A federal appellate court’s decision to rehear a case in which a controversial provision of 1996’s Communications Decency Act protecting Big Tech firms from civil suits because they are “distributors of content” rather than “publishers” is giving people hope the recent wave of Internet censorship may soon end.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second said July 16 it would rehear the arguments “en banc” following a ruling by a three-judge panel that upheld a lower court’s decision in Dorman v Vimeo, in which it was argued the tech platform was insulated from liability after it terminated the video streaming feed of a group posting videos of individuals saying they’d abandoned homosexuality to pursue a Christian way of living.
Vimeo, the Epoch Times reported, argued successfully its terms of service agreement prohibited the streaming of materials promoting “conversion therapy,” a controversial technique legislators in several blue states are currently trying to ban, especially for children under the age of 18. Others including the plaintiff argue however that the tech firm’s action is censorship and is damaging in both the legal and common sense of the word.
Robert Tyler, general counsel for the Advocates for Faith & Freedom said the decision to have the appeal reargued in front of the entire court puts the immunity provision of Section 230 “in the crosshairs of judicial review.”
“Section 230 was not intended to give Big Tech the right to exclude persons from their platform just because the customer is black, Muslim, white, Christian, homosexual, or formerly homosexual. That is plain invidious discrimination,” Tyler said.
The case is important because the digital age has moved the public square from inside the local community to well out into cyberspace. Facebook and Twitter are now the host of the national conversation, fueled by information people gather by using search engines like Google. This is a new reality, leaving more than a few conservatives fearful their opinions and publications and websites are being censored by the “woke” individuals inside the Big tech companies that make decisions about search engine rankings and what can be seen.
The appellate court’s latest action suggests Section 230, which many of its critics believe is the legal justification for online censorship, may not long survive. It is rare for an entire appellate court to rehear a case just to reaffirm a three-judge panel’s decision. Even if it doesn’t, however, those who follow tech platforms and the laws that govern them say there is no guarantee the censoring of individual messages, the de-platforming of people like former President Donald J. Trump, or the termination of services would come to an end if this one part of the CDA is ruled unconstitutional.
Without Section 230 protection – or something like it – platforms and Internet service companies might someday be held responsible for what appears on screens and servers in much the same way the publishers of newspapers are responsible for what appears in print. Not that it would get anyone very far. The bar for proving damages in cases where libel or defamation are alleged was high even before the United States Supreme Court sent it into the stratosphere in its 1964’s Times v Sullivan decision.
Now, the standard of proof in such cases is so rigorous it is rarely met and, even if it is, the requirements involved in proving damage are so onerous as to hardly be a deterrent to sloppy reporting, deliberate maligning, and censorship.
Trump’s recently announced class-action suit against Big Tech CEOs over his de-platforming may be another matter. He contends his first amendment rights were violated following the disruption inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by these companies acting as agents of the federal government. If he can prove that to be the case, it invokes constitutional scrutiny and potentially tilts the outcome in Trump’s favor.
Ultimately, the court will probably rule in a way that protects the most speech for the most people. The first amendment is an American absolute, not necessarily applicable in all cases – the government can’t imprison me over what I tell my children – but we generally believe as a country that even private institutions should give the amendment due deference. If Big Tech can be shown to have failed in this regard, the consequences could be interesting.
By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we reaffirm the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past.
As I wrote in a preceding essay, the First Amendment was written to limit the government’s power. In the 18th century, only the state was conceived as possibly wielding the power to keep free people from speaking their minds. Thus, if maintaining a free people requires free speech, it followed that the government must be kept from controlling speech. For a long time, no more was necessary, but that would change.
As the United States grew in population and prosperity, there was very little agitation against business. There did not need to be. Most businesses were small affairs, owned by one man or one family, employing a handful of workers. Relations between labor and management were dealt with between individuals.
n 1854, Abraham Lincoln summarized this small-scale economy, speaking of a system in which a man “may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system.”
Yet as corporations grew in size and power, that “true system” changed. Instead of one apprentice negotiating with an owner, a company that employed thousands would tell workers what they would get: take it or leave it.
In response, workers began to join together in trade unions, leveling the playing field, although diminishing their own independence. The balance between workers and management was restored, but the growing power of corporations still overpowered that of individual consumers.
Antitrust and utility laws were the response, but none of this much affected the realm of free speech. There was no news monopoly — newspapers were more plentiful than today — and restrictions on the new technology of radio came from the government, not the station owners. The biggest threat to the practice of free speech remained the state.
Although the two streams of jurisprudence here — anti-monopoly and free speech — did not much overlap in the early twentieth century, some of the same great thinkers were doing work in both. Foremost among these was Louis Brandeis, who joined the Supreme Court in 1916.
Brandeis was a progressive who saw Big Government and Big Business as equally threatening to the average American. Although he focused more on the growth of corporate power in his days as a private lawyer, Brandeis saw the danger in the government becoming too powerful. His solution was to resist consolidation in both regards — keep businesses small and local, and the government could stay small, too.
In regards to free speech, Brandeis also led the resistance to censorship, although often unsuccessfully. While American citizens were the freest in the world in their right to speak and publish, limits remained.
The so-called “Red Scare” that followed communist revolutions in Europe led governments to clamp down on people’s right to advocate socialist ideas in America. In Whitney v. California in 1924, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to one such law. Brandeis was in the minority, but Whitney soon became one of the rare cases more famous for the dissent than for the opinion of the court. Brandeis wrote:
Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.
Brandeis’s words remain one of the great summaries of the custom and law of free speech in America and follows the line of thinking started by Milton and Locke. In 1969, the Supreme Court adopted Brandeis’s ideas and overturned Whitney.
Since then, the government’s attempts to restrict free speech have mostly been rebuffed. Some efforts, like the censorship at issue in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. FEC, nearly succeeded, but most failed and failed quickly. The struggle for free speech in law trends toward greater liberty.
