I live in an idealistic world in which there once was a day when institutions of America’s democracy preserved and protected the rights enshrined in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Places like universities and news rooms were the cradles of our democracy, preserving and protecting free speech by allowing disparate views to be presented, not just the popular ones.
That’s all changed now. Andrew Sullivan published a piece a couple of years ago that expands on this idea. He always says things better than I ever could, but here are some things that have happened recently…
The New York Times recently published an op-ed written by Tom Cotton, a sitting U.S. Senator. There is little about Cotton’s politics that I agree with, including the topic of his op-ed, which apparently was a call for the use of the military to put down the rioting and looting. But what happened after the column was published is a shining example of how intolerant the left has become in this country. A group of NYT employees objected to the publication of the op-ed, the NYT had to come out with a statement that it was published in error, and the editor who allowed it resigned. The idea that one of the nation’s leading papers should not publish an op-ed written by a U.S. Senator is just so ridiculous. If the NYT cannot publish such a piece, it really is no longer a newspaper. It is just a mouthpiece for one particular view. I mean, seriously, the whole point of publishing op-eds is to offer voices that are different from the editorial voice of the newspaper.
This is a perfect example of what Sullivan talks about in his piece. As college students, who have been raised on a diet of intolerance for other opinions and taught to believe in the sanctity of their own opinion, enter the work force, they bring their new wokeness into the work place and demand that how things were in college is how they must be in the rest of their lives.
And I wonder how this came to be. College should be about a true education, exposure to many different subjects and topics and issues … and yes, opinions. But more and more, it seems that college professors, administrators and students have come to believe that the purpose of an education is to reinforce one’s world view, to strengthen one’s opinions and ideas, and to shout down those of a different mind. Here’s a more recent piece from Jonathan Chait that directly addresses the NYT imbroglio.
Meanwhile, the owner of a St. Paul, Minnesota-based literary agency is under fire for this: One of the first nights of civil unrest saw numerous businesses around hers looted and vandalized and she tweeted that she had called 911 and hoped the cops would get there before her business was damaged. Almost immediately, three of her employees announced they were quitting and the woman was hounded by the hordes on Twitter. And for what — calling 911 on looters? Because apparently, that wasn’t sympathetic enough to the cause of the protesters. So, in other words, to support the protesters, one must also support the crime — which most peaceful protesters and supporters of the protests were against — even if the crime is against one’s own property.
Confederate statues are being toppled everywhere. And the Confederate flag is once again a target. This is a little bit nuanced for me. I believe we have to keep our history. As they say, those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. As a result, I’m troubled by these attempts by the masses to destroy the statues of historical figures. I believe it is far more important to keep our history, both good and bad, alive so that we can continue to learn from it. When we have eliminated the symbols of our past, how will we continue to expose our children to that past? How will we educate and inform on the risks of evil, when we have eliminated all vestiges and reflections of that evil? Countries in Europe have kept remnants of the concentration camps so that the world never forgets. Shouldn’t we be doing the same thing with our own horror-filled past?
But the Confederate flag? It’s more of a thing for individuals and organizations to decide. NASCAR did the right thing, but I would never want to see that flag or any other flag outlawed. Just like I believe that flag burning should be legal and is protected by the First Amendment, so too is the right to fly the flag of one’s choice.
Back here in Sacramento, we had a recent example of wokeness and cancellation culture. Grant Napear is the long-time voice of the local NBA basketball team, the Sacramento Kings. He also hosts an afternoon sports radio talk show. As the protests mounted, a former Kings player (who knew exactly what he was doing) tweeted at Napear and asked him what he thought of Black Lives Matter. Napear responded with “All Lives Matter.” Within days, Napear was fired by the team and by the radio station that aired his talk show.
