These highlights are from the Kindle version of The Authoritarian Moment: How the Left Weaponized America’s Institutions Against Dissent by Ben Shapiro.
For most of human history, authoritarianism manifested in centralized governmental systems: monarchies, oligarchies, aristocracies. The widespread democracy of the post–World War II period is extraordinary, and extraordinarily fragile: human beings may be granted freedom, but freedom has a short shelf life.
Democracy is threatened chiefly by ochlocracy: the rule of the mob. Mob rule transforms freedom into authoritarianism in two ways: through reactionary brutality, in which citizens seek protection from the winds of change, without and within—a form of brutality largely associated with the political Right; and utopian brutality, in which citizens seek to escape present challenges through the transformation of mankind itself—a form of brutality largely associated with the political Left. Often, the two forms of brutality feed on each other, creating a downward spiral into tyranny. This is precisely what happened in Weimar Germany, where the utopian brutality of German communists came into conflict with the reactionary brutality of German Nazis.
In 1950, Frankfurt School theorist Theodor Adorno, along with University of California, Berkeley, researchers Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford, authored a book titled The Authoritarian Personality. The book, an attempt to explore the origins of anti-Semitism, posited that people could be classified via the use of a so-called F-scale—F meaning “pre-fascist personality.” Adorno et al. posited that such personalities were churned out by the American system.
Authoritarians rarely recognize their own authoritarianism. To them, authoritarianism looks like simple virtue.
Nearly every social media company in America promptly removed President Trump’s accounts, even while acknowledging that they could not justify that removal on the basis of their stated policies.
The most dramatic and immediate reaction to the Capitol riot was the institutional move against Parler. Parler had been launched in August 2018 as an alternative to Twitter; conservatives had been complaining about Twitter’s opacity and discrimination against conservatives relative to leftists. Parler was the supposed free market solution. Then, in the aftermath of the riot, Apple’s app store removed Parler, as did the Google Play store.
The final blow came when Amazon Web Services—a company that merely provides cloud-based web infrastructure for companies—canceled Parler altogether, taking it offline. AWS, Parler CEO John Matze wrote, “will be banning Parler until we give up free speech, institute broad and invasive policies like Twitter and Facebook and we become a surveillance platform by pursuing guilt of those who use Parler before innocence.”
As Kaufman concludes, “If America cannot reform its regime of speech discipline, it has no hope of overcoming its yawning cultural divide.” In order to overcome that yawning cultural divide, however, we must first acknowledge the obvious: our divide is cultural. It is not economic. It is not racial. It is cultural.
The racial theory of American politics is similarly non-explanatory. That theory supposed that Trump’s outsized white support in 2016 was evidence of a white majoritarian backlash to an ascendant minority coalition. But that theory was firmly debunked in 2018, when white suburban voters handed a majority to Democrats in Congress, and in 2020, when Trump increased his vote share among minorities but lost vote share among white voters, and white men particularly.
Most Americans tend to think individually, both philosophically and strategically: they spend their time attempting to convince friends and family of their viewpoints, rather than infiltrating institutions and using the power of those institutions for mass marketing. Leftists have no such qualms. Most Americans, trusting in the free market and free speech, insist that people be left free to make choices they don’t like, and oppose the exercise of institutional power; leftists militarize powerful forces in a variety of fields to achieve their political ends.
“In place of the old beliefs of a civilization based on godliness, judgment and historical loyalty, young people are given the new beliefs of a society based on equality and inclusion, and are told that the judgment of other lifestyles is a crime…. The ‘non-judgmental’ attitude towards other cultures goes hand-in-hand with a fierce denunciation of the culture that might have been one’s own.”
Where conservatives define virtue in accordance with religious precepts or natural law, liberals define virtue as empathy.
The culture of microaggression is about magnifying claims of harm in order to gain leverage. That leverage can grow to astonishing proportions: woke staffers got a reporter for The New York Times fired for using the n-word to explain why and when using the n-word was wrong.
