Liberals are suddenly realizing that “cancel culture” can snap back – and it hurts. The liberal idea was to “cancel” people who raise “offensive” or “objectionable” topics, summarily ending unwanted discussions by intimidating people into abandoning free speech rights. It was always anti-American. Now, it turns out the left’s beast, is eating them too.
Upending the First Amendment by spurning people with different views is a dead end – legally, politically, and socially. Interestingly, conservatives generally offer to debate while liberals stifle dialogue. Now, they are being stifled.
Last week, some noted liberals wrote an “open letter” decrying how unthinking, zealous leftists were shutting them down. Former New York Times editor Bari Weiss and Harper’s columnist Thomas Williams were joined by Harry Potter’s J.K. Rowling, activist Noam Chomsky, and feminist Gloria Steinem, in this conservative turn. They rediscovered the First Amendment.
Suddenly, having been shunted off stage, out of newsrooms, and denied the right to opine, they took to Bill Maher’s show to say “open debate without fear of repercussions might be a good idea,” since the absence of free expression might lead to violence. Behold – an epiphany.
While the left swarms America’s streets, these liberals penned a letter. Said Weiss, their letter was a “warning cry from inside the institutions,” signaling the need to reverse course. Free speech apparently does matter, after all. Why? Because blocking it is “social murder” these enlightened liberals professed on Maher’s show – a curious venue for lefty confessions.
Weiss explained. “What is going on now with this culture of illiberalism is different from criticism.” Criticism is good, but “cancel culture is not criticism, it is about punishment … making a person radioactive… taking away their job.” She decried her former employer.
For background, a New York Times “editorial page editor” resigned in June, after “more than 1,000 staffers” signed a letter condemning him for allowing a column by conservative US Senator Tom Cotton on restoring law and order, if necessary with the military. In July, Weiss resigned, citing an internal “civil war,” pitting “social justice warriors” against “free speech.”
Could it be that “cancel culture” is biting the hand that fed it? On Maher’s show, Weiss perfectly described socialism. She noted “cancel culture” amounts to “punishing the person for being insufficiently pure,” pushing a “secondary boycott of people who would deign to speak to that person or appear on a platform with that person.” Suddenly, this is highly offensive.
She noted this kind of “politics” does not “get us” very far. She warned about where extremism goes. “If conversation with people that we disagree with becomes impossible, what is the way we solve conflict? … It’s violence.” She may have something there.
Weiss, the enlightened liberal, continued. She said politics has evolved into a “religious identity,” suggesting liberals who fail to push to “defund the police” are considered “heretics.” One hears an awakening in her voice to socialism’s hallmark, intimidation.
As if just washing over her, she explained: “That is an enormous problem … because it is … the collapse of moderates.” There is another idea. Could “cancel culture,” intimidating those not sufficiently “pure” to defend leftist violence, be a problem in America?
The effect, she said, is “collapse of the center and the retribalization of this country …,” now inside newsrooms. One could argue that she is a little late, but seeing the light is good. She observed that America is “exceptional… with all of its flaws.” Wisdom, indeed.
Unable to defend “patriotism,” she edged up to it. Returning to high school history – apparently missed by her peers – she said: “There is something bigger than lineage or kin or the political tribe we belong to…” Yes – and we call that America. She added, we are in “a very scary moment.” Right again, no thanks to her former employer. Could media bear responsibility?
These enlightened liberals – pilloried by former friends – now argue, “it is up to us to defend the ideas that made this country unique, and a departure from history.” “Cancel culture” – blotting out what we do not like – “stifles open discussion.” Extraordinary discovery, is it not?
Her epiphany was almost too much. One liberal decried where extremes lead. “We are in danger of reinvesting in the idea that race is real and that it cannot be escaped,” and “defines us.” Making those alive pay for past sins is “not a world that I want to create,” said a panelist.
Finally, the panel host chimed in. He offered a timeless nugget: “Being able to speak freely is the lifeblood not only of democracy, of really just our way of life.” Remarkable, liberals are now teaching liberals high school history – and why the First Amendment counts.
To be clear, there is nothing new about free speech being good, socialist intimidation bad. That is not news. The news is recognition by liberals – as they turn on one another – that free speech matters, and that canceling socialist “cancel culture” might be a good idea.
Does this represent a bend in the road for liberal thinking? Could we be returning to the idea that free speech protects societies which protect it? Maybe. Predictably, liberals who signed that letter are facing intense criticism from the left. The only thing worse than not being a pure socialist, of course, is calling out those who are.
What we are hearing, for the first time, is some liberals discovering “cancel culture” is a bad choice. Empowering socialist intimidation is dangerous. Suppression is catchy. Wisdom often comes to individuals and societies slowly, but this is a start. Small steps toward enlightenment are worth noticing – and this was one. Now, our nation must awaken to the profound risks of socialism in Congress, and stand firmly against it.
Robert B. Charles