As the streets of Berkeley raged with fire, angry chants, loud music, and dancing, Milo Yiannopoulos, tucked away in his safe space, took to social media to position himself as a victim of “liberal authoritarianism.” The argument is so frequently used by the flamboyant outrage guru that its surprising that he feels privileged to emasculate anyone as a “snowflake.” Regardless, Milo’s claims of martyrdom fall flat when we interrogate his inexcusable actions.
As an American, I don’t know how they do things in Britain, but, here, in this country, we practice civility while engaging in political dialogue. Such discussions require trust between compatriots who acknowledge their common national identity as the basis of shared experience, values, identity, interest, and destiny. Based on that mutual recognition, we practice respect in the public square because, it goes without saying, such norms are essential to sustained dialogue. Milo, a foreign national, arrogantly thumbs his nose at our political culture for clicks, shares, and, most importantly, financial gain and personal fame.
This snootiness was recently exhibited during his speech at UW-Milwaukee. During his talk, Milo harassed a trans student who had the audacity to petition campus administrators for a campus bathroom policy that accommodates the needs of her respective subpopulation. Hardly a model of western masculinity, Milo posted the student’s picture on an overhead, critiqued her body/gender performance, mis-gendered and sexualized her, while using a derogatory term to describe trans people:
“I see you don’t even read your own student media. He got into the women’s room the way liberals always operate, using the government and the courts to weasel their way where they don’t belong. In this case he made a Title IX complaint. Title IX is a set of rules to protect women on campus effectively. It’s couched in the language of equality, but it’s really about women, which under normal circumstances would be fine, except for how it’s implemented. Now it is used to put men in to women’s bathrooms. I have known some passing trannies in my life. Trannies — you’re not allowed to say that. I’ve known some passing trannies, which is to say transgender people who pass as the gender they would like to be considered… The way that you know he’s failing is I’d almost still bang him.”
A British citizen, Milo is using his platform to target students while fortifying partisan divisions rather than promoting national unity. Most contradictory, he indirectly silences the speech of all trans students. How, you ask? By publicly outing this student, he sends a strong message to the entire trans community, “Shut the hell up lest you be exposed, harassed, and threatened.” This is particularly concerning since a) trans people are at great risk for violence, b) closeted trans students may be prematurely outed, and c) students, dependent upon unaccepting family members for financial support ignorant to their gender identity, might lose their educational funding. Combined, these threats discourage trans students from participating in public debate. Consequently, Milo indirectly silences speech through harassment that motivates self-selection from the marketplace of ideas.
This is not how we do things in America. Academics are fine with Milo presenting his conservative viewpoints. Contrary to his straw man arguments, such speakers are frequently given a platform in academia. Conservative disciplines, such as business, economics, are always well-funded and rarely, to the author’s knowledge, silenced by administrators/lawmakers. Hence, the problem isn’t the content of his ideas, it’s his un-American public performances that threaten vulnerable students on campus while eroding the vital norms regulating rational dialogue in our country.
For this reason, anyone concerned about free speech should reject Milo’s manipulative framing of this situation. While I don’t agree with the violence expressed in the recent protest, university faculty, students, and administration have the duty to protect the integrity of their respective public squares. If Milo wants to speak on college campuses, then he needs to respect the American value of civil dialogue. Otherwise, he has no basis for proclaiming victimhood and needs to return to the dark corners of Reddit and 4chan.