Tag: First Amendment

Words hurt you if you let them

Charlie Sykes used to produce solid conservative/libertarian content, and does here:

Apparently, we have to remind people about this again:

If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.
― Benjamin Franklin

There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches.
― Ray Bradbury

We’ve devoted a great deal of time lately to discussing illiberalism and authoritarianism, and justifiably so. But we have to recognize that liberalism and free expression face a two-front assault — from the intolerant Left as well as the troglodyte Right.

ICYMI: The other day, the American Booksellers Association donned the sackcloth of wokeness and issued this statement of performative groveling:

Twitter avatar for @ABAbookAmerican Booksellers Association @ABAbook

Image

The “serious, violent incident” here was sending out copies of this book:

Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by [Abigail Shrier]

Some background.

The author of the offending book, Abigail Shrier, writes for the Wall Street Journal, and is a graduate of Columbia College, Oxford University, and Yale Law School. Her book is obviously controversial, but it was named one of the best books of the year by The Economistand one of the best of 2021 by The Times of London.

Reviewing the book in Commentary Magazine, Naomi Schaefer Riley wrote:

“If you want to understand why suddenly it seems that (mostly) young girls from (mostly) white middle- or upper-class backgrounds (many of whom are in the same friend groups) have decided to start dressing like boys, cutting their hair short, changing their name to a masculine one, and even taking hormones, using chest compressors, and getting themselves surgically altered, you must read Abigail K. Shrier’s urgent new book, Irreversible Damage.”

But not surprisingly, this sort of thing triggered opponents, who demanded that it be suppressed.

After receiving two Twitter complaints, Target stopped selling the book (a decision they later reversed… and then reversed again). Hundreds of Amazon employees signed a petition demanding the company stop selling the book.

Even the ACLU seemed to break bad on the idea that the book should be available in the marketplace of ideas. Chase Strangio, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy director for transgender justice, tweeted: “Abigail Shrier’s book is a dangerous polemic with a goal of making people not trans…. We have to fight these ideas which are leading to the criminalization of trans life again.”

He declared: “Stopping the circulation of this book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on.”

Shrier commented: “You read that right: Some in today’s ACLU favor book banning. Grace Lavery, a professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, went further, tweeting: ‘I DO encourage followers to steal Abigail Shrier’s book and burn it on a pyre.’

“This,” Shrier wrote, ”is where leftist extremism, encouraged by cowardly corporations, leads.”

**

Under normal circumstances, the American Booksellers Association is very much into free expression and opposed to censorship. They are the sort of people who wear buttons declaring “WE READ BANNED BOOKS.”

Its website still includes this declaration:

But it turns out there are limits to free expression, not just for the ABA, but for many of the nation’s booksellers. This month ABA sent a mailing to 750 bookstores, which included a copy of the heretical book. Blowback was fierce.

Publisher’s Weekly reported that the American Booksellers Association was “facing withering criticism from booksellers after walking back its promotion of an anti-trans title to member bookstores.”

Among booksellers… there was little disagreement about the content of the book. “As longtime @ABAbook members with beloved staff across the gender spectrum, we’re extremely disappointed and angered to see the ABA promoting dangerous, widely discredited anti-trans propaganda, and we’re calling for accountability,” the Harvard Book Store wrote on Twitter.

Within hours, it issued the fulsome apology. Shrier’s reaction:

If there were a Hall of Fame for capitulations to Woke bullies, the American Booksellers Association is hereby inducted. The “serious, violent incident” they perpetrated? Including my book in a large box of new book samples sent out to independent booksellers.

Despite the tone of the apology, the wokest of the booksellers were not satisfied. The outraged booksellers, “said the statement fell short, calling out the organization’s use of the passive voice in the opening sentence.” ReportedPublishers Weekly:

“They also demanded greater transparency about how the decision to include the book was initially made, and called for demonstrable steps to restore trust with trans book workers and authors. Some called on the ABA to offer promotions for trans authors’ books at no cost.”

But elsewhere, the reaction to the ABA’s statement was blistering, with much of it focusing on the irony of an organization devoted to selling books apologizing for selling a book.

Rich Horton @PurePopPub

Joanne Mason @JoanneMason11

If mailing a book to members of your professional booksellers group is a “serious, violent incident” then words have no meaning, and we can no longer call ourselves a serious people. I’m not saying this is how you get a president Trump, but this is how you get a president Trump.

Brian Schubert @SchubertBrian

@ABAbook The thing about totalitarianism isn’t the gulag but society’s acquiescence in living the lie. Like, including a book title in a mailing to book sellers is “violent.”

This is not a debate over Transgenderism, but rather a question of whether we can even have a debate at all. It is an objectively ominous moment when the folks who sell books think there are some ideas too dangerous to print… or read.

Take note: if you are offended by a book, (1) don’t buy it, (2) don’t read it, or (3) make an effort to correct or refute it.

Don’t burn it.

Sykes and other anti-Trump conservatives tend to dismiss other conservatives’ claiming a culture war is taking place in this country. It’s hard to argue that we’re not in a cultural cold war when you cannot even discuss a controversial issue.

 

Big Postman is watching you

Tim Pearce shows what real abuse of the First Amendment looks like:

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is running a “covert operations program” monitoring Americans’ social media accounts for “inflammatory” posts.

The program is carried out by the USPS enforcement arm, the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), and is called the Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP). Analysts with the program monitor the social media posts of people attending rallies and protests, according to Yahoo News.

“Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021,” a March 16 memo distributed by the Department of Homeland Security says. “Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts.”

“Parler users have commented about their intent to use the rallies to engage in violence. Image 3 on the right is a screenshot from Parler indicating two users discussing the event as an opportunity to engage in a ‘fight’ and to ‘do serious damage,’” the memo continues. “No intelligence is available to suggest the legitimacy of these threats.”

The program has reportedly targeted right-wing protests such as those against strict lockdown measures.