How did colleges, supposedly protectors of open inquiry and free speech, turn into the bleeding edge of censorship and ideological compulsion?
The answer lies in a process that author Nassim Nicholas Taleb labels “renormalization.” This process allows a motivated minority to cow a larger, largely uninterested majority into going along to get along. Taleb gives a simple example: a family of four, including one daughter who eats only organic. Mom now has a choice: she can cook two meals, one for the non-organic family members and one for her daughter; or she can cook one meal with only organic ingredients. She decided to cook only one meal. This is renormalization of the family unit, which has converted from majority non-organic to universally organic. Now, says Taleb, have the family attend a barbecue attended by three other families. The host has to make the same choice mom did—and the host chooses to cook organic for everyone.
American politics is, broadly speaking, divided into three significant groups: conservatives, leftists, and liberals. Liberals may share redistributionist goals with leftists, but can be distinguished from leftists with a simple test: asking whether those who disagree ought to be silenced. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, used to be liberal—it stood up for the right of Nazis to march through Skokie, Illinois. Now, however, the ACLU is fully leftist—in 2018, the ACLU promulgated an internal memo explaining, “Our defense of speech may have a greater or lesser harmful impact on the equality and justice work to which we are also committed… we should make every effort to consider the consequences of our actions….”
Obama won because he held together a heavily minority-based, low-income coalition: 93 percent of black voters, 71 percent of Hispanic voters, 73 percent of Asian voters, 55 percent of female voters, 76 percent of LGBT voters, 63 percent of those making below $30,000 per year, and 57 percent of those making between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.
The triumphant election of Warren G. Harding ushered in an era of smaller government, and a return to the traditional vision of individual freedoms guarded by a constitutionally limited state. Calvin Coolidge, Harding’s successor and the winner of 54 percent of the popular vote and 382 electoral votes in the 1924 election, expressed his view of business with reverence toward the free markets.
With the Great Depression, the Utopian Impulse—and the crushing hand of government—once again gained the upper hand. Crisis was, as always, an excellent opportunity for a renewed love affair with democratic socialism.
FDR combined his utopian government programs with top-down censorship, including fascistic crackdowns on dissenters. As Jonah Goldberg describes in his book Liberal Fascism, “it seems impossible to deny that the New Deal was objectively fascistic. Under the New Deal, government goons smashed down doors to impose domestic policies.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson doubled down on FDR’s commitments, now suggesting that America could become a “Great Society” only by launching a multiplicity of major government spending initiatives, fighting a “war on poverty.” Government encroached into nearly every arena of American life, offering subsidies and threatening prosecutions and fines. Government promised housing; it offered instead government-run projects, which quickly degraded into dystopian hellholes. Government promised welfare; it offered instead the prospect of intergenerational poverty through sponsorship of single motherhood.
This was the contention of so-called Critical Race Theory (CRT). CRT transmuted the class-based argument that America is rigged into a race-based one. According to CRT, every institution in America is rooted in white supremacy; every institution is “structurally” or “institutionally” racist. This idea was first put forth by Stokely Carmichael, then the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in 1966 (later, Carmichael would become a black separatist and the head of the Black Panther Party).
Critical Race Theory pioneer Derrick Bell wrote that “the whole liberal worldview of private rights and public sovereignty mediated by the rule of law needed to be exploded… a worldview premised upon the public and private spheres is an attractive mirage that masks the reality of economic and political power.”
As Christopher Caldwell writes, “The changes of the 1960s, with civil rights at their core, were not just a major new element in the Constitution. They were a rival constitution with which the original one was frequently incompatible.”
When crime rates soared out of control, particularly in minority communities, a bipartisan coalition came together in Washington, D.C., to pass a tough-on-crime bill designed to lengthen sentencing. That bill was supported by 58 percent of black Americans, including most black mayors. It passed the Senate by a 94–5 vote.
This general consensus—that right or left, the government could not solve all problems, but that the American system was inherently good—held through 2008. Barack Obama campaigned on that promise. He promised hope. He suggested that Americans were united by a common vision, and by a common source.
