Saturday, July 04, 2020


Donald Trump gave a culture war speech at Mount Rushmore last night.
Standing in a packed amphitheater in front of Mount Rushmore for an Independence Day celebration, President Trump delivered a dark and divisive speech on Friday that cast his struggling effort to win a second term as a battle against a “new far-left fascism” seeking to wipe out the nation’s values and history....

“Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children,” Mr. Trump said, addressing a packed crowd of sign-waving supporters.... “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.”
Today, Bret Stephens, who claims to loathe Trump, published an op-ed with many of the same ideas.
This Fourth of July, it’s worth taking stock of the state of freedom — and of our attitudes toward it — at home and around the world.

... For once, the main problem isn’t Donald Trump. The president may be an instinctual fascist, a wannabe autocrat. But, after nearly four years in power, he’s been unmasked as an incompetent one.

... The more serious problem today comes from the left: from liberal elites who, when tested, lack the courage of their liberal convictions; from so-called progressives whose core convictions were never liberal to begin with; from administrative types at nonprofits and corporations who, with only vague convictions of their own, don’t want to be on the wrong side of a P.R. headache.

This has been the great cultural story of the last few years.
Some examples?
It is typified by incidents such as The New Yorker’s David Remnick thinking it would be a good idea to interview Steve Bannon for the magazine’s annual festival — until a Twitter mob and some members of his own staff decided otherwise. Or by The Washington Post devoting 3,000 words to destroying the life of a private person of no particular note because in 2018 she wore blackface, with ironic intent, at a Halloween party. Or by big corporations pulling ads from Facebook while demanding the company do more to censor forms of speech they deem impermissible.

These stories matter because an idea is at risk. That’s the idea that people who cannot speak freely will not be able to think clearly, and that no society can long flourish when contrarians are treated as heretics.
So acccording to Stephens, a man who helped run the campaign of the current president of the United States, and who later advised him from an office in the West Wing, is a "contrarian" whose free speech was squelched when he was denied one interview.

Let's take a look at what an unperson Steve Bannon has become since the liberal fascist totebaggers silenced him.

Here's a story about a February 2020 Bannon appearance on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. Here Bannon is being interviewed for PBS's Frontline, in a video uploaded in January of this year. Here's a CNBC interview of Bannon from December. Here's another December interview in The Guardian. Here's a 60 Minutes interview of Bannon from October. Here's a review of a 2019 documentary on Bannon by the award-winning filmmaker Errol Morris.

Left totalitarians mercilessly silence contrarians!

I won't defend the Washington Post story Stephens cites, although I will note that the most prominent critique of it came in New York magazine, which is generally regarded by conservatives as part of the fascist-left media establishment. And as for the the Facebook story, here's work done by some of the brave contrarians whose clear thinking Stephens wants to shield from evil corporate boycotters:

How can we call ourselves a free society if corporations are allowed to withhold advertising from Facebook because they don't want it next to posts like these? Surely companies should should be forced to run their ads in proximity to these posts! Because freedom!

Stephens eventually invokes Orwell:
... the Orwell essay to which I keep returning is a little jewel from 1946, “The Prevention of Literature.”

Orwell’s concern then was not just with Russian totalitarianism, but with the arguments used by much of the Western intelligentsia to justify repression.

“What is sinister,” he wrote, “is that the conscious enemies of liberty are those to whom liberty ought to mean most.” He was particularly calling out Western scientists who admired the Soviet Union for its technical prowess and were utterly indifferent to Stalin’s persecution of writers and artists. “They do not see that any attack on intellectual liberty, and on the concept of objective truth, threatens in the long run every department of thought.”

Every department of thought.
I've read the essay. Orwell goes on to write:
For the moment the totalitarian state tolerates the scientist because it needs him. Even in Nazi Germany, scientists, other than Jews, were relatively well treated and the German scientific community, as a whole, offered no resistance to Hitler. At this stage of history, even the most autocratic ruler is forced to take account of physical reality, partly because of the lingering-on of liberal habits of thought, partly because of the need to prepare for war. So long as physical reality cannot altogether be ignored, so long as two and two have to make four when you are, for example, drawing the blueprint of an aeroplane, the scientist has his function, and can even be allowed a measure of liberty. His awakening will come later, when the totalitarian state is firmly established.
I don't believe America is truly totalitarian, at least for now -- but our current Republican-dominated government actually doesn't believe it needs "to take account of physical reality." Republicans don't believe they need to acknowledge the reality of climate change, and so climate denialism is the official policy position of the United States (with the eager assent of Bret Stephens). Republicans working hand in glove with the NRA have stifled scientific research into the nature of gun violence, on the assumption that it's better not to know why so many Americans are killed by firearms. And now it's the expressed belief of the Republican president of the United States, and thus of the U.S. government, that liberals and the media are making way too much of the coronavirus pandemic, that mask-wearing and social distancing are optional, that as many businesses as possible should be open regardless of the health consequences, and that the virus might disappear by magic and is probably no worse than the flu even though it's killed more than 130,000 people despite widespread state, local, and individual effoerts to curb its spread.

Stephens isn't upset about the government's efforts to silence, intimidate, and contradict scientists -- but if a Republican ex-official loses one interview, then we're living in an totalitarian nightmare. I don't think that's what Orwell was getting at.

No comments: