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.
Big Tech is not fighting fair in its push back against former President Donald J. Trump’s campaign to prevent it from censoring conservative opinions and opinion leaders, the American Conservative Union said, citing the recent suspension of its network on YouTube, an internet platform used for video sharing as a prime example of its misconduct.
The ACU, which is the primary sponsor of the Conservative Political Action Conference called the recent removal by YouTube of a recent episode of its “America UnCanceled” posted on its CPAC NOW page censorship.
“YouTube censored CPAC because we stood with former President Donald Trump on his lawsuit against Big Tech,” ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp said in a release, calling the action “another example of Big Tech censoring content with which they disagree in order to promote the political positions they favor.”
The episode in question included coverage of the former president’s attempt to mount a class action suit against tech platforms including Google, YouTube’s parent company. The ACU is a party to the suit, which is being brought on the former president’s behalf by the America First Policy Institute, a group he formed shortly after he left office.
Trump spoke Sunday in Dallas, Texas to the most recent CPAC gathering. That speech also could not be seen on the CPAC NOW YouTube page due to a one-week ban on posting the platform imposed on the organization when it removed the program, the ACU said.
When imposing the ban, the ACU said YouTube cited “medical misinformation” related to COVID-19 conveyed by the program as the reason for it but did not state specifically what the so-called misinformation was. In a statement, the group said it believed Trump’s reference to the possible therapeutic value of hydroxychloroquine as documented in what the ACU described as “sound medical research conducted by the Smith Center for Infectious Diseases & Urban Health and Saint Barnabas Medical Center” may have prompted the internet platform to take the action it did.
The use of hydroxychloroquine to prevent or treat the novel coronavirus, which Trump often promoted while president, is controversial in many political, editorial, and medical circles.
“It is clear that YouTube censored CPAC because we stood with former President Donald Trump on his lawsuit against Big Tech,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “This is yet another example of Big Tech censoring content with which they disagree in order to promote the political positions they favor.”
In his remarks to the Dallas confab, Trump called the way Big Tech handles free speech issues, particularly expressions of opinion that conflict with the values of the founders of the major tech platforms “unlawful,” “unconstitutional” and “completely un-American.”
Trump used the speech to continue as well his crusade for an audit of the 2020 presidential election results which, he maintains, was tainted by fraudulent ballots. “The truth was covered up, and it had a giant impact on the election,” he said. “This must never happen to another party’s presidential candidate again. We are the laughingstock of the world.”
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.
About a month ago, news consumers were belatedly informed that New York governor Andrew Cuomo was not a pandemic hero, the Lincoln Project was not filled with noble Republican idealists who were effectively persuading conservatives to stop supporting Donald Trump, and progressive policies were not helping the least fortunate in California. This week, the media belatedly recognize that the evidence for soaring hate crimes against Asian Americans is much less reliable than initially reported, that the survey data reveal that liberal perceptions of police shootings are wildly at odds with the verifiable facts, and that recent headlines exaggerated the conclusions of a CDC report on government mask mandates.
Some days I feel as if I might as well rename this newsletter, “Here’s what the data actually say . . .”
A Lot of What the Media Told You Was Wrong, Part One
The New York Times, February 27: “Hate crimes involving Asian-American victims soared in New York City last year. Officials are grappling with the problem even as new incidents occur.”
USA Today: “Hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise.”
Jay Caspian Kang, writing in the New York Times op-ed page, Sunday:
There are claims of a huge national spike in anti-Asian hate crimes, but they largely relyon self-reported data from organizations like Stop AAPI Hate that popped up after the start of the pandemic. These resources are valuable, but they also use as their comparison point spotty and famously unreliable official hate crime statistics from law enforcement. If we cannot really tell how many hate crimes took place before, can we really argue that there has been a surge?
There have also been reports that suggest that these attacks be placed within the context of rising crime nationwide, especially in large cities. What initially appears to be a crime wave targeting Asians might just be a few data points in a more raceless story.
There have also been condemnations of Donald Trump and how his repeated use of the phrase “China virus” to describe the coronavirus and his invocation of white supremacy might be responsible. But how does that explain the attacks by Black people? Were they also acting as Mr. Trump’s white supremacist henchmen? Do we really believe that there is some coordinated plan by Black people to brutalize Asian-Americans?
It is also worth noting that a report that generated the frightening headline, “Hate Crimes Targeting Asian Americans Spiked by 150% in Major US Cities” showed wildly different circumstances in different cities. The report identified 122 incidents of anti-Asian-American hate crimes in 16 of the country’s most populous cities in 2020. Almost a quarter of them, 28, occurred in New York City. The top four cities — New York, Los Angeles, Boston, and Seattle — were the location for 57 percent of all cases in the study. In Cincinnati, the number of hate crimes targeting Asian Americans increased from zero in 2019 to one in 2020, and San Diego had the same figures. Chicago stayed level with two each year. Denver and Houston increased from zero to three. Washington, D.C., declined from six to three.
Every crime is worthy of investigation and prosecution, and even one case of someone being targeted for a crime because of their race, religion, or heritage is one too many. But in this situation, it appears that the existing spotty statistics are being shoehorned into place to support a narrative of a worsening crisis. The headline “Hate Crimes Targeting Asian Americans Spike in a Few US Cities, Rare in Others” wouldn’t attract quite so much attention.
Of course, the only way society can investigate and prosecute hate crimes is with an effective police force, and there’s not exactly a broad political consensus in support of the police now, is there?
