Mar 20, 2022·edited Mar 20, 2022

When people say liberals started cancel culture, I got two words for you : Dixie Chicks. Can anybody give me an earlier modern example? I’ll wait.

Any person opposing that war was culturally cancelled in the early days by the right. And that war is the reason so many “moderates” have zero clout now and why progressives rose to power. It’s also one of the reasons we can’t help militarily in Ukraine. America just got out of a 20- year- NeoCon started war. I agree AOC is annoying, but she’s not as powerful as GW Bush back in 2003.

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I am a lifelong center right independent and I’m 70 years old. I don’t recall people trying to ruin or destroy others in the other party until the rise of Newt Gingrich and Tom Delay in the early 1990s, and their orchestrated campaign of demonization. Delay, in particular, wanted to prohibit anyone who did any business at all with Democrats from doing any business with the Federal Government. I don’t recall any “both sides” equivalent for the orchestrated demonization or approved vendor status.

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Charlie, of course you are right that both “sides” contribute to what has become labeled as “cancel culture.” But I do think that there is a lot of “missing-the-point” going on here. It’s the same “missing-the-point” that was accomplished when the right co-opted the idea of criticizing racism, which was always about discrimination against the most vulnerable and darker-skinned, and turned it back against the accusers as “reverse racism.” Is there “racism” on both side? Well, yes, but only if you completely bastardize the original meaning and turn it agains the oppressed.

In the case of cancel culture, the legitimate, if at times, over-the-top and taken-too-far confrontations by victims of sexist and racist words and actions, and systems of oppression, in order to further identify and expand the exploration and assertion of equality and democracy, has been turned against these people with charges that they are themselves oppressing others (in this case, their oppressors). And then this is equated to the words and action of outright and self-professed anti-democratic people, whose hate-monger it is now placed on an equal footing with oppressed people trying to identify and call out aspects of their oppression that the donminat people and traditions don’t see or understand. This is essentially equating the search for equality with the promotion of autocracy.

These two “extremes” are extreme for very different reasons and with very different historical roots and to encapsulate and equate them under the label of cancel culture is simple to double-down on the oppressed in favor of the terms of the debate favored by the privileged. And at the same time, by equating right-wing hate speech with this “left” form of cultural confrontation, is to help normalize and legitimize hate speech and the goals of true anti-democratic people and forces.

I love your work and am a big fan of the Bulwark team, but in this, I think a number of you are just not thinking this through as clearly as you do other important topics of the day.

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No, both sides are not to blame, and the examples you give prove this. For example, you cite the case of Dorian Abbot, a man who people protested about because he's a geophysicist who weighed in on affirmative action. That is not cancel culture, that is consequences for making an ass of yourself.

You mention things like the yoga studio, who's idea of how to handle diversity was 'ask our poc employees like somehow they should know these things.' That's kinda racist. You wouldn't go up to an Irish person and be like 'so teach me how to drink, o'sullivan!' I do not understand why people think you can just go up to POC and just ask them about issues like it's their job. It's not. And in the case of that place, a google search would have told you that there were a lot of other issues, like them trying to profit off of the BLM incidents.

Also, 'reverse racism' is a pretty prominent white supremacist belief, and also the amount of non-white artists you can probably name is likely counted on one hand, so making specific reference that 'well we're still going to keep in those white artists' is pretty odd on its face, wouldn't you say?

In any case, none of these cases come anywhere close to the fact that the right is currently burning books and banning entire types of speech, in many cases criminalizing it. I'm sure these cases are the same as having your child taken away from you for being gay, right? No? Oh right, because it's not both sides. It's one side.

You're relating apples to oranges. You're relating people demanding better of others to the state cracking down on freedoms of speech. If the left was, for example, banning religious icons or something, you might have a case. But you don't, because they don't do that.

I know you're desperate for the right to feel like the victims, but they're not. They're the victimizers right now, and we need to stop acting like anything they do is akin to what 'the left' does. They're not the same, it's not both sides. And you should know, because you were 'cancelled' and lost your last job before starting the bulwark from right wing cancel culture.

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"For all the tolerance and enlightenment that modern society claims, Americans are losing hold of a fundamental right as citizens of a free country: the right to speak their minds and voice their opinions in public without fear of being shamed or shunned."

Can we stop pretending most Americans have had this right, historically? Rich white people had this right. Poor white people got Pinkertons and American Legion called out to bash their heads in. Black people got lynched, proactively, to keep them from even trying.

The right wing is doing the same stuff they've always done. "Cancel culture" is just a scary name for boycotting, which got defended by the libertarian wing of the right as "the proper way to police speech, at least when it came to answering why Falwell's crusades to cancel people weren't their problem. And try telling the gay kid who lives in a small town that shunning is anything new. The difference is that the left gave up on any pretense in favor of winning, because it turns out this stuff is really successful.

I spent years waiting for the right to police their own while I tried to police my dude of the aisle. They never did, and their failure bright us Trump, and people who would really like to see me drug out into the streets and shot. You want me to hold back people on my side? Give me some indication you're capable and willing to police your side. Real consequences. The days of unilateral disarmament are over.