In a statement to Yahoo News, the USPS acknowledged the existence of the program and said its operation is meant to protect USPS employees from harm. The agency did not elaborate on the program, and none of its details until now have been made public.

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service,” the statement said. “As such, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws to achieve the agency’s mission: protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail.”

“The Internet Covert Operations Program is a function within the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which assesses threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information,” the statement continued. “Additionally, the Inspection Service collaborates with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to proactively identify and assess potential threats to the Postal Service, its employees and customers, and its overall mail processing and transportation network. In order to preserve operational effectiveness, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.”

In a statement to Yahoo News, the USPS acknowledged the existence of the program and said its operation is meant to protect USPS employees from harm. The agency did not elaborate on the program, and none of its details until now have been made public.

“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the primary law enforcement, crime prevention, and security arm of the U.S. Postal Service,” the statement said. “As such, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has federal law enforcement officers, Postal Inspectors, who enforce approximately 200 federal laws to achieve the agency’s mission: protect the U.S. Postal Service and its employees, infrastructure, and customers; enforce the laws that defend the nation’s mail system from illegal or dangerous use; and ensure public trust in the mail.”

“The Internet Covert Operations Program is a function within the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which assesses threats to Postal Service employees and its infrastructure by monitoring publicly available open source information,” the statement continued. “Additionally, the Inspection Service collaborates with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to proactively identify and assess potential threats to the Postal Service, its employees and customers, and its overall mail processing and transportation network. In order to preserve operational effectiveness, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service does not discuss its protocols, investigative methods, or tools.”

I wonder what civil libertarians will have to say about this.

“No amendment to the Constitution is absolute”

Zachary Evans:

President Biden unveiled executive orders on gun control on Thursday, at a press conference in the White House Rose Garden.

“Nothing I’m about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment,” Biden said. “They’re phony arguments suggesting that these are Second Amendment rights in what we’re talking about.”

Liar.

Biden added that “no amendment to the Constitution is absolute. You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater and call it freedom of speech. From the very beginning, you couldn’t own any weapon you wanted to own. From the very beginning of the Second Amendment existed, certain people weren’t allowed to have weapons.”

The Biden administration announced six actions to spur various gun control initiatives, which the White House described in a fact sheet. The Justice Department will propose a rule to curb proliferation of “ghost guns,” or guns that are assembled at home through kits or a 3-D printer, and will issue yearly reports on firearms trafficking, among other initiatives.

Biden will also nominate David Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. A former SWAT agent with the bureau, Chipman is a gun control advocate and adviser to former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s gun control organization.

Chipman claimed in a Reddit post last year that members of the Branch Dividian religious cult shot down two Texas National Guard helicopters during the 1993 siege at Waco, Texas. While members of the cult did in fact shoot at the helicopters, none were shot down.

Well. According to Biden’s “logic” the following things would be acceptable:

  • A future Republican president can round up protesters of his administration and have them imprisoned. Because no amendment is absolute.
  • Police can torture suspects until they confess. Lawyers? Don’t need them. You see, no amendment is absolute.
  • Reinstituting slavery. No amendment is absolute, after all.
  • A state could eliminate elections and choose whoever it wants in the U.S. Senate. All together now …
  • A state could reinstitute poll taxes and disallow non-whites or women or anyone younger than 30 from voting. No. Amendment. Is. Absolute.
  • Someone who is not the vice president could remove the president from office and take over himself. Our president says no amendment is absolute.
  • Barack Obama or George W. Bush can run for president again. But didn’t they already reach the term limit? Who cares? No amendment is absolute.

By accident the moron in the White House displayed his respect for the Constitution yesterday. And a majority of voters voted for that.

 

Twitter’s media appeasers

Winston Churchill famously said “An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile hoping it will eat him last.”

That is John Podhoretz‘s theme:

Big Tech executives were forced to defend themselves and their platforms in a contentious Senate hearing on Wednesday — with most of the passion relating to the suppression of this newspaper’s Twitter feed over the past two weeks.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey explained with an eerie calm that The Post can regain access to its Twitter account anytime it wants — once it deletes a tweet with an image his company has decided violates its standards.

Dorsey’s words echo the ­assurances offered writers in authoritarian states that they will be allowed to publish their other scribblings . . . just so long as they burn the manuscripts the censors find offensive in front of the censors.

Such an insistence would once have resulted in screams of outrage and professions of solidarity by other journalists. But now we see reactions like this on Twitter, from New York Times opinion staffer Charlie Warzel:

“The NY Post leaving a violating tweet up in order to stay locked out of an account in order to use it as a political cudgel is a classic tactic, but it’s usually one you see from ­individual MAGA influencers.”

Thus did a key employee at the Times suggest it was perfectly reasonable for Twitter to demand that another newspaper send its wares down a memory hole.

I haven’t been an employee of The Post for a dozen years. What I am is a conservative who has worked in and around mainstream journalism for 40 years. And what I see in Warzel’s tweet — and in the astounding silence on the part of most mainstream outlets and voices about the treatment of The Post by Twitter — is something neither I nor anyone else anticipated from the web takeover of communications over the past 30 years.

With the emergence of the web browser in the early 1990s, the internet shattered the hierarchy that once dominated American journalism. A world in which the transmission of information had been the province of a wire service, three networks, two newsmagazines and a few powerful newspapers seemed gone forever.

New voices found a new way to be heard. Lone bloggers armed with nothing more than laptops took down the Senate majority leader (for suggesting a racist colleague’s values were ones we needed) and the nation’s most ­famous anchorman (for promoting a forged document).

Then, in 2007, came Twitter. And something very curious happened as it quickly became a bulletin board, gathering place and loose-knit private club for US journalists.

It became a peerless vehicle for the enforcement of mainstream media groupthink.

Twitter was the place where you could establish informal relationships with others in your field with whom you had never worked but whose attention you very much craved.

