Punching Up, Punching Down, Punching All Around


Vikram Bath

Vikram Bath is the pseudonym of a former business school professor living in the United States with his wife, daughter, and dog. (Dog pictured.) His current interests include amateur philosophy of science, business, and economics. Tweet at him at @vikrambath1.

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196 Responses

  1. Avatar Marchmaine says:


    I’ve been informed on these very pages that you are not morally serious or consistent unless you are willing to kill.

    Wake me when the killing starts… then I’ll take your arguments seriously.

    Unless you kill Richard Spencer and his ilk, you don’t *really* believe they are Nazi’s, neo- or otherwise.Report

  2. Avatar rmass says:

    You know, when you embody even the lite version of nazism, you deserve to get punched. Millions of deaths in living memory.

    Some things are beyond the pale.

    And for an alt right superhero, the master race guy sure can’t take a punch. A sucker punch yeah, but superman should be able to take a building to the dome and not blink.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      “You know, when you embody even the lite version of nazism, you deserve to get punched. Millions of deaths in living memory.”

      You know who killed more? Communists. By your logic, all communists and socialist deserve to get punched. That wouldn’t be beyond the pale.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

        You really have to move those goalposts more discreetly. Going from “Communists” to “communists and socialist” in adjacent sentences is unaesthetically obvious.Report

        • Avatar Damon says:

          You mean like nazi and kinda sorta nazi-ish? We all know that the difference between socialist and communist is minor degrees of separation.Report

          • Avatar rmass says:

            And yet we deal with china now. So obviously killing your own people in a sort of fair war or state action is kosher. Its the killing for race, for religion, thats iffy. Good old political disagreement? Thats how we span sea to sea after all.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Some things are beyond the pale, like responding with violence to non-violent (though deplorable) arguments.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        So you’re okay with killing the person making snuff films, but not okay with killing the senator arguing to peacefully kill people through governmental inaction?Report

        • Avatar North says:

          You’re especially deranged today Kimmie, when have I ever said any such thing?
          Also, since I do not believe in positive rights I’m deeply skeptical of lines like “killing people through government inaction”. By that reasoning every person on the planet is a mass murderer.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        Ya know, you know it’s a fished up world when I end up on the side where I look like the hippie peace freak because I condemned the violence against Spencer.

        I’m the peace guy now. Me.

        This world…smhReport

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        That seems like a pretty decent summary. If everybody follows the “don’t throw the first punch” rule, nobody ever gets punched. That’s a pretty good outcome. To say that we’re going to be the ones to upset that balance implies that whatever principle we’re defending is worth more than the peace that agreement creates.

        If punching nonviolent Nazis is OK, is it OK to punch a cop who is protecting a Nazi from being punched?Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Like hell nobody ever gets punched. People make a profit out of punching.Report

          • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

            OK, I’ll admit that if nobody ever throws a punch, you’ll almost certainly know somebody with the inside scoop on who’s really getting punched.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              I wish it were just punches, right about now.
              One person sits and yells at people on the internet — the other person picks up a knife and stabs the first person’s mother in the heart.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      I agree that he deserved to get punched. I spare exactly zero seconds feeling bad for Spencer because he took a punch to the head, especially since he came away from it with no apparent long-term ill effects.

      I don’t think buddy punching him was right or smart to do so though.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I agree that he deserved to get punched.

        I am 100% down with this sentiment.

        Where I start to freak out is when I start to notice the passive voice.

        The creation of small-batch artisanal Nazi Detectors whose responsibility it is to make sure that people get what they deserve is required for us to use the passive voice.

        I do not trust, like, *AT ALL* the ability of this shit to stay contained to this one guy who deserved it once we establish that there is a market for dispensed justice.

        This business will get out of control.
        It will get out of control and we will be lucky to live through it.Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog says:

          Exactly. Just because Richard Spencer probably deserved a slug in the head, doesn’t mean it was at all a good idea or a right action for buddy in black to deliver it.

          This why I oppose the death penalty – the entire careful design of the justice system isn’t enough to avoid incorrect verdicts of guilt, no matter how much we improve or reform it, because it is a system designed and operated by humans. There will always be mistakes, so we need to make sure the justice system retains the ability to correct them.

          Like, I don’t think Dylann Roof should get the death penalty. I think Charles Manson’s life imprisonment is the right thing to do.

          A Black Bloc planning meeting, even the best and most thoughtful one, isn’t even going to get up to the imperfect level of accuracy that a modern justice system reaches.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Like fuck it’ll get out of control. Do you know how many active eugenics projects are live in this world? Like FUCK anyone is going to be punching someone at Davos.

          Really, this is just stupid penny ante stuff against people who can’t effectively punch back (by which we mean ruin your God Damn Life).Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Given that Marxists killed 100,000,000 in the 20th Century, is it okay to punch Marxists?

    Or, if you want to split hairs, given that people who weren’t *REALLY* Marxists killed 100,000,000 in the 20th Century, is it okay to punch people who aren’t *REALLY* Marxists?Report

    • Not to mention Belgians. Or people named Leopold.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        The problem isn’t that people were willing to shoot Archduke Ferdinand.

        The problem is that there weren’t *ENOUGH* people willing to shoot Archduke Ferdinand.Report

        • Avatar Marchmaine says:

          And look at all the nonsense a fringe anarchist who likes to hang around the edges of crowds can do.

          Good thing we don’t have hyperloop schedules that need coordinating.Report

          • Avatar Damon says:

            Just think of all the “betterment” certain people could cause when/if DC is forced to permit concealed carry. That punching dude could walk up to Spencer and put a bullet in his head….

            “You know, when you embody even the lite version of nazism, you deserve to get killed. Millions of deaths in living memory.

            Some things are beyond the pale.”Report

  4. Avatar Catchling says:

    Here’s how I’m torn on this.

    On the one hand, barfights happen plenty often. Is it “okay” to punch someone in retaliation for calling your friend/lover something unspeakable and dehumanizing? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s understandable. It might not even call for a national conversation.

    On the other, I’m not keen on the celebration of violence in any form. I’m happy at the lack of violence in Saturday’s marches, and would not want the resistance to Trump to either shed blood or turn into some weird masculinity contest.

    This also raises questions of representativeness. In the recent past it’s been common for white Americans to treat Nazis and the KKK as central examples of racists, rather than considering that we ordinary people making decisions about where to move and who to hire “without a prejudiced bone in my body” might have such a bone or two. Hence punching a Nazi seems like a cheap way to signal virtue, because “everyone hates Nazis”. Yet… Trump has shifted the Overton window considerably. If you punch a Nazi, you are possible making a stand against the new administration in a way that hasn’t been true for a long time.

    In any case I absolutely object to this statement:

    It would seem that supporters of Black Lives Matter should punch police officers.

    That’s a total strawman, or at best a weak-man/tinman. There’s no BLM consensus to attack police officers, and treating that as a core belief is disingenuous. (By contrast, there clearly is a broad consensus among today’s Internet Left that Naziism is sufficient provocation for punching.)Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck says:

      “There’s no BLM consensus to attack police officers, and treating that as a core belief is disingenuous.”

      You’re correct. Should there be? If there were, would it be justified and not something we should speak against?Report

      • Avatar Jesse says:

        Absolutely not. If there was a specific group of police officers who publicly stated they wanted to shoot all non-white people, on the other hand….Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      (By contrast, there clearly is a broad consensus among today’s Internet Left that Naziism is sufficient provocation for punching.)

      You wouldn’t know it by the arguments I’m seeing all over the place.

      Yeah, there is a consensus among the leftists who agree that that is the case.
      There is also a consensus among the leftists who agree that it is not the case.Report

      • Avatar Catchling says:

        Good point. There are consensuses (a word that never looks right). My own Twitter bubble happens to be almost totally pro-punching. I’m okay enough with that to not have unfollowed anyone over it.

        Where I’m uneasy is not so much the punching itself or even the celebration of such, but the subtext I see a lot that anyone against punching Nazis is necessarily some kind of wuss or apologist.Report

        • Avatar Brent F says:

          I believe the term “Nazi sympathizer” is getting one hell of a workout.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater says:

          but the subtext I see a lot that anyone against punching Nazis is necessarily some kind of wuss or apologist.

          And these comments come from – guessing here – folks who would never have punched Spencer in that circumstance or any other NAZI in any other similar context.

          That reveals something about the logic of “advocating the Punching of Spencer” I think.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        There may not be consensus, but there’s an unsettling amount of support for the idea among people I’ve usually considered thoughtful and principled.Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog says:

          You’re telling me. I’m a bit surprised at how many of my friends are on the opposite side of the argument from me.