A Lot of What the Media Told You Was Wrong, Part Two
That deep political division about the quality of American policing stems from wildly disparate beliefs about what the police do.All Our Opinion in Your Inbox
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The Civil Unrest and Presidential Election Study (CUPES) survey, completed last month, asked 980 adults two questions. The first was, “If you had to guess, how many unarmed Black men were killed by police in 2019?” Options ranged from “about 10” to “more than 10,000” The second question was “If you had to guess, in 2019 what percentage of people killed by police were Black?” Respondents could choose any number from 0 to 100.
According to the Washington Post database, regarded by Nature magazine as the “most complete database” of its kind, 13 unarmed black men were fatally shot by police in 2019. According to a second database called “Mapping Police Violence,” compiled by data scientists and activists, 27 unarmed black men were killed by police (by any means) in 2019.
The CUPES survey found that “over half (53.5 percent) of those reporting ‘very liberal’ political views estimated that 1,000 or more unarmed black men were killed,” and 26.6 percent of those identifying as “liberal” believed it was “about 1,000.” Fourteen percent of those identifying as “very liberal” believed “about 10,000” unarmed black men were killed, and almost 8 percent of those identifying as “very liberal” believed that more black men were killed by police in 2019.
The study noted that, according to peer-reviewed research, 26.7 percent of the victims of police-shooting fatalities between 2015 and 2020, were black. Another source, BBC News’s “Reality Check Team,” reported that in 2019 specifically, 23.4 percent of the victims of police-shooting fatalities were black.
The second question found similar results. “Those who reported being ‘liberal’ or ‘very liberal’ were particularly inaccurate” in their guesses of what percentage of people killed by police were black, “estimating the proportion to be 56 percent and 60 percent, respectively.”
If you walked around believing that 1,000 or 10,000 or even more unarmed black men were killed by police each year, with minimal if any consequences, you would probably distrust the police and want to see them abolished or defunded or, at minimum, torn down and rebuilt from the ground up with a completely different culture.
A Lot of What the Media Told You Was Wrong, Part Three
Before we go any further, I’m pro-wearing masks. I don’t think they provide perfect protection. I think KN95s are more effective than cloth masks, and cloth masks are better than nothing. I think wearing your mask on your chin is ridiculous. And while we’re still collecting data, the evidence we have is that full vaccination makes people much less likely to spread the virus — so there is little reason for groups of vaccinated people to wear masks around one another. And if you’re going to go into a restaurant, it’s best to try to maintain that six-foot distance between you and members of your household and everyone else, particularly when unmasked and eating.
You probably saw the headline, “CDC study finds in-person dining bans and wearing masks make a difference.”
The CDC compared county-level data on mask mandates and restaurant re-openings with county-level changes in COVID-19 case- and death-growth rates relative to the mandate-implementation and reopening dates. When you dig deep into the actual CDC report, you find:
During March 1–December 31, 2020, state-issued mask mandates applied in 2,313 (73.6 percent) of the 3,142 U.S. counties. Mask mandates were associated with a 0.5 percentage point decrease (p = 0.02) in daily COVID-19 case growth rates 1–20 days after implementation and decreases of 1.1, 1.5, 1.7, and 1.8 percentage points 21–40, 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days, respectively, after implementation (p<0.01 for all) (Table 1) (Figure). Mask mandates were associated with a 0.7 percentage point decrease (p = 0.03) in daily COVID-19 death growth rates 1–20 days after implementation and decreases of 1.0, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.9 percentage points 21–40, 41–60, 61–80, and 81–100 days, respectively, after implementation (p<0.01 for all).
Notice the decrease was in the case- and death-growth rate, not the number of overall cases or deaths. And the difference in that rate of growth of both cases and deaths added up to less than 2 percent over a three-month period. That’s not nothing; we obviously want to prevent every death that we can. But that’s also not a particularly dramatic difference.
A mask mandate may mitigate the death toll in a state, but not by much. The state that ranks the worst in COVID deaths per million residents is New Jersey, with 2,654, as of this writing. New Jersey was the first state to require masks at all businesses starting April 10, 2020, and outdoors in circumstances where social distancing is not possible since July 8, 2020. More than 90 percent of the state’s 23,557 deaths occurred since the former mandate was implemented.
The second state to enact a mask order was New York, which enacted a mask requirement April 15, 2020, and that state ranks second worst in COVID deaths per million residents, at 2,497. The states that rank at the bottom in deaths per million residents are Hawaii (mask requirement), Vermont (mask requirement), and Alaska (no mask requirement).
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.”
In a remarkable turn of events, four members of the United States Supreme Court recently affirmed the constitutionality of state-sponsored religious bigotry. On June 30, by a vote of 5-4, the court struck down a Montana law barring the inclusion of religious schools as an option for families participating in educational choice programs – with the court’s liberal wing in opposition to the majority.
In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the justices answered what the non-profit Institute for Justice called the “open question” arising from previous decisions in cases like 2002’s Zelman v. Simmons-Harris whether religious institutions could be explicitly excluded from choice programs.
The national effort to ban government support for Catholic schools goes back to the 1880s. The Republican Party, following the leadership of one-time House Speaker, U.S. Senator, and 1884 GOP presidential candidate James G. Blaine attempted to hamper the rise in influence of the Catholic immigrants coming from Europe in large numbers, in part through the use of “Blaine Amendments” that blocked state funding for religious schools.