Today, however, something novel is happening in America: private actors have become a greater threat to free speech than the government is. Part of that comes from a laudable achievement — we have tamed free speech’s historical foe, the state. But part also comes from the rise of new means of communication that not only displace the old but are uniquely susceptible to monopolization in a way the old media were not.
That means that for the first time, corporate power might be a greater threat to our rights — especially our right to free speech — than the power wielded by the state. This accounts in part for the recent resurgence in antitrust advocacy.
Not long ago, there was considerable diversity not only in the sources of news and entertainment but also in the distribution of such things. Not only have the sources of news been subject to consolidation, but they have become separated from the methods by which they reach us. This vertical dis-integration might be seen as an antitrust success, except that the distribution methods are even more consolidated than the news sources.
The “distribution sources” in question are the social media giants of Facebook and Twitter, along with less powerful players in the field like Reddit and LinkedIn. Instagram and WhatsApp are also cited as delivery methods for news, but it does little good to mention them since they are both owned by Facebook. Consolidation across Silicon Valley has narrowed the real players in Big Tech to about half a dozen: Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft among them.
As far as free speech is concerned, some of these players are more dangerous than others, but the interaction among them is also a problem. Six big technological competitors might look like a healthy industry, but it is an illusion. While they clash at times, these Big Six have divided up the tech world much as the 19th-century colonial powers divided up the globe. Spheres of influence are mutually respected and the political aims of each align with the others.
First, the social media giants established monopolies in their respective fields. As companies grow in power, they exert control over their marketplaces. They evaded detection in doing so because their monopolies are different from those of the past.
What they monopolize is not a commercial product like Standard Oil’s monopoly on kerosene. Their monopoly is on access to a thing they created and that, outside of their network, cannot exist. As I wrote in the Washington Examiner last year:
There is no place to tweet except Twitter; there is no way to create Facebook posts outside Facebook. If Facebook or Twitter delete your posts or restrict your account, that network is closed to you, and each is a network that increasingly dominates the exchange of ideas. Even beyond the market for news and commentary, access to social media for businesses (especially Facebook) can be a make-or-break proposition.
The monopoly is on each social media company’s network, and the danger is in our increasing reliance on those networks to convey ideas. By 2019, a majority of Americans said they often or sometimes got their news over social media, and the number increases every year.
Unlike old-fashioned monopolies, social media companies use their power not only to exclude competitors but also to exclude customers with whom they disagree. AT&T wanted to control all telephony, but at least they only wanted your money. Facebook and Twitter also want to limit what you say, the equivalent of a telephone operator breaking in to shut down phone calls that their bosses find distasteful.
The Department of Justice shattered AT&T’s monopoly in the 1980s, breaking the company into several “Baby Bells.” The result was cheaper, better telephone service for everyone.
But that precise solution will not work for social media. No one is concerned about the price of a service that is given away for free, and the quality of the apps was never the problem. This network, and equal access to it, is the issue. Destroying that network would make service worse, not better. Moreover, it misses the point.
The intersection of monopoly power with free speech is something new. Even beyond the threat of exclusion from a social media company’s network, the collusion among the networks further stifles free expression. Consider the treatment of a rival social network.
In reaction to Twitter shutting down accounts with whose content it disagreed, two entrepreneurs launched an alternative site, Gab, in 2016. It went public in 2017 and seemed to offer the traditional alternative for dissatisfaction with a business: taking your business elsewhere. If the dispute with Twitter had been a traditional one, such as price or quality, that would have solved the problem.
But the nature of Twitter’s monopoly worked against Gab. Twitter users who had not been banned were reluctant to leave the network, because as unhappy as they were with it, it still offered the best forum for reaching a mass audience. Some maintained accounts at both sites, but only the banned — those who had no other option — were active users at Gab. Google decided it was a hate forum and removed it from their Play Store. Apple had never allowed it in the first place.
Gab was then restricted only to people extremely motivated to seek it out, and it became a deeply unpleasant echo chamber. When it emerged that the perpetrator of the 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue was an active Gab user, the site was forever known as the home of murderous extremists. The providers that hosted them terminated their arrangements, forcing it further underground. The same process played out with Parler in 2020, and it will play out again for the next would-be Twitter competitor.
Mainstream opinion is unbothered. Few had heard of Gab or Parler, which they could not find in their phone’s app stores, and many who were aware of it associated it with Nazis. Shutting them down was good riddance to bad rubbish.
Those few who raised free speech concerns were told to read the law, as though that is all there is to our ancient liberty. Recent episodes of tech censorship have involved a larger combination of tech companies and taken in a larger swath of users — including a former American president.
The drive to stifle speech is not limited to social media. Other tech monopolies have flexed their muscles. Amazon, which controls a majority of book sales in the United States, has started deciding which kinds of books it will allow. Anything that explores sexual orientation or gender dysphoria as mental illnesses is now forbidden. Tweets and Facebook posts on the subject are also likely to be censored if they voice the “wrong” opinions.
If free speech is necessary to enable individuals to discover virtue and choose their leaders, then monopoly censorship is just as harmful as government censorship. Even beyond the specific harm of stifling free expression, it does harm to the idea of free speech itself.
Legalistic denials from Big Tech supporters — “it’s not censorship if it’s not the government!” — miss the point. By allowing continued monopolies over segments of the public square and acquiescing in a restriction of free thought there, we erode the principle of free speech while piously upholding the laws that do nothing against this new threat.
As long as people believe in free speech, it will endure. According to a 2020 poll by Pew, a majority of Americans see the social media threat for what it is: censorship. That is good news. People are not distracted by the distinction of government and non-government; they see a powerful force trying to muzzle them and do not like it. The people understand that this right belongs to them and will resist anyone who tries to take it away.