          They’re probably about as surprised at how many of their friends are on the opposite side from them, for that matter.Report

          • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

            When people pointed out that Nazis were coming back into fashion and that the institutions that keep the peace are paper thin, I took some solace in the fact that I knew a lot of thoughtful and principled people on the other side of the spectrum who would defend those institutions. Now I’m starting to agree. They’re paper thin and people on both sides of the spectrum are willing to drop those principles like a hot potato.Report

    • That’s a total strawman, or at best a weak-man/tinman. There’s no BLM consensus to attack police officers, and treating that as a core belief is disingenuous. (By contrast, there clearly is a broad consensus among today’s Internet Left that Naziism is sufficient provocation for punching.)

      I think Vikram was doing a reductio, not claiming that BLM believes in attacking police officers.

      Otherwise, I think yours is an excellent comment.Report

  5. Avatar Jesse says:

    I think advocating for Black Genocide and ethnic states within the US including forced relocation is a pretty bright line where you deserve to be punched. Guess I’ll join the other illiberal people such as Joe Kirby.Report

    • Avatar Don Zeko says:

      Did Kirby get in on the Hitler punching before or after 1939?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        You want to see what Captain America has to say about Hate Speech?


        Now we just have to hammer out whether Richard Spencer is more like Adolf Hitler or whether he is more like the guy on the stage in the more recent Captain America comic.Report

        • Avatar Don Zeko says:

          What I’m trying to say is that punching Hitler in 1940, when he was winning an unjust war against England and France, is not terribly similar to punching some guy who has no obvious political power but shares the same abhorrent views. Spencer deserves no sympathy, but he deserves the protection of the law. Kirby-esque punching today would be punching Bashir al-Assad or Vladimir Putin or some such.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird says:

            Oh, sorry. I’m trying to agree with you. I fail at that. It sounds like I’m disagreeing. I’m not trying to disagree.Report

          • Vladimir Putin is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            Don, yeah the cover shows Hitler being punched. If you scroll down to the story below it, though, it has Cap. America intervening in an about to get violent confrontation between a Jewish kid and a neo nazi kid in America and delivering a very different message.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew says:

            Days late on this @don-zeko, but it’s interesting that you invoke the protection of the law.

            Some of the defenses of this violence (which even now 9 days later probably rises only to the level of a Footnote in history) proceed exactly via the fact of the rule of law: namely that because Spencer enjoys the protection of the law against such violence, it’s okay to carry it out. I don’t claim to fully understand that line of argument. I guess it is a defense from Civil Disobedience. It’s an act of Civic Conscience to sucker-punch a Nazi, and it’s one no one (at least not those making this argument) think shouldn’t be illegal. By doing it, the puncher puts himself in a jeopardy that no one argues he shouldn’t face; indeed we think he should. And it’s precisely, I guess, because he is willing to incur this risk under the law, that his political action is justified. Or (perhaps?) in any case since, in theory anyway, The Law has the public-order consequences for such actions covered for us (presumably the police continue to look for this person… or have they found him?), we’re free to look at the action purely through the lens of our own political sensibilities. Which, they then argue (all else aside, such as concerns about the effects on public order of endorsing acts of violence) ought to countenance punching Nazis whenever and wherever we may find them.

            Basically, the argument is that because The Law covers this in terms of the consequentialist outcomes, we should feel free just to feel how we feel about punching Nazis as a freestanding moral act. And, whereas presumably we should stand against punching random people peacefully making ninety-x% of political arguments on the street just on its own (apart from the public order consequences), with concern about public order out of the way because the act remains illegal and to be punished, we should feel good about the punching of Nazis or people making Nazi-esque political arguments. Because Nazi.

            That’s the argument as I understand it. I don’t buy it. But I guess I follow it.Report

  6. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    My daily quota for liberal navel gazing is pegging the red zone, and its not yet noon.Report

  7. Avatar Doctor Jay says:

    The issue of whether someone “deserves to be punched” is, in my mind, settled. Everyone deserves to be punched. We’ve all done shitty things or said shitty things at some point.

    No, the issue at hand is “should I punch someone” and “should I spread images of someone getting punched”, and “should I visibly celebrate someone getting punched?”. My base moral position for the last 50 years or so, is no. I came up in a Mennonite splinter sect, they are non-violent. I joined that church in 1968, the year MLK was killed. I didn’t connect the two at the time, but it seems relevant to me now. Violence may be sometimes necessary, but it is never “the right thing”. It may be understandable in human terms, but it is never something that is celebrated.

    Just the other day I was talking with a friend my age comparing the stories our fathers told us about V-J Day. That was a celebration, not of violence, but of the violence being done with. That’s what I think we should look to celebrate.

    So I’m sort of comfortable with being out on a limb on this one. I’m going to articulate this as clearly as I can, and I expect that very few of you are going to like it: Spreading images of violence and endorsing and celebrating it is precisely the thing that Richard Spencer does, and which got him called ‘deplorable’. So now we’re imitating him in order to fight him. There is a better way. Actually, though, we’re imitating Donald Trump, who wildly exceeded my expectations for political success, and success breeds imitation.

    That’s the world we are in. I’m not sure how many people thought, “Oh, this is just over-the-top political performance, it’s not representative of who he really is”. But I’m sure some did. This is where those beliefs take us, and it’s an ugly place.Report

  8. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    I don’t want to make light of a serious concern and situation, but now I am picturing in my head something like the village-wide fist-fight in “The Quiet Man.”

    Only more deadly serious and lots less amusing.

    I….think I’m ready to transition to being a hermit now.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

      I don’t want to make light of a serious concern

      Allow me!

      The entire episode reminds me of some absurd Mallard Fillmore cartoon about pointy headed liberals unsure of whether to hit back at an advancing Nazi, for fear of giving offense.

      I wish American liberalia would butch up so to speak, and stop sniveling about conservatives not liking us.
      To quote a great American Nazi-puncher-

      They are unanimous in their hate for [us]…and [we] welcome their hatred.
      I should like to have it said of [us] that in [us] the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match.
      I should like to have it said of m[us] that in [us] these forces met their master.

      • Avatar Brent F says:

        You have completely the wrong idea though.

        A lot of people who don’t approve of this are very up for some Nazi punching, providing they actual do one of the stereotypical Nazi things that warrent a punching.

        This isn’t debating whether its wrong to use violence to stop genocide. Its that a Nazi has to get up to at least the level of being a street gang before street gang violence is within your rights. I guy just talking on the sidewalk has the right to the sidewalk. Its the rule of the truce formed by our forefathers that’s successfully done much to keep us from each others throats.Report

        • Avatar James K says:


          Yes, that’s it exactly. Punching that guy didn’t undo any of the evils of racism, nor does it seem likely that it prevented any future evils. Without some actual good to offset the evils of doing violence its just punching someone you don’t like.Report

  9. Avatar Gunther Behn says:

    As a liberal, wracked with guilt over — well, lots of stuff … I punch myself.Report

  10. Avatar CK MacLeod says:

    Is it OK to punch someone who is against punching? Is it OK to punch someone who is in favor of punching? Is it OK to punch someone who asks whether it is OK to punch or not to punch? Is it OK to punch someone who asks whether it is OK to ask whether it is OK whether it is OK…

    Spencer was cruising for a bruising. If he didn’t know it, he should have. So, too, now, are those who have been celebrating his getting punched.

    Put more philosophically, he was not just uttering or representing deplorable and widely deplored and specifically highly illiberal beliefs, but was doing so at the site of a protests against those beliefs, upon the inauguration of a new administration thought to be advancing them, and also held, with justification, to represent a dangerous break with liberal norms. Protestors, or any would-be opponents of Spencer, might feel an obligation to oppose him, especially at the time and place: Interfering with his expression, might at worst seem a close call, even if doing so would be less than perfectly liberal. That the assault itself was, to say the least, not very serious, makes it easy to shrug off, just as it was, apparently, for Spencer himself.

    On the other hand, the self-righteous and ill-considered, obviously illiberal approval of the punch – everywhere on Twitter and beyond – is more problematic than the punch itself. This is the way the world ends, not with a whimper, but a punch, or rather with the approval of a punch – or come to think of it with some whimpering, too…Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      You realize that “He had it coming” is as old as time?

      That, in fact, there’s a whole bit of First Amendment doctrine built around “He angered me so much I had to punch him” which takes for granted that, in fact, people can say and do things so egregious as to “to incite an immediate breach of the peace”?

      Now if they caught the guy who punched him and people were arguing that he shouldn’t be tried for assault because “The guy he assaulted was Richard Spencer, Known Nazi” I’d be 100% right there with you.

      But seeing it and going “He had it coming” especially in light of the lack of any serious injury and viewing that as the end of the world?

      The world ended a few million years ago by that standard.

      I’d be hesitant to read up on any recent history. You’ll need a fainting couch as you watch actual authority figures — cops even! — utilize batons, pepper spray, and even lethal force on people even less provocative than Spencer, and get applauded for it. Actual arms of the State!

      I mean at least Spencer can rest assured that his puncher will actually be charged with assault if he’s found.Report

      • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

        I don’t understand your point, @morat20, or what position you are taking. Are you supporting the “he had it coming” position or are you disagreeing with it?