Writing for the majority in Espinoza, Chief Justice Roberts cited them as being “born of bigotry,” adding that the “no-aid provisions of the 19th century hardly evince a tradition that should inform our understanding of the Free Exercise Clause.” The Court also said the “exclusion [of religious schools] from the scholarship program here is ‘odious to our Constitution’ and ‘cannot stand.’”
The Blaine Amendments were pushed by the kinds of people who, in 1884, referred to the Democrats as the “The Party of Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion.” It was a slogan that likely cost Blaine the White House while the state constitutional amendments named for him are a stain on the records of those who supported them, the states that adopted them, and the country as a whole. Yet it was liberal Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan who in essence affirmed them by refusing to join the majority in Espinoza.
The anti-Catholicism of the period wasn’t limited to the schools. The same concerns that drove the Blaine Amendments produced groups like Planned Parenthood, whose leader, Margaret Sanger, spread the efficacy of birth control among poorer Catholics in the cities. Her motivation, to keep Catholics from having so many children, is well documented even if modern historians tend to overlook it.
Had this been an issue that involved race, the dissenters – had there been any – would have had their decisions linked unfavorably to such odious court rulings as the ones made in Dred Scott and Plessy v. Ferguson. But, because Espinoza involved religious bigotry, its antecedents are overlooked and the justices on the wrong side have not been called to account. That’s because, for too long, the “establishment clause” of the 1st Amendment has been given decided preference over the “free exercise” provision. As the latest decision hints, however, a day of reckoning when the two sections of the amendment concerning religious freedom must at least be given equal weight is coming.
Since the deadly biblical struggle between the two brothers Abel and Cain, humanity has grappled with the fundamentally existential paradoxes between good and evil, free will and subjugation, dominance and obedience, as well as fear and coercion. These bifurcations of societies and communities into freedom by personal responsibility and disenchanted irresponsibility by surrender to seductive illusions have always been lurking under the notion of obligatory assimilation throughout the 244 years of American history. The Declaration of Independence with its lofty ideals of ubiquitous equality and of inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, has always hidden the potential of disappointments in imperfect governments. This interaction between the expectant masses and the thus pressurized governments has created a permanently unpredictable interplay between the majority that has needed guidance and the minority that has been elected to command. The reactions to such an unstable situation have been either compliance or revolt. Both have depended on circumstances that mostly have been foreseeable but occasionally subject to barely explainable circumstances.
The death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, during an attempted arrest, has given rise to both open-ended peaceful protests and unbridled lawlessness. Coupled with the relatively draconian anti-pandemic measures instituted by the federal and state governments, these two events have been the fundamental causes of the present infantile idiocy gripping the nation.
The initial reaction to the unwarranted violence has been fear. Cain was afraid of Abel, therefore, he killed him. He was punished by having been uprooted and condemned to impermanence. Similarly, those who destroy statues and monuments are devoid of solid roots in American society. Having been grown up without serious parental guidance and having been confused by their scant education, they are miserable in their primitive loneliness. Lacking any sense of personal responsibility, they demand absolute freedom for themselves and total subordination by the majority. The result is complete, absolute, unconditional insecurity, as well as chaos, anarchy, and terror.
Clearly, such a situation cannot be tolerated at all. The overwhelming majority must transition from merely defending itself to going on the offensive against the unfounded charges of racism, white supremacy, intentional oppression of minorities, and the senseless denigration of a successful national history. There is no institutionalized and systematic racism in the United States of America. The charge of white supremacy is a myth. Minorities are not oppressed. On balance, the 244 years of American history is unequivocally positive.
The only true meaning of democracy is that single issue minorities cannot seize power from the majority by force. Any nation would be in mortal danger if minorities with destructive ideas would want to impose on the majority unworkable ideas that would run counter to the constitution, the laws, the traditions, and the morality of the nation. Attempting to replace the Judea-Christian-based spiritual realm with pseudo-Marxist and outrightly fascist social justice and inhuman rights rhetoric, would only lead to the demise of Western civilization. Unless these minority movements can prove that their ideas and policies could win elections, they must be dealt with harshly within the confines of the rule of law.
The American Republic can only survive if the majority refuses to excuse evil. Black Lives Matter, Antifa, and like-minded minority movements are evil. As long as they embrace violence, they must not be permitted to operate outside the law. The media that promotes these evil movements must not be allowed to hide behind the First Amendment. Such destructive opposition cannot be glorified by the Democrat Party without political consequences at the ballot boxes.
The United States of America has its faults. Yet, the constitutional and political powers upon which it has existed for almost two-and-a-half centuries rest on firm foundations. For this reason, the United States of America has always possessed the strength necessary to progress without borrowing its inspiration from external sources, material or moral. Its greatness has come from its individual as well as its collective ethos.
The ultimate guarantee of this greatness resides in the character of the President, the Vice President, members of the cabinet, members of the House of Representatives, members of the Senate, and the office holders of the Judiciary. What the Democrat Party and the various extremist movements represent is antithetical to the Judeo-Christian governance of America. Marxism has always been against democracy, religion, the family, and the nation state. Fascism is the despotic version of Marxism. Thus, Marxism and Fascism can be defined as political regimes based on the rule of the minority over the majority, in which the minority controls politics and the economy. Moreover, both are irrational, because they are forced to make bad compromises, in order to survive. Finally, having trafficked in lousy ideas and disgraceful emotions, Marxism and Fascism ended up as abysmal failures whenever they were tried in practice.The state of the constitutional institutions have always determined the viability of a democracy. Lawlessness, chaos, and anarchy engenders a feeling of uncertainty. Adherence to the rule of law generates confidence. Presently, only President Trump comprehends what is really happening in the United States of America. Defending and reinforcing the Judeo-Christian foundations of America are the keys to preserving and strengthening the constitution-based governance of the greatest nation on earth.
