Keeping score of which side suppresses free speech more is a fruitless endeavor. Knowing who has only serves to embolden people on the other side of the discourse. The pro-Israel side has done plenty to fight dirty against pro-Palestine protestors: from withdrawing university donations, to trying to collect a blacklist of people who belong pro-Palestine organizations, to calling for deportations of non-citizens who demonstrate for Palestine to corporate pressure campaigns. We’ll get into the many strongarm tactics of the Palestine crowd another day, but the fact that the pro-Israel dirty tricks are few enough to mention in a long sentence tells you that, ultimately, it’s not a very serious smear campaign. The pro-Israel side has done too much to play the martyr role, and too little to fight this PR war effectively. Like any war, you fight the PR war dirty, or you don’t fight it at all.
But the bigger problem is that there should never have been a PR war, and the fact that there is is mostly our side’s fault. Andrew Sullivan suggested today that perhaps modern cancel culture can be traced back to American Jews’ tactics on behalf of Israel. This argument’s been in my head all day. It’s not a great argument, but it’s a valid one, and I can’t just dismiss it.
For the last few years I’ve soft-pedaled talk about cancel culture. I didn’t want to lose any more friends than I already have, but for more than ten years I’ve been warning about various incarnations of intersectionality, critical race theory, general ‘wokeism’ (whatever it means…), and yes, cancel culture. I’ve been warning that this is the new Marxism, year-by-year turning earnest progressives into hardened far leftists willing to excuse violence wherever they see it so long as it’s not committed by their own state. Country after country has lost itself to totalitarian government because run-of-the-mill liberals and conservatives thought they could work with their greater extremes, and by making them collaborators in the political process, thought they could control the hard wings of their discourse. But hard wings of the discourse are hard because they have the will to do things the softer among us would never countenance. Political process is just a triviality to them, and by their own admission, they believe society’s issues are too urgent to ever wait a moment longer for a solution. Once you let them help govern, it’s only a matter of time before they push you out, not the other way around.
There is no controlling extremists, be they Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. Trump may be more nefarious than Sanders, and he’s certainly quite a bit more powerful, but what the two share in common is that they don’t want the political process to work. Their whole reason for getting involved at the Presidential level is to destroy the political process so that their vision of government can take over. Inevitably, they get some sympathy by not-as-extreme people on their side, tired of politics’ slow bore, who hear the unsubtle heat of their rhetoric and inevitably think to themselves ‘well, of course, they have a point…’ And, of course, both of them do have points: even Trump, but when you paint a world in two-dimensions, you willfully try to make your audience forget the context, and the context is EVERYTHING.
Whether or not cancel culture was anything more than a trivial matter on the world stage, it absolutely exists and has since the beginning of the internet. Trump’s election and ‘metoo’ shifted cancel culture into high gear, because the one place progressives had control over was their own side. Progressives absolutely have the right to oppose people whom they feel don’t speak for their values, but getting rid of any but convictable offenders turned out to be extremely unwise, and that was eminently predictable.
Getting rid of Al Franken rid us of one of our most effective liberal senators during a period when government was so dysfunctional that the only people who can get parts of it working properly was senators like Al Franken, and until metoo, he seemed the only politician whose approval could unite the various wings of the Democratic party. There’s an alternate universe where Al Franken is our two-term President and Donald Trump is still just a reality star. Stripping Louis CK of his high platform only made him a martyr, and now he’s returned a hero of the very crowd that embraces toxic masculinity. Cancelling Kanye for his various remarks only proved him un-cancellable and gave a blueprint of how cancelled celebrities can keep their careers going so long as they don’t shut up. And JK Rowling… well, it’s only made her double down, use more of her platform for anti-trans remarks, and donate more of her billion to anti-trans campaigns.
This is the world we live in, but the difference between current Democrats and Republicans is this: Democrats cancel cultural figures for their personal actions, Republicans cancel cultural figures for their votes.
And that is why they win.