        I won’t waste much sympathy for the (non-)injured party, and I have no strong feelings about appropriate punishment for the assailant if ever identified and arrested. Otherwise, I think those celebrating the Punch heard round the internet have substituted posturing for thinking their positions through, and are now “asking for it” – which isn’t anything new under the sun either. I have no idea whether and if so how their wish will be granted, but I suspect it may be, and I suspect they may not like either the particular or the the overall results at all.

        The end of a certain liberal world, or possibility, comes when there aren’t enough people left willing to defend and act on its precepts. It can’t be destroyed by any single act or in a very short period, but sometimes it feels like we’re too close to a tipping point for comfort.Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

          Spoiler Alert – that “liberal world” never really existed for millions of people in this country, even during the Obama Administration.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          I’m saying that Richard Spencer got punched and people said “He had it coming”.

          That’s a circumstance as old as time. It’s not the death of civility or the death of the left, it’s not a bellweather for anything.

          It’s a thing that happens all the time, and the only difference between this incident and, say, one of the dozen or so instances any given bar has seen so far this year is that THIS one was on the internet and since Richard Spencer is a white supremacist, there’s no need for complex explanations of why the guy that got punched had it coming.

          It’s literally nothing new. People get punched. And sometimes other people say “He deserved that”. (Heck, that’s a line from Pirates of the Caribbean actually…)

          If the guy that punched him is found, Spencer can press charges and the courts will handle the clear assault case.

          Everyone’s trying to make it into a “thing” but “A**hole gets punched, bystanders approve” is not a story. It’s just a thing that happens.

          A lot. Like….once or twice a weekend in any given bar a lot. At any sporting event. At a surprising number of weddings.

          All this arguing and shouting and meta-analysis is pointless. The story is “A**hole gets punched, bystanders approve”. It’s dog bites man territory.Report

          • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

            This is – or is seen as – “a-hole walks into a bar, orders a drink, and gets sucker-punched on the principle that he’s an a-hole, not for any particular a-holy thing he happens to be doing at the moment.”

            If you’re going to insist on reducing our national political life to a operation of a bar (some might consider that a step up, but I digress), we can observe that it’s common practice for bar-owners to request that patrons “take it outside” rather than disrupt the peace and endanger the furniture.

            At our particular bar, one peculiar rule is printed on a laminated piece of driftwood, up there for everyone to see: You’re entitled to your opinion about anything, and so’s everyone else, so be cool.

            That’s one big reason a lot of the patrons here like this bar, even if we don’t always care for the entertainment, or the decor, or the food, or even a lot of the other patrons. So it’s a significant question for us if the bar is going to change its policy. It’s also a significant question for us if the bar is going to become a dangerous bar where fights are breaking out all of the time.

            But you’re certainly entitled to your opinion that none of it matters.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              You’re just trying desperately to ignore the point: This isn’t a unique thing, or an unlikely thing, it’s a common thing.

              And in all that, no one is saying “The guy that punched him shouldn’t be charged with anything”.

              So what you have here is an assault, a general feeling of schadenfreude over that assault, and then a general consensus that of course it was assault so the assaulter should, you know, be charged.

              That’s…standard human nature. It’s nothing new. It’s nothing unique. It’s nothing news worthy.Report

              • Avatar Brent F says:

                I think your missing the point.

                The newsworthy bit isn’t asshole got punched without provocation. As you rightly say, that happens a lot do people who are less worthy of it.

                The newsworthy bit is just how many people who probably should know better are saying, “that’s right, do more of it harder.”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Which is, what?, a handful of people on Twitter?

                But of course, the fact that people “disagree” about whether to celebrate the punching or not becomes newsworthy precisely when the Serious People weigh in on what “some people have said”.

                Same old game, no? Constructing an important and divisive – perhaps even Union Destroying! – issue outa whole cloth?Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                I am strongly on board with the idea that we can dismiss arguments that “(event or statement) shows the default attitude of (group)” by saying “bah, that’s just a couple noisy people on Twitter”.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                No, it’s really not.

                Because many times people have been punched and the bystanders said “He had it coming”.

                That doesn’t mean “He’s free from legal consequences”.

                See like…half of any bar fights. See “Fighting words” from SCOTUS. This is not some new thing.

                Yes, a white supremacist got punched. Yes a lot of people who find white supremacy odious said “He had it coming”. No, that’s not unusual OR newsworthy.

                Jesus, the Germans have a famous word for it — so famous non-Germans know it — that’s how common it is.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                What word is that?Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:


                I mean that’s literally what the reaction is. “That guy got punched, and it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

                Which is apparently the end of the freakin’ world, even though — again — it’s so commonplace that it happens all the time.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                No, that’s not what Schadenfreude means. Schadenfreude is the pleasure taken in viewing anyone’s experience of misfortune, not because the person is an enemy, or “had it coming,” or necessarily for any reason at all. It rests on a certain view on human nature in general.

                Those celebrating the assault on Spencer make a specific argument: They support or say they support punching “Nazis” on general principle. Their argument is that Spencer’s ideology or his promotion of it is so odious that violence against him is good. As such it is typical of a whole range of stands regarding law and governance, including one rather typical of Trumpism, as to the suspension of legality or particular social and legal norms in the very name of “law” or more likely “order.” That position is also old as dirt, and everyone virtually without exception will adopt it eventually, given the right circumstances. That the problem is old and not always fully resolvable and so makes hypocrites of us all does not make it unimportant. People and societies have also been getting sick with no cure since time immemorial, but, when the universal ill happens to affect you or someone or something you care about, you may take it quite seriously, and may find anyone’s expression of Schadenfreude about it as entirely unamusing or even unforgivable.

                The question of suspension of the law in favor of the law or of higher law can be as trivial as jaywalking on a quiet street or it can be a declaration of war to end all wars. In our politics right now, one question that some consider pressing is whether we should yield to norms on the legitimation of presidential authority and among other things give President Trump “a chance,” or whether the emergency is already upon us and “resistance” is in order. The question vis-a-vis the “alt-right” arises, not by coincidence, at the same time, as a new question on the enforcement of a type of effective prohibition on unacceptable thought. I say “effective prohibition” because we have not chosen in the United States to make the prohibition on speech of this type legally enforceable. We leave it on the level of taboo. We also have a taboo on suppression of political speech that does have legal status, and we of course have both legal and social norms against violence and especially against assault on anyone posing no immediate threat to anyone.

                The two political problems – regarding collaboration with Trump and the GOP and regarding the treatment of dangerous ideology – are connected for us, but in complicated and contradictory ways. There may be no answer to either of them or both together that can be logically demonstrated once and for all. It is easier just to let the Nazi prattle when there doesn’t seem to be any danger of his being taken seriously. There is more reason to strike at him pre-emptively – literally or figuratively – when his friends or occasional collaborators attain high office.

                What makes the conjunction of problems more vexing and so endlessly discussable regardless of the relative importance of whichever eruption is that the threat to the liberal order – to the order in which we let everyone prattle, Nazis and you and me included – is precisely the Nazi or alt-right threat. It also happens to be a dividing line in the contemporary left-liberal coalition – often played out in discussion of suppression of speech at universities and colleges – so points to the potential weakness or breakdown of opposition, or resistance, to the current right/alt-right coalition.

                As I already noted, there may not be a one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. If you do not see them as politically very significant questions, then I disagree with you. If you cannot see how they are embodied in this incident and the reaction among political intellectuals to it, then perhaps you should take yourself at your own word, and bow out of a discussion whose significance you do not recognize. If in your view there is something absurd about our discussion of the discussion, then how would your discussion of the discussion of the discussion be less so, and why should you have any reason to discuss my discussion of it?Report

              • Avatar Jesse says:

                “There is more reason to strike at him pre-emptively – literally or figuratively – when his friends or occasional collaborators attain high office.”

                Hi, I’d like to introduce you to Steve Bannon.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I like this comment CK. +100.

                The one area I disagree with you is that the discussion takes place at the level of intellectuals permutating arguments for and against in relief to an ideal (either way) measuring how well they match up. I think that’s a mistake.

                The real discussion is whether our norms as a matter of practice have already collapsed to the extent that (eg) the free speech rights of a person advocating denying speech are taken seriously in the populace, both culturally and electorally. The only backstop against which those types of norms can be pushed are inherently political, seems to me: cops and courts. But those institutions will support free speech rights right up until the moment the don’t, no matter what the intellectuals say about long-term pragmatic inconsistency and inherent self-contradiction.

                Politics isn’t rational in that sense. It can’t be and never will be. So identyfing internal contradictions in policy won’t mean a hill a beans in this crazy woild.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC says:

                The question of suspension of the law in favor of the law or of higher law can be as trivial as jaywalking on a quiet street or it can be a declaration of war to end all wars.

                Anyone who thinks ‘you are so odious that you do not qualify for the normal protection of law’ rules should be at the level of *political beliefs* is an idiot.