Our national security should require that all remaining Confucius Institutes on American soil be shut down — immediately.
A concerned student at Binghamton University, a public university in New York, challenged the propriety of the school’s partnership with the China-funded Confucius Institute on its campus earlier this year. Last month, the university published an imperious rebuff to the inquiry.
“The campus is confident that the concerns you raise in your email do not apply to Binghamton University’s [Confucius] Institute,” wrote the school’s attorney.
Simply put: Move along. There’s nothing to see here.
But the FBI is moving in the opposite direction. In 2018, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified before a Senate committee, declaring his intention to investigate the Chinese Communist Party-funded Confucius Institutes on American college campuses.
Confucius Institutes are ostensibly educational partnerships between the Chinese government and host schools in foreign countries. Their stated purpose is to teach language and culture, but they do much more than that.
Professor Jonathan Lipman of Mount Holyoke College explains, “By peddling a product we want, namely Chinese language study, the Confucius Institutes bring the Chinese government into the American academy in powerful ways. The general pattern is very clear. They can say, ‘We’ll give you this money, you’ll have a Chinese program, and nobody will talk about Tibet.’” Tibet is one of the three “T-words” (Tibet, Taiwan, and Tiananmen) that cannot be discussed at the institutes, in violation of academic freedom and free speech.
Confucius Institute funding is tied to China Politburo member Liu Yandong, who formerly led the United Front Work Department. Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute testified before Congress that the United Front Work Department’s purpose is “to subvert, coopt, and ultimately control Western academic discourse on matters pertaining to China.”
New York University historian Jonathan Zimmerman cautions that Confucius Institutes bear an alarming resemblance to the 1930s “Mussolini model” of funding “Italian language centers” in the United States to promote fascist propaganda. In light of academic freedom and transparency violations, Wray testified again in 2019, saying Confucius Institutes are “part of China’s soft power strategy and influence,” which “offer a platform to disseminate Chinese government or Chinese Communist Party propaganda, to encourage censorship, to restrict academic freedom.”
In announcing the FBI’s planned probe into campuses with Confucius Institutes, Wray corroborated what higher education researchers have warned for some time: These Confucius Institutes are not really educational projects and have no business being associated with higher learning institutions. They are propaganda centers planted on America’s campuses as part of China’s worldwide intelligence operations.
American colleges and universities depend for their existence on academic freedom and the transparency that supports it. Confucius Institutes, however, have been shown to abuse academic freedom and mock transparency.
It is thus heartening to see that roughly two dozen U.S. universities have moved to close their Confucius Institutes since 2014. In 2013, University of Chicago Professor Emeritus Marshall Sahlins penned an articleasking, “China U: Confucius Institutes censor political discussions and restrain the free exchange of ideas. Why, then, do American universities sponsor them?” He urged his university to set an example by revoking its partnership. In 2014, his university did just that, as did Penn State.
That said, about 80 schools still continue their ill-advised “partnerships” with these propaganda organs of the Chinese Communist Party.
Joining in opposition to Confucius Institutes in America are the national executive board of the College Democrats of America (along with 15 of its state presidents), the executive committee and national committee of the College Republican National Committee, Students for a Free Tibet, the Intercollegiate Taiwanese American Students Association, Students for Falun Gong, and a number of other organizations, all of which can be found by going to the website of the movement’s organizing body, the Athenai Institute.
The American Association of University Professors — hardly a right-wing organization — called on universities in 2014 to drop their Confucius Institutes, finding that they “function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom.” The Canadian Association of University Teachers urged universities to get rid of them as well.
This exodus is not restricted to American educators. This year, Sweden closed its last remaining Confucius Institute. A 2014 Washington Post editorial argued that “academic freedom cannot have a price tag,” urging that Confucius Institute partnerships should be terminated if universities refuse to publish the terms of their contracts with them.
However, too many American universities continue muzzled. According to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), which has been keen to this threat for some time, as of May 1, there are a total of 86 Confucius Institutes in this country. “This includes six that are scheduled to close in summer 2020: the University of Maryland, New Mexico State University, the University of Missouri, the University of Arizona, Miami University of Ohio, and the University of California-Davis.” NAS also found seven institutes at K-12 public school districts.
That roughly 80 universities have failed to safeguard their institutions’ commitment to free speech against these propaganda efforts means that either they lack the moral fiber required to defend American core values, or they were never that hot about American values in the first place.
Consider the recent survey conducted by the nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which found that 77 percent of colleges now use secret social media blacklists “to censor the public, in violation of the First Amendment.” Or perhaps it’s a third option: Is it all about the money? Lipman remarks, “In this economy, turning [Confucius Institutes] down has real costs.”
NAS reveals that the Chinese government “selects and pays the teachers, sends free textbooks, and offers upwards of $100,000 a year in annual funding” for the institutes. Although universities “are supposed to match” China’s contributions, they “typically do so by volunteering classroom and office space. The result is that colleges can charge tuition for courses that are being funded — and whose content is largely being decided — by the Chinese government” (emphasis added).
