Cancel the Culture of Democracy

At times, we are moved to shake our heads in wonder at the adaptability of politicians, especially right wingers, and more especially Republican conservatives (if, in fact, there is a difference in those terms), to coopt a concept for their own purposes. One such cooption recently employed is the term “cancel culture.” For definition and clarification, Wikipedia provides a concise explanation:

Cancel culture (or call-out culture) is a modern form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles–either online on social media, in the real world, or both. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to be “canceled.” Merriam-Webster, discussing the term’s history, notes that cancel, as used in the term, means “to stop giving support to that person,” while Dictionary.com, in its pop-culture dictionary, defines cancel culture as “withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.” The expression “cancel culture” has mostly negative connotations and is commonly used in debates on free speech and censorship.

 The phrase has been loaded into viral volumes of Twitter, Facebook, and Fox News interviews, among other rightward media recently but, in particular frequency, following the January 6 assault upon the Capitol. Republican members of Congress who voted to support the unhinged campaign of P45 to overturn the 2020 election results were acutely and vociferously inclined to slam calls for their resignations or loss of desirable perks. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) bemoaned the decision of his publisher to decline to move forward with a proposed book deal. “Canceled” railed Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Elise Stefanik (R-NY), and Matt Gaetz (R-FL). Eric Trump mewled about the loss of corporate PAC funds being cut as corporate cancellation.

The cancel culture defense arose initially in response to criticism and protests against right wing spokespersons and propagandists appearing on college campuses, interpreting the criticism as a sin against free speech. The New York Times conservative OpEd columnist Bret Stephens (07/03/2020) wrote that the biggest threat to free speech is liberals who seek to curb the expression of those who don’t endorse social justice liberalism. It is something of an oxymoron that the Times sustains the free speech of a congenital conservative regularly lecturing on its opinion pages about the horrors of social liberalism.

The odd thing is that those same objectors are virtuous champions of strategies and tactics to suppress efforts to enhance or increase democratic participation in the electoral and governance processes, two forums where free speech is essential.

The cancel culture is not a novel expression; in fact, it is at least a decade or more old. In the 1990s, it was called political correctness, a term equally anathema to the right wing. The odd thing is that those same objectors are virtuous champions of strategies and tactics to suppress efforts to enhance or increase democratic participation in the electoral and governance processes, two forums where free speech is essential. Barriers, such as difficult voter ID laws, election-roll purging, closing of available polling places, to name a few, are hallmarks of Republican conservatives to restrict popular participation by an increasing number of citizens. Gerrymandering, including support for the Electoral College, rounds out such strategies.

The Wisconsin Assembly with 99 seats is a classic example of right wing gerrymandering. Following redrawing of district maps in 2011 by the Republicans, the party won 63% of seats in 2018 with 46% of the vote. Harvard’s Electoral Integrity Project awarded Wisconsin a score of 3 out of 100. This is not an accident, but the result of a long-term Republican strategy. In 2009, Democrats were in the majority in 29 state legislatures while Republicans dominated in 14. By 2015, Democrats sank to 11 while the Republican dominance rose to 25. Buttressed by the legislative mill known as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the conservatives powered favored value issues across the nation into appearing to be a populist wave. While Democrats and their fundraising tended to focus on the national level, conservatives were assiduously vacuuming up at the local and state levels.

In some states, the control function created a grotesque cancel culture that went directly to the heart of democracy and bulked up the musculature of conservative visions of a Republican oligarchy. In Michigan, for example, then-governor Rick Snyder secured passage of legislation authorizing the governor to replace locally elected officials with emergency managers.

In some states, the control function created a grotesque cancel culture that went directly to the heart of democracy and bulked up the musculature of conservative visions of a Republican oligarchy. In Michigan, for example, then-governor Rick Snyder secured passage of legislation authorizing the governor to replace locally elected officials with emergency managers.

Michigan stands out not just for the number of cities with emergency managers, but also for the scope of takeover. State control is traditionally limited to finances, but in Michigan emergency managers have the authority to handle all city affairs, and they have exercised it. In Benton Harbor, former emergency manager Joe Harris issued an order stating that without his approval, city officials weren’t allowed to do anything more than call a meeting and approve minutes. The Flint water fiasco was one result. Snyder and several of his emergency managers are on trial for their activities.

But the Republican right wing does not limit its vision to state and local government in ideas or proposals to cancel democracy and assume aristocratic governance. In 2013, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) addressed the annual meeting of ALEC, exhorting the organization and its members to “stand its ground” against a growing chorus of criticism. The reference was to the model legislation promoted by ALEC in the wake of the fatal Trayvon Martin shooting. In its arsenal, ALEC had also developed what has been characterized as a “soft” repeal of the 17th Amendment providing for the direct election of US senators.

Under the measure, a plurality of the state legislature would be empowered to nominate a candidate to appear on the ballot, alongside candidates nominated by the parties through the convention or primary process. Cruz offered this opinion:

“Prior to the 17th Amendment, the state legislatures’ ability and authority to select senators was a powerful check on the federal government coming and intruding on the prerogatives of the state,” he said. “Because if you have the ability to hire and fire me, I’m a lot less likely to break into your house and steal your television. So there’s no doubt that was a major step toward the explosion of federal power and the undermining of the authority of the states at the local level.”

So long as it is a “soft” repeal of democracy, Cruz and accomplices feel free to pitch it as a soft pedal detriment to increasing federal power, especially if it prevents him from breaking into houses. No need for silly, stinkin’ voting as a “powerful check on the federal government.” Electorates can rest comfortably in the knowledge that conservative oligarchs such as Cruz are prepared to stay in power as long as possible.

When coupled with Cruz’s and colleagues’ efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, the true character of the conservative Republican effort to defend itself from cancel culture transforms into an actual cancellation of democracy.

When coupled with Cruz’s and colleagues’ efforts to overturn the 2020 election results, the true character of the conservative Republican effort to defend itself from cancel culture transforms into an actual cancellation of democracy. If Democrats or liberals are guilty only of a cancel culture character related to speech, conservative Republicans have extended the epithet much farther. 

It may be a moment in history to cancel cancel culture along with the term “unprecedented.”



Categories: elections, FREE SPEECH, GERRYMANDERING, Issues, Local, National, politics, press, State

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