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Mar 20, 2022·edited Mar 20, 2022

Cancel culture within the cognitive realm is one thing, but in my personal experience, I fear for my physical safety if I should display a political bumper sticker or wear a political T-shirt that favors anything Democratic or progressive. I live in a county that swings Democratic, but the right wing here is so malevolent and threatening, I restrict my own freedom of speech, as a matter of personal physical safety.

However, I also turn it around and use the right wing ideological assumptions against them in a subtle way. Years ago I started displaying the American flag on my rural property as a security trick; I want the violent MAGAs (they existed before Trump conveniently labeled them) to assume I’m one of them, and they’ll leave me alone. They seem to think they own the American flag, which makes it an inexpensive psychological security system. I’m not proud of my cynical use of the flag, but I didn’t start this fire.

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The anti-woke tend to be pro-indifference, which is why so many of them gravitate toward the Trumps, Putins, and Joe Rogans of the world. When you think strength is the #1 and that "bleeding heart liberals" are the "real problem" then you tend not to care so much about things like: police killing unarmed suspects, troops committing war crimes, and white collar criminals breaking laws or norms. Toxic masculinity is at the center of all of this pro-authoritarian anti-wokeness, but nobody on the right wants to talk about that so it'll just keep on keeping on.

There are of course degrees to anti-wokeness, but its most fervent advocates consistently hail from the toxic masc fever swamps that pride themselves on physical male strength projection and demeaning any kind of liberal sympathies for oppressed minorities, especially women or what they consider to be effeminate men. Nobody on the right wants to talk about this.

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Mar 20, 2022·edited Mar 20, 2022

Ha ha. Baruch's comment about a posterior was funny. How true.

I watched a speech by Charlie Sykes to a conservative anti-Trumpist group of people in a forum which I have forgotten the name of. It is understandable that he would try to make a credible, rough equivalence between the right and the left regarding cancel culture, since he is from the right and he does probably feel like he has to justify himself in some way. But academia isn't the real world, nor is the NYT upper-level staff. Not to say that there aren't real, painful consequences for those people who are victimized in those spheres, but that is a rarefied world compared to the right's behavior, e.g. going after school board members with death threats, creating malicious, anti-democratic state laws. That sort of thing affects everybody in the country, because it makes it less safe and who knows, your state might be next.

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Mar 20, 2022·edited Mar 20, 2022

It seems like too much of our cancel culture today appears like the proverbial hammer looking for a nail (on both sides). As a former GOP guy...I can honestly say that the GOP seems to more often have the motivation of "owning the Dems" competing with any real moral objection they might have. That being said...the example of white guys getting recipes in Mexico is a good one for me having the response of "Oh really?". For me...that's just going too far....and is again...a hammer looking for a nail.

Trust me...I remember listening to Rush Limbaugh talk in the 90's about the problem with the Dems is that their politics is their religion. Implying that Dems weren't religious and that's how they filled their void. Well...30 years later...it sure appears to me that the GOP are the ones who've made politics their religion. It couldn't be clearer when they worship Trump...whose words and actions have nothing to do with pushing Christian principles...unless they coincided with what he wanted to do anyway....or were keeping his constituents voting for him...so he could do whatever he wanted...later.

I think the Dems run the exact same risk...morphing into something that they are pointing their finger at the GOP for today.

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Charlie's examples are indeed instances of a problematic over-correction for the centuries of people who have power ignoring the feelings, the dignity, and the needs of groups with less power. We can hope that this is a dramatic swing that will settle at a reasonable place, which is to say, not back where we started, when men could say almost anything to or about women, and White people could do the same about minorities.

I think Jennifer Ruben's column in today's WaPo is right on the money. She correctly identifies the anguished screams of "cancel culture" coming from a lot of powerful people with big megaphones (eg Vladimir Putin and Andrew Cuomo, but we could certainly add Josh Hawley, Charlie Kirk, Tucker Carlson and plenty of others) as attempts to escape any consequences for unacceptable behavior. She also correctly points out that this applies both to the here and now, and to the historical retelling of events.


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Mar 20, 2022·edited Mar 20, 2022

A thoughtful read, and thank you.

I share somewhat your concerns re: "cancel culture" and "woke-ism" (whatever the hell that is; these days, the only people I see using the term "woke", once shorthand for a praxis-directed awareness of racial disparity, are Republicans or, to be more precise, People Posing as Republicans), but I believe your argument fails to make a critical distinction between left and right's respective actions.

As you point out, there's a difference between saying something and doing something--until there's not. When an individual says something, knowing in advance a majority will find it offensive, that individual makes an informed decision, and by acting ("doing something") upon it, thereby owns whatever consequences--professional, personal, etc.--accrue attendant that decision. The right to speak one's mind is a paradigmatic conservative freedom, equalled only by the paradigmatic conservative dictate that one accepts the consequences of one's actions, i.e. opening one's mouth and knowingly articulating offensive speech. In cases of offensive behavior, knowingly saying something offensive is knowingly doing something offensive.