And you could quickly tell what subjects were of particular concern to those same fellow journalists by the way their tweets echoed each other’s. If a news development appeared 20 times in your latest 30 tweets, you would know it was the topic of the day or the week.More important, if a subject violates the sensibilities of the Twitter journalism community, you sure know that too. Immediately. Offense is taken. Fingers are wagged. Instantaneously, the idea that something is a “bad take” becomes universally understood.

Reputations and careers are on the line — as is the possibility of enhancing your reputation and/or career by joining in the groupthink.

Before the social-media age, the groupthink of the old-media oligopoly was transmitted relatively slowly. The network newscasts and the New York Times were released once a day, after all. So the orthodox take on things might take a few days to reach everybody, and in that time, some other reporting, some other opinions, some other takes might break through.

Now all reporting is instantaneous — and the only “correct” way to look at a news story follows with similar instantaneity.

One of the correct ways to look at things, it appears, is to quash them if and when they are politically and ideologically inconvenient.

It was members of the mainstream media who demanded their fellow journalists refuse to follow up on The Post’s initial story about the revelations on the Hunter Biden laptop — and used Twitter to attack some journalists who dared to retweet The Post story even if they were criticizing it.

George Orwell once referred to the “smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.” That is how Twitter operates. That is what Twitter is — the home of and transmission point for the smelly little orthodoxies of our time.

The First Amendment and its, and our, enemies

John Kass:

The angry left-handed broom of America’s cultural revolution uses fear to sweep through our civic, corporate and personal life.
It brings with it attempted intimidation, shame and the usual demands for ceremonies of public groveling.
It is happening in newsrooms in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles. And now it’s coming for me, in an attempt to shame me into silence.

Here’s what happened:

Last week, with violence spiking around the country, I wrote a column on the growing sense of lawlessness in America’s urban areas.

In response, the Tribune newspaper union, the Chicago Tribune Guild, which I have repeatedly and politely declined to join, wrote an open letter to management defaming me, by falsely accusing me of religious bigotry and fomenting conspiracy theories.

Newspaper management has decided not to engage publicly with the union. So I will.

For right now, let’s deal with facts. My July 22 column was titled “Something grows in the big cities run by Democrats: An overwhelming sense of lawlessness.”

It explored the connections between soft-on-crime prosecutors and increases in violence along with the political donations of left-wing billionaire George Soros, who in several states has funded liberal candidates for prosecutor, including Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Soros’ influence on these races is undeniable and has been widely reported. But in that column, I did not mention Soros’ ethnicity or religion.

You’d think that before wildly accusing someone of fomenting bigoted conspiracy theories, journalists on the union’s executive board would at least take the time to Google the words “Soros,” “funding” and “local prosecutors.”

As recently as February, the Sun Times pointed out roughly $2 million in Soros money flowing to Foxx in her primary election effort against more law-and-order candidates.

In August 2016, Politico outlined Soros’ money supporting local DA races and included the view from opponents and skeptics that if successful, these candidates would make communities “less safe.”
From the Wall Street Journal in November 2016: “Mr. Soros, a major backer of liberal causes, has contributed at least $3.8 million to political action committees supporting candidates for district attorney in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin, according to campaign filings.”

The Huffington Post in May 2018 wrote about contributions from Soros and Super PACs to local prosecutor candidates who were less law-and-order than their opponents.

So, it seems that the general attitude in journalism is that super PACs and dark money are bad, unless of course, they’re operated by wealthy billionaires of the left. Then they’re praised and courted.

All of this is against the backdrop of an America divided into camps, between those who think they can freely speak their minds and those who know they can’t.

Most people subjected to cancel culture don’t have a voice. They’re afraid. They have no platform. When they’re shouted down, they’re expected to grovel. After the groveling, comes social isolation. Then they are swept away.

But I have a newspaper column.

As a columnist and political reporter, I have given some 35 years of my life to the Chicago Tribune, even more if you count my time as an eager Tribune copy boy. And over this time, readers know that I have shown respect to my profession, to colleagues and to this newspaper.

Agree with me or not — and isn’t that the point of a newspaper column? — I owe readers a clear statement of what I will do and not do:

I will not apologize for writing about Soros.

I will not bow to those who’ve wrongly defamed me.

I will continue writing my column.

The left doesn’t like my politics. I get that. I don’t like theirs much, either. But those who follow me on social media know that I do not personally criticize my colleagues for their politics. I try to elevate their fine work. And I tell disgruntled readers who don’t like my colleagues’ politics that “it takes a village.”

Here’s what I’ve learned over my life in and around Chicago, what my immigrant family taught us in our two-flats on South Peoria Street:

We come into this world alone and we leave alone. And the most important thing we leave behind isn’t money.

The most important thing we leave is our name.

We leave that to our children.

And I will not soil my name by groveling to anyone in this or any other newsroom.

The larger question is not about me, or the political left that hopes to silence people like me, but about America and its young. Those of us targeted by cancel culture are not only victims. We are examples, as French revolutionaries once said, in order to encourage the others.

Human beings do not wish to see themselves as cowards. They want to see themselves as heroes.

And, as they are shaped and taught to fear even the slightest accusation of thought crime, they will not view themselves as weak for falling in line. Instead they will view themselves as virtuous. And that is the sin of it.

Those who do not behave will be marginalized. But those who self-censor will be praised.

Yet what of our American tradition of freely speaking our minds?

That too, is swept away.

Society vs. the First Amendment

Emily Ekins:

A new Cato national survey finds that self‐​censorship is on the rise in the United States. Nearly two-thirds—62%—of Americans say the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive. The share of Americans who self‐​censor has risen several points since 2017 when 58% of Americans agreed with this statement.

These fears cross partisan lines. Majorities of Democrats (52%), independents (59%) and Republicans (77%) all agree they have political opinions they are afraid to share.

