The Bad Faith Behind the “Cancel Culture” Panic

(Photo by Erin Schaff, New York Times)

Cancel culture is real. But it is ill defined in its popular use in the rhetoric of conservative pundits and Republican politicians. In the Republicans’ war on so-called political correctness, “cancelling” is synonymous with “censorship” but none of what they choose to rant against is government action that violates Constitutional protections of free speech.

The private corporations that are currently drawing Republican outrage, from Twitter to Hasbro and Dr. Seuss Enterprises are making business decisions about their product lines and how to market them. Imposing a chilling effect on free speech with the full power of the state is exactly what the Republican Attorney General for the State of Texas Ken Paxton is doing by opening a taxpayer funded investigation against Twitter.

Paxton issued civil investigative demands (CID) to Twitter, Google, Facebook, Amazon Web Services and Apple, asking the companies for their policies and practices regarding content moderation. “And just last week,” Paxton wrote in a press release in January, “this discriminatory action included the unprecedented step of removing and blocking President Donald Trump from online media platforms.”

In fact, no one does cancel culture better than conservatives. Just ask Colin Kaepernick, who was ostracized by the National Football League in the wake of relentless trolling by President Donald Trump over the quarterback’s demonstrations in support for the Black Lives Matter movement by taking a knee during pre-game National Anthem rituals. Or voters in Iowa, Florida, Arizona and Georgia, where state lawmakers are busy crafting policy to make it harder to vote.

Or labor unions. National Labor Review Board’s (NLRB) Trump-appointed General Counsel Peter Robb even tried to cancel Scabby the giant inflatable rat, referencing workers who replace striking union labor that were historically derided as “scabs” in union circles. The NLRB is the federal agency that administers the National Labor Relations Act, namely to promote freedom of association and collective bargaining. But since the GOP traditionally supports corporate over labor interests, Republican administrations tend to do whatever they can to defang the Board. In his previous role at the NLRB under President Ronald Reagan, Robb was the lead attorney in the 1981 case that led to the firing of 11,000 striking workers and the decertification of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO). Robb has since been “cancelled” by President Joe Biden on January 20, 2021, after refusing to resign. Biden appointed the lone Democratic Board member Lauren McFerran, to serve as NLRB Chair.

In the Black Hills of South Dakota on the 4th of July in the last year of his term in office, Trump took to a stage at the foot of what was once the Six Grandfathers rock formation sacred to the Lakota People and, oblivious to the blinding irony of the moment, Trump spoke. “I am here as your President to proclaim before the country and before the world: This monument will never be desecrated, these heroes will never be defaced, their legacy will never, ever be destroyed, their achievements will never be forgotten and Mount Rushmore will stand forever as an eternal tribute to our forefathers and to our freedom.” So much for the freedom of the Lakota, who had signed a treaty ostensibly to that effect with the United States government at Fort Laramie, Kansas, in 1868 promising those Black Hills, including the Six Grandfathers, to their people. “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children,” the president continued, assuring his cult at the foot of Mount Rushmore.

As history would have it, there was gold in them thar hills and the treaty was broken less than ten years later by that same United States government. And if understanding any of it is left wing indoctrination, then so was the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1980.

“One of their political weapons,” Trump continued, “is ‘Cancel Culture’ — driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees.” Sure, it is.

Conservatives’ accusations of cancel culture are quite clearly selective and cynically applied.

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