NAS’s findings are supported by a study published in The China Journal by Brookings Institution fellow David Shambaugh, who found that the funding “is in fact laundered through the Ministry of Education.” Laundered from where? From communist China’s External Propaganda Department.
If you still wonder about the purpose of Confucius Institutes, consider this assessment from someone who should know. Li Changchun, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, praised the institutes as “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda set-up.”
What can be done? A number of proposed remedies are already circulating. In addition to sounding the alarm, NAS has called on schools that accept Confucius Institute dollars to refund the same amount back to the federal government, as well as enforce federal transparency requirements on the institutes. These and like measures would be a good start.
Better still, our national security should require that all remaining Confucius Institutes on American soil be shut down — immediately.
A lot to argue about!
Trump held his first post-lockdown rally last evening in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There was controversy before, during and after the event. Criticism was not confined to the content of the speech as usual but spread over the unusual areas of the timing, location, venue, and attendance of the rally.
The earliest criticism concerned the timing of the event. A Trump rally, held in an indoor arena, was criticized as a blatant violation of the CDC current (and often changing) recommendations regarding safeguards against the “Chinese virus”, as Trump calls it. Among the most obvious violations were the lack of social distancing in the densely packed house, without compulsory masks, and held indoors (as opposed to outdoors).
After the rally, much was made of the lower attendance. Not only were there noticeable empty bleachers (which the network cameras showed frequently), but also the scheduled outdoor appearance by the President was cancelled because the only crowd out there was the ever-present (thankfully peaceful) protesters. Nevertheless, there were approximately 18,000 or more in attendance, counting the seating on the floor of the arena, out of a published capacity of 19,000. One unaccounted-for factor was the absence of the 0ver-65 crowd who tend to be among the most loyal of the Trump base.
So, what to think about all this? First of all, there is the symbolic significance of the scheduling. The President has shown in various ways that the public health contingent – which essentially scared him (and all of us) into the lock-down in the first place – is no longer calling the shots in the White House response to the pandemic.
This column remarked very early in the process the fact that the public health perspective is necessarily limited. Never before in American history has this group been given such control over public policy. At the first sign of a public health threat, Mr. Trump, in typical CEO practice, called into service the finest experts he could find in this field – which he admitted was far from his own experience. He then followed their advice, quite uncritically. As I pointed out at the time, this was a huge gamble: if it went wrong, it could, among other things, cost him the election and even his place in history. (See https://drlarryonline.com/trumps-huge-gamble/)
After a while, he did begin to appreciate the narrowness of that perspective. But he was stuck in the middle of a lock-down which he had ordered! Thus, began the journey back to recovery, to normalcy. His diffusion of power to local politicians was a stroke of genius. Not only did he gradually shed the sole responsibility for the lock-down, but he made friends and evoked loyalties among an entire new group of politicians with whom he had had little prior contact. And it was acting out the essence of the Constitution, which sees the sovereign states as surrendering and thereby validating some of their powers to create the federal government.
This entire scenario was moving along quite nicely. Then two unexpected things happened: the Washington Democrats in Congress began to “adopt” the public health establishment, endorsing ever more stringent limitations on the population in the name of the pandemic. As this attitude began to percolate out to the state governors, the recovery slowed down.
By this time Trump and his people had fully realized that the lock-down had nearly ruined the economy and still threatened to do so. They went into overdrive to speed up the recovery. Trump was still winning, however, until the next shoe dropped: a cellphone video of the brutal murder of a defenseless Black man by a White policeman in Minneapolis went viral on social media. The reaction was a worldwide protest against civil authority in America. After a few peaceful marches, the movement turned violent and radical leadership emerged.
Among other secondary effects, the total attention of America — and much of the world – turned away from the economic recovery and toward the protesters and the rioters.
Some past events of this type have elicited soaring rhetoric from leaders such as the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy to begin healing the wounds. Soaring rhetoric is not one of Mr. Trump’s talents. Nor does he have the soothing, compassionate manner of a Bill Clinton or a George Bush. In the face of these disasters, Donald Trump stumbled.
The Democrat opposition immediately made him the face of the disaster. His poll numbers have tumbled, yielding to the reclusive Mr. Biden whose silence has served him well.
Trump may not be a great orator or an instinctive healer, but he does excel at one thing: he can draw thousands of impassioned participants to his rallies. This is his unique sandbox and he felt the urgency to activate it.
The Tulsa Rally was the first step on Trump’s road to recovery. It was an act of defiance to the public health establishment and their new sponsors, the Democrats and the press. It also emphasizes the simple truth that the virus is going to be around for a long time, and we have to learn to live with it while carrying on our normal economic activity. Our financial survival as a nation depends on it.
Whether Trump’s new strategy succeeds or not depends on the next steps. In one of Mr. Trump’s favorite sayings, “We’ll see what happens.”
Indeed, we will.
Photo by: Matt Rourke
FILE – This April 26, 2017, file photo shows the Twitter app icon on a mobile phone in Philadelphia. Twenty-six words tucked into a 1996 law overhauling telecommunications have allowed companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google to grow into the giants they are today. Those are the words President Donald Trump challenged in an executive order Thursday, May 28, 2020 one that would strip those protections if those companies engaged in editorial decisions like, for instance, adding a fact-check warning to one of Trump’s tweets. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
On Thursday, President Trump issued an executive order calling for new regulations under Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that, he says, will prevent Big-Tech platforms from continuing what many believe is a pattern of discrimination against conservatives.