There are those who objected to this. A local columnist, Marcus Breton, wrote in support of Napear and suggested that this one time incident was an opportunity to heal and forgive. This is a sentiment I generally agree with and, while I am annoyed at cancellation culture for one time whoopsies, that’s not the situation with Napear. He has many examples of questionable statements — including criticizing Kings players for wearing shirts in protest of the local shooting of a young black man killed by the police, questioning whether the former Clippers’ owner was a racist because he hired black people, and also his treatment of callers on his radio show. Napear was a walking anachronism who was an embarrassment to the team and the community for years. He should have been let go a long time ago. Oh, and one other thing … the Kings came out loud and strong in support of Black Lives Matter from the very beginning of the movement. They strive to walk the walk and talk the talk as well — so having one of their front and center employees with Napear’s view? Nah, not going to happen.
And finally, JK Rowling is being absolutely lambasted for expressing a nuanced view regarding trans people, even though there is no question that she is a strong supporter and believer in equality and protections for all individuals, including the trans community. It is a stunning thing to see and, I believe, the best example of what is happening on the left. If you don’t agree with my view 100%, you are dead to me. Anything less than that is unacceptable, and the loudest voices that demand absolute fealty are those with the most extreme views.
Over on the right-wing blog I read, a few years ago, I commented on some posts about Israel and expressed a point of view that is not all-in on Israel’s policies and handling of the Palestinian question. For that I was labeled an anti-Semite and Jew-hater. When I pointed out that I had married a Jewish woman and raised our children in her faith, that reality was denied and I was called a liar, while continuing to be called an anti-Semite and Jew-hater. This is what I expect from the right. Intolerance is their bread and butter.
What I don’t expect is that it comes from the left. As Sullivan and Chait both express, true liberalism embraces the concept of ideas and debate and constant evolution towards a better world. It does not support the destruction of our history. It does not support wokeness and cancellation culture. All of these things are anathema to a true liberal.
I remember when the Charlottesville protest happened and people thought that the racist idiots shouldn’t be allowed to march and protest. To which I responded, that’s not America. Here we allow all to express their views and then we defeat them when logical and rational thought, facts and evidence. Rather than battling the Charlottesville protesters, I thought those there in opposition should have stood quietly and witnessed the racist protesters and then spoke more loudly, more forcefully, and more eloquently regarding the correct way to view the world. I get that seems difficult to imagine in these weird times in which there is no one truth and propaganda runs amuck, but it is the only way to win these arguments and fights. But this idea seems further and further from reality.
Both sides of our political debate are moving further and further into competing camps of intolerance, hate and rage. It’s what destroyed the Republican Party after the election of Obama and it is now what is destroying the Democratic Party as we strive for a response to Trumpism.
I have written frequently over the years about how frustrated I am with the direction the Democratic Party is headed. The never-ending focus on identity politics, which only seems to get more and more extreme, is not a path forward to a unified approach. It is only a path to more and more division.
There’s an interview out there with somebody asking Morgan Freeman who to end racism. It hearkens back to MLK’s I Have a Dream Speech. Freeman rather simply said that we need to stop talking about people’s skin color. That he would not refer to the interviewer as a white man and that he, Freeman, should not be referred to as a black man. It’s such a simple calculation and one that seems to be totally lost on the left these days. Instead, there is more and more focus on race and gender and orientation, to the exclusion of almost anything else.
There’s a book out there that is at the top of most lists for us to read to understand racism in America. I haven’t read the book, and the name escapes me, but I read a review of it and learned that one of the points in this book is that everything … EVERYTHING … that happens in America involves race. This is nonsense. But … I’m also told that I do not have a right to an opinion on this topic because I am white. I also do not have a right to an opinion on the #MeToo movement since I’m a man. This is all nonsense. Just absolutely, totally nonsense.
As Andrew Sullivan says:
The goal of our culture now is not the emancipation of the individual from the group, but the permanent definition of the individual by the group. We used to call this bigotry. Now we call it being woke. You see: We are all on campus now.
We are becoming, and may have already become, a nation of tribal states rather than a nation of united states. It’s time for a change. Just as the woke left wants to defund the police (I know, I know, that’s not really what they mean — but hey, they’re the ones that said it), it’s time to completely reimagine college, media, social media, government, political parties, and so many things about our country. This isn’t working.