This week, it was Steve Bannon’s turn to be the subject of a no-platforming effort after it transpired that both The New Yorker and The Economist had invited him as a speaker to liven up one of their annual yawn-fests. Cue outrage on social media and plenty of talk of “not legitimizing” fringe voices. All of which allowed a lot of fringe voices to pretend that the former chief strategist to the president of the United States is some obscure, fringe whacko. These people are now just one office away from trying to “no platform” the U.S. president on the grounds that he is too obscure and unimportant a figure to engage with.
The other line of attack is that Bannon’s views are so despicable that they must not be engaged with. In the U.K., a commentator called Laurie Penny announced that she was dropping out of The Economist festival because of Bannon’s slated appearance. She gave her rationale to the BBC’s Newsnight thus: “He is not interested in listening to me. He is not interested in listening to anybody else. These people do not want to engage.”
So Ms. Penny chose not to engage in the same festival as Steve Bannon because she believes that he doesn’t want to engage. Which must count as a sort of pre-emptive hit of non-engagement: “I’m going to not engage with you before you can not engage with me.”
Anyhow — the most interesting aspect of this storm is the old issue of what are “legitimate” views, what are “illegitimate” views, and the age-old question of who gets to decide.
Here is Chelsea Clinton on the matter of Bannon’s banning:
For anyone who wonders what normalization of bigotry looks like, please look no further than Steve Bannon being invited by both @TheEconomist & @NewYorker to their respective events in #NYC a few weeks apart. https://t.co/u0TDfCYrQ1
— Chelsea Clinton (@ChelseaClinton) September 3, 2018
I have nothing against Chelsea Clinton, and I am certain she would have accumulated 2.34 million Twitter followers through her talents alone. But I still cannot see why she — or any other applicant for the role of national censor — should decide who is or is not “normalizing bigotry.” In fact, Ms. Clinton may be one of the worst people to opine on the matter.
For as anyone who watched the obsequies for the great Aretha Franklin last week will have noticed, both of Chelsea Clinton’s parents were up onstage for that occasion.
And the most shocking aspect of that event (even more than the presiding minister fondling Ariana Grande live onstage at a funeral) was the moment when we all said, “Isn’t that Louis Farrakhan up there onstage?” And indeed it was. Mr. and Mrs. Clinton seemed to have no problem sharing a platform with one of the world’s most notorious racists and anti-Semites. Indeed, when Farrakhan waddled over to President Clinton to shake his hand, he was positively oozing with the satisfaction he obviously gets — and has always gotten — from such encounters. For handshakes with — and proximity to — the likes of the Clintons is the only thing that stops Farrakhan from being recognized for what he is: no better or worse than a David Duke.
As of this moment, the official Twitter page of Louis Farrakhan is still up and running. And the “pinned Tweet” at its head is still this:
Thoroughly and completely unmasking the Satanic Jew and the Synagogue of Satan.
— MINISTER FARRAKHAN (@LouisFarrakhan) June 7, 2018
So as I say, I just cannot understand the rules here. So far as I know, Steve Bannon has never given a speech titled “Thoroughly and completely unmasking the Satanic Jew and the Synagogue of Satan.” If he had, then I doubt he would be so proud of it that it would be still sitting at the top of his Twitter page. And if he had, then I imagine that the Clintons would run the other way from him even if it meant no-platforming someone at a funeral.
But as I say, the rules are all in flux. And in the meantime, some of the people attempting to hold themselves out as arbiters of what is or is not “legitimate” opinion would appear to be doing little more than furthering their own political and social agendas. Since I’m sure they wouldn’t want that impression to continue, perhaps some effort could be put in to trying to find a policy with some consistency here?