Liberals Are Divided on Political Expression

Strong liberals stand out, however, as the only political group who feel they can express themselves. Nearly 6 in 10 (58%) of staunch liberals feel they can say what they believe. However, centrist liberals feel differently. A slim majority (52%) of liberals feel they have to self‐​censor, as do 64% of moderates, and 77% of conservatives. This demonstrates that political expression is an issue that divides the Democratic coalition between centrist Democrats and their left flank.

What’s changed? In 2017 most centrist liberals felt confident (54%) they could express their views. However today, slightly less than half (48%) feel the same. The share who feel they cannot be open increased 7 points from 45% in 2017 to 52% today. In fact, there have been shifts across the board, where more people among all political groups feel they are walking on eggshells.

Although strong liberals are the only group who feel they can say what they believe, the share who feel pressured to self‐​censor rose 12 points from 30% in 2017 to 42% in 2020. The share of moderates who self‐​censor increased 7 points from 57% to 64%, and the share of conservatives rose 70% to 77%, also a 7‐​point increase. Strong conservatives are the only group with little change. They are about as likely now (77%) to say they hold back their views as in 2017 (76%).

Self‐​censorship is widespread across demographic groups as well. Nearly two‐​thirds of Latino Americans (65%) and White Americans (64%) and nearly half of African Americans (49%) have political views they are afraid to share. Majorities of men (65%) and women (59%), people with incomes over $100,000 (60%) and people with incomes less than $20,000 (58%), people under 35 (55%) and over 65 (66%), religious (71%) and non‐​religious (56%) all agree that the political climate prevents them from expressing their true beliefs.

50% of Strong Liberals Support Firing Trump Donors; 36% of Strong Conservatives Support Firing Biden Donors

The survey found that many Americans think a person’s private political donations should impact their employment. Nearly a quarter (22%) of Americans would support firing a business executive who personally donates to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign. Even more, 31% support firing a business executive who donates to Donald Trump’s re‐​election campaign.

Support rises among political subgroups. Support increases to 50% of strong liberals who support firing executives who personally donate to Trump. And more than a third (36%) of strong conservatives support firing an executive for donating to Biden’s presidential campaign.

Young Americans are also more likely than older Americans to support punishing people at work for personal donations to Trump. Forty‐​four percent (44%) of Americans under 30 support firing executives if they donate to Trump. This share declines to 22% among those over 55 years old—a 20‐​point difference. An age gap also exists for Biden donors, but is less pronounced. Twenty‐​seven percent (27%) of Americans under 30 support firing executives who donate to Biden compared to 20% of those over 55—a 7‐​point difference.

32% Worry Their Political Views Could Harm Their Employment

Nearly a third (32%) of employed Americans say they personally are worried about missing out on career opportunities or losing their job if their political opinions became known. These results are particularly notable given that most personal campaign contributions to political candidates are public knowledge and can easily be found online.

And it’s not just one side of the political spectrum: 31% of liberals, 30% of moderates and 34% of conservatives are worried their political views could get them fired or harm their career trajectory. This suggests that it’s not necessarily just one particular set of views that has moved outside of acceptable public discourse. Instead these results are more consistent with a “walking on eggshells” thesis that people increasingly fear a wide range of political views could offend others or could negatively impact themselves.

These concerns are also cross‐​partisan, although more Republicans are worried: 28% of Democrats, 31% of independents, and 38% of Republicans are worried about how their political opinions could impact their career trajectories.

Americans with diverse backgrounds share this concern that their employment could be adversely affected if their political views were discovered: 38% of Hispanic Americans, 22% of African Americans, 31% of White Americans, 35% of men, 27% of women, 36% of households earning less than $20,000 a year, and 33% of households earning more than $100,000 a year agree.

Some are more worried about losing their jobs or missing out on job opportunities because of political views. Those with the highest levels of education are most concerned. Almost half (44%) of Americans with post‐​graduate degrees say they are worried their careers could be harmed if others discovered their political opinions, compared to 34% of college graduates, 28% of those with some college experience, and 25% of high school graduates.

But this educational divide appears largely driven by partisanship. Democrats with graduate degrees (25%) are about as likely as high school graduates (23%) to be worried their political views could harm their employment. However, a major shift occurs among Republicans who attend college and graduate school. About a quarter of Republicans with high school degrees (27%) or some college (26%) worry their political opinions could harm them at work—but this number increases to 40% among Republican college graduates and 60% of those with post‐​graduate degrees. A similar trend is observed among independents. The share of independents who have these concerns increases from 18% among high school graduates, to 35% among those with some college, 41% of college graduates, and 49% of post‐​graduates.

Younger people are also more concerned than older people, irrespective of political viewpoint. Examining all Americans under 65, 37% of those under 30 are worried their political opinions could harm their career trajectories, compared to 30% of 30–54 year‐​olds and 24% of 55–64 year‐​olds. But the age gap is more striking taking into account political views. A slim majority (51%) of Republicans under 30 fear their views could harm their career prospects compared to 39% of 30–44 year‐​olds, 34% of 45–54 year‐​olds, and 28% of 55–64 year‐​old Republicans. Democrats reflect a similar but less pronounced pattern. A third (33%) of Democrats under 30 worry they have views that could harm their current and future jobs, compared to 27% of 30–54 year‐​olds, and 19% of 55–64 year‐​old Democrats.

These data suggest that a significant minority of Americans from all political persuasions and backgrounds—particularly younger people who have spent more time in America’s universities—are most likely to hide their views for fear of financial penalty.

A particularly surprising finding was that Americans who have these concerns are somewhat more likely to support the firing of Biden or Trump donors. A third (33%) among those who worry that their political views could harm their employment supported firing either Biden or Trump donors, compared to 24% of those who were not worried about their views impacting their jobs. This suggests that those who fear reprisal or economic penalty for their political views are not entirely distinct from those who seek the same for others.