The bad news is that such sentiments are declining. Americans, especially the young, increasingly are intolerant of speech that they hate. Instead of the liberty and courage that Brandeis extolled, they seek to decide public questions with private force. Milton and Locke would recognize the methods from their own times, although the actors and questions debated have changed.
That same 2020 Pew poll showed a majority of Democrats endorsing social media companies’ labeling of “inaccurate” tweets and posts. Polling by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that same year finds that significant percentages of college students support suppressing unpopular speech through heckler’s veto (27 percent) or blocking entry to an event (11 percent). Only 4 percent of those surveyed claimed that it was acceptable to use violence to suppress offensive speech, but that is still too many.
We all have reason to doubt the accuracy of polling after the failures of the last few years, but there can be no doubt that the principle of free expression is under renewed threat. Looking at that threat requires reacquainting ourselves with the history of free speech and monopolies. Our forefathers fought censorship and fought monopolistic abuses, but political battles are rarely won for all time. These two are back, joined up in novel fashion, but no different than what came before.
The lessons of Milton, Locke, Bastiat, Lincoln, and Brandeis must guide a new generation to protect our ancient freedoms. If we fail, those freedoms will fade from memory and their protection in law will fade with them. We may vote for legislators, but few of us will ever directly influence the words of a law.
In the custom that underpins the law, though, we all have a role to play. By resisting censorship from the government, corporations, or cancel mobs, we remind the world of the value of the freedoms won and cherished in centuries past, and further reinforce them for the challenges to yet come.
Although many lament the dark times for conservative ideas and the death of free speech, they should see this as an opportunity to break free of corrupted institutions.
In a recent edition of the Stanford Review, scholars Scott Atlas, Victor Davis Hanson, and Niall Ferguson wrote a statement defending themselves against the baseless attacks of leftist colleagues at Stanford University who accused them of encouraging extremism, conducting illicit opposition research, and causing the deaths of “tens of thousands” from COVID-19. Atlas then discussed the issue at a virtual student meeting.
These accusations are completely untrue and tied to an antisemitic activist who aligns himself with Antifa. Nevertheless, Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson felt the need to make their case even if it’s unlikely they will face any real threat to their livelihoods or reputations, as the Hoover Institution and Stanford have backed them.
All of them are highly accomplished intellectuals who have amassed large followings. It is they who bring clout to Stanford, not the other way around.
The real tragedy here is that they have to bother explaining themselves at all. It’s beneath them. They could be writing books, articles, giving talks, and continuing their work, but now they have to waste time with nobodies. Even the leadership of Stanford could see this, which is why this effort to cancel fell flat. Unfortunately, as writer Jonathan Tobin explains, their survival of this cancellation attempt was an exception to the rule.
After all, who in the world is David Palumbo-Lieu, one of the four professors leading the charge against these conservative scholars? Has he spoken out against the blunders of the American government’s COVID-19 policy? Does his CV include so many well-written books and countless articles on a limitless range of topics? Did anyone see him on a popular television series celebrating the key successes of Western culture?
No, Palumbo-Lieu’s great work appears to be praising his students “who occupied and blocked the San Mateo Bridge at peak commuting hours, endangering lives, causing minor car crashes, and getting themselves arrested.”
This episode is reminiscent of the great theologian St. Augustine of Hippo exerting so much energy denouncing the Donatist heresy. Much like today’s left, the Donatists were intellectually bankrupt and frequently resorted to the same petty tactics of destroying their opponents’ reputations with slander, false accusations, and the intervention of corrupt politicians.
That Augustine wasted so much time with them means that he had less time to write another “City of God” or “On Christian Doctrine.” Tallied with every other instance of a great mind taking on what’s beneath him, this Stanford kerfuffle amounts to a great loss in progress. The world is shallower, less informed, and less healthy as a result.
So what should happen in these cases? How do the attempted cancellations stop? As Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson demonstrate, it isn’t through compromise or complaining; rather, it is through excellence. As the saying goes, success is the best revenge against one’s enemies. It is also the best way to overcome cancel culture.
This doesn’t mean that defending free speech is not important, but it shouldn’t become a fixation. Otherwise, it can detract from the work of building a competing culture and undermine the very reason to preserve free speech itself.
Free speech is the means, not the ends. This point is sometimes lost when people respond to yet another canceling or instance of censorship. Because it seems like conservatives are constantly defending themselves, they end up making the same points repeatedly and struggle with moving forward. As such, leftists can dismiss conservatives for having “no content,” no vision of what they want.
What results is a growing despair over free speech. If the fruits of free speech are partisan mudslinging and rehashing the same arguments, many people stop seeing the point of protecting the freedom to express one’s views.
It also doesn’t help that the left always frames these debates over free speech as about hate speech and misinformation, never around truth and reason. As a result, conservatives have to defend themselves from being called white supremacist Nazis or crackpot conspiracy theorists while leftists tell (often fabricated) sob stories about the many victims of conservative speech.
Since this is what seems to prevail, most people, particularly young people, simply shrug and give up the fight. If this is what free speech looks like, even if conservatives are right and progressives are wrong, it still seems mostly frivolous and needlessly stressful. Like the villain Cypher in “The Matrix,” they prefer to accept that their lies go unchallenged and declare, “Ignorance is bliss.”
This doesn’t mean that Atlas, Hanson, and Ferguson were wrong to write their statement, nor does it detract from their point about free speech. It’s just a shame that they and so many others have to worry about this kind of thing. Rather, Stanford should worry that their best people feel the need to speak out in this fashion.
It’s time to think bigger. Change will only happen when conservatives have their own Stanfords. If elite universities want to go down the paths of critical race theory, social justice activism, and an abandonment of standards, conservatives should build and support alternatives.