I don't like hurting people's feelings, whether offender or offended, but blowback in one form or another is and always has been inevitable. I agree that in some instances the left's reaction to being offended has resulted in overkill, and further agree some of our reactions are, in fact, over-reactions. Harmful consequences levied by the left, however, cannot be even remotely compared to the harms inherent in not speaking out against or worse, tolerating, the practical harm levied on the innocent, and ongoing dangerous and deleterious actions inspired by politically-driven hatred.

A free society depends on effecting an extremely fine balance, and if you ask me, only grownups should be allowed to play with it. Enjoy your Sunday, Mr. Sykes. I look forward to reading you tomorrow.

Holly Valera

New Orleans, LA

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Mar 20, 2022·edited Mar 20, 2022

The film and TV blacklists of the 50' and 60's. The Smothers Brothers cancelled for making fun of the President in 1969. Bill Maher's show "Politically Incorrect" in 2001 for not backing the Bush WH spin on 9/11. "Ellen" dropped by advertisers under pressure from anti-LGBTQ organizations. Kathy Griffin 2017 for a picture SHE never released to the public.

The major difference today is the plus factor of the antisocial media platforms which have empowered the forces hostile to free speech with outsize influence.

If you stand outside of the social media battlefield you won't know who is being cancelled at all. As long as there is public opinion there will be some form of cancel culture--- right now the Yale Business School is trying to cancel businesses that can't or won't disengage from Russia. The Bulwark supports that kind of cancel culture.

In the Amazon series "Upload" the evil corporation gives their staff coffee mugs that say "Don't Be Evil. Obviously". That is the warning that cancel culture really sends.

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"Sure, they overreact to this stuff, but it really exists, it really is a liberal invention, and it really does make even moderate conservatives feel like their entire lives are being held up to a spotlight and found wanting." — Kevin Drum

I'll offer that perhaps this isn't cancel culture, but where I am confused by conservative "wokeness" is their version of Christianity.

I am a cradle Catholic from so-called "liberal" Vatican Two era of the church, when the important aspects of the New Testament stressed the credo of the Beatitudes that demonstrated Jesus saw the world in terms of class struggle. And that the downtrodden are to be helped, not abandoned.

Since the 1990s, American Christianity has been usurped by the Evangelical Movement with their "Woke" Gospel of Wealth, who praise the racism, misogamy, and paranoia embodied by their foul-mouthed Secessionist-In-Chief, who would be an apostate, if it wasn't important to his political career to have their support.

There is no doubt that clearly Jesus distrusted the rich. "It's easier for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter Heaven," he forewarned Jesus. Yet, the "liberal" Jesus tenets are abandoned for the fire and brimstone God of the Old Testament.

While I have drifted from my early religion, I still adhere to the Vatican Two principles that are found not in the dioceses but in the religious orders, like the Benedictines and Franciscans.

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RE: Being canceled seems to be a problem for people in elite positions. I've never seen anyone fired or shunned because they weren't overly liberal or religiously conservative. As long as you didn't overly advocate "changing your coworkers minds" most people are indifferent to what people think. I worked for a publisher, and there were coworkers of every political stripe. The only thing the publisher was concerned about was selling books.

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The most compelling argument that I have heard for the existence of “cancel culture” is that there is a chilling effect in everyday conversations. Which, I think is true. People are being robbed of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and stumbles. This lack of grace can prevent people from growing.

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I'm a lifelong social progressive and fiscal conservative, who identified with the Rockefeller wing of the Republicans in the '60s, has voted for and supported Dems for the past 30 years, and has little use for all of the "woke" nonsense, as well as the more reactionary forms of pushback against it.

I was appalled at the campus-centric "political correctness" fad that began 25ish years ago, seeing folks who campaigned for free speech as undergrads opposing it as profs. That morphed into the whole "woke" business, which is just fine as a personal philosophy but, no, you don't get to impose it on others. And now we have the same thing on the other side, in the form of teaching codes, book banning, "feelings" protection laws (!) and so on. All of this has the effect of preserving a faulty status quo and prevents us from dealing with real problems, rationally.

What's been lost is respect for honest and frank discussion in a civilized manner. James Tomey notes below how Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay assaulted that. The academics and students of that era, particularly at elite liberal arts institutions, assaulted it from the opposite direction. It's only gotten worse, since.

We need to openly value and encourage civilized discussion from all viewpoints., recognizing and listening to those that may offend us or make one uncomfortable. I may disagree with many policy preferences of the center-right, but those views are valuable input to creating a well-grounded basis for adopted policy. One of the things I most fear about Trumpism is its attempt to "cancel" the Reaganite wing of the Republican Party.

We need to eliminate the reward system for outrage. Some of the best ways would be to eliminate anonymity and algorithmic "engagement promotion" from social media etc. Some reasonable voices would be silenced because of fear of the unhinged, but the latter would not be as eager to promote extremism if their identities are known.

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