During his speech in Phoenix on Tuesday night, Donald Trump spat out the nickname “antifa,” short for “anti-fascist” but also a reference to a particular strand of aggressive left-wing activism. In Mr. Trump’s telling, the presence of antifa activists during the violence in Charlottesville, Va., this month was evidence that the far left is just as violent as the far right: “You know, they show up in the helmets and the black masks, and they’ve got clubs and they’ve got everything.”
There’s a story conservatives have been telling about the decline of free speech on campuses, and it goes like this: America has spiraled downward from a golden age, when the groves of academe were precincts of whole-hearted civil freedom, to today, when hypersensitive left-wing students, obsessed by race- and gender-based “microaggressions,” clamor for “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.”
In my bedroom when I was a kid stood a desk lamp in the form of a globe. At a certain age I started noticing something odd about Central Europe. The lamp, when lit, showed some extra-dark boundaries. With India ink, my father had divided Germany between East and West and cut off East Prussia, westernizing the Polish border. I got a kick out of his revision. At some point I figured out that my parents must have bought this globe, complete with swollen Germany bulging far eastward, sometime before World War II ended. My father’s rectification was designed to conform with political reality. He had inked victory in.
In a recent essay titled “The Logic of the Beneficiary,” my Columbia colleague English professor Bruce Robbins, wreathes the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement with laurel leaves, but while making a spotty argument he does succeed in clarifying some of what’s at stake.
Robbins notes that a few American academic associations—small left-wing ones, as he doesn’t note—have passed academic boycott resolutions. (More accurately, as Jeff Weintraub has noted, what they call for are blacklists.) Robbins observes that some Israeli companies that manufacture on the West Bank have either relocated inside the Green Line or announced their intention to do so. He rejoices that some entertainers consider Israel the only nation in the world so vile as to warrant refusing to cross its border to bestow their in-person gifts. (Whether they turn down royalty checks for Israeli purchases of movies and music I do not know.)