Obama was trained in the strategies of Saul Alinsky, himself the father of community organizing—and as the Marxist Alinsky wrote in 1971, “even if all the low-income parts of our population were organized—all the blacks, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Appalachian poor whites—if through some genius of organization they were all united in a coalition, it would not be powerful enough to get significant, basic needed changes. It would have to… seek out allies.
This coalitional strategy would eventually be elevated into a philosophy, termed intersectionality by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. Crenshaw posited, correctly, that a person could be discriminated against differently thanks to membership in multiple historically victimized groups (a black woman, for example, could be discriminated against differently from a black man). But she then extended that rather uncontroversial premise into a far broader argument: that Americans can be broken down into various identity groups, and that members of particular identity groups cannot understand the experiences of those of other identity groups. This granted members of allegedly victimized identity groups unquestionable moral authority.
Biden successfully mobilized that coalition against Trump, largely by suggesting that Trump presented a unique historic threat to identity groups within the coalition.
In homage of his coalition, Biden then doled out cabinet positions based on intersectional characteristics. This was overt racial pandering. The coalition was back in power. And that coalition had learned the main lesson of the Obama era: uniting the Utopian Impulse of progressivism with the Revolutionary Impulse of identity politics could achieve victory.
By anti-racist policy, of course, Biden means policy designed to level all outcomes, no matter the individual decision making at issue. The 2020 Democratic Party platform makes that point even clearer: “Democrats are committed to standing up to racism and bigotry in our laws, in our culture, in our politics, and in our society, and recognize that race-neutral policies are not sufficient to rectify race-based disparities. We will take a comprehensive approach to embed racial justice in every element of our governing agenda.”
There is a reason that Ibram X. Kendi, ideological successor to Derrick Bell and Stokely Carmichael, has openly called for a federal Department of Anti-Racism, empowered with the ability to preclear “all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequality, monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequality surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas.” The DOA would have the ability to punish “policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.” This is as pure an expression of fascism as it is possible to imagine.
The real reason many Americans go to college—particularly Americans who aren’t majoring in science, technology, engineering, and math fields—is either pure credentialism, social cachet, or both. College, in essence, is about the creation of a New Ruling Class.
According to the Census Bureau, the number of Americans over twenty-five with a master’s degree doubled between 2000 and 2018, and the number of Americans with a doctorate increased 125 percent.
“More than 40 percent of recent college graduates wind up in jobs that do not require a degree… on top of the roughly half of college attendees who fail to earn a degree at all.”
In December 2020, Joseph Epstein, who taught at the University of Chicago, wrote a column pointing out that incoming first lady Jill Biden was not in fact a doctor—her doctorate was in education from the prestigious University of Delaware. “A wise man once said that no one should call himself ‘Dr.’ unless he has delivered a child,” Epstein wrote. “Think about it, Dr. Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.” The media reacted with unmitigated scorn and fury.
Dr. Jill is not a doctor in any meaningful sense. That’s not just because her supposed hard work amounted to receiving a degree for a dissertation from a university with a public policy school named after her husband in a state represented by her husband for decades (although one could make the case that such a degree is a tad… well… unearned).
She insists on being called “doctor” because it’s a mark of membership in the New Ruling Class. As Dr. Jill once told her husband, Joe Biden, “I was so sick of the mail coming to Sen. and Mrs. Biden. I wanted the mail addressed to Dr. and Sen. Biden.”
In 1980, the 100 counties with the highest share of college degrees went Republican, 76 to 24; in 2020, Democrats won top college-graduate counties 84 to 16.
As Boston University professor of history Ibram X. Kendi, perhaps the most popular of the woke thinkers, states, “Racial inequality is evidence of racist policy and the different racial groups are equals.” Robin DiAngelo, Kendi’s white woke counterpart and a professor at the University of Washington, summarizes: “if we truly believe that all humans are equal, then disparity in condition can only be the result of systemic discrimination.” In other words, all decisions should create the same result—and if you disagree, you are racist.