As Arthur Milikh points out on last week’s American Mind podcast, conservatives need to stop slamming Ivy League universities only to confer their respect on these places in the next breath. Instead, they need build their own equivalent and dominate. Otherwise, these places won’t change. One would think that the very people who support movements like school choice would understand this.
In all of her novels, Ayn Rand spoke exactly to this problem and offered a vision of what could happen. Whether it’s “Anthem,” “The Fountainhead,” or “Atlas Shrugged,” the primary conflict was always the same: a protagonist is a brilliant creator, but he lives in an envious world that seeks to tear him down.
How does the protagonist resolve this? Not only by making impassioned speeches (although, admittedly, there are few of those), but by continuing to create on his own terms and let his excellence carry the day. Conservatives today need their own version of Galt’s Gulch.
Although many lament the dark times for conservative ideas and the death of free speech, they should see this as an opportunity to break free of corrupted institutions. There is a dearth of excellence that needs to be filled.
Instead of enlisting the best and brightest conservatives for defending conservatism, conservatives should defend their best and brightest so that they can be left free for excellence. That means giving them space and time to do their work, understanding that this is the whole purpose behind preserving freedom. Not only conservative ideas, but the country and the culture, will be all the better for it.
The left’s push to censor, block, and purge is part of a larger project to undermine the American ideal of self-government and liberal democracy.
Last week, YouTube removed videos of former President Donald Trump’s speech at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, citing violations of its rules about “misleading election claims” under its “presidential election integrity” policy.
Also last week, Ebay blocked all sales and purchases of the half-dozen Dr. Seuss booksrecently deemed unfit for children because they allegedly “portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” Amazon blocked access to a documentary about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Twitter suspended the account of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Facebook continued its purge of QAnon-linked accounts, which began back in October. And the cable network TCM announced a program to reframe classic films like “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “The Searchers,” and “My Fair Lady,” which it considers “problematic” and “troubling.”
That was just last week. The growing movement on the left to censor, purge, block, and suspend anyone who expresses disfavored views, or any book or film that some might consider offensive, isn’t just an attack on conservatives or a quixotic war on the past. It represents the single greatest wholesale rejection of liberal democracy, civil society, and the ideal of self-government in American history.
Simply put, the people who will not allow Trump’s CPAC speech to be searchable on YouTube do not think you can think through things and make your own decisions, let alone participate in democratic governance. To them, you are only slightly more intelligent than an animal, and ought to be treated as such.
The reason it matters—and the reason this illiberal, censorious impulse can’t just be laughed off—is that the institutions and industries behind all this are incredibly powerful. They control what you watch, read, discuss, and share—even with your own children.
Disney Plus, for example, pulled a bunch of classic titles from its children’s programming back in January for “negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people or cultures.” The banned films include “Lady and the Tramp,” “Peter Pan,” “The Jungle Book,” and “Dumbo.” The titles are still available, with a disclaimer, on the main streaming service, but the writing is on the wall: if you want your kids to enjoy the originals, better buy the DVD now.
Let’s be clear about something: this isn’t about ferreting out “offensive” content or ideas, or making society more tolerant and inclusive. After all, whether or not something is offensive is relative. This is about taking away your agency, your ability to make choices and decide for yourself what you think, whether it’s about Dr. Suess or a presidential election.
Why else would Amazon pull down a well-reviewed and by all accounts fair and sober book about transgenderism, as they did last week to Ryan T. Anderson’s 2018 book, “When Harry Became Sally”? It’s not because the book is offensive to a wide swath of the reading public. It’s because the ideas presented in it—including the now-radical notion that biological sex is immutable and that encouraging children and teens to “transition” causes irreparable harm—challenge the left’s utopian vision for society.
In other words, it’s not that these ideas are offensive, it’s that they’re in the way. The people who applauded Amazon for taking down Anderson’s book do not want to contend with Anderson’s arguments. It’s much easier for them if a corporate behemoth like Amazon just blots them out, makes them disappear.
Otherwise, Anderson might actually persuade some people that he’s right, that transgenderism isn’t just morally wrong, it’s also bad for society, and maybe we should rethink our sudden embrace of it. Maybe we should have some honest debate about it and let people make up their own minds.
The left would like to take those kind of choices away from you, even (especially) for children’s literature. The hypocrisy of the left in this regard knows no bounds.
CNN’s Jake Tapper, who once championed the publication of controversial images—including cartoons of Mohammed, even though it’s deeply offensive to Muslims—denounced Republicans last week for complaining about the cancellation of Dr. Seuss. Tapper was upset because they keep citing beloved titles like “Green Eggs and Ham,” not the half-dozen books that contain what Tapper calls “empirically racist” images that are “indefensible.”
He’s wrong about that. This is an argument for another column, but the images in those banned Dr. Seuss books are entirely defensible and, to my mind, not at all racist, empirically or otherwise.
But of course one need not defend the content of burned books to protest the burning of them. It’s even possible simultaneously to object to the content of a book and the notion that it should be burned for its content. This is a pretty basic tenet of classical liberalism, and Tapper knows it. He’s just being dishonest.
Everyone, in fact, who champions the banning of books—any books—or films or speeches or whatever, is engaged in a deeply anti-American project to undermine the means by which we form citizens capable of self-government. If you can’t be trusted to think through whether the mention of “Eskimo Fish” in Dr. Suess’s “McElligot’s Pool”is appropriate for your kids, then you certainly can’t be trusted to think through whether the 2020 election was marred by fraud and loose rules for absentee ballots.
Likewise, you can’t be trusted to make decisions about COVID-19, about whether to get a vaccine or wear a mask, which is why Dr. Anthony Fauci saw fit to lie about mask-wearing to the American people at the onset of the pandemic last year. He doesn’t think you can be trusted with the truth because he thinks you’re an idiot child who needs be governed, not an American citizen who has the natural right to govern himself.