Implications

Taking these results together indicates that a significant majority of Americans with diverse political views and backgrounds self‐​censor their political opinions. This large number from across demographic groups suggests withheld opinions may not simply be radical or fringe perspectives in the process of being socially marginalized. Instead many of these opinions may be shared by a large number of people. Opinions so widely shared are likely shaping how people think about salient policy issues and ultimately impacting how they vote. But if people feel they cannot discuss these important policy matters, such views will not have an opportunity to be scrutinized, understood, or reformed.

A body blow to free expression

Jonah Goldberg:

Nothing evokes a nice gloomy feel like the German language. The Germans, a people forged under the gray skies and dark shadows of the Black Forest, are a gloomy people, which is why they have such wonderful words to describe gloomy things.

(For instance, there’s schadenfreude, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. And fremdschamen, the feeling of being embarrassed for someone else who doesn’t have the good sense of being embarrassed for themselves (think of that feeling you get watching Michael Scott humiliate himself in The Office, or President Trump answering a question from Sean Hannity. See below). And there’s my favorite: futterneid—that feeling of jealousy you get when someone is eating something you want to eat. When I go out to dinner with my wife and she orders better than me, my futterneid fuels the Fair Jessica’s schadenfreude.)

So let’s consider the word Einfühlungsvermögen.

Einfühlungsvermögen means “empathy.” And that English word is just over a century old. It entered the English language in 1909 as a translation of Einfühlungsvermögen. It’s an adaptation of the shorter term Einfühlung, a concept pioneered by the German historicist Johann Herder, one of the founders of German nationalism. Einfühlung literally means “feeling one’s way in.” And it was one of the core concepts of the German historicist school, which is responsible for many bad ideas we won’t discuss here.

But Einfühlung, in isolation, is not a bad idea. What Herder meant by “feeling one’s way in” was that for a historian to understand a particular society, one must grasp on both an intellectual and emotional level the cultural currents of the time. One cannot just look from outside the fishbowl using the scorecards of the moment and judge a society from some modern, abstract, standard. You must dive in and understand people and cultures on their own terms first. This is something the best historians do. They make the reader feel like they understand why people did the things they did without the benefit of knowing how events turned out.

For example, when people condemn the Founders for keeping slavery intact in slave states, they tend to ignore the context the Founders were living in. The choice they faced wasn’t a Constitution with slavery or a Constitution without it. The choice was a Constitution with slavery—or no Constitution at all.

I’m open to arguments that this isn’t true, but not from someone who doesn’t understand that this is the way the Founders—many of whom opposed slavery—understood their choice.

Societies are complex things: Most of the rules that govern them cannot be found in legal texts. These rules are embedded in customs, norms, traditions, and manners that are as often as not unwritten—and even when they are written, most people don’t refer to those texts for guidance. Most of us know not to talk with our mouths full because our parents taught us basic manners, not because we read some Dear Abby column.

A certain kind of modern feminist looks at a stereotypical housewife of, say, the 1920s and feels a kind of contempt or pity for her plight, but not empathy. I understand the feeling. But to understand the housewife you need to understand that she didn’t necessarily share your attitudes about what constitutes a meaningful and rewarding life. Condemning her for falling short of standards she did not hold can be a kind of bigotry.

One thing I find remarkable is that many progressives understand all of this quite intuitively when it comes to other countries. Many of the same people who have contempt for the 1920 housewife will comment about a 2020 housewife in, say, Gaza, “Who are you to judge them? It’s their culture!”

Well, the past is another country, too. And given that the American past is part of your own country, maybe you can have just a bit more Einfühlungsvermögen for it.

Anyway, what got me thinking about all this was something I tweeted about last night.

Jonah Goldberg @JonahDispatch

There is something really horrible, evil even, about going back in time and reminding people of a totally public incident that merited no criticism at the time, and declare it a “scandal” that should threaten someone’s livelihood. https://t.co/hDEKlABvZE

South Florida Sun Sentinel @SunSentinel

Can Jimmy Kimmel and Tina Fey keep their hosting gigs after blackface scandals? Should they? https://t.co/cS3Z1Mq1zl https://t.co/kFLwRkuCJ6

What particularly annoyed me is the use of the word “scandal.” A scandal is “an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.” The actions by Tina Fey and Jimmy Kimmel were not scandals when they happened. They were comedy bits on television that went, to my knowledge, unremarked upon at the time. If unremarkable events of the past—not secret events, not unknown events, but simply run-of-the-mill events of daily life—can retroactively be turned into scandals by a mob of moral scolds, we’re in store for some rough times.

Think of it this way, men dressing as women for comedic effect is a very old staple. Milton Berle, Bob Hope, Flip Wilson, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams, Adam Sandler, Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx: The list goes on and on. It is not unimaginable, given the role of transgenderism in our culture today, that in the years—or days—ahead, we’ll have a similar moral panic over dressing in drag (at least by cis-men) and be told that this is—and was—some kind of hate crime. Will Dustin Hoffman ask AFI to take Tootsie off its 100 best films list? Will Tom Hanks get embroiled in a “scandal” because someone dug up an old VHS of Bosom Buddies? Will Mrs. Doubtfire go the way of Gone with the Wind or Birth of a Nation? And don’t get me started on the intersectional chimera that is White Chicks.

It’s one thing to say, “We should stop doing X.” It’s quite another to say the people who did X when X was entirely normal are now pariahs.

There is something vaguely Maoist about the mood out there. During the Cultural Revolution the young firebrands attacked and humiliated older Communist leaders for the sin of not being sufficiently imbued with the spirit of revolution, or something. The “Black Line” theory of artistic interpretation—which led to the deaths and imprisonment of countless artists and intellectuals —basically held that if you once wrote or painted something “wrong” by the current revolutionary standard, you should be forcibly reeducated, even though what you wrote or painted wasn’t wrong when you painted it. 