                As is anyone who fails to notice that we still need to have some way to *make sure* that people we think are those sorts of people actually are those sorts of people, which is what the rule of law is *for*, and the actual problem with putting ‘terrorists’ under it. But that’s an entirely different discussion. Nazi *supporters* should not be under it regardless.

                (Note this person is not actually a ‘Nazi’, or at least he’s not what we mean when we talk about Nazis. He is, possibly, a supporter of them, but he is not currently a member of the ruling German party before and during WWII. It would, indeed, be acceptable to punch *those* people…in fact, if you see one of *those* people wandering around, please detain them and alter the government, both because the US has been infiltrated by someone we are war with, and also someone has accidentally traveled in time, either you or them.)

                In our politics right now, one question that some consider pressing is whether we should yield to norms on the legitimation of presidential authority and among other things give President Trump “a chance,” or whether the emergency is already upon us and “resistance” is in order.

                The ‘give him a chance’ discussion is almost nonsense. It exists because people do not understand how political capital works.

                Incoming presidents built up approval, which translates into political capital. Hence they enter office with the ability to do a few things. No one *gives* them anything. Incoming presidents just tend to be popular.

                Trump…is not popular, for some mysterious reason, so does not have political capital.

                People begging us to give Trump a chance are basically saying ‘Pretend you like him for a bit’. That…has almost never worked in all of human history, especially when people already know the guy and dislike him for reasons. We’re not ten year-olds being asked to sit with the kid with no friends, we’re grown ass adults who have had a lot of (one-way) interaction with someone, and *did not like it*. We did not like it so much that we had massive protests about it!

                Are we being asked to…lie? And say we like him? These seems odd.

                Moreover, it’s not really *him* we need to give a chance. Even if we lied on the polls, the way political capital works is that *other politicians* will work alongside politician with it, because they know working against him would hurt their popularity, whereas working with him will help it.(1)

                So to ‘give Trump a chance’, we’d somehow have to agree to indemnify other politicians who worked with Trump, that we would not hold it against them in the future, so that they would feel free to work with him.

                It has hard to see how this premise even makes sense, people’s likes and dislikes of politicians and politics are not rational or under their control, much less something they can *make promises* about! Who would hold them to this promise?

                Even if giving Trump a chance was something we *wanted* to do, there is not really any way to *do it*. I can’t even figure what people saying that are asking for.

                It really just seems they want there to be ‘less protests’…but protests are not anything to do with whether or not Trump ‘has a chance’ to do something.(2)

                1) This, incidentally, is why people got pissed at the Republicans back in 2009. Not just because they wouldn’t work with Obama, but because they wouldn’t work with him *when he was popular*. This is because Republicans decided their popularity among their own base was more important than their popularity among people as a whole, thus basically rewriting the rules of politics.

                2) Well, I say that, pretending our president is sane. It has become increasingly clear over the last week that our president is, in fact, utterly fixated on his popularity, which means the protests *actually are* interfering with his ability to do things, as he is spending time sending out people to argue about the size of crowds and to beg for people to like him.

                The revelation that our president is apparently so mentally ill that he cannot function if presented with evidence that people do not like him is…uh…not a very good reason to give him a chance to do things. Or, honestly, to leave him as president!

                The entire thing is throwing me out of wack, because I have a lot of really good reasons that Trump cannot function as president, due to his worldwide business interests and shady connections to people…and now it’s become a bit clear he can’t function as president, full stop. At some point, this is actually going to turn into pity for a man that clearly has full-blown, untreated, narcissistic personality disorder and was somehow allowed to become president.Report

              • Spencer is a scheisskopf.Report

              • Avatar Brent F says:

                “Fighting words” as a doctrine has a meaning, its about how you can’t get into someones face and provoke them to hit you and then complain about getting hit.

                It doesn’t cover the sucker punch of someone who isn’t interacting with you at the moment.

                Neither does the debateable merits of banning hate speech cover this situtation either.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                I know all that — I suppose I better expand, as the point seemed clear but obviously isn’t.

                The basis of the “fighting words” exemption was that some speech is so offensive as to entice a breech of the peace. Well, more specifically the case was whether that speech lost First Amendment protections.

                But the fact that some speech would, in fact, make you likely to get punched in the face was a given. Nobody argued that.

                That was my point. That in all the “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN” the answer is right there, in a 70 year old court case.

                Sometimes the things you say get you punched. And society says “You had that coming” sometimes with glee — but finishes with “but it’s still assault. We’ll charge the guy if we catch him”.

                As far as I can tell, nobody is saying “And the guy should get off free of charges!”. (I mean not that they’ll find him. Those black bloc morons specialize in that sort of thing. They’re never around when the pepper spray starts).Report

              • Avatar Brent F says:

                I think you’ve been interacting with different people on this issue then, which might be the root of our different reactions to it.

                I saw a lot of friends and people I respect not go for, this is an understandable reaction but the guy should be arrested. They went for, this is what everyone should do. Our grandfathers punched every Nazi they could find and so should we. Not just punch them, but also kick them when they are down to.

                That idea, which I think has been more widespread that you think, is what troubles me a lot. People with ordinary mainstream opinions deciding that punching Nazis is a higher virtue than everybody has rights. Hence not taking issue with the punch, but with the spontaneous movement to celebrate the punch and hold it as exemplary behaviour.Report

              • Avatar Jesse says:

                I put non-straight white males right to live in a free and tolerant society higher than Richard Spencer’s right to spew racist crap without getting punched in the face.

                If that makes you clutch your pearls, so be it.Report

              • Avatar Brent F says:

                Screw off with the pearl clutch nonsense. This is what caring about a principle looks like. If you don’t like it, tough. Its not about whether I care about the well being of the less advantaged, so you can take that sanctimoniousness holier than thou additude that you think you care so much more about them than I do and shove it.

                And on the subject, I don’t think there is any path that takes us to a free and tolerant society without a rock solid, you can’t punch a person just for their opinions rule. When the violence breaks out, its the less advantaged that suffer even more than they did before.Report

              • Avatar aaron david says:

                Exceptionally well said @brent-fReport

              • Avatar Stillwater says:


                People with ordinary mainstream opinions deciding that punching Nazis is a higher virtue than everybody has rights.

                I think the tension is this: Is American liberalism worth (literally) fighting for before the NAZIs gain control, or only after they already have?

                Maybe the NAZI threat Spencer poses is overblown. So treat the above as a thought experiment instead.Report

              • Avatar Brent F says:

                That’s a false dicotomy though. There are many transitional phases between where we are today and a Spencerite alt-Reich in power.

                At this point the man is just talking. He has that right. Its the rule of the political truce than underlies the liberal political order. Its also the rule that lets us decend with great sound and fury if we choose to do so on somebody we don’t like punching someone we do like just for talking. Do less fortunate people fall outside that protection too often? Yes, but that doesn’t mean we’d be better without the principle, it just goes to show where we can improve.

                So if he forms a Neo-Nazi street gang or lynch mob to advance his views, we can all hat up and deliver a righteous pounding on him. You have every right to a rigourous collective defence, that isn’t in question. But you don’t have the right to pre-emptively attack a guy who isn’t doing anything but talk.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                I think that’s a good statement by @brent-f of a realistic, mainstream, responsible American liberal position. I’ll just note, again, that this particular violation of principle is somewhat mitigated by circumstances.Report

              • Avatar CK MacLeod says:

                Stillwater: I think the tension is this: Is American liberalism worth (literally) fighting for before the NAZIs gain control, or only after they already have?

                I don’t think that’s the actual question here. The question concerns both “literally fighting” – or merely attacking, as the case may be – as well as advocacy of it, and whether in doing one or both something precious is lost or risked for no or insufficient gain. VB points especially to the failure to think through consequences in different ways. The tension arises because those who value the liberal possibility highly will still mostly acknowledge the potential for circumstances in which they’d also literally-fight or support literal-fighting, and because serious people may disagree over whether those circumstance are here or approaching, and also whether, if so, literal-streetfighting would be good strategy or in fact one of the worst strategies for the literal-fight…

                ..and, oh yeah, because hardly anyone wants to be seen to be defending a Spencer.Report

  11. Avatar gregiank says:

    I’m not sure there is much left to say about Punch but i officially decry the lack of concern and voice given to Judy in this debate.Report

  12. Avatar Fish says:

    I think I’m ok with individual Nazis getting punched.

    I think I’d draw the line at Nazis being systematically rounded up and punched.Report

  13. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    It’s interesting that this entire discussion, on all sides, is being phased as “is it ok to punch someone,” as if someone righteous challenged Richard Spencer to a fight and got in a lick. The guy covered his head, sucker punched him, and then quickly ran away.

    I might say to my liberal brethren in these threads who are talking tough about standing up against conservative and Nazis, that this was a pretty wuss thing to cheer.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:

      So, you think it’da been OK if the puncher stood his ground and acted like a man?

      I’m OK with that. But I’m OK with punching and running too. I ain’t a slave to fashion…Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I am not cheering it on personally per se but here is what perplexes me.