We’re not sure that’s the case — just as we’re not sure that much, even all of it will survive the inevitable challenges it will face in the courts. What we do know is that his effort to change the interpretation of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, just like his call for reform of libel laws during the 2016 campaign, should spark a national conversation about free speech that would be healthy for our republic.
Instead, the whole thing will ground down in pitched rhetoric passing back and forth between the president’s supporters and those who believe he is single-handedly responsible for the destruction of the nation, especially its core values and its reputation for having a civilized political process.
It seems clear Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, by allowing the presidential tweets to be footnoted, he’s acting like an editor, commenting on posts and making decisions about what other people can see. On its face, this would seem to put his platform outside the safe harbor Section 230 establishes to protect tech companies from being held liable in civil suits for things posted by platform users.
“In a country that has long cherished the freedom of expression, we cannot allow a limited number of online platforms to handpick the speech that Americans may access and convey on the internet,” the order says. “This practice is fundamentally un-American and anti-democratic. When large, powerful social media companies censor opinions with which they disagree, they exercise a dangerous power. They cease functioning as passive bulletin boards, and ought to be viewed and treated as content creators.”
That ought to be a nifty jumping-off point for a robust discussion of speech and how the protections provided by the First Amendment factor in — or don’t — to the part of the national conversation carried on in cyberspace. Legal scholars can point to numerous decisions upholding the idea the government can not infringe on speech, defined broadly to included campaign contributions, flag burning, pornography, as well as the written and spoken word when it occurs in the public square. That’s clear and has shaped a culture whose values generally extend into private space.
But what if the “public square,” however one defines it, now exists predominantly in a place that is privately owned. It’s worth discussing whether information carriers and conveyors like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Google have a responsibility to keep the space they own and operate open to all points of view, including the ones with which they disagree as well as the ones they may find abhorrent?
A strict reading of the U.S. Constitution would say as a matter of law, they don’t. But what about, to borrow a phrase so popular these days with those who would regulate just about every other aspect of the U.S. economy, their corporate social responsibility?
Further, the potential removal of Section 230 protections from any platform — which, as a matter of full disclosure, we also enjoy concerning the comments posted by readers of this our anything else we publish but not for the things we publish online or in print — is an opportunity for a vigorous discussion of the costs imposed on speech by the threat someone might get sued.
On the one hand, as we’ve seen an awful lot in the Trump era, people on both sides of the aisle have been telling outrageous lies and fabrications, made egregious exaggerations, and sullied the reputations of political leaders in both parties, journalists and entrepreneurs.
This had added an unpleasantly coarse overtone to the national debate yet, because of the way charges of libel, slander and defamation are viewed by the courts based on the existing case law, the victims of these slurs are often left without recourse and unable to recoup damages, if any. Tort reform is long overdue, we have long held, but some fresh eyes on this issue might help restore some sanity to a news business, forgive our obvious bias, driven by breaking television segments rather than the more thoughtful approach often taken by print media.
What the president has ordered is likely more a tempest in a teapot than a challenge to the constitutional order. But it raises issues worth talking about, intensely and for a long time in search of a new consensus concerning the role Big Tech plays in conveying information to the American people. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has it right when he says these platforms shouldn’t be “arbiters of truth.” That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a conversation about what they should be.
Comedian Ellen DeGeneres and former President George W. Bush were spotted enjoying a Sunday afternoon together watching the NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers in the Dallas stadium.
After the cameras televising the game put the two on screen, the moment immediately went viral with many Twitter users quick to shame the liberal comedian and television host for spending time with the former conservative president.
On Monday, DeGeneres addressed the backlash on her show, giving Americans a much needed lesson in civility, quipped with humor and humility.
“During the game, they showed a shot of George and me laughing together, and so, people were upset,” DeGeneres explained. “They thought, why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president? Didn’t even notice I’m holding the brand-new iPhone 11.”
DeGeneres continued to make a point that Americans would do well to live by in an age of historic levels of political polarization saturated with contempt.
“Here’s the thing. I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have,” DeGeneres said. “We’re all different. And I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different.”
DeGeneres analogized to having friends who wear fur, saying that while she also didn’t like it when people wear fur, it doesn’t stop the former vegan from being friends with those who do.
“Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything, doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them,” DeGeneres said. “When I say be kind to one-another, I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
The message to be kind is simple. In fact, it’s a lesson learned as children, but often appears to be forgotten in the political world as America’s growing addiction to contempt continues to sow division in a deeply divided nation.
According to a 2016 poll from the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Democrats said they had a “very unfavorable” view of Republicans while 58 percent of Republicans held the same view of Democrats. A more recent Pew survey published in July shows 85 percent of American adults believing the “tone and nature” of our political discourse has become more negative in recent years.
The deterioration of civil discourse in America has led to the destruction of genuine relationships essential to the human condition, which, as DeGeneres explains is unnecessary. A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 15 percent, or one in six Americans, reported that they had either stopped talking to a close friend or family member over the result of the 2016 presidential election.
It is not however, simply the restoration of American civility that will save the country from further division, but it is the eradication of contempt for one another. The country has developed a sick addiction to deeming people with different political beliefs as less than human, and not worth listening to. Perhaps even, “deplorable.” One can be civil and tolerant with another and still avoid discourse.