How illiberal

Daniel Henninger:

In 1789, America’s Founding Fathers, acutely aware of the political bloodbaths that had consumed Europe for centuries, created a system in which disagreements would be arbitrated by periodically allowing the public to turn their opinions into votes. The majority would win the election. Then, because political disagreement never ends, you hold more elections. Aware of the natural tendency of factions and majorities to want to suppress opposition opinion, the Founders created a Bill of Rights for all citizens, including what they called, with unmistakable clarity, “the freedom of speech.”

Nothing lasts forever, and so it is today in the U.S., where the pre-liberal idea of settling disagreements with coercion has made a comeback.

In the past week, the editorial page editor of the New York Times, the editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the editors of Bon Appétit magazine and the young women’s website Refinery 29 have been forced out by the staff and owners of their publications for offenses regarded as at odds with the beliefs of the current protests.

It is impossible not to recognize the irony of these events. The silencers aren’t campus protesters but professional journalists, a class of American workers who for nearly 250 years have had a constitutionally protected and court-enforced ability to say just about anything they want. Historically, people have been attracted to American journalism because it was the freest imaginable place to work for determined, often quirky individualists. Suddenly, it looks like the opposite of that.

The idea that you could actually lose your job, as the Inquirer’s editor did, because of a headline on an opinion piece that said “Buildings Matter, Too” is something to ponder. It sounds like a made-up incident that one might expect in a work of political satire, such as George Orwell’s “Animal Farm.”

The issue here is not about the assertion that racism is endemic in the U.S. The issue is the willingness by many to displace the American system of free argument with a system of enforced, coerced opinion and censorship, which forces comparison to the opinion-control mechanisms that existed in Eastern Europe during the Cold War.

In 2006, the movie “The Lives of Others” dramatized how the Stasi, the omnipresent East German surveillance apparatus, pursued a nonconforming writer, whose friends were intimidated into abandoning him. To survive this kind of enforced thought-concurrence in the Soviet Union or Communist Eastern Europe, writers resorted to circulating their uncensored ideas as underground literature called samizdat. Others conveyed their ideas as political satire. In Vaclav Havel’s 1965 play, “The Memorandum,” a Czech office worker is demoted to “staff watcher,” whose job is to monitor his colleagues. You won’t see Havel’s anticensorship plays staged in the U.S. anytime soon.

Other writers during those years of thought suppression sometimes wrote in allegory or fables. In Russia, writers called it “Aesopian language.” We’re not there yet. Instead many writers and media personalities here have chosen to participate in keeping opinion and even vocabulary inside restricted limits.

Some will object that it is preposterous to liken them to a communist party. But social media has become a partylike phenomenon of ideological and psychological reinforcement. It avoids the poor public optics of China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ’70s, when dissidents were paraded in dunce caps. Today, endlessly repeated memes on social-media platforms, such as “silence is violence,” reduce independent thought to constant rote reminders. Instead of the Stasi, we have Twitter’s censors to keep track of dissidents.

Alarmed parents saw years ago that platforms such as Facebook were being used to humiliate and ostracize teenage girls. It is disingenuous to deny that this same machinery of shaming has been expanded to coerce political conformity.

It is also disingenuous to deny that this ethos sanctions the implicit threat of being fired from one’s job as the price for falling out of line just once. It’s beginning to look like nonlethal summary execution.

The Marxist philosopher Herbert Marcuse argued in 1965 that some ideas were so repugnant, which he identified as “from the Right,” that it was one’s obligation to suppress them with what he called “the withdrawal of tolerance.” Marcuse is a saint on the American left.

The ingeniousness of this strategy of suppression and shaming is that it sidesteps the Supreme Court’s long history of defending opinion that is unpopular, such as its 1977 decision that vindicated the free-speech rights of neo-Nazis who wanted to march in Skokie, Ill. But if people have shut themselves up, as they are doing now, there is no speech, and so there is “no problem.”

Free speech isn’t dead in the United States, but it looks like more than ever, it requires active defense.

The coronavirus takes away your freedom of speech

Matt Taibbi:

Earlier this week, Atlantic magazine – fast becoming the favored media outlet for self-styled intellectual elites of the Aspen Institute type – ran an in-depth article of the problems free speech pose to American society in the coronavirus era. The headline:

Internet Speech Will Never Go Back to Normal

In the debate over freedom versus control of the global network, China was largely correct, and the U.S. was wrong.

Authored by a pair of law professors from Harvard and the University of Arizona, Jack Goldsmith and Andrew Keane Woods, the piece argued that the American and Chinese approaches to monitoring the Internet were already not that dissimilar:

Constitutional and cultural differences mean that the private sector, rather than the federal and state governments, currently takes the lead in these practices… But the trend toward greater surveillance and speech control here, and toward the growing involvement of government, is undeniable and likely inexorable.

They went on to list all the reasons that, given that we’re already on an “inexorable” path to censorship, a Chinese-style system of speech control may not be such a bad thing. In fact, they argued, a benefit of the coronavirus was that it was waking us up to “how technical wizardry, data centralization, and private-public collaboration can do enormous public good.”

Perhaps, they posited, Americans could be moved to reconsider their “understanding” of the First and Fourth Amendments, as “the harms from digital speech” continue to grow, and “the social costs of a relatively open Internet multiply.”

This interesting take on the First Amendment was the latest in a line of “Let’s rethink that whole democracy thing” pieces that began sprouting up in earnest four years ago. Articles with headlines like “Democracies end when they become too democratic” and “Too much of a good thing: why we need less democracy” became common after two events in particular: Donald Trump’s victory in the the Republican primary race, and the decision by British voters to opt out of the EU, i.e. “Brexit.”

A consistent lament in these pieces was the widespread decline in respect for “experts” among the ignorant masses, better known as the people Trump was talking about when he gushed in February 2016, “I love the poorly educated!”

