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Welcome to America’s Cultural Revolution

The New York Times Building in New York City. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
Even in the opinion section, only approved thought is permitted.

We’re in the dawn of a high-tech, bloodless Cultural Revolution; one that relies on intimidation, public shaming, and economic ruin to dictate what words and ideas are permissible in the public square.

“Words are violence” has always been an illiberal notion meant to stifle speech and open discourse. Popularized by a generation of coddled and brittle college students, it now guides policy on editorial pages at newspapers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the New York Times, and most major news outlets.

The Times can claim that a harsh tone and a small factual error in Senator Tom Cotton’s recent op-ed was the reason the entire paper had a meltdown, but the staffers who revolted initially claimed that Cotton’s argument for bringing the National Guard into cities put black lives in “danger.”

Cotton’s critics are correct that not every dumb or radical idea deserves a debate or a place in the country’s biggest newspapers — although some of us believe editors should make room for contrarian and unpopular arguments. But this insistence masks their real objection: That Cotton’s column, which tonally and philosophically was well within the parameters of traditional editorial writing, might have found an audience. At root, our cultural revolutionaries are frightened of ideas. Do we honestly believe that had another paper published it, the same people wouldn’t have deemed that inappropriate, too?

None of the Times’ editors, all of whom are apparently comfortable with running fabulist histories or odes to Communist tyrannies, pushed back against the caustic notion that engaging in debate was act of violence. They bowed to the internal mob and pleaded for forgiveness.

What editor at a major newspaper is going to stand up for ideals of open and free debate if doing so means putting “black lives in danger” and ends his career? Few, if any.

Michael Kinsley once wrote — back in the days when liberals were running our journalistic institutions — that “if no one or almost no one disagrees, it also is probably not a good subject for an editorial.” By contrast, the new Times opinion editor, Kathleen Kingsbury, reportedly told the staff, “Anyone who sees any piece of Opinion journalism, headlines, social posts, photos — you name it — that gives you the slightest pause, please call or text me immediately.”

The Times has been cleansed of reactionary elements. The paper is in the hands of The People. Others will follow.

You may also have noticed another progressive slogan gaining popularity these days: “Silence is violence.”  It’s no longer enough not to peddle wrongthink in the op-ed pages of the local paper, but now you must also actively champion woke progressive positions or you too are tacitly engaged in violence and racism.

This is a neat trick: To speak out in the wrong way is violence. Not to speak out is violence. Not to speak out in the way progressives dictate is violence. This is why your apolitical local lawn-care company is sending out emails promising to dedicate themselves to Black Lives Matter. No one wants to be accused of harboring counterrevolutionary sympathies.

That doesn’t leave much room for dissent, does it? Virtually anyone in the public square who doesn’t conform (save those who work for conservative political journals, perhaps) risks being humiliated and ruined.

Social media have finally given our “little generals” the tools to ferret out suspicious characters and drag them in front of the digital tribunal. By my count, there have been around a dozen struggle sessions for crimes against Black Lives Matter or related issues since last week.

“Dee Nguyen has been fired from MTV sports reality show, ‘The Challenge,’ after making insensitive comments about the Black Lives Matter movement,” reads one story.

Sacramento Kings play-by-play announcer Grant Napear, who’s been calling games since 1988, was forced to resign after saying the words “all lives matter.”

Refinery29 editor Christene Barberich was pushed out for alleged “racist aggressions” (even the wording of the accusations has a mildly Communist flavor). Bon Appétit editor Adam Rapoport was booted for the same, but only after “insensitive” photos of him wearing a costume emerged.

In not one of these cases, as far as I can tell, did friends and co-workers rise to defend those whose careers may have been ruined over a bad joke, errant comment, or stupid costume. No, they participate in the ritual shaming along with everyone else.

And while these struggle sessions are primarily about public humiliation and intimidation, they are also ostensibly about self-criticism. Hoping to salvage his future, for example, Rapoport has confessed that he had “not championed an inclusive vision” — and who can blame him?

By the time you read this, Saints quarterback Drew Brees will probably be on his tenth round of ritual public self-flagellation — his wife having already apologized as well — for saying the words: “I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.”

Without an apology, we’re told, Brees would have been unable to work with teammates who are offended because there is no room for dissent on this issue. Brees promises to “listen.” Brees implores all of America to “listen.” “Listen” is a euphemism for groupthink.

Of course everyone should genuinely listen. They should hear out Tom Cotton as well. Black Lives Matter is a group that is not only home to an inspirational sentiment and good people but also various hard left-wing groups and sentiments that some of us reject. It should not get a dispensation from the rules every other movement lives by. In a free and healthy nation, no issue should be above criticism or debate. We once called that liberalism.

David Harsanyi is a senior writer for National Review and the author of First Freedom: A Ride through America’s Enduring History with the Gun

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