DeGeneres’s monologue is an important message that is so simple yet so easily forgotten in the modern political environment, but is imperative to healing the nation. DeGeneres’s speech is a good reminder for many that life should not be defined by one’s political preferences.
The day when universities are forced to rediscover their historic role as guardians of open inquiry and debate is coming, whether they like it or not.
There was a time, in the recent past, when universities were in the grip of a kind of speech-code fever. Even as recently ten years ago, after a wave of litigation striking down campus speech regulations, the vast majority of American colleges and universities still kept clearly unconstitutional speech codes on the books. They kept losing in court, yet they still couldn’t quit their codes.
Fast-forward a decade and that’s changed. Between 2009 and 2019, the portion of surveyed American universities with what the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education classifies as “red light” speech codes has shrunk from 74.2 percent to a mere 28.5 percent, and a total of 17 states have enacted some form of campus free-speech legislation. But the impulse to censor dies hard, and some schools have been nothing if not creative in their efforts to control speech without explicitly and clearly running afoul of the law. Witness, for example, the phenomenon of the “bias-response team.”
While the system varies from university to university, in general a bias-response team represents an institutional effort to identify alleged student bias and bigotry and eliminate it through some form of reeducation. Students report speech they find discriminatory or otherwise problematic, a university team investigates the “incident” — including sometimes meeting with the alleged offender — and then often creates a report describing the events. Sometimes bias-response teams can and will refer conduct to university disciplinary officials or university police if they feel more substantial punishment is warranted.
Last year, a group called Speech First filed an important lawsuit against the University of Michigan, challenging the content of the university’s bullying and harassment policy and its bias-response team’s procedures. The district court denied Speech First’s request for an injunction, holding in part that the group lacked standing to challenge the policy. Under the law, a court will not grant standing to a plaintiff in the absence of what’s called an “injury in fact,” and the question was whether the members of Speech First had suffered an “objective chill” to their free-speech rights or a mere “subjective chill.” For the chill to be objective, there must be proof that a “concrete harm” (enforcement of a statute or regulation) “occurred or is imminent.” If the plaintiff is concerned merely with the defendant’s “data-gathering activity,” and can’t meet the “concrete harm” standard, then the chill is subjective.
Make sense? To put it as plainly as possible, Michigan argued that the courts should move along — that there was nothing to see here because the bias-response team itself couldn’t punish anyone. Speech First said that actually, there was a problem, because the bias-response process itself could act as a form of punishment, and the team could still refer incidents to those with power to explicitly punish students.
Yesterday, in a decision with national implications, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Speech First, reversed the district court and ordered it to reconsider the group’s request for an injunction. Its ruling recognized the obvious power of the bias-response team:
The Response Team’s ability to make referrals — i.e., to inform OSCR or the police about reported conduct — is a real consequence that objectively chills speech. The referral itself does not punish a student — the referral is not, for example, a criminal conviction or expulsion. But the referral subjects students to processes which could lead to those punishments. The referral initiates the formal investigative process, which itself is chilling even if it does not result in a finding of responsibility or criminality.
This is quite right: There isn’t a student alive who wouldn’t find the bias-response team’s investigative process intimidating. But the problem extends beyond the team’s ability to refer students for punishment; it reaches to the team’s power to request a meeting with an accused student, as the court went on to explain:
Additionally, the invitation from the Response Team to meet could carry an implicit threat of consequence should a student decline the invitation. Although there is no indication that the invitation to meet contains overt threats, the referral power lurks in the background of the invitation. It is possible that, for example, a student who knows that reported conduct might be referred to police or OSCR could understand the invitation to carry the threat: “meet or we will refer your case.” Additionally, the very name “Bias Response Team” suggests that the accused student’s actions have been prejudged to be biased. The name is not the “Alleged Bias Response Team” or “Possible Bias Investigatory Team.” It is the “Bias Response Team.”
The dissent argues that Speech First did not present any evidence of actual or imminent interaction with the bias response team, but — as the majority notes — that’s the entire point of the chilling-effect analysis. When the spectral threat of government action looms, private actors will refuse to engage in any speech that could even potentially result in state investigation.
The university will now be required to defend its response team on the merits, and it is highly likely to lose. But even this standing ruling alone is likely to spawn additional litigation, including in different federal circuits. Once again, universities will find themselves on the defense — at least until the day comes when they at long last rediscover their true historical purpose, to serve, in the court’s words, as “guardians of intellectual debate and free speech.”
Think corporate suppression of speech isn’t a problem? Think again. Silicon Valley is just getting warmed up in its efforts to shape public opinion for the 2020 elections.
YouTube on Monday banned three more independent commentators: James Allsup, “The Iconoclast,” and “Way of the World.” Their crime? Outspoken defense of Western Civilization, which apparently now is considered “hate speech.” Taken together, the videos posted by these three commentators had been watched more than 100 million times.
The most prominent of the newly banished, James Allsup, had over 450,000 subscribers. Thanks to this latest move by YouTube, America’s de facto Ministry of Truth, nearly a half-million Americans now have less reason than ever to believe their First Amendment rights will be respected, or, by extension, any of their constitutional rights.
Do the masters of YouTube fear “right-wing extremism?” Then they need to stop taking extreme measures that provoke extreme resentment. They need to stop engaging in fascist censorship.