The Atlantic was at the forefront of the argument that The People is a Great Beast, that cannot be trusted to play responsibly with the toys of freedom. A 2016 piece called “American politics has gone insane” pushed a return of the “smoke-filled room” to help save voters from themselves. Author Jonathan Rauch employed a metaphor that is striking in retrospect, describing America’s oft-vilified intellectual and political elite as society’s immune system:

Americans have been busy demonizing and disempowering political professionals and parties, which is like spending decades abusing and attacking your own immune system. Eventually, you will get sick.

The new piece by Goldsmith and Woods says we’re there, made literally sick by our refusal to accept the wisdom of experts. The time for asking the (again, literally) unwashed to listen harder to their betters is over. The Chinese system offers a way out. When it comes to speech, don’t ask: tell.


As the Atlantic lawyers were making their case, YouTube took down a widely-circulated video about coronavirus, citing a violation of “community guidelines.”

The offenders were Drs. Dan Erickson and Artin Massahi, co-owners of an “Urgent Care” clinic in Bakersfield, California. They’d held a presentation in which they argued that widespread lockdowns were perhaps not necessary, according to data they were collecting and analyzing.

“Millions of cases, small amounts of deaths,” said Erickson, a vigorous, cheery-looking Norwegian-American who argued the numbers showed Covid-19 was similar to flu in mortality rate.  “Does [that] necessitate shutdown, loss of jobs, destruction of oil companies, furloughing doctors…? I think the answer is going to be increasingly clear.”

The reaction of the medical community was severe. It was pointed out that the two men owned a clinic that was losing business thanks to the lockdown. The message boards of real E.R. doctors lit up with angry comments, scoffing at the doctors’ dubious data collection methods and even their somewhat dramatic choice to dress in scrubs for their video presentation.

The American Academy of Emergency Medicine (AAEM) and American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) scrambled to issue a joint statement to “emphatically condemn” the two doctors, who “do not speak for medical society” and had released “biased, non-peer reviewed data to advance their personal financial interests.”

As is now almost automatically the case in the media treatment of any controversy, the story was immediately packaged for “left” and “right” audiences by TV networks. Tucker Carlson on Fox backed up the doctors’ claims, saying “these are serious people who’ve done this for a living for decades,” and YouTube and Google have “officially banned dissent.”

Meanwhile, over on Carlson’s opposite-number channel, MSNBC, anchor Chris Hayes of the All In program reacted with fury to Carlson’s monologue:

There’s a concerted effort on the part of influential people at the network that we at All In call Trump TV right now to peddle dangerous misinformation about the coronavirus… Call it coronavirus trutherism.

Hayes, an old acquaintance of mine, seethed at what he characterized as the gross indifference of Trump Republicans to the dangers of coronavirus. “At the beginning of this horrible period, the president, along with his lackeys, and propagandists, they all minimized what was coming,” he said, sneering. “They said it was just like a cold or the flu.”

He angrily demanded that if Fox acolytes like Carlson believed so strongly that society should be reopened, they should go work in a meat processing plant. “Get in there if you think it’s that bad. Go chop up some pork.”

The tone of the many media reactions to Erickson, Carlson, Trump, Georgia governor Brian Kemp, and others who’ve suggested lockdowns and strict shelter-in-place laws are either unnecessary or do more harm than good, fits with what writer Thomas Frank describes as a new “Utopia of Scolding”:

Who needs to win elections when you can personally reestablish the social order every day on Twitter and Facebook? When you can scold, and scold, and scold. That’s their future, and it’s a satisfying one: a finger wagging in some vulgar proletarian’s face, forever.

In the Trump years the sector of society we used to describe as liberal America became a giant finger-wagging machine. The news media, academia, the Democratic Party, show-business celebrities and masses of blue-checked Twitter virtuosos became a kind of umbrella agreement society, united by loathing of Trump and fury toward anyone who dissented with their preoccupations.

Because this Conventional Wisdom viewed itself as being solely concerned with the Only Important Thing, i.e. removing Trump, there was no longer any legitimate excuse for disagreeing with its takes on Russia, Julian Assange, Jill Stein, Joe Rogan, the 25th amendment, Ukraine, the use of the word “treason,” the removal of Alex Jones, the movie Joker, or whatever else happened to be the #Resistance fixation of the day.

When the Covid-19 crisis struck, the scolding utopia was no longer abstraction. The dream was reality! Pure communism had arrived! Failure to take elite advice was no longer just a deplorable faux pas. Not heeding experts was now murder. It could not be tolerated. Media coverage quickly became a single, floridly-written tirade against “expertise-deniers.” For instance, the Atlantic headline on Kemp’s decision to end some shutdowns was, “Georgia’s Experiment in Human Sacrifice.”

At the outset of the crisis, America’s biggest internet platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Google, LinkedIn, and Reddit – took an unprecedented step to combat “fraud and misinformation” by promising extensive cooperation in elevating “authoritative” news over less reputable sources.

H.L. Mencken once said that in America, “the general average of intelligence, of knowledge, of competence, of integrity, of self-respect, of honor is so low that any man who knows his trade, does not fear ghosts, has read fifty good books, and practices the common decencies stands out as brilliantly as a wart on a bald head.”

We have a lot of dumb people in this country. But the difference between the stupidities cherished by the Idiocracy set ingesting fish cleaner, and the ones pushed in places like the Atlantic, is that the jackasses among the “expert” class compound their wrongness by being so sure of themselves that they force others to go along. In other words, to combat “ignorance,” the scolders create a new and more virulent species of it: exclusive ignorance, forced ignorance, ignorance with staying power.

The people who want to add a censorship regime to a health crisis are more dangerous and more stupid by leaps and bounds than a president who tells people to inject disinfectant. It’s astonishing that they don’t see this

Journalists are professional test-crammers. Our job is to get an assignment on Monday morning and by Tuesday evening act like we’re authorities on intellectual piracy, the civil war in Yemen, Iowa caucus procedure, the coronavirus, whatever. We actually know jack: we speed-read, make a few phone calls, and in a snap people are inviting us on television to tell millions of people what to think about the complex issues of the world.

