Why the Left Must be the Side that Stands up to Cancel Culture - Part One
Our polarized country has two realities. Only One We Must Fight For.
Cancel culture exists on the left and the right. The reason being, social media has enables groups to form tribes which can enact an agenda that pressure others into compliance or face retribution.
On the right, it mostly manifests itself around acceptance or rejection of Trump. Taking a stand against him means you could lose everything, as Joe Walsh did when he first voted for Trump but then could no longer support him after watching his presidency drive the country into the ground.
If you do not follow the Trump agenda, you might see funds disappear for your publication, or your job threatened. Or Trump might tweet about you and you will be treated to death threats. Just look at Mitt Romney, Jim Comey, etc. It has lost many a person in government, it has thrust the country and its leadership into chaos, and has given rise to a movement of Never Trump Republicans fighting for their economic survival in hopes of saving this country from Trump. This is to say nothing of the disinformation sent out from Trump and the official White House Twitter every day.
But the left controls more of the things most of us hold dear. The reason that most of the institutions in this country - newspapers, art, film, education, science are driven by the ideology of the left, even, with a few notable exceptions, our Silicon Valley overlords. Although Silicon Valley, without a doubt, is mostly immune from any sort of cancel culture. Gen-Z likes its apps and gadgets far too much but they are in compliance with the status quo for fear of retribution.
Why we control these things is because the Baby Boomer generation took control of them during the counter culture revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. While old school liberalism certainly has dominated American culture for decades before that, the counter culture introduced subversive art, dissent, radical ideology, the sexual revolution. They broke through cultural barriers that were frozen in place.
We can’t do much about “cancel culture” on the right - it will live or die with Trump’s re-election, but if we don’t fix our side we stand to lose much more than the election.
What is Threatened
Right now, the polls are tightening. Democrats are being fed only part of the story regarding the protests. The public at large are seeing a different story and listening to a different story through various other channels. While there has been polarization for quite some time now in terms the MSNBC/Fox News wars, it has never been quite as starkly opposite as it is right now and we have never had a more urgent need to unite as a country than we do right now.
A majority of Americans, you can bet, are not siding with the ongoing protests since the murder of George Floyd. They were in the beginning. But the officers have been taken into custody and charged. Now, the movement seems to be to escalate confrontations with police and law enforcement. On Twitter you see people say things like “the evil feds viciously attacked the wall of moms” but they’ll leave out that protesters first were threatening to burn down the police station to take it over as they did in Seattle.
If you bring this up to anyone on the left they don’t really have a response except to go back to the defund or “abolish” police. This is the fight now. And they’re dead serious. In Portland, the protesters are almost all white. Yet, they are also calling to defund in their city. Americans are exhausted, traumatized while a global pandemic grips the country day in and day out. The last thing they are going to want to continue are the protests, which have been ongoing for two months. With no end in sight.
But Twitter loves them. For whatever reason, the fight with Trump has never been about the ballot box. With Biden at the helm, Democrats had the chance to be the less crazy side while Trump imploded. But they have always wanted a fight with this president, a confrontation - to defeat who he is and what he has done to what the country was before he took office. To the left, with Trump, it’s personal.
And when a fight is personal, rational thought flies out the window. With a mere 100 days left, in the final stretch, Democrats are somehow becoming the “radical left” Trump said we were.
At the same time a wave of cancel culture is also slowly encroaching the headlines, with the latest to be charged with retroactive racism, naturalist hero John Muir.
“This has been discussed for many years within the club, but never as publicly as today,” Cruz said in an interview with The Chronicle. “It’s part of a wave of introspection that groups throughout the country are facing” since George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis police custody in May.
Does any of this seem to be doing much of anything except helping institutions rebrand? That much is not clear. But you have to wonder about what a future that purges all of the so-called wrong-doers of our past might look like. Winston Churchill also supported eugenics. Does that mean we should cancel the man responsible for saving the world from Hitler? Does it mean everything Muir did and stood for doesn’t matter? And if so, surely this should apply to Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and any US President that doesn’t stand the test of retroactive purity.
Is this the new counter culture revolution? To purge America of its cultural heritage? While many might think, yes, that’s a good idea. The next question would then be - what else will be scrutinized and scrubbed from the record and when does it stop? If this generation believes they were pure from birth and that everyone else should have known from birth that they were monsters — nothing can be held dear by a community arrested by guilt and shame: books, movies, art, history, science.
Why are we all going along with this? While reflection and truthful conversation is necessary, it’s the cancelling part that doesn’t sit well with me. And I would imagine, a majority of Americans agree. You just don’t see them online in an increasingly insular feedback loop.
The combinations of these two inflection points - anti-racism protests to defund the police and “cancel culture” are simultaneously depicting Democrats as the side out of control, chaotic, threatening. People who live in America who don’t hail from a culture of their own only have American history as their touchstone. If THIS is the moment to interrogate our past and live in shame of our heritage while at the same time beating back COVID — I am not sure Democrats can survive this to defeat Trump.
I fear we are headed for the same place people in the 1970s did before Ronald Reagan overtook government and shut down the counter culture revolution forever.
Why the Boomers Don’t Support Cancel Culture and Gen Z Does
The Baby Boomer generation drove much of the counter culture during the Nixon administration. Our side was the side that fought for dissent and subversive art and the sexual revolution. They fought against close-minded, singular conformity of thought that was popular in the 50s but could not be sustained.
Out of that era most of modern American culture was born. The counter culture that led to anti-Vietnam war protests, “women’s lib,” the black movement also gave rise to the silent majority that pushed American politics, and eventually culture, in a more conservative direction. But the Baby Boomers also helped build the modern Democratic Party, and the media empire that has risen on the left to control most mainstream press, Hollywood, the music industry and art.
This is what Steve Bannon has fought to dismantle in hopes returning America the former glory days of the 1950s.
The Baby Boomers remember the House of Unamerican Activities committee. They remember censorship. They remember what the country was like buttoned up and living a kind of utopian ideal and why they were part of the generation that worked so hard to destroy it.
This is why, when asked in a recent Politico piece about “cancel culture” the majority of those who oppose it are Baby Boomers. Millennials and Gen-Z don’t exactly see the problem in it. They see it as “holding people accountable.” That might be the case if it were two things: 1) arbitrary and 2) oppressive. It isn’t holding anyone accountable - it is using temporary power to exploit a community that lives in fear of being called out. Witch hunts are, simply, not sustainable. They always collapse.
The question is - what will remain and what will collapse in the coming months. Will this finally be the end of the Boomer-driven counter culture at the hands of Gen-Z, giving Steve Bannon and the conservatives at last a chance to take back the country? I’m betting there is a good chance that it is. Many will see this as a bridge too far, prosecuting people for doing things incorrectly and evil that they had no idea were evil at the time.
If Gen Z is trying to destroy the Boomer generation and build one in its place, it’s hard to imagine an entire country of mostly moderates going for that, no matter their age. The counter culture revolution did not impact government much - if anything it simply handed power to the conservatives because the left was not able to adequately lead. But it did shape American culture most of us know. Maybe what we’re witnessing now is the end of that.
Maybe that means the standards for museums, films, literature won’t be based on whether something is exceptional or great but rather how well it answers the cultural needs of the moment - to be representative, to be fair, to be anti-racist and gender fluid, to adhere strictly to the new rules no one must deviate from or else face the wrath of Twitter’s thunder dome. Maybe conservatives take government and Gen-Z takes culture - because they can, because they are the main targets for the survival of these very institutions.
Cancel Culture Started Out as a Successful Marketing Tool
Has there ever been a generation that has been branded from birth like Gen Z and the millennials? No. From toys to technology to clothing, they’ve been raised to identity with and respond to brands as the younger generations became the most profitable. That means that Twitter is a lab for corporations to get messages from young people on what they will buy. Cancel culture has mostly revolved around that. Whether it’s Disney movies or Nikes or Pepsi or the Oscars. And that seemed to be working out. Gen-Z had a social media network to help them mobilize to tell corporations that representation matters. Corporations, in turn, can tailor their marketing for maximum profit.
Although “cancel culture” might have been an annoyance then it didn’t threaten liberalism. It didn’t threaten freedom of expression, open debate, tolerance of different viewpoints. It didn’t bully and intimidate those who aren’t in line with the strident doctrine of the new left.
But that changed with Trump’s rise. It changed with COVID. It changed with the George Floyd protests. Now, the mass hysteria that has arisen in the wake of all three of these things, madness reigns.
Now, the way corporations and brands have catered to Gen-Z has empowered them to believe everything else - from universities to newspapers to research labs should likewise cater to their needs.
This is the inflection point we face. How much of this will be accepted by the majority and how much of it will be rejected. While Gen-Z and the internet feedback loop dominates the narrative with anti-racism and woke activism - America remains 60% white. But Gen-Z by population dominates:
Gen-Z has overtaken Millennials by nearly 4 million to become the largest generation in the United States. Baby Boomers are the third-largest generation with the population of 69 million persons in 2020.
With a current population of around 86 million, the Gen-Z generation is expected to grow to 88 million over the next 20 years because of migration, according to the United Nations' latest World Population Prospects.
Their ideas might indeed support the new Woketopia - and if this is how the world is changing, there isn’t a lot those of us who reject it can do except sit around and wait to die. I’m sure the Greatest Generation were likewise horrified by the cultural revolution. Cancel culture, to me, is strident puritanism, policing of thought, art, expression — and thus, feels more conservative than the previous counter culture revolution.
This is a generation, however, that loved the Bernie brand but didn’t really show up to vote. If voting can be done online I would imagine that will change. The convenience generation doesn’t much like doing what they have to do when they have so many options of doing what they want to do. Image is everything. Branding themselves is more important than actually voting, for instance. A corporation instagramming about Black Lives Matter is more important that that company’s actual policies.
That could spell a problem for Biden with this generation, especially if they chase these votes or this ideology for Twitter’s approval. Biden is not a brand. Even if he chooses a Veep who is that won’t mean they can turn out the Gen-Z vote.
That puts things back on the boomers and the older generations who do turn out to vote. If we want to defeat Trump, we need one side that defends the things we hold most dear: humanity, respect, freedom of expression. If the left abandons those things, the only group left to defend it will be the right.