When I watch Fauci lie, or see Tapper and his peers cheer digital book-burnings, or see example after example of censorship to protect us from supposedly offensive ideas or images, all I can think of is a line from an interview conducted in 1842 with a veteran of the American Revolution. The man was asked why he fought, and he replied, “Young man, what we meant in going for those redcoats was this: we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”
It was only a matter of time before cancel culture scored a hit in its fight to eliminate the Founders from our collective memory. On Tuesday, the San Francisco board of education, by a vote of six to one, opted to rename more than 40 schools named for historic figures whose lives can no longer stand up to woke scrutiny.
The action results from a resolution adopted in May 2018, which laid the groundwork to scrub from schools the name of anyone who “engaged in the subjugation and enslavement of human beings; or who oppressed women, inhibiting societal progress; or whose actions led to genocide; or who otherwise significantly diminished the opportunities of those amongst us to the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Among the names being struck, George Washington—first president of the United States, leader of the revolution that secured the nation’s independence from Great Britain and the man whose leadership established a model followed by every one of his successors over the more than 200 years since he was first inaugurated.
The stated reason for the move is that Washington, as everyone readily admits, was a slave owner. By contemporary standards, that’s apparently enough to cancel out everything else he did. Slavery is an odious, inexcusable practice—and always has been. One cannot help but feel, however, that the energies being spent attacking the father of our country and other Founders over their participation in it would be better spent marshaling the forces necessary to eradicate slavery where it still exists.
All this was predictable. Washington was once a venerated American institution, standing apart from every other president and every other leader. He was the reason the United States came into existence and the reason it survived its infancy. No leader, before or after, can match his record of accomplishment, which is why we, his grateful descendants, used to observe his birthday as a national holiday.
That all began to change during the last great period of social unrest, back in the 1960s, when for the sake of efficiency the celebration of Washington’s birthday was moved to the closest Monday as part of an effort to add a few more three-day weekends to the calendar.
Once the first president’s birthday was moved, the effort to obscure it became that much easier. To avoid adding a federal holiday with all its attendant expenses to the calendar, Washington’s birthday was combined with Abraham Lincoln’s to create “Presidents’ Day,” accelerating the toppling of the man from Mt. Vernon from the cultural pedestal upon which he had been deservedly perched for nearly 200 years.
We are losing—and may have already lost—the commonality of purpose that made the United States what one former president at least called “the last, best hope” for mankind. The lack of any formal observance of Washington’s birthday, which is just now upon us once again, corresponds with a growing lack of understanding of the kind of man he was, his indispensability to the cause of American independence and just what it was he accomplished.
To the extent people know him now, it’s not because of the excellent scholarship of historians like Ron Chernow but because of the way he appears as a supporting character in the life of Alexander Hamilton in the eponymous musical devoted to the life of “the ten-dollar founding father.”
Rather than present a more balanced approach to his life and story, those who would condemn Washington seek now to eradicate him from the pantheon of American heroes worthy of our continued respect and admiration.
Washington is, as I’ve written before, the model citizen-statesman. His counsel regarding America’s role in the world is still valuable. His wisdom is eternal. He is a great man of history who, being in the right place at the right time, changed the course of human events in a way that set all Americans thereafter on the path of what another founding father famously called “the pursuit of happiness.”
What Washington told us about the need to limit the powers of the central government so that human freedom might flourish is as relevant today as it was then. His wise leadership produced what has become the greatest, freest, most prosperous, most generous society ever to exist. No American should be allowed to forget that, no matter how large a blot his ownership of slaves made on his copy paper.
Washington was a towering figure, standing head and shoulders above almost all his contemporaries. We need to return him to his place of honor on the calendar and in our hearts and to understand why his name was considered worthy of being put on schools in the first place. Those who are trying to rewrite history so they may change it should be ashamed. We let them succeed at our own peril. We cannot forge ahead together towards a better day if we do not understand where we began, warts and all. It is time for Congress to strike a blow against historical revisionism by restoring Washington’s Birthday on the calendar and moving it back to February 22, where it belongs.
The Hollywood left has been trying to cancel Donald J. Trump ever since he announced his bid for the presidency. Not content to let him retire from office in peace his union, one of screenland’s most important, had undertaken an effort to expel him, charging him with violating the union’s Constitution.
Mr. Trump responded Thursday with a charge of his own, calling the union “useless” to its members and saying of the expulsion effort, “Who Cares!”
“I write to you today regarding the so-called Disciplinary Committee hearing aimed at revoking my union membership. Who cares!” Trump wrote in a signed letter to union President Gabrielle Carteris — who played Andrea Zuckerman on “Beverly Hills, 90210” for a decade, various news outlets reported.
A more than 30-year member of SAG-AFTRA, a group whose predecessor organization was once headed by Ronald Reagan, Mr. Trump apparently has little concern his body of work will be affected.
“While I’m not familiar with your work,” he said in a letter to Carteris, the former president asserted his continuing pride in his “work on movies such as Home Alone 2, Zoolander and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps; and television shows including The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Saturday Night Live, and of course, one of the most successful shows in television history, The Apprentice – to name just a few!”
Mr. Trump then twisted the knife by giving bad reviews to SAG-AFTRA’s “dismal record as a union.”
“Your organization has done little for its members, and nothing for me – besides collecting dues and promoting dangerous un-American policies and ideas – as evident by your massive unemployment rates and lawsuits from celebrated actors, who even recorded a video asking, ‘Why isn’t the union fighting for me?’” he wrote. “As such, this letter is to inform you of my immediate resignation from SAG-AFTRA. You have done nothing for me.”
In January Carteris said Mr. Trump had “attacked the values that this union holds most sacred – democracy, truth, respect for our fellow Americans of all races and faiths, and the sanctity of the free press” following the conclusion by the union’s national board that he had violated union rules by fomenting a riot on Capitol Hill on January 6, an incident for which he was also impeached for a second time without the benefit of due process.