When we come to a subject cold, the job is about consulting as many people who really know their stuff as quickly as possible and sussing out – often based on nothing more than hunches or impressions of the personalities involved – which set of explanations is most believable. Sportswriters who covered the Deflategate football scandal had to do this in order to explain the Ideal Gas Law, I had to do it to cover the subprime mortgage scandal, and reporters this past January and February had to do it when assigned to assess the coming coronavirus threat.

It does not take that much work to go back and find that a significant portion of the medical and epidemiological establishment called this disaster wrong when they were polled by reporters back in the beginning of the year. Right-wingers are having a blast collecting the headlines, and they should, given the chest-pounding at places like MSNBC about others who “minimized the risk.” Here’s a brief sample:

Get a Grippe, America: The flu is a much bigger threat than coronavirus, for now: Washington Post

Coronavirus is scary, but the flu is deadlier, more widespread : USA Today

Want to Protect Yourself From Coronavirus? Do the Same Things You Do Every Winter : Time

Here’s my personal favorite, from Wired on January 29:

We should de-escalate the war on coronavirus

There are dozens of these stories and they nearly all contain the same elements, including an inevitable quote or series of quotes from experts telling us to calm the hell down. This is from the Time piece:

“Good hand-washing helps. Staying healthy and eating healthy will also help,” says Dr. Sharon Nachman, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at New York’s Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “The things we take for granted actually do work. It doesn’t matter what the virus is. The routine things work.”

There’s a reason why journalists should always keep their distance from priesthoods in any field. It’s particularly in the nature of insular communities of subject matter experts to coalesce around orthodoxies that blind the very people in the loop who should be the most knowledgeable.

“Experts” get things wrong for reasons that are innocent (they’ve all been taught the same incorrect thing in school) and less so (they have a financial or professional interest in denying the truth).

On the less nefarious side, the entire community of pollsters in 2016 denounced as infamous the idea that Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination, let alone the general election. They believed that because they weren’t paying attention to voters (their ostensible jobs), but also because they’d never seen anything similar. In a more suspicious example, if you asked a hundred Wall Street analysts in September 2008 what caused the financial crisis, probably no more than a handful would have mentioned fraud or malfeasance.

Both of the above examples point out a central problem with trying to automate the fact-checking process the way the Internet platforms have of late, with their emphasis on “authoritative” opinions.

“Authorities” by their nature are untrustworthy. Sometimes they have an interest in denying truths, and sometimes they actually try to define truth as being whatever they say it is. “Elevating authoritative content” over independent or less well-known sources is an algorithmic take on the journalistic obsession with credentialing that has been slowly destroying our business for decades.

The WMD fiasco happened because journalists listened to people with military ranks and titles instead of demanding evidence and listening to their own instincts. The same thing happened with Russiagate, a story fueled by intelligence “experts” with grand titles who are now proven to have been wrong to a spectacular degree, if not actually criminally liable in pushing a fraud.

We’ve become incapable of talking calmly about possible solutions because we’ve lost the ability to decouple scientific or policy discussions, or simple issues of fact, from a political argument. Reporting on the Covid-19 crisis has become the latest in a line of moral manias with Donald Trump in the middle.

Instead of asking calmly if hydroxychloroquine works, or if the less restrictive Swedish crisis response has merit, or questioning why certain statistical assumptions about the seriousness of the crisis might have been off, we’re denouncing the questions themselves as infamous. Or we’re politicizing the framing of stories in a way that signals to readers what their take should be before they even digest the material. “Conservative Americans see coronavirus hope in Progressive Sweden,” reads a Politico headline, as if only conservatives should feel optimism in the possibility that a non-lockdown approach might have merit! Are we rooting for such an approach to not work?

From everything I’ve heard, talking to doctors and reading the background material, the Bakersfield doctors are probably not the best sources. But the functional impact of removing their videos (in addition to giving them press they wouldn’t otherwise have had) is to stamp out discussion of things that do actually need to be discussed, like when the damage to the economy and the effects of other crisis-related problems – domestic abuse, substance abuse, suicide, stroke, abuse of children, etc. – become as significant a threat to the public as the pandemic. We do actually have to talk about this. We can’t not talk about it out of fear of being censored, or because we’re confusing real harm with political harm.

Turning ourselves into China for any reason is the definition of a cure being worse than the disease. The scolders who are being seduced by such thinking have to wake up, before we end up adding another disaster on top of the terrible one we’re already facing.

Governor Coward

The Richmond (Va.) Times–Dispatch:

Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in Richmond ahead of a rally Monday that is expected to bring thousands of gun rights activists to Richmond.

The state of emergency will be enforced Friday evening to Tuesday evening. It includes a firearms ban on Capitol Square, as well as a general ban on weapons that includes bats and knives.

Northam cited safety threats “similar to what has been seen before other major events such as Charlottesville,” a reference to the deadly Unite the Right rally in August 2017.

“These are considered credible, serious threats by our law enforcement agencies,” Northam said, citing claims that groups plan on “storming our Capitol” and “weaponizing drones over our Capitol.”

Monday’s rally is being organized by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which says it is expecting between 30,000 and 50,000 people to arrive on the steps of the Capitol to protest gun control legislature proposed by Democratic lawmakers.

In an email to rally participants sent Tuesday, VCDL encouraged a peaceful demonstration. It told protestors planning to go inside legislative buildings to leave their guns at home or in their hotels. But, it also encouraged unarmed protestors to travel with an armed “designated defender” that will wait outside the buildings for them. It’s unclear how the group might update its directive following Northam’s announcement.

“We cannot stress enough that this is a peaceful day to address our legislature,” Tuesday’s email reads. “The eyes of the nation and the world are on Virginia and VCDL right now and we must show them that gun owners are not the problem. Lead by example.”

By violating the First and Second Amendment rights of those opposed to Northam’s unconstitutional gun-banning efforts, Northam is certainly leading by example … the example of a coward.

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