For those of us who have never considered ourselves extremists, and who don’t necessarily agree with everything Allsup and these other banished commentators ever did or said, this is nonetheless a matter of principle. It is intolerable to let private business interests lobotomize our collective consciousness in pursuit of their corporate political agendas. That should not be happening here, in a nation that considers freedom of speech to be one of its fundamental principles.
One independent commentator who hasn’t yet had his tongue ripped out by the YouTube overlords, Vincent James, posted a scathing reaction to this latest act of corporate censorship:
The CEO of YouTube recently came out and talked about how they have an obligation to bring you the news, how they have an obligation to push down fake news and prop up authoritative news sources, and this sounds a lot like a publisher, and not like a platform.
Later in his video, James elaborates:
This is a matter of free speech in a new public town square that is the internet. There is no soapbox in the middle of the town square any longer, “town square” is social media. These social media companies have gotten by far too long with this protection and immunity by the federal government for what their users post.
There’s a whole community of people who smoke meth and film themselves on YouTube. This is illicit material, and those videos aren’t being taken down. If YouTube and Facebook and Twitter and all these different media companies were responsible for the content we post, they would be sued into absolute bankruptcy a long time ago. They have this blanket immunity from the federal government because they promote themselves as platforms, as a blank piece of paper where anyone can post anything as long as it follows the law of the land where they reside.
The law of the land in the United States does not include hate speech, as a matter of fact the supreme court has ruled on this multiple times unanimously. The “hate speech,” the “unpopular speech,” is the speech that needs to be protected the most.
Many free speech advocates may disagree with some of the commentaries Vincent James has offered, but he is absolutely right about the First Amendment, and he is absolutely right about these social media companies. They are either platforms or they are publishers. They cannot be both at the same time. This is a matter that requires executive action, or an urgent court battle, or legislative remedy. Don’t hold your breath.
Silencing online commentators takes many forms. They can be completely terminated, which is something occurring with increasing frequency. But they can also be deboosted, or shadowbanned, where the traffic to their sites is reduced.
Some of the ways this is done are through manipulated search results, removal from “recommended videos,” removal from trending topics, or by throttling down their bandwidth. Sites can also be demonetized, where ads are no longer served onto their pages, or, even more insidiously, partially demonetized, where ads still arrive, just fewer of them.
Unwanted commentators can also be attacked by throwing them off of subscription platforms such as Patreon, or even by expelling them from the payment processors such as PayPal.
Anyone who doesn’t think this is happening, and happening disproportionately to conservatives, is ignoring a mountain of evidence. Here, compiled by Vincent James, is a list of websites that have been censored by the social media companies. Here, published earlier this year by American Greatness, is a similar list of politically incorrect vloggers, and here is a list of politically inconvenient climate information websites.
There are alternative platforms, at least until the SJWs apply enough pressure to those to make them engage in similar censorship. BitChutenow hosts James Allsup, Way of the World, and The Iconoclast. But BitChute is buggy, slow, and has a bad search engine. Its global Alexa traffic ranking is 3,790. Think that’s good? YouTube ranks second, right after Google.
BitChute will improve. But it is a fantasy to pretend these alternative platforms will challenge the monopolistic reach of Google’s search algorithms or YouTube’s videos. They will be stigmatized as a right-wing ghetto, and they will barely show up on search results. As a result, they will not offer the viral, serendipitous discovery to open-minded virtual wanderers.
How many of us found many of these powerful alternative voices by accident? Unless the monopolies, who reach everyone, change their ways, that will never happen again.
When principles as fundamental as the First Amendment are violated, there are consequences. The immediate consequence is a rising fury and potential radicalization of every American who is watching this travesty unfold and sees the injustice, and sees either indifference or active misrepresentation coming from the establishment media and establishment politicians.
The more far-reaching consequence is the fact that if this isn’t stopped, right now, and reversed, moderate conservatives and moderate nationalists will develop increasing sympathies for their more extreme counterparts.
Why wouldn’t they? Every shred of content coming out of the mainstream media and entertainment, social media, corporate marketing, academia, K-12 public education, and nonprofit advocacy groups is globalist pablum. It’s sickening to watch, and now, we are expected to tolerate censorship of alternative voices found online?
An article published last month by the BBC comes embarrassingly close to revealing the motives behind escalating online censorship. Security correspondent Gordon Corera writes: “The more mainstream these narratives become, the greater the tension will be over whether they really are extreme or whether they represent acceptable political discourse, and the views of a substantial number of real people.”
“These narratives.” That is the threat. What if “real people” don’t want open borders? What if they would like the facts, not a bunch of skewed BS, regarding how immigration policies affect the economy and social cohesion? What if they want balanced opinions, or just want to hear the other side for a change, on the issues of multiculturalism, race, feminism, gender “equity” and social justice? What if “real people” sometimes find an unrepentant critic of identity politics to be a breath of fresh air? What if they believe there should be a robust and honest debate over globalism, or over climate change?
Everyone knows what these social media companies are doing. They are trying to influence public opinion in favor of a globalist progressive agenda. No national borders. Anti-racist racism. Anti-sexist sexism. Gender “fluidity.” Corporate socialism. And of course, “Trump is Hitler.”
It’s working. But they must stop. Because if they do not stop, there will be a credible case to be made that the upcoming 2020 election results are not legitimate. Remember how the Democrats made that claim in 2016, because Russian “bots” allegedly swayed a few thousand votes? Determined social media manipulation of the entire online public square will affect millions of votes.
YouTube, and all the rest—back off.