Some actors, commentators, and film writers have gone so far as to suggest Mr. Trump’s appearance in such films as Home Alone 2 – which amounts to a cameo lasting mere minutes – be edited out of any future showings of movies in which he participated.
The journalism school at Arizona State University caves to student activists.
Walter Cronkite said on receiving a global-governance award in 1999: “I am in a position to speak my mind. And that is what I propose to do.”
Today, those who attend the journalism school named after the famed broadcaster are not so lucky.
The spread of “cancel culture” in newsrooms — declaring people henceforth “canceled” from society owing to ideological disagreements — is nothing new. Look no further than the hysterical reaction to Senator Tom Cotton’s New York Times op-ed urging government to use its authorities under the Insurrection Act to “restore order to our streets” amid riots and looting. Newsroom activists flooded Twitter, objecting to its publication. The opinion editor was forced out. And the Times attached a note at the top of the op-ed (nearly 40 percent as long as the piece itself) apologizing for daring to publish the opinion of a sitting U.S. senator.
It was entertaining that Cotton’s tame commentary provoked such a disproportionate meltdown from those who consider themselves serious journalists. But that this scourge is seeping into local campus newsrooms is deeply worrisome — and seep it has.
The first sign of cancel culture bubbling up at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication involved Sonya Duhé, whom the university named dean this spring. Her tenure was cut short almost instantly after she published a tweet praying for “the good police officers who keep us safe.”
The protest-allied campus revolted against the incoming dean’s “racist” tweet and provoked a former student to accuse Duhé of committing “four years of microaggressions” against her. Other students would come forward to allege that she had made similar “microaggressive comments” to them.
It wasn’t one week before the Cronkite School revoked its offer and pledged to be more “inclusive” moving forward.
Things have only gotten worse — and, now that administrators have gotten used to the sweet taste of cancel culture, it appears that student journalists themselves are on the dinner plate.
When Cronkite News, the news division of Arizona PBS, published a poll following a May looting spree in Scottsdale, progressive students complained that the poll’s language was too friendly toward police officers — so Cronkite News folded to the pressure. It deleted the poll and apologized for causing “divisiveness”: “It was not our intention to downplay the actions of law enforcement.”
When a second young journalist published a Q&A with a former police officer in June, students complained that this exchange also was too friendly. Once again, Cronkite News folded to the pressure. It wiped the Q&A offline and replaced it with an apologetic note pledging to “better serve and represent our communities, especially the black community and other communities of color.”
The list goes on.
The most recent “cancel” target is Rae’Lee Klein, a young journalist at the Cronkite School’s Blaze Radio. After the police-involved shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis., Klein, on her personal Twitter account, linked to a New York Post investigation and wrote: “Please read this article to get the background of Jacob Blake’s warrant. You’ll be quite disgusted.”
Progressive students were apoplectic. The board voted to remove her as station manager, threatened to resign if she did not, and released a statement from “Blaze Radio alumni” condemning her for trying to “dehumanize and insinuate blame on the victims of police violence.”
Luckily, Klein has refused to resign or succumb to this cancel culture flare-up, explaining on-air her decision to push back against “a situation where our opinions and our beliefs are held against us or [are] characteristic of our ability to lead.”
While she plants her feet, other young journalists at ASU understandably are reaching for the escape hatch. In August, two such undergraduates founded The Western Tribune, an “independent student journalism” website, as a home to “the oft unheard voices of our generation.” They won’t be the last.
These campus newsrooms are a means for tomorrow’s leaders to write down, or say out loud, the opinions they’ve been keeping in their minds and to see if those ideas stand up to the scrutiny of the real world. These young ideas rarely do — and the invaluable lesson that students glean from that realization will be lost forever if administrators cut them off at the knees by continuing to appease oversensitive cry-bullies whose antics threaten these vital sandboxes.
If things continue as they do, soon there will be no conservatives left to cancel, and progressive journalists will only be left to cancel themselves like a scorpion stinging itself to death.
And that’s the way it will be.
In 2020, there is no element of life too small or too trivial to not get outraged over. It’s time for us to be the change we want to see in the universe.
Finally, NASA is doing something important: Taking a closer look at the nicknames for cosmic objects.
In a real and not satiric press release announcing the move, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Science Mission Directorate, said, “Our goal is that all names are aligned with our values of diversity and inclusion, and we’ll proactively work with the scientific community to help ensure that. Science is for everyone, and every facet of our work needs to reflect that value.”
This comes a little too late. It is 2020, after all. It also focuses on things like the Eskimo Nebula and the Siamese Twin Galaxy, and doesn’t take into account all celestial bodies. The sad fact is that it’s time to cancel all the planets in the solar system, starting with Uranus.
Discovered in 1781, the seventh stone from the sun was named for the Greek god of the sky. Although all the other planets except for Earth are named for Greek gods, this is especially troubling as the god of the sky is the sun, unless you have a misbegotten belief in a geocentric universe. Even then, though, no way Uranus would get the crown.
It’s a cold, desolate planet with harsh winds and foul-smelling clouds (obviously). Its environment is most likely too harsh to support any life, at least life as we know it. Its 27 moons are named for characters from the works of William Shakespeare and Alexander Pope, two white dudes. Its atmosphere is leaking out into space. As far as planets go, it’s the least capable of taking a joke. Uranus is no god of the sky.
Those reasons are not themselves sufficient, however, in explaining why Uranus is offensive. No, the real reason Uranus is offensive is the same as why the names for allthe planets are offensive. Naming the planets after Greek gods just reinforces patriarchy on a cosmic level. How can NASA truly achieve its goal of inclusivity if it doesn’t acknowledge this?
Starting with the one closest to the sun, we have Mercury, the messenger of the gods. He was also the god of financial gain (read: greed), and we don’t need a giant Gordon Gekko orbiting the sun. Canceled.