      There is a lot of pearl clutching about how this is going to help the alt-right/Trump. This seems odd to me. What kind of person’s foundational decency is so weak that they say “Richard Spencer might advocate for genocide but that sucker punch was pretty wussy, I guess I need to support Trump and the White Nationalists now and advocate for race wars?”

      Again, I notice this wish thinking that all political debate resemble a very polite tea party which seems odd when someone calls Jews an “evil people” and advocates for genocide.

      I think a lot of liberals are fed up and tired. We are fed up and tired of being told to always start the conversation with people who clearly don’t want to have it. We are tired of always trying to work in the realms of norms and decency when the other side slips more and more into ideological extremism and refusal to compromise or give an inch. We are told that this is necessary for the commonwealth and are tired of the pearl-clutching that thinks whole protests need to be damned based on the actions of a few.Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        What kind of person’s foundational decency is so weak that they say “Richard Spencer might advocate for genocide but that sucker punch was pretty wussy, I guess I need to support Trump and the White Nationalists now and advocate for race wars?”

        Good point Saul. What’s weird is that on this board both Jaybird and RTod have expressed that very view. Maybe others have as well (I haven’t read the whole thing).

        Which is weird, since if they already accept the premise that cold-cocking a white supremacist makes liberals look bad then the game (or at least the rules) are already so corrupted there ain’t no coming back from it. Ie., they’re playing the game on the opposition’s terms.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          I don’t care that people find it wussy. I think it was kind of wussy and I am not a Black Bloc anarchist.

          Though I don’t think demanding that this act be condemned harshly is showing a great light either.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Tod’s the one making Wussiness an issue. Jaybird (as well as Tod) think that punching the white supremacist makes liberals look bad.

            Which is odd, to me, since by saying that they’re implicitly saying that the political calculus favors the white supremacist in the interaction.

            In which case, as I’ve repeatedly said, the political game is already over.

            Add: well not over, but that liberals need to play according to white supremacist rules.Report

            • Avatar gregiank says:

              I read this to fast and thought you said “play accordion to white supremacist rules”. I”d be all for that fwiw.

              But anyway, lots of conservatives truly respect righteous force and violence. Some would be fine with punching out nazis. It matters more whether it helps guys like spencer and if it is a Right thing to do. Yes and No. are the answers.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Jaybird (as well as Tod) think that punching the white supremacist makes liberals look bad.

              No, in this case, it makes the anarchist look… something.

              It’s the debate over whether it’s okay for the anarchist to have punched Spencer given that Spencer is totally an odious person with odious opinions that makes liberals look bad.

              The original punch had nothing to do with liberals.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                It’s the debate over whether it’s okay for the anarchist to have punched Spencer given that Spencer is totally an odious person with odious opinions that makes liberals look bad.

                Exactly what I’ve been saying about your view!Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Hey, so long as we’re not misrepresenting my view, I care a lot less about whether it makes me look bad.

                I’d rather look bad for a view I do hold than look good for one I don’t.

                And when I look bad because people think I have a view I don’t hold, well, shit. I’ve got to come in and say “don’t think I’m a bad person because I hold that view! I don’t! I hold *THIS* view that makes me look bad!”Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I’d rather look bad for a view I do hold than look good for one I don’t.

                And your view is that an otherwise inconsequential punch makes lefties look bad, but not because you’re predisposed to thinking that lefties are bad.


                I mean, if you’re being honest here (and not bringing priors into the discussion) then the idea that punching Spencer makes lefties look bad is based on a putatively “objective” view of our political climate, which in turn justifies the view that you think lefties are fighting a rearguard action against white supremacists, hence, those lefties really need to mind their political P and Qs, otherwise the White Supremacists win!

                But here’s my point: if things are already that bad – that YOU think white supremacists hold the predominance of political power – then aren’t things already beyond salvaging?

                If we’re that close to the political breaking point, aren’t we functionally already over the edge?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                And your view is that an otherwise inconsequential punch makes lefties look bad, but not because you’re predisposed to thinking that lefties are bad.

                Not my view.

                Lefties did *NOT* punch Spencer. Dude was an anarchist.

                It’s when the NYT starts hosting a debate on whether it’s bad to punch Nazis that I am saying “Holy crap, this gets us closer to war than we were before”.

                It’s not that I’m thinking “Jeez, this debate makes my opponents look bad”, it’s that I’m thinking “this debate makes it more likely that both I and my opponents get punched.”

                then aren’t things already beyond salvaging?

                I hope not. Maybe, but I hope not.
                Americans are awfully fat. This slows some things down quite considerably.

                If we’re that close to the political breaking point, aren’t we functionally already over the edge?

                We’re well into a cold Civil War. That cold Civil War is thawing.

                We’re not already over the edge until we start having violence that includes murder.

                I also suspect that Europe will have this violence first and we’ll have reason to believe “holy crap, we don’t want *THAT*” and turn around. Or hope, anyway.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                Lefties did *NOT* punch Spencer. Dude was an anarchist.


                So given that a Dem voting Liberal didn’t punch Spencer, the political gravitas of this Moment is that Dem voting anti-Trump liberals are cheering that Spencer got punched?

                Man, this is a big ole nothingburger that only remains relevant because people like you (yes, I’m talking to you! 🙂 persist in thinking something Really Important hinges on it.

                I’ll say it again: if anything important in US politics hinges on Spencer getting punched then we’re already past the point of no return.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It’s not even the cheering that Spencer got punched. “Yay, he’s a jerk!” followed by a sotto voice “Of course the person who allegedly punched him on camera needs to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law” is good enough.

                It’s stuff like *THIS* that is bad.

                You think it’s a nothingburger, great.

                I’m noticing how many goddamn nothingburgers we’ve had to eat in the last few months.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                I’m noticing how many goddamn nothingburgers we’ve had to eat in the last few months.

                Which is odd since you’re not a Democrat. Or a Republican.

                Isn’t this part and parcel of rejecting BOTH parties (especially the Dems :), as you’ve done over the entire time I’ve been here at the OT?

                Oh, sure, you might say that you didn’t want THIS outcome. But c’mon. You’re the guy who’s saying that the Spencer Punch is really really important. Just like you’ve been saying for years when you reject liberals’ arguments (at least when decoded by the special ring you wear).

                Or shorter: I don’t have a lot of sympathy for your complaints in this moment, right now, when you’ve been actively advocating tearing everything down for the last 5 years.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The Spencer Punch is not the important thing.

                It’s the debate over whether the Spencer Punch was okay that is the important thing.

                I’m wondering how to rephrase this again.

                Or shorter: I don’t have a lot of sympathy for your complaints in this moment, right now, when you’ve been actively advocating tearing everything down over the last 5 years.

                Fair enough.

                I guess I wanted a divorce without a war. I should have known that that wasn’t ever going to be on the table.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                The Spencer Punch is not the important thing.

                It’s the debate over whether the Spencer Punch was okay that is the important thing.

                Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                Why is it an important thing? Because Jaybird says it is.

                It’s certainly not a simple case of an odious man with odious opinions getting punched and people saying “You had that coming” and enjoying the schadenfreude for a moment.

                It’s got to MEAN SOMETHING. It’s got to mean something big. It’s got to glisten with portents and meaning.

                We’re not sure what, except it’s probably good news for McCain.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                “It’s certainly not a simple case of an odious man with odious opinions getting punched and people saying “You had that coming” and enjoying the schadenfreude for a moment.”

                Hey, that’s awesome. So we’re cool with the idea that odious men with odious opinions can get punched?


              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Where has he been advocating tearing things down?

                From what I’ve seen, he’s pointing out the way that people are tearing things down. And, more than that, the way people always seem to insist that they aren’t actually tearing anything down, that it would be okay if they did because tearing things down is utterly necessary, and that it’s all the other side’s fault really. And when he says “are you really sure you want to tear this particular thing down” people ask him why he’s a defender of the other side.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                He should pay you for being his press secretary, DD.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think that talking about the person rather than talking about their arguments is a variant of the whole “additional moral values” thing that we talked about in the Trotsky thread.

                Person A says Proposition P.

                If Proposition P is wrong, then shouldn’t “Proposition P is wrong!” be enough to shut Proposition P down?

                If you can talk about Person A instead of Proposition P, though… my goodness. That’s much better than talking about Proposition P.

                The bottom of a bucket, breaking through.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Try harder, Trevor, your bro is showing.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                When I was still a libertarian, I quite regularly called for wholesale removal of stuff like drug laws and police unions and whatnot.

                Without suggesting that they be replaced with anything.

                I also approved of Federalism rather than central control of an over-arching government.

                I can see how that would look like “tearing things down”.Report

              • Avatar Jesse says:

                You also still believe, at least as of a couple weeks ago, that the Senate being voted on by the people instead of appointed by our betters in gerrymandered state legislatures is bad because things get done too fast, @jaybird. Because when I think of a country where things have progressed too fast, I think of the USA.

