CNN's Chris Cuomo seems to think it's okay to assault Nazis. He did not say so Monday night. Instead he strongly implied it throughout a five-minute monologue, in which he dredged up every canard justifying attacking Nazi protesters without actually saying it's okay to attack Nazi protesters, all while maintaining that he was scandalized by the violent elements of Antifa that were on full display at Sunday's "Unite the Right" rally.
Cuomo is certainly against violence, yessir. He just thinks that "all punches are not equal morally" and "fighting hate is right" and "in a clash between hate and those who oppose it, those who oppose it are on the side of right."
I'm being generous when I say Cuomo "seems to think," because there's no evidence of thought driving Cuomo's rant. Instead it came from a sort of a simple brutishness where people who have it coming exist on a different moral plane from people who Cuomo prefers remain unharmed. The notion that maybe violent Nazis and violent anti-fascists might both be wrong escapes him.
Cuomo began okay.
The vast majority were peaceful. But peppered in the crowd were members of Antifa, or anti-fascists. They covered their faces, confronted police and berated journalists and that was wrong…
When you use your hands in a violent way, you are a rioter. And unless you're justified in defending yourself and you hit someone, you're a thug, you're a criminal. You attack cops, you slap the media, you are in the wrong, period.
So far, correct. But Cuomo made his perennial mistake: he continued to speak.
But I argue to you tonight, all punches are not equal morally. In the eyes of the law, yes. But in the eyes of good and evil, here's the argument: if you're a punk that comes to start trouble in a mask and hurt people, you're not about any virtuous cause. You're just somebody who's going to be held to the standard of doing something wrong.
But when someone comes to call out bigots and it gets hot, even physical, are they equally wrong as the bigot they are fighting? I argue, no. Fighting against hate matters.
I don't know how to describe this other than weaselly. It's written intentionally in the passive voice in a way that makes it impossible to actually weigh the morality of the situation he describes. It "gets hot." It "gets physical." Who throws the first punch is left to the imagination, even though the law and most people judge violence precisely on those terms.
That's an obscurity of convenience, of course. Cuomo can't bring himself to overtly say it's sometimes okay to start a fight with Nazis so he adopts the old Elaine Benes technique: you go to a Nazi protest, you counter-protest, things got heated, yada yada yada, you end up getting physical. We're just supposed to assume that the yada yada yada justifies getting physical through no wrongdoing on the part of the counter-protester.
The other weasel word that pops up throughout the piece is how it's okay to "fight" hateful people. That could of course mean something as benign as picketing Nazis, but also, you know, fighting. Cuomo's use of the word makes it impossible to call him out for doing things like looking into the camera and telling his "hateful" viewers that "fighting you is right," after five minutes of defending people who get into physical fights with Nazis.
Now, how you fight matters too. There's no question about that. But drawing a moral equivalency between those espousing hate and those fighting it because they both resort to violence emboldens hate, legitimizes hateful belief and elevates what should be stamped out.
This is exactly the phenomenon I pointed out this morning and why I felt the need to write this piece. Cuomo seems incapable of understanding that you can denounce the actions of people on one side of a debate without elevating or siding with their enemies. To him, drawing a equivalency between what actually are morally equivalent actions is the same as drawing moral equivalency between beliefs.
No one worth listening to is claiming that because the Neo-Nazis on Sunday performed no crimes and their opponents committed several, Neo-Nazism is the morally superior worldview. Rational adults are perfectly capable of understanding that right-thinking people can do bad things and wrong-thinking people can do good things. Most of us grasped this concept long ago, but Cuomo subscribes to a sort of tribalism where the morality of actions rises on falls on whether the perpetrators are The Good Guys or The Bad Guys.
To build on that point, notice later on why Antifa is bad, according to Cuomo.
The bigots are wrong to hit. Antifa, or whomever, anarchists or malcontent or misguided, they are also wrong to hit.
They're anarchists. They're malcontents and misguided. Earlier, it was because they were "not about any virtuous cause." In Cuomo's one-dimensional moral universe, Antifa violence is bad because Antifa are also The Bad Guys with Bad Thoughts, just of a different flavor.
But fighting hate is right. And in a clash between hate and those who oppose it, those who oppose it are on the side of right. Think about: civil rights activist, were they the same morally as the bigots, as the racist with whom they exchanged blows? Are people who go to war against an evil regime on the same moral ground as those they seek to stop from oppressing the weak?
"Fighting hate is right," is a sweeping statement that misses that there are about a million ways of fighting hate, and some are clearly moral and some are not. This is the crux of the issue, and it's getting to the point where I can't tell if Cuomo is intentionally dishonest or merely very obtuse.
To use his war analogy, shooting at a squad of Nazis on a battlefield during World War II is one way of fighting hate. Rounding up Nazis soldiers and summarily executing them in contravention of the Geneva Convention is another. Cuomo's singular focus on the justness of the cause gives us no way to judge the morality of individual actions taken in pursuit of that cause.
The hypothetical he does provide is no use at all.
When you punch me in the nose for being Italian and you say I'm somehow less than, am I in the same moral place when I punch you back for saying that? It's not about being right in the eyes of the law, but you also have to know what's right and wrong and immoral, in a good and evil sense.
This is crafted to obscure the actual issue. Of course you're morally justified in hitting someone in self-defense. Cuomo says it's "not about being right in the eyes of the law," but picks a convenient hypothetical where he'd be unquestionably right in the eyes of the law. If Cuomo were less, again, weaselly, he might provide an example where the law disapproves of methods of "fighting hate" so his ideas could be judged on their merits.
But that would give the game away. It's obvious to the point of banality that it's morally justified to protest Nazis, or hit them if they attack you first. Cuomo didn't tease before the break that his closing remarks would be "a little controversial," lead with "Two wrongs and what is right?" and go on a five-minute rant to explain what every rational American already believes.
Cuomo cannot bring himself to say what he wants to say, but knows to be indefensible: that it's morally justified to assault someone guilty of believing bad things. And for good reason! Cuomo's philosophy comes with no limiting principles. Virtually every politically active American believes that they are "fighting hate" or battling with the forces of injustice. If an individual person judges that the Republican Party or Black Lives Matter are forces of "hate" or "racism," Cuomo's paradigm would suggest that they are morally justified in engaging in violence.
Cuomo would likely respond that hypothetical person is simply wrong (again, because in his mind, they are not Bad Guys). But he can't have it both ways. He can't proclaim that we should judge the morality of a physical confrontation based on our personal estimation of the fighters' beliefs, and then balk when others reach different conclusions. Once the morality of an action has been divorced from the objective standard that you should not attack people who didn't attack you first, the door has been opened to rational and irrational subjective judgements alike.
If not out of decency, perhaps Cuomo should reconsider his views out of self-preservation. He and his CNN colleagues are smeared daily as fake news, as enemies of the people, as liars, as communists and globalists bringing down the country. Cuomo's black-and-white way of viewing the world is not so different as he'd like to believe from the man arrested for threatening to kill his colleagues, or the man who told a reporter after a newsroom shooting, "Maybe y’all shouldn’t be such fake news."
Cuomo would, in the words of the playwright, cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil. But to half the country, he IS the Devil. The rules of law and civilization protects him, protects you, protects me, and, yes, protects Nazis.