Then there’s Venus, goddess of love and beauty, who is just a tool of the patriarchy. Buh-bye.
Up next, it’s Mars, the god of war. War is bad, okay? Gone. Well, how about Jupiter, the king of the gods? Kings are also bad. Sayonara.
Saturn is named for the god of agriculture. Saturn’s reign was marked by peace and benevolence, but his girlfriend was called Mother Destruction, so he’s out.
We’ve already covered Uranus, so next on the chopping block is Neptune, the god of water. Water is good and Neptune was one of four gods that one could sacrifice a bull to, but bulls also produce methane (think of the polar bears!), and too much water causes problems, so Neptune is canceled.
What about Earth? Our planet is not named after a god or even a mortal — so far, so good. The word Earth, however, is derived from Old English and thus represents a tacit endorsement of colonialism. It’s time to ditch that one, too.
Some may object to renaming all the planets because it’s unnecessary and ridiculous. Well, those people should probably be canceled, too.
In 2020, there is no element of life, or lifeless planets, too small or too trivial to not get outraged over. It’s time for us to stop being the change we want to see in the world and start being the change we want to see in the universe. To not do so would be to not go too far enough!
Can Joe Biden withstand the storm of political correctness?
Before Thursday morning I had not heard of Thomas Bosco, and I am willing to bet you haven’t heard of him either. He runs a café in Upper Manhattan. From the picture in the New York Times, the Indian Road Café is one of those Bobo-friendly brick-lined coffee shops with chalkboard menus affixed to the wall behind the counter and a small stage for down-on-their-luck musicians to warble a few bars of “Fast Car” as you sip on a no-foam latte while editing a diversity training manual. It looks pleasant enough. “Local writers, artists, musicians, and political activists are regulars,” writes metro columnist Azi Paybarah. “And for years, two drag queens have hosted a monthly charity bingo tournament there.” Drag queens! You can’t get more progressive than that. Bosco seems like a noble small businessman making his way in a turbulent world.
There’s a problem, though. He once expressed an opinion. Though Black Lives Matter signs are posted throughout the restaurant, and its owner identifies as “a liberal guy who supports almost every liberal cause I can think of,” in early June Bosco told MSNBC that he voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and expects to do so again. Omigod no. “The backlash was swift, as you might expect,” writes Paybarah. Neighbors denounced Bosco on Facebook. Some vowed not to patronize the café. Randi Weingarten, who as president of the American Federation of Teachers draws close to half a million dollars in salary and benefits, wrote online that it would be “hard to ever go back.” No more tips for the barista from her. As for the drag queens, they are taking their glitter elsewhere.
Bosco is distraught. “My staff feels like I let them down to a certain extent,” he told the Times. He has supported Bernie Sanders, donated to immigrant groups, contributed to the food pantry, provided child care for an employee, and plans to change the name of the café to Inwood Farm to avoid any possible offense toward the Indigenous. None of this is enough to quell the fury of the Very Online. “Similar backlashes have erupted in liberal New York City, usually after a business is revealed to have financial links to Mr. Trump or socially conservative causes,” notes Paybarah, citing the example of Stephen Ross, an investor who had to cut ties to the Equinox and SoulCycle gym chains after it was revealed that he was going to throw a fundraiser for the president. “But Mr. Bosco is no Mr. Ross.”
No, Mr. Bosco is not. He is instead one of the countless private individuals whose lives have been upended by the gale of righteousness blowing through this country since the killing of George Floyd in police custody on May 25. For all of the high-profile sackings, vandalism, and cancellations—the editor of the New York Times opinion pages, the CEO of Crossfit, the editor in chief of Bon Appétit, the head of Adidas human resources, the Atlanta police chief, statues of Confederates, Columbus, Grant, and Douglass, and the Washington Redskins—there have been an equal number of stories concerning absolute nobodies, pipsqueaks, formally anonymous men and women whose unpopular opinions or boneheaded errors of judgment, widely publicized on social media, transform them into public enemies, splittists, and heretics whose livelihoods suffer as a result. Andy Warhol’s 1968 prediction of the future was wrong. It’s not that everyone is world-famous for 15 minutes. It’s that they are infamous.
This towering inferno of outrage culture, social media virality, and social justice journalism reached new heights on June 17, when the Washington Post devoted thousands of confusing and bizarre words to an investigation of a Halloween party at cartoonist Tom Toles’s house two years ago where a random neighborhood woman, in a gross misjudgment and lack of self-awareness, showed up in blackface. “I’m Megyn Kelly—it’s funny,” the woman is said to have toldpartygoers agog and offended by her costume, demonstrating the truism that any “joke” requiring explanation is a bad one. The embarrassed Megyn Kelly impersonator left the gathering, not knowing that two years later she would lose her job because another guest at the party could not take her mind off the incident. “Why Did the Washington Post Get This Woman Fired?” asked Josh Barro and Olivia Nuzzi in New York a week after the superfluous exposé appeared in the paper. No one they spoke to could explain why.
Here’s one theory. Bouts of hysteria are often accompanied by loss of perspective and lapses in critical thinking. In a moment of national self-examination, distinctions between private and public, between guilty and innocent, between criminal and clueless are tossed aside. What was precious and inviolable minutes ago—the musical Hamilton, for example, or Harry Potter—becomes the object of suspicion and derision. The frenzy builds on itself, and grows stronger, and doesn’t know where to stop.
At first the flagellation is sincere. No one, no society, is without fault. But the self-punishment soon becomes an end in itself. And for some, it even starts to feel … pleasurable. Confessing your badness turns into an uplifting sensation. It’s good. You help make bestsellers of How to Be an Antiracist, Between the World and Me, White Fragility, Stamped from the Beginning, So You Want to Talk About Race, The New Jim Crow, Begin Again, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, White Rage, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse, Me and White Supremacy, and I’m Still Here. You get into Run the Jewels. And before long, you can’t contain the self-criticism, it has to be poured outward, unleashed, directed at others. Whoever that may be.