                And yes, an evil overreaching federal government is the worst thing ever. But, an evil state or local government. Well, people can move, so what’s the problem?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                It’s more that I think that one of the reasons we have the problems we have is that we locked the House at 435 representatives and switched the Senate to be SuperRepresentatives giving us houses that are both corrupt in the same way.

                And I’m pretty sure that, in the next few months, we’ll all be able to make comments about how we kinda wish that Trump didn’t have as much power as he had.

                Well, people can move, so what’s the problem?

                Not exactly. “Well, people can move, and that’s a problem, but, as problems go, it’s a less bad problem than the ones that we’d see if someone really bad got his hands on the Federal levers of power!”

                But you’ll agree with me that the Federal Government has too much power before the year’s out.Report

          • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

            Saul Degraw: I don’t think demanding that this act be condemned harshly is showing a great light either.

            Can you provide an example of someone making this demand?Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              I’m confused, Vik.

              Isn’t your post an implicit demand of condemnation, given that you said punching – no matter how hilariously intended – may end a life and all that?Report

              • Avatar Vikram Bath says:

                No, I don’t demand that you harshly condemn that. I am just asking that we consider (1) whether we want to accept violence as an acceptable solution to political problems, and (2) whether such violence is likely to be effective in achieving those goals.

                (I assume it is clear from the post: my answer to both is “no”)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater says:

                There is a long history of violence achieving political goals. So your argument against it can’t be based on efficacy, but rather principle (or morality).

                If so, then why not just say that punching Spencer in the face is wrong, but not for political reasons?

                Add: political pragmatics comes into play as well, given that the right holds all the power right now…Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        There is a lot of pearl clutching about how this is going to help the alt-right/Trump.

        Is being wary of the practice od acting out violating against people we hate now “pearl clutching?” I guess I should be relived it’s been downgraded from something that “gives vapors.”

        I think a lot of liberals are fed up and tired.

        Then change things. And before you go out and try, ask yourselves exactly how much good hitting people and running away will do to accomplish that.

        Sheesh, if you decide that they way to make a better world is to go all Indiana Jones and start punching Nazis, at least have the stones to wait till the guy gets up so you can punch him again.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I think the concern is that Spencer can now say, “Who’s the real bad guy? Me for talking or that sucker punching coward?” You’re right that decent people will probably still choose the latter but SuckerPunch turned this into choosing the lesser of two evils.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          The debate shifts from, “Is what Spencer says right or wrong?” with most people saying wrong to, “What’s worse: what Spencer said or what Suckerpunch did?” That has a less obvious, more complicated answer.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater says:

            Exactly right, in my view. It’s a distraction. A meta-meta (meta, meta…) distraction, one which “thinking” people who play a “thinking game” can’t help themselves from getting distracted by.Report

      • Avatar gregiank says:

        Sigh….it will help Spenser since it will make him a bigger news story. Will there be more violence??? Tune it at the top of the hour!!! It won’t make people turn into nazi’s but it raises his profile by making him a center of controversy and news. That is not what we want. Most peopel out in the world don’t know him at all. They may hear the word nazi thrown around but really….people have been calling each other nazis for lots of reasons, the word is sort of tired and overworked. We don’t have to be nice to him, but we don’t want to do things that draw cameras to him and give him attention. Mock him, clown on him, make a fool of him with jokes and the mockery but don’t make him a story for reporters to cover in case there is blood.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


          Spencer received plenty of coverage during the election and right after!!!

          You are probably right that only new obsessives read this stuff but it was enough for Zoe Daniel of ABC to give him a man on the street interview.Report

          • Avatar gregiank says:

            See below….don’t feed the trolls even if that means with fists. Make Mock, Not Fist.Report

          • Spencer received plenty of coverage during the election and right after!!!

            I consider myself a moderately informed person. Not a news wonk or political junkie, but someone that keeps up to date on things. I didn’t know who Spencer was until this incident.

            To be sure, I actually had heard about that rally he had led in DC and had seen a news report about him on the NewsHour (and for what it’s worth, the reporter in my opinion came down pretty hard on him during the interview, it wasn’t a “meet your neighborhood guy with different views” piece). I knew there was this guy advancing white-nationalist and pro-Hitler bullshit, but if you had asked me a day later what his name was, I would’ve drawn a blank or gone to Google to find out.

            Now I don’t need to go to Google. I know his name. It’ll be a while before I forget it. I still reject everything he stands for.But I’m now writing a blog comment that uses and further spreads his name.

            Maybe my experience isn’t the usual one. Maybe most people in the US knew his name long before I did. Maybe most people don’t know his name even now. I don’t know.Report

      • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

        What kind of person’s foundational decency is so weak that they say “Richard Spencer might advocate for genocide but her emails, I guess I need to support Trump and the White Nationalists now and advocate for race wars?”

        That kind of person.Report

      • Avatar gregiank says:

        Why do creeps like Milo Y and Ann C say such horrible things? One big reason why they troll loudly and with max venom is because it gets lots of attention and controversy. That serves their interest, they dont’ care if people on the other think they are evil it generates clicks and eyeballs and book sales. This thing does the same for Spenser. I’ll be google searches for him are up and well as twitter mentions and retweets. How does that help us.

        Don’t give trolls more attention. Don’t feed the fishin trolls!!!

        And hitting people is wrong unless in direct self-defense but FFS don’t give trolls a super sized meal of Troll Chow.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        You miss the fundamental point that there are already people advocating for a racewar. They’re so good at it they’ve got you calling for it ALREADY.
        Yeah, so, the right is their NEXT project.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      During WWII, Ghandi infamously argued that the Jews should take the moral high ground and embrace non-violence even if it meant getting killed by Nazis:


      This strikes me as a very childish view that moral higher grounds demand getting killed. I think there was an SF writer who did a story where the Nazis win WWII and Ghandi’s advice stays the same but for the Indians and the Nazis do what they are wont to do.

      At what point do people get to challenge Nazis and not bring out the pearl-clutching?Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        I agree with you on Gandhi, East-European Jews circa 1940, and the Third Reich.

        Where I disagree with you is your implied notion that sexually frustrated asshats on Twitter is remotely it’s situational, moral, or historical equivalent.Report

      • Avatar Brent F says:

        If the fascist is coming to punch you, you are welcome to use all sorts of non-lethal violence to defend yourself, or defend others from same. We won’t get too worked up about you accidently killing them in the struggle either.

        If they are coming in a way that looks like they are trying to kill you, you are absolutely welcome to kill them first.

        You don’t get to individually hunt him down for vigilante justice for spreading his viewpoint, no matter how vile. If he actualy moves to prepare for violence himself or help organize violence of others or join a group that does the same, things change.

        Its not pearl-clutching or liberal wimpiness or a lack of backbone. If they do something that justifies a fight, we’ll fight. This is knowing the difference between justified and unjustified use of force. You went to law school, you know even the worst of us is has rights that the don’t forfeit just for being vile, particularly when said vileness has only been expressed in speech and not action.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        A big part of this was cold-hearted political pragmatism in addition to warm-hearted sincere pacifism. The Muslims in India were addled and angry about the conflicts between Jews and Arabs, mainly Muslim, in the British Mandate of Palestine. Gandhi wanted to keep India together rather than partition it and believed that favoring Arabs in the very proto-I/P conflict would help that. This meant encouraging the Jews of Europe to self-sacrifice themselves to the Nazis rather than fighting back or immigrating. Most of the Jewish resistance to the Nazis was heavily associated with the Zionists.Report

      • Avatar JCS2 says:

        You’re thinking of ‘The Last Article’ by Harry TurtledoveReport

      • Avatar Kim says:

        It should be noted that many Jews were pacifists and did in fact do as Ghandi suggested.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      “A**hole got punched, bystanders approve, punchee still guilty of assault”.

      There, the issue in a nutshell. I’ve seen no one saying the guy that punched him isn’t guilty of assault. I’ve seen no one suggest he shouldn’t face a judge and jury.

      “He had it coming” or “that was hilarious” or even “schadenfreude” does not equate to “And he should suffer no legal punishment”.

      So..yeah. Jerk got punched, bystanders approve, punchee should be charged with whatever grade of assault that was.

      Like I’ve said many times: This isn’t some weird, unique, snowflake of a situation. This is…most bars on a Friday night. Whether or not bystanders agree “That guy had it coming” depends on what triggered the punch (but being a skinhead is generally a pretty good indicator of which way the crowd is gonna go), but that doesn’t mean it’s not assault.Report

  14. Avatar Miss Mary says:

    OK, but seriously, I desperately want to punch cute guy at work I had a crush on. He was dead serious in suggesting the solution to the AIDS epidemic is to “…kill all of the people in Africa who are spreading AIDS, and gay people because they’re spreading AIDs.” Aaaaand we’re done here. Thank you for playing, but no more dating will be necessary. It’s hard to concentrate on work when all I can think about is how he comes up with the ludicrous things that come out of his mouth.Report

  15. Avatar Kazzy says:

    How does punching Nazis compare to shooting Bin Laden?Report

    • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

      It seems like the answer depends on whether the Nazis in question did something concrete other than argue that it’s good to be a Nazi. If Osama bin Laden had been all gross political theories and no mass murdering, I’d have been a lot more hesitant to approve hunting him down and killing him.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        That is an important distinction, no doubt.

