columnist Richard Cohen (5/29/17
) continues his impressive streak of downplaying racism and being wrong with his latest half-baked column, “Protesters at Middlebury College Demonstrate ‘Cultural Appropriation’—of Fascism.”
After describing the chaotic events at Vermont’s Middlebury College three months ago—which left one professor with a concussion after activists sought to shut down a speech by white supremacist-with-a-PhD Charles Murray—Cohen goes full-Godwin, equating the students with 1920s Italian fascists, a comparison that’s both fresh and totally proportionate to accidentally hitting a person on the head:
Far more dangerous than what any of these speakers has to say is the reaction to it. The protesters—some of them non-students—are involved in what’s called, to invoke a trendy term, “cultural appropriation.” In this case, it is the culture of fascism. Benito Mussolini’s rise to power in Italy was facilitated by the steady use of violent protesters to break up meetings and silence opponents. The tactic proved successful, and in 1922 Mussolini became dictator of Italy. Hitler, on the other side of the Alps, took careful notes.
You see, the Middlebury protestors are the real fascists. Not the person who’s dedicated his life to normalizing eugenics; he is a mere “conservative,” posing “controversial” questions.
The outrageous false equivalencies didn’t stop there, Cohen went on to equate the Middlebury activists with 1960s-era radicals who bombed colleges, and to the jihadist attack last month in Manchester:
The Vietnam War engendered the same sort of fascistic response. In the name of a good cause—ending the war—the occasional protester set off the occasional bomb. One, ostensibly directed at the University of Wisconsin’s cooperation with the Defense Department, nearly demolished Sterling Hall on the Madison campus. It killed a physics researcher, whose work was entirely unconnected with the Pentagon, not that it matters any. The mad, arrogant virtue that animated the bombers is little different than what drove Manchester’s suicide bomber to wantonly kill kids at the Ariana Grande concert in England. Spare us the true believers.
It’s unclear whether, by Cohen’s reasoning, the war in Vietnam that killed millions of Indochinese was also fascist. Or if it was fascism when the Ohio National Guard killed four students at Kent State in 1970—the incident that the Wisconsin bombing was actually in response to. Or, for that matter, whether the bombs the US and UK have been pummeling Syria and Libya with for the past three years, killing at least 3,600 civilians, qualify as fascism. It’s fitting Cohen wrote this column the same week three Americans were killed by white terrorism, further putting his ideological myopia on stark display.
Cohen would, conveniently, avoid the substance of the Middlebury dispute, dismissing the overarching scientific racism advanced by Murray as “beside the point.” As FAIR (Extra!, 1–2/95) noted at the time, Cohen accepted the underlying racist assumptions of Murray’s book The Bell Curve upon its release in 1994, writing in the Washington Post:
Both Murray and Herrnstein have been called racists. So, too, have Arthur Jensen and other scientists who have declared intelligence to be largely inherited and have found blacks, on the average, to have lower IQ scores than whites. Their findings, though, have been accepted by others in their field, and it would be wrong—both intellectually and politically—to suppress them. What really matters is what is done with such findings.
Cohen carried water for the idea that race determines intelligence 23 years ago—only arguing over how to best wield this knowledge politically—and now acts as if he can’t remember what all the outrage was about, or his own role in normalizing it. Nope, the racist canards being advanced are actually “beside the point,” because to debate them would bring up his own skeletons. Best to hide behind the vague catch-all “freedom of speech,” and pivot to calling Middlebury undergraduates blackshirts, the moral equivalent of people who plant bombs in university research departments and blow up kids at Ariana Grande concerts.
Cohen’s previous forays into the subject of race didn’t fare much better, having himself often ventured into overt racism (“I also can understand why Zimmerman was suspicious and why he thought Martin was wearing a uniform we all recognize”—7/15/13), obtuse racism (“People think an innocent man was murdered for being black. This is anti-cop sentiment taken to an extreme”—12/2/14) and soft pedalling historical iterations of racism (“Woodrow Wilson was racist, but he deserves our understanding”—11/23/15).
Cohen is also a long-time defender of child rapist Roman Polanski, a downplayer of workplace harassment and, himself, the subject of accusation of unwanted sexual advances. The irony, of course, is that Cohen is the perfect embodiment of the same white privilege he routinely downplays: a long, documented history of being wrong and gross and lazy while still holding on to the most coveted real estate in opinion journalism, through sheer inertia of being in the right class with the right political disposition and and the right skin color sometime around 1976.
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