On Saturday, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) removed a painting from the halls of the United States Capitol Building because he felt the artwork was offensive. The painting, created by high school student David Pulphus, depicts law-enforcement officers as pigs pointing guns at black protesters.
Congressman William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) re-hung the painting and plans to file a police report against his colleague, according to CNN. Hunter was applauded by his congressional colleagues at this morning's House Republicans Conference.
I can understand how many people would be offended by the dehumanizing depiction of police officers. At the same time, I can understand the context for the depiction, and the irony of a black male--someone who belongs to a group that has been arguably dehumanized by law enforcement organizations--inverting his experience through art.
Part of the purpose of art is to incite debate, even at the expense of offending people. Especially, many would argue, at the expense of offending established institutions. From Nazi Germany to Soviet Russia to the enslavement of black Americans, the fine arts have been used throughout history by people to sustain their communities. Art can be threatening to establishments; this is why it is often censored and banned by them. It's one of the reasons the United States of America historically has prioritized and prized its First Constitutional Amendment. Dada was an artistic movement with a political agenda; of it, Adolf Hitler wrote in his treatise Mein Kampf, ""This art is the sick production of crazy people. Pity the people who are no longer able to control this sickness." Later, when Hitler came into power, his Nazi party confiscated nontraditional art that he felt was sick and that the establishment felt was threatening.
Members of the alt-right movement, such as its current primary promoter, Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, claim that their intentionally offensive words are politically important and responsible: They claim that progressive opinions of inclusiveness and social acceptance are a form of socially sanctioned censorship, and that political correctness is a threat to our freedom of free speech. For this very reason, Yiannopoulos and the like claim that they must promote ideas that offend, such as saying that "I would rather my daughter have cancer than feminism," and "Harry Potter and rape culture are both fantasy." Given that Yiannopoulos has self-published what appears to be sincere, heartfelt (if terribly written) poetry that plagiarizes feminist icon and rape survivor Tori Amos and which shows an intimate and sincere familiarity with her work, it is possible (difficult, but within the realm of possibility) to argue that his speeches are a form of performance art -- that he really does feel that offending the world is a test of the First Amendment, and that he doesn't believe in anything he says. Yiannopoulos calls his college speaking circuit the "Dangerous Faggot" tour. It could be called the "False Fag" tour, as the ideas he promotes have been undermined by his past writings. Nevertheless Simon & Schuster took his bait, giving him a quarter-million-dollar advance to disseminate his hateful messages... because of free speech, they say.
So here we end up in an important conundrum that demands scrutiny.
Duncan Hunter is not just any member of U.S. Congress. He was the second member of U.S. Congress to formally endorse Donald Trump for President of the United States. Last June, he endeared himself to Trump's alt-right supporter and secured himself a Breitbart headline by saying, "I am done with trying to articulate or explain or answer for what Donald Trump says."
"It is not my job to answer for Donald Trump," he said. "I am not even a surrogate. I am just an endorser."
Milo Yiannopoulos and the rest of the alt-right regularly use hate speech and assassinate individuals' characters because, they say, doing so protects First Amendment rights. Yiannopoulos encourages his mostly straight fan base to use the word "faggot." He personally uses the words "n-gger", "tranny" and other intentionally hostile words regularly and his fans emulate him. Words are just words, they claim, and they have the freedom to use them.
Digging more deeply, alt-right founder Richard Spencer, who was endorsed by Breitbart while Donald Trump Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon controlled its editorial, recently participated in an interview with ABC's Juju Chang in which he unabashedly disclosed that his racist words are not just words, not tests of free speech, but that he sincerely is working toward an "ethnic cleansing" in the United States. Suddenly words that are just words have intention behind them, and the intentions are nothing we have ever seen in the United States of America.
Here is Spencer, Breitbart-endorsed Alternative-Right founder, comparing Donald Trump favorably to Adolf Hitler.
Here is Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos invoking Hitler via his Instagram account on election night.
Here is Yiannopoulos rallying for Donald Trump as the GOP-selected host of a "Gays for Trump" event during the GOP convention, following a year of Yiannopoulos's tour of college campuses to recruit voters for Donald Trump.
The alt-right says that people who are offended by their words are oversensitive, most often calling us "special snowflakes." I have learned that voicing my opinion via Twitter, on news organization websites and other platforms immediately attracts "special snowflake" trolls, who write... well, they write "aww, special snowflake" and presumably laugh, because they have been trained like circus chimps to laugh every time they hear the word "snowflake."
Sometimes alt-right folks even call those of us who feel a need to speak and act according to conscience fascist or Nazis. There's a word for why they do that. Unbelievably, it works to keep people in check.
It shouldn't work when members of the alt-right movement are so very special, so very previous, so very delicate themselves.
Congressman Duncan Hunter was too -- too delicate to walk by a painting made by a high school kid and go about his day. He had to take it down. He unscrewed the bolts and removed it. Hunter would say that he did this because of a moral imperative, because he feels that it's wrong to dehumanize and demean law enforcement officers. Ironically, many progressive- and liberal-minded people might agree with him -- but these are the people the alt-right Republican movement would call special snowflakes.
And then there's the ringmaster himself.
Who is more special than Donald Trump? When others criticize Trump, Trump thanks himself for a job well done. He is so very special. Unlike anyone! The greatest!
Who is more sensitive than Donald Trump? When a teen girl asks Donald Trump a question relating to her personal safety, Donald Trump lashes out at her not to her face, not with any semblance of courage or moral righteousness, but privately from his Twitter account -- as a result the girl received death threats and threats of rape from Donald Trump's very sensitive following.
Who is more delicate than Donald Trump? When an actress criticizes him not for his ridiculous hair and not for his reckless and inexplicable cabinet appointments, but because the 70-year-old-man lashed out at a disabled reporter in the manner of an immature-for-his-age seventh grader, Trump had to go on the attack.
Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn't know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a.....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2017
I'm not very normal. I don't actually think there's anything wrong with being sensitive or delicate. I think snowflakes are marvels of nature. So who am I to criticize?
I don't criticize snowflakes, but I do observe them. I know a snowflake when I see one, and the flakiest of the flakes all drift toward the right. Turn up the heat even just a little with a few critical words from a Hollywood star or an inquiry or a painting from a high-school teenager, and they simply melt. Snowflakes are beautiful until they melt, and then they're just a big old mess.