Editor’s Note: This piece has been amended since its initial publication.
Let’s begin by stating the obvious. There is not a single American corporation, media entity, or adult activist who actually takes direction from David Hogg or any other Parkland victim. Every single thing they do in response to Hogg’s public comments is done willingly — gleefully, even — because Hogg is their tool. He’s their sword and their shield. He is their excuse for doing exactly what they want to do.
By now we know how this pitiful game works. Hogg, egged on by cheering adults, says vicious, cruel, and often false things about their political opponents, and they cheer all the louder. They love it. They quite obviously can’t get enough of it. In this way, Hogg is an expression of the liberal id, a person who “destroys” the opposition in ways that are far more savage and intended far more personally than anything you’ll see from late-night television.
That’s the sword. The shield comes when a conservative takes the bait. All the slicing and dicing and insulting and trolling causes an inevitable backlash. You get the unhinged backlash (“crisis actor”), the mean backlash (laughing at Hogg’s college-admissions struggles), and the thoughtful backlash (he’s got a right to his rage and pain, but he’s still wrong on substance). Yet for all too many activists any criticism is “attacking the Parkland kids.”
Thus David Hogg becomes the unassailable Stephen Colbert, the untouchable John Oliver.
The Laura Ingraham advertiser boycott is the perfect example of the process at work. Ingraham tweeted an ungracious and ridiculous insult at Hogg — accusing him of whining about his college rejections — and Hogg responded by calling for an advertiser boycott of Ingraham’s show. Ingraham apologized, Hogg rejected her apology, and by today more than a dozen companies had pulled their advertisements from Ingraham’s show.
So, here we are, once again. While advertisers of course have every legal right to boycott, the response to offensive speech in the marketplace of ideas isn’t better speech but rather an effort to use raw economic power to punish your political enemies. Transgress one of the ever-shifting lines of public discourse (even if you apologize), and you’re instantly fighting for your job.
Hogg isn’t the bully here. His powerful adult allies are. They built this culture. This is the culture of the progressive corporate boardroom, the progressive academy, and all too many sectors of media and the arts. In this culture, Hogg is a weapon to wield so long as he’s useful. He’s the latest in a long line of victims/activists who spend their time as the “face” of an immense movement, pushed forward by the media until that moment when the news cycle moves on, other victims emerge, and other outrages inflame the masses.
I hope someone is talking to these Parkland kids, telling them the cold, hard truth. The vast majority of their new friends love them because they are useful. If they deviate one inch from the tribal lines, they’ll quickly learn how scarce their true friends are.
Sadly, conservatives are copying this culture. Just as the Left has put forward David Hogg as one of the principal faces of the gun-control movement, conservatives have found their own champion in young Kyle Kashuv. While Kyle’s public voice has been generally more informed and even-tempered than Hogg’s, there are disturbing signs that adults are starting to wield him as a similar weapon.
After former Newsweek senior writer Kurt Eichenwald and CNN commentator Joan Walsh both attacked Kashuv on Twitter, Kashuv appeared to call for a boycott of Eichenwald’s most recent employer, MSNBC, tweeting a list of the network’s sponsors. Kashuv accepted Eichenwald’s apology and backtracked from the implications of his original tweet. But at least one advertiser complied, and parts of conservative Twitter were, predictably, set aflame.
This, you see, is “fighting fire with fire” or “making the other side live up to its own rules.” But in this particular game, there are no rules. The existence of a rule implies at least a measure of good faith. There is only power, with the “rules” crafted after the fact to justify the exercise of that power.
Thus, when you like a boycott (as so many conservatives relished calls to boycott the NFL last fall), it’s free speech and activism in action. When you hate a boycott (as conservatives hated efforts to boycott Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A), it’s politically correct oppression come to life.
The same goes for corporate activism. The same progressives who relentlessly mocked the idea that a corporation like Hobby Lobby could have religious beliefs express near-reverent respect for the “corporate values” of companies that have led wave after wave of economic boycotts.
And of course, the same goes for victims/activists. First, the complaint is that the media are “using” children to advance their agenda. Then the complaint morphs into a lament that some victims are apparently more equal than others. Finally, we end up with competing victims on competing channels. After the first wave of sympathy and shock, it all gets very cynical very quickly. Names like the “Jersey Girls” or Cindy Sheehan (remember when her moral authority was “absolute”?) come and go. Only the culture war remains.
I hope someone is talking to these Parkland kids, telling them the cold, hard truth. The vast majority of their new friends love them because they are useful. If they deviate one inch from the tribal lines, they’ll quickly learn how scarce their true friends are. Teens are “powerful” only when they agree with powerful adults. This is an adult fight, and has been from the beginning.