“Rising to the bait” is a fishing term. Anglers lure fish hiding in the deep by positioning bait on or near the surface. Fish that rise to the bait usually end up on someone’s dinner plate.
Conservative groups routinely try this technique on college liberals. Their lure is an inflammatory right-wing speaker. The catch comes in duping liberals to act badly as censors of free speech or, even better, violently. The protesters provide free entertainment on Fox News Channel. And the broader public sees them as spoiled college kids. It’s painful to watch.
Why else would Berkeley College Republicans invite the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on their famously left-leaning University of California campus? A publicity freak trafficking in racist slurs, Yiannopoulos is currently best known for advocating sex between men and boys.
Taking their cue in a play their enemies wrote, the offended ones made a big deal out of this cartoonish character. The cameras caught “protesters,” some wearing masks, in full rampage. They trashed the campus before heading off into downtown Berkeley to smash some windows. (By the way, who exactly were these people hiding their identities?)
Over at the State University of New York at Buffalo, agitated students all but shut down a speech by Robert Spencer, an alleged Islamophobe. Spencer’s claim to fame is his controversial Jihad Watch website.
Behind many such speaking engagements is a group called Young America’s Foundation. And behind Young America’s Foundation are the Koch brothers, Richard and Helen DeVos and other very rich financiers of the right. Their agenda relies on discrediting anyone to their left.
Frankly, I don’t care enough about Ann Coulter to even dislike her. Her political shock act ran its course long ago, and being ignored is probably her greatest fear. But the left seems determined to revive her career.
Coulter’s scheduled speech at Berkeley was canceled after protests raised security concerns. It should surprise no one that the foundation was picking up her $20,000 speaking fee. College Republicans and the foundation are now suing Berkeley for allegedly violating Coulter’s First Amendment rights.
What should smart lefties do? Three things.
One is develop a very thick skin. Many of you are unable to distinguish between merely provocative and totally offensive. You can simplify by dropping such distinctions. Both kinds of speech are protected. If right-wingers choose to invite promoters of disgusting views, let them own it.
Two is to understand this about the opinion business: Success can come from drawing a positive response or a negative one. Failure is no response. Thus, the most effective way to block an obvious attempt to bait you is to swim away. Don’t petition. Don’t attend. Don’t enrich those who make a livelihood out of getting under your skin.
Wit, meanwhile, makes for a great offense. As the writers at “Saturday Night Live” have taught us, mockery is a more fearsome weapon than raw rage.
Three, when campus conservatives book speakers customdesigned to enrage you, try this clever tactic: Host a sensible conservative to give a talk at the same time. The growing ranks of anti-Trump conservatives offer a pool of highly promising candidates.
Such speakers would draw audience and attention away from the flamethrower across campus. Finding common ground is good for the civic culture, and joining forces enhances power. Importantly, you would come off as open-minded and also be open-minded. We’d all do well to listen more to opinions contrary to our own.
Resist the flashing lures. The choice for campus liberals comes down to this: Either you frustrate those who would provoke you or you become their dinner.
Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.