most extreme example of bullying by the Left. There certainly has never been a more obvious Trump surrogate (though Paul Manafort is a close second): Kavanaugh the misogynist, Kavanaugh the gang rapist, Kavanaugh the serial liar, Kavanaugh the Old Straight White Man (apres Trump, a slur in itself.) The Left’s goal wasn’t to show that the nominee was unqualified as a jurist, but that he was unqualified as a human being, to humiliate him with innuendo and gossip in front of his family and the nation, hoping he’d quit the team. Due process and a modicum of fairness? It wasn’t supposed to be a fair fight.
The Heckler’s Veto on social media is a national pastime, where, frustrated by Trump’s instinctive skill for the medium, bullies use their malleable Terms of Service to deplatform people whose ideas they hate as hate speech. We have lost the ability to even understand the term hypocrisy anymore. Political commentary, meanwhile, has devolved into name calling. Samantha Bee called Ivanka a “feckless c*nt” and Stephen Colbert referred to Trump as “Putin’s c*ckholster.” Those are words my old coaches, or any schoolyard bully shouting “f*ggot,” would have understood.
The conventional wisdom for those bullied is that you’re supposed to fight back. But any good bully creates a situation where the victim can’t. Whether backing him into a toilet stall with three big football jocks as he’s abused or leaving no avenues of appeal while gloating about how the First Amendment and the coach who somehow sees nothing won’t protect him, the bully assures his victim’s humiliation. Everyone else just stands back, not wanting to get involved, humiliated by their lack of courage or concern.
But it is all for society’s own good, you see. In 2019, the bullies gild themselves as striking blows against racism or sexism, as if those societal problems can be solved by kicking a gun-loving Florida kid to the curb. My tormentors claimed it was all part of toughening us up for the football season, and about building comradeship, as they too had once been humiliated as freshmen. It was all for our own good.
But it is not good. Take those feelings of emptied self-worth and humiliation and multiply them across a society. Remember how you felt standing by doing nothing while it happened and spread that across an electorate. Think over how watching those coaches look the other way made you feel, or when the media picked up the chorus that the kid, the prosecutors, whomever, deserved it for being a “racist.” Oh, we are becoming something terrible.
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99%.