        And yet…

        Was bin Laden’s killing more akin to a battlefield kill or a state execution? My inclination is the latter. Especially if he was not resisting at the time, as I understand the case to be. And even if he was resisting, it didn’t actually occur on the battlefield. He was lying in bed in his home in a country that probably sought to offer him safe haven.

        I suppose what I’m getting at is: Did we kill bin Laden because…
        1. We hated him
        2. To punish him
        3. Because he was an active threat to us

        If the answer is #1, that seems to put it in the same realm as punching a Nazi.
        If the answer is #2, that seems to put it in the same realm as the death penalty.
        If the answer is #3, that seems to put it in the same realm as a battlefield kill.

        And while it is possible that multiple, even all three of those are true facts insofar as he was hated, he deserved punishment, and he posed a threat… the actual rationale behind the decision to kill him seems to really matter.Report

        • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

          It seems like the truth is that all three are likely true, but either of the second or third being true would make it a very different situation from punching a guy on the street for espousing a political view. One key difference is the fact that one of the hallmarks of a civilized country is that we give the state a monopoly over any violence that isn’t self defense.

          Punching a guy in the face for espousing his political views implies that whatever we’re doing, it’s more important than the following principles:

          1) People are free to espouse unpopular political opinions.
          2) We don’t commit violence except to defend against violence.
          3) If somebody needs to be on the receiving end of some violence, we get together and write some rules and have the state do it under those rules.

          Those seem like *really* important principles, so I’m genuinely wondering what people think they’re getting that’s worth tossing them out.Report

        • Avatar Kolohe says:

          The US government killed Bin Laden with enough plausible deniability that it was not a mission to kill him.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Get real. we killed bin Laden to gain a Public Relations Victory.
          We didn’t actually win, because it was years late.Report

  16. Avatar Jesse says:

    I think the issue is, @stillwater @tod-kelly that a lot of liberals such as myself and folks like @chip-daniels is that liberals can’t win. If we’re kind, tolerant, turn the other cheek liberals, the RIght makes fun of us for being pussies who won’t fight for their freedom (see the reaction for example to Dukakis saying he wouldn’t want to kill the hypothetical guy who raped his wife.)

    OTOH, when somebody on the Left does engage in any violence, we’ve broken some sort of sacred pact and we’ve shown ourselves as hypocrites who don’t actually care about debate and the Constitution according to the Right.

    I mean, like Schilling said on the other thread, we’ve all seen the universal support Black Lives Matter now has after somebody actually shot at them.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater says:


      I don’t think the problem is that the right views the left as too soft/too hard alternatively as political expediency demands. Hell, we expect that. It’s that so-called “non-partisans” like Tod and Jaybird view the left the same way as the right.

      Hell, let’s suppose that most lefties are ecstatic that Spencer got punched. What’s the political downside of that internal celebration of good will and solidarity? There isn’t one, of course. Lots of people who disavow violence might still think it’s either hilarious or appropriate that Spencer got punched in the face during the rally. What’s the downside for other folks tho? Yuuuge. Devastating, in fact. All based on a calculus that rejects policy and principle and focuses exclusively on politics, and right now, so the calculuse goes, the alt-right/normal right/Trump right controls all the political power.

      So the left really, REALLY, fucked up when it/they/allofem punched Spencer in the face during that rally.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        @stillwater, first of all, non-partisans have basically reflectively repeated the Right’s framing of things since time immemorial. See MLK talking about the white moderate. There have always been people who essentially give up on change if it makes them five minutes late for lunch.

        Secondly, I think this is the disagreement – I don’t think all that many people actually disavow all violence. Oh yeah, violence against their political opinion? Absolutely. But, we’ve had laws introduced in multiple states that basically make it OK to run down people to protest. There’s been talk of 2nd Amendment Solutions since 2008 with little negative effect for the party that largely nods ‘n’ winks at those actions.

        But yes, I think there are plenty of Democrats who say they abhor political violence, but the truth is, they abhor anything that actually looks like politics,violent or otherwise, because they live in a little middle class bubble where if everybody just talk things out, we can reach an equitable conclusion.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

      If we’re kind, tolerant, turn the other cheek liberals, the RIght makes fun of us for being pussies who won’t fight for their freedom

      Why do you care what an asshat like Sean Hannity or some clown with an egg on Twitter thinks of you?

      OTOH, when somebody on the Left does engage in any violence, we’ve broken some sort of sacred pact and we’ve shown ourselves as hypocrites who don’t actually care about debate and the Constitution according to the Right.

      I think my argument wouldn’t have anything to do with any “sacred pact.” The reason that the part of the left that preaches non-violence preaches non-violence isn’t because they don’t want to get the vapors. It’s because they recognize that in a society where greater amounts of violence are tolerated by the state or the citizenry, regardless of initial intention, it isn’t the powerful — and here I’m speaking powerful economically, socially, or numerically — that end up feeling the brunt of that violence down the road.

      There are always lines to be drawn where violence might be called for, to be sure. I’m just not sure I agree that that line should be drawn at someone with zero power, zero influence, and zero chance of being taken seriously by the majority, and is considered an embarrassment by 98% of his own party.

      Plus, it nudges into what I kind of call the Futrelle Principle: If your mission in life is to shine the spotlight on the trolls — even if you do so because you are the good guy and you recognize they are trolls and scum — then sooner or later you will find ways to inadvertently give them more publicity, reach, and power than they had before because it’s symbiotically better for you and your mission to do so.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        First of all, I don’t care what Sean Hannity says, @tod-kelly. But, I do care that yes, the Right can help distort the views of people. That’s how we ended up with nearly three decades of liberals being seen as limp writed sissies who hated America by not just conservatives, but the median voter. It’s why BIll Clinton had to kill a mentally ill person, slam an obscure black rapper, and promise to make sure no black woman with kids ever got too much in welfare.

        To show we weren’t wimps.

        So, if the choice is either spend it like the years 1984-2004, where we sat in a corner asking the Republican’s to stop hitting us or for the Republican’s to be showing videos of scary liberals punching abhorrent people, I’ll take the latter.

        Secondly, I think this is the real disagreement. You think Richard Spencer has no power. If somebody punched Richard Spencer ten years ago, I’d largely agree with you. I might still argue the only good Nazi is a punched Nazi, but I’d understand your argument.

        But, in a world where Steve Bannon is the lead adviser to the President, to act like the racist right isn’t in ascendance makes you sound like a character from an updated version of It Can’t Happen Here.

        All right though, I’m a terrible, horrible person who is helping Donald Trump win a 2nd term for being OK with Richard Spencer getting punched. By the way, I never said it should be Legal to punch a Nazi. I simply said it’s always Right to punch a Nazi. I fully support the person to punch a Nazi to get a jury of his peers so everybody can know he punched a Nazi.

        However, I have a simple question for you and @stillwater, how big does the alt-right/white nationalist/whatever nice name we’re using for Nazi movement have to be before punching does become OK?

        For example, take this story – https://louisproyect.org/2015/03/16/the-mighty-atom/

        “Shortly after a huge Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden in February, 1939, the Mighty Atom found himself walking through Manhattan’s Yorkville German section on a business matter. He stopped in his tracks at a sign in bold letters posted on a building’s second floor: “NO DOGS OR JEWS ALLOWED!”

        He stared at it for a while before inquiring of a passerby, “What the hell is that?” He was informed that a Nazi Bund meeting was being conducted upstairs. He went across the street to a paint store, where with a three-dollar deposit, he rented an 18-foot ladder. Back he came and opened it beneath the sign. Returning across the street, this time to a sporting-goods store, he purchased a Louisville slugger baseball bat—a “Hank Greenberg Model.” He parked it in the doorway beneath the sign.

        He went up the ladder, tore the sign down, and tossed it into the gutter. The operation had not gone unnoticed. Several of the Nazis looked out aghast from the second-floor window. The action which followed was in the best tradition of a Popeye cartoon. Before the Atom could climb down from his high perch, the entire Bund assembly had come charging down the stairs into the street.

        The Mighty Atom was shaken off his ladder, but he came up bat in hand. They came at him singly and in numbers, frontally and encircling; all to no avail. “It wasn’t a fight,” Joe said later, “it was a pleasure.” He sent eighteen of them to the hospital in various stages of extreme disrepair. He sustained a black eye.

        Hauled into court on a charge of aggravated assault, mass mayhem, and so forth, a bedraggled but surprisingly cheerful Joe Greenstein stood meekly and alone before the bench, his only compatriot the “mouse” under his eye. A white-haired judge looked solemnly down as the charge was read. The jurist could hardly believe that the mild, little man before him could have perpetrated such an assault. Then, he surveyed the victims before him, a veritable parade of broken joints, purple contusions, and awkwardly plastered and wired limbs. The battered Aryans filled half the courtroom.

