The United States is currently subject to a sharp political divide between the left and the right, with just around half of the country on each side. The two sides obviously differ in the government policies that they advocate, but there is another difference that I think is even more important. The right, or at least most of it, welcomes differences of opinion, while the left allows no dissent from the orthodoxy of the moment.
An op-ed by Ben Shapiro in today’s New York Post provides several notable examples. But this one best illustrates the left/right divide on tolerance of dissent:
[In 2019] I attended a rather tony political summit — perhaps the only real ritzy cocktail party I’ve ever gone to. One of the other attendees happened to be one of the more prominent left-wing podcasters in the country. After a few pleasantries, I suggested that perhaps we ought to do an election-year crossover podcast. “The numbers,” I said, “would be extraordinary. And I know my audience would love it. We’re always having on guests who disagree.” “I’m sure your audience would be cool with it,” the podcaster answered. “But mine would murder me.”
And Shapiro provides plenty of other instances of erstwhile members of the political left learning the hard way what happens when you stray from orthodoxy: for example, Martina Navratilova and J.K. Rowling for saying that “a man calling himself a woman is not in fact a woman,” and Sam Harris and Steven Pinker for saying that “cancel culture is real.”
Over here on the right, debate is what makes life interesting. The Federalist Society has made setting up debates its thing for over thirty years, often between left and right, but equally often between different branches of the right, such as law and order conservatives versus libertarians. There are wide differences among those on the right on such issues as the drug war, civil rights and liberties, privacy, immigration, free trade, and assertive/interventionist foreign policy., among many others. Meanwhile, in recent years, it has become more and more difficult to get anyone on the left to participate in many of our debates, particularly when the subject is an issue of quasi-religious significance to the left, such as climate change, gender, or race relations.
For a truly extreme example of what happens over there on the left when orthodoxy is breached even a little, you need to check out the letter just out from Allison Hill, CEO of the American Booksellers Association. Here’s the background. It seems that every month or so the ABA sends out to member book stores a box of materials, containing several books that the organization suggests stocking, as well as other promotional information from publishers. This month’s box contained, among other things, a copy of Abigail Shrier’s “Irreversible Damage,” and promotional materials for Candace Owens’s “Blackout” (with introduction by Larry Elder). Here is how the Washington Post introduces its July 16 story on the subject:
As soon as Casey Morrissey opened the box of books, they [sic] were furious. The title at the top of the stack was Abigail Shrier’s “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters,” a contentious tome that has sparked cries of transphobia since its release last summer. “Do you know how that feels, as a trans bookseller and book buyer?” Morrissey, who works at Greenlight Bookstores in Brooklyn tweeted Wednesday. “It isn’t even a new title, so it really caught me in the gut. Do better.”
And then, says the WaPo, “a firestorm ensued.” And thus the letter from Ms. Hill of the ABA. Here is how it begins:
This week we did horrific harm when we included an anti-trans book in ABA’s July box mailing to members. Last week, we did terrible and racist harm when featuring the bestseller Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon with the wrong cover image, conflating it with an image of the cover of a book by a different Black [sic] author, a right-wing extremist. We traumatized and endangered members of the trans community. We erased Black [sic] authors, conflated Black [sic] authors, and put the authors in danger through a forced association. We further marginalized communities we want to support.
A truly epic grovel. Note that Ms. Hill is unable even to name the authors or titles of the two offending (conservative) books. It seems that even mentioning the title or author of such a book has become “horrific harm” or maybe “terrible and racist harm,” let alone “traumatizing” and putting authors “in danger through a forced association.” All I can think of is the confession of Zinovyev at his 1936 Stalin show trial.
Meanwhile, you will likely recognize the unmentionable Shrier and Owens books as important works and also as bestsellers. Both were released about a year ago — “Irreversible Damage” on June 30, 2020, and “Blackout” on September 15, 2020. By November, “Irreversible Damage” was ranked #15 in sales at Amazon among all books, and #1 in several categories, including Political Commentary & Opinion, Political Conservatism & Liberalism, and LGBT Demographic Studies. Owens’s “Blackout” rose to #1 at Amazon in the category Political Parties, and was #2 on the New York Times bestseller list among all non-fiction during October 2020. Also, Owens’s co-author, Larry Elder, is currently on the ballot in the recall election for Governor of California, and has a very decent chance of winning and becoming the Governor. (If Newsom gets less than 50% of the vote in the recall, then he is out, and the candidate among those to replace him who gets the most votes becomes Governor. Newsom is currently at 48% in the polls, and Elder leads all other potential replacement candidates by double digits.)
Yet somehow at the American Booksellers Association, these books cannot even be mentioned by name. Incidentally, it seems bizarre to me that the authors of the new “Blackout” think they have cause to be upset, when they chose to give their book the exact same title as a bestselling book by other black authors that had come out just a few months previously. (Owens’s book does have a subtitle.). And finally, how is the demeaning treatment of Owens and Elder by the ABA not racist.