When Noam Chomsky, who had no trouble putting the crimes of the Khmer Rouge into “context,” signs a letter warning that “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted,” it is a sign that things … things have gotten out of control. Social media has become a system of surveillance, policing, and stigma, news media the vehicle for an attack on the American Founding and on classical liberal principles, and progressive politicians the saps for a revolutionary ideology that hides behind egalitarian ideals.ADVERTISING
Joe Biden better be paying close attention. The other day a member of his vice presidential shortlist, Senator Tammy Duckworth, expressed her willingness to “listen to the argument” of radicals who would tear down statues of George Washington. As I wrote this, Nancy Pelosi shrugged off the illegal desecration of the Columbus statue in Baltimore, saying, “People will do what they do.” You know how people are—they get angry and wild and destroy public property. So fuggedaboutit. Would she say the same if vandals tossed the sculpture of her dad into the Inner Harbor?
There is only so much self-abasement a nation can take. And when the winds of woke start to blow, millions of Americans find that there is one way left for them to oppose political correctness: pulling the lever for the man in the White House.
If we’re inclined to glide past the Marxist fingerprints all over America’s current turmoil, assuming its ideas will flare up for a while and then burn out, we’re not paying attention.
American institutions have stoked the coals of Karl Marx’s destructive ideology, fanning its flames until his notions have consumed our cultural pillars.
Far from being forgotten and irrelevant, Marx’s ideas pervade key institutions, from universities and schools, to mass media and popular entertainment, to major corporations and medicine, to the arts and sciences. They’ve even seeped into many churches and seminaries. Of course, they also define the Democratic Party, Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi no less than Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama.
I don’t mean such clunky ideas from “Das Kapital” as the dictatorship of the proletariat, the labor theory of value, or the withering away of the state. No, we’re talking about the substratum of assumptions about how the world works, underlying those discredited notions from bygone days.
The poisoned root of all of it is something called “dialectical materialism,” a concept Marx borrowed from Hegel that describes how material needs create social conflict. The two men saw the material world as distinct and independent from the spirit and mind, and maintained that attempting to combine the material and immaterial bred inconsistencies. For our purposes here, suffice it to say the “materialism” part disallows all things spiritual, and the “dialectical” part disallows all things fixed or permanent or unchanging.
So we’re left with nothing but atoms in endless flux, physical forces violently colliding in a grim world where might makes right and brutal will reigns supreme. If that sounds like the radical autonomous zone in Seattle, it’s no coincidence.
Cultural Marxism is increasingly defining the worldview within which all debates and decision-making take place, even for most of those who rightly fear and despise Marx. This philosophy is on an accelerating trajectory to deconstructing the American way of life from top to bottom, leaving no sphere of our daily lives untouched.
Its deconstruction agenda takes three main forms: Marxism dehumanizes all persons, demoralizes all relationships, and decivilizes all institutions.
Dehumanizing all persons. No one is anything more than his or her DNA and appearance, plus whatever animal instincts he happens to feel at a given time. From this comes identity politics, racial and sexual polarization, group victimhood, and group guilt. This logically results in demoralizing relationships.
Demoralizing all relationships. Since individuals are mere meat in motion, and existence is mere randomness, morality as all the world religions have known it is gone. No two people can interact on the basis of objective right and wrong.
What’s right or good is instead the mere product of quantitative mass (how many persons want it) times qualitative intensity (how much emotion they express). Dignity, property, marital and family ties, marketplace exchanges, contracts and promises, tradition and heritage, vulnerability, duty, love, and life itself — all go to zero.
Decivilizing all institutions. People and relationships having thus been zeroed out. Institutions of whatever sort, including communities or nations, obviously cannot stand either. An institution is but an agreement or understanding entered into by people, meant to outlive them and endure through time, all of which is viewed as absurd and dissolves under the acid of dialectical materialism. All bets are off.
Civis, Latin for city, which gives rise to our ideas of civilization and civility, civics and the citizen, goes on the ash heap of history. Language, the institution enabling people in communities to communicate — even to seek and express truth — gets trashed as well. Truth is whatever one wants it to be. Plain speaking must bow to political correctness, itself a purely Marxist term.
It bears repeating that life is devalued to zero under this nightmare of deconstruction America is now experiencing. One can draw a connection to George Orwell’s anti-Marxist masterpiece “Animal Farm.” All animals are equal, says Napoleon the pig reassuringly. It’s just that some animals are more equal than others.
In the same way, we’re now being told some lives matter more than others by the leaders of a mass movement decivilizing our cities and seeking to incite a race war. It shouldn’t surprise us that one of those leaders has bluntly and proudly said on camera, “We’re trained Marxists.” Hearing that, do we shrug and make excuses for her since, after all, a lot of pain can accompany being black in this country?
Or are we shocked at the cynicism that would so disserve the very people her movement claims to champion? Are we surprised at the gullibility of so many of our fellow citizens of all colors who would trust a Marxist to do anything but defame and damage the United States of America at every opportunity?
If we’re not shocked, angered, and determined to turn back this and every attempt at deconstructing our country by the disciples and dupes of Marx, a hater of humanity and agent of evil, we are unworthy of our forebears’ sacrifices and our descendants’ hopes.
If we’re inclined to glide past the Marxist fingerprints all over America’s current turmoil, chalking it up to “wokeness” or “cancel culture” or “the left” or some other vague fad we assume will flare up for a while and then burn out, we’re not paying attention.
It was specifically Marx’s ideas, according to the “Black Book of Communism,” that took 100 million lives worldwide in the last century. How many more will they take in this one? That’s up to you and me. We can’t say we weren’t warned.