        “You mean this little man . . . did that . . . to all of them?” the judge inquired in disbelief.

        “Yes, Your Honor,” nodded an eyewitness police sergeant. “Them that ain’t still in the hospital.”

        The judge turned his attention to the defendant. “Mr. Greenstein, these are serious charges. Do you have anything to say?”

        “Yessir, Judge.” The Atom brightened. “Every time I swung the bat it was a home run!”

        Quietly, the judge inquired of the sergeant what had provoked such a clash. “Them’re Nazis, Your Honor,” the officer whispered. “They went after him.”

        “NOT GUILTY! CASE DISMISSED!” The judge banged his gavel.

        “But, Your Honor . . .” the Bund’s lawyer protested. “I said, case dismissed.” The gavel boomed again with finality, and the judge retired to his chambers.”

        Now, obviously, in hindsight, we can say that was the right thing to do, because ya’ know, actual Nazi’s. But, if the same story comes out in 2018 when the alt-right/etc. shows no signs of dissapating and is only growing with a wink and nod from the modern conservative moment, are you going to tut tut the guy who beats up a meeting for the “White Nationalist Society” that has a sign outside that says No Blacks or Gays?

        I just want to know the number where Nazi’s go from side group of no consequence to actual problem for future reference. Because obviously, to you, 200 or so people at a conference center in DC is too little. I’d hope you think the 20,000 that filled MSG for the German American Bund was too many. I’m just looking for the number in the middle.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Well, on the other side, there’s the whole issue of:

          Premise #1: It’s okay to engage in violence against Nazis
          Premise #2: Anyone who disagrees with me is a NaziReport

          • Avatar Jesse says:

            Are you calling for the forced relocation of various ethnic groups, by force if necessary, like Richard Spencer has? No? Good news, you aren’t a Nazi.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Oh good! Because I was remembering stuff like Mitt Romney being compared to Hitler. And McCain. Bush. Dole… other Bush… Reagan…Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              Alright. you going to go murder the person in charge of Australia?
              Because there, such plans are on the books.

              Good news, you don’t even know where the Nazis are IN CONTROL of first world countries.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              The logic, as far as I can trace it, goes: “I do not want there to be a fight. One side is punching the other side. The only way to prevent a fight is to tell the side being punched to never punch back”.

              That’s why it’s troubling. The avoidance of a fight is the important thing, and if liberals have to be punched in the face to prevent it, that’s a price non-liberals are willing to pay.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Who in the hell is arguing “never punch back”?

                We’re arguing over video of a guy talking to a reporter who gets interrupted by a guy punching him.

                We’re not arguing over video of a guy punching the guy talking to the reporter *BACK*.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck says:

                Well, Spencer got punched back first.

                Or maybe his speech was a metaphorical punch, a philosophical punch, and that justified an actual punch.Report

        • Avatar Joe Sal says:

          Huh, how many liberal socialists have to gather to become a problem? I’m thinking 20,000 is too many.Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            There are differences between liberalism and socialism. Please learn them.

            This is what I meant above. A handful of anarchists (who have very different goals than the Democratic Party and Democratic Party members) causes some ruckus and the entire left gets damned. Do you want the Bundy’s to taint the entire right-wing?Report

            • Avatar Joe Sal says:

              Bundy’s, ha there was no parsing of the Bundy’s from the right wing. Your faction was more than happy to slather the entire right with that.

              Where are the bright lines between socialism and liberalism? Nearly every liberal here doubles down on mixed economies, which include a big chunk of socialism. Even in the contexts of speaking democracy, I seldom see that side of the fence calling it anything other than a social democracy. Social democracy, ha, where in history have we heard that before?

              That is why I made the distinction of liberal socialism as it is just a melding of the two.

              Honestly if it turns out it was a lone individual sheep dog anarchist, I would have less of a issue with it, as it no longer would be faction to faction violence, and more a indication of atomization occurring in the left.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Yeah yeah BSDI. The entire right wing are a bunch of doctor murdering, Bundy loving fascists and the entire left are a bunch of identity politics embracing, protestor punching communists.

                Note: The entire right wing, with the exception of a miniscule splinter of libertarians, also doubles down on mixed economies with big chunks of socialism. They just want the socialism distributed a little more narrowly. Trumps election, if nothing else, demonstrated that. The right wing just lies about it more.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                If you didn’t notice, about half the right usually doesn’t vote. Now I could see if they wanted mixed socialism, or even wanted socialism ‘our way’ that they would really want to get out and vote. So that ‘entire right wing’ framing is inaccurate. (this of course goes without asking the question of if these people have a yuge desire to reach for social constructs, what the hell are they doing on the right)

                I could go on to say libertarians are doomed. You really don’t want me to start saying libertarians are doomed.Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Sure you can say the non-voting portion of the right side of the electorate is all libertarian. Go for it. I have fantasies I like to indulge in myself. If they don’t vote, though, they don’t really have any salience in the political conversation and it doesn’t change the fact that the politically active right wing is pretty much just as statist as the politically active left wing. Just more hypocritical and with different emphasizes.

                Doomed? How do we define doomed? Electorally marginal with no mass support? Sure, but when have libertarians ever not been?Report

        • Avatar North says:

          How big does a fire have to get before it’s sensible to begin hosing it with napalm?Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Find me the guy who’s a big enough asshole to go around killing terrorists.
          Him, i’ll allow. These people who just go after small time idiots who haven’t even done a physical thing? Them’s just the strong beatin’ on the weak.
          Same shit, different day.Report

        • Avatar dhex says:

          what are you going to say when your child asks you “daddy, who did you punch during the war?”Report

  17. Avatar DavidTC says:

    The guy throwing the punch, from what I can, is one of those black bloc-dressed assholes that run around making trouble. They’re the idiots throwing trashcans into store windows, and a few of them were literally arrested for conspiring to *throw acid in faces*.

    We really shouldn’t be approving of *anything* they do.

    Not that we should be approving of violence as retribution for (as far as I can tell) only speech. I’m just saying, even *pretending* that violence was a correct response to someone presenting speech (It is not), those idiots certainly can’t be trusted with that decision.

    I mean, we shouldn’t be doing it anyway, but this is akin appointing racist grandpa as the guy in charge of the death penalty.

    But, anyway, people are probably somewhat happy because people have now been trained to use violent rhetoric all the time, and have had it used against themselves.

    As I’ve said before (and I think Marchmaine is alluding to that above?), if people actually believed a lot of the rhetoric they sprouted, violence, or at least lesser direct action, would not only seem to be justified, but *required*.

    Violence is *correctly* presented as the *logical conclusion* to the certain beliefs people have been told they have. (By ‘correctly’, I mean, if the beliefs and/or facts, as stated, were true, violence is the right result. Those things *aren’t* true, but the logic is correctly reasoned from those incorrect starting premises.)

    I.e., if you think people are actually murdering babies in that building right there…well, even if you have objection to any form of violence at all, you, at minimum, have a duty to try to burn down that building when it’s empty, or make it otherwise unsuited for its purpose. There are only three possible interpretations here: 1) You don’t believe what you…think you believe, 2) You are knowingly lying about what you believe, or 3) You don’t believe in risking your freedom to save babies. One of those statements is true.

    Same with claiming the president literally is trying to destroy the country by working with Muslims, or however the right decided to phrase their rhetoric. If you *actually think* that, violence is, indeed, the correct solution.

    Of course, most people don’t *actually* believe those things, but they *think* they believe them. (Yes, it is entirely possible to have beliefs about your own opinions…and be wrong about them.)

    And this is where extremist rhetoric has gotten us, where morons punch people in public and conspire to throw acid in faces.

    This is, interestingly, the *other* side. Yes, these guys are, in theory, on the left. Lefty anarchists, that sprung out of the WTO protests two decades ago, and *their* rhetoric is, at times, indistinguishable from the extreme right, about American sovereignty and job lose and stuff.

    Basically, if you go far enough left, you end up in the same place as the far right, where everyone is in agreement about the *problems*, and the modifiers ‘left’ and ‘right’ only apply to how they want to restructure society after they burn it down.

    Of course, these guys are so far outside the mainstream people forget they exist, whereas the right’s violent rhetoric is basically mainstream now.Report

  18. Avatar Will H. says:

    Now we’re back to defilement of graves where killing / maiming / punching just isn’t enough.
    Surely eradication of the human species is the best possible outcome.Report

  19. Avatar Kim says:

    only 18% of voters think it’s acceptable to punch a Nazi in the face, to 51% who say it’s unacceptable and 31% who are unsure on the moral quandary of our times. Clinton and Trump voters are actually in alignment on this with only 18% of each saying it’s ok to punch a Nazi. 78% of Jill Stein voters though say that they are pro punching a Nazi, this may be where Hillary fell short.Report