As Kendi puts it, “The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
The wokabulary is facially absurd. Two decades ago, New York University mathematician Alan Sokal published a gobbledygook word salad of deconstructionism in a postmodern academic journal. Its title: “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity.” In 2018, scholars James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose, and Peter Boghossian repeated the feat, but on a far larger scale. The left-liberal scholars submitted a series of hilariously farcical articles to prestigious academic journals—and a bevy of those articles were accepted. Of the twenty papers submitted, seven were accepted and four were published. Only six were rejected outright. Gender, Place, and Culture published a paper titled, “Human Reaction to Rape Culture and Queer Performativity at Urban Dog Parks in Portland, Oregon.” The journal Fat Studies published a paper titled, “Who Are They to Judge? Overcoming Anthropometry and a Framework for Fat Bodybuilding.”
Outside of the sciences, universities no longer exist in order to train you for a job. They exist to grant you a credential and usher you into the broader world of the New Ruling Class via your new bilingualism in the wokabulary. David Randall of the National Association of Scholars notes that over the last twenty years a new generation of academics and administrators has taken power, seeking to “transform higher education itself into an engine of progressive political advocacy, subjecting students to courses that are nothing more than practical training in progressive activism.” So dominant is the wokeism that in many major university departments, not a single conservative can be identified on the staff. Professors leverage social justice into their curricula, into their research, into their writings; administrators use their power to push social justice in all aspects of both academic and social life, from residential life to public events.
The postmodernists made the case that all knowledge was the result of preexisting narratives that had to be questioned, and that none of those narratives could rebut any other narratives. Postmodernism could be used to tear down any attempt to establish truth—even scientific facts could be rebutted by critiquing the way we define truth based on our cultural context.
Postmodernism carved the heart out of the liberal project. Enlightenment liberalism pushed reason and logic to the center of discourse; postmodernism dismissed reason and logic as just, like, your opinion, man.
There are few or no conservatives in the faculty and staff of most top universities; a 2020 Harvard Crimson survey found that 41.3 percent of the faculty members identified as liberal, and another 38.4 percent as very liberal; moderates constituted just 18.9 percent of the faculty, and 1.46 percent said they were conservative.
In the humanities, the percentages were even more skewed, with 90 percent calling themselves liberal; overall, 90 percent of all faculty said they opposed Trump. One liberal Yale professor told The Wall Street Journal, “Universities are moving away from the search for truth” and toward “social justice.”
When liberal professor Bret Weinstein refused to leave the Evergreen State College campus after black radicals demanded that white teachers not teach on a particular day—and when he added to that sin by stating that faculty jobs should be rooted in merit rather than skin color—authoritarian leftist students called him racist and took over campus buildings. Students walked out on a class taught by his wife, evolutionary biologist Heather Heyer, when she pointed out that men are, on average, taller than women.
Floyd’s death generated massive protests and riots around the country. Those protests and riots were driven by the false notion that police across the nation routinely murdered black men—an evidence-free untruth. Led by the radical Black Lives Matter movement, these “racial justice” gatherings—in the midst of a deadly pandemic—were unprecedented in size and scale. According to polling, somewhere between 15 and 26 million people in the United States attended a protest.
And the same public health professionals who decried anti-lockdown protests, who urged Americans to do their part to socially distance, who cheered as businesses were told to close and schools to board up, ecstatically endorsed the mass gatherings. Apparently, the virus was itself woke: it would kill Republicans who opposed economy-crippling lockdowns, but would pass over anyone chanting trite slogans about defunding the police.
Speaking on CNN, New York mayor Bill de Blasio openly stated that only BLM marches would be allowed in his city: “This is a historic moment of change. We have to respect that but also say to people the kinds of gatherings we’re used to, the parades, the fairs—we just can’t have that while we’re focused on health right now.”
More than one thousand “public health specialists” signed an open letter supporting the largest protests in American history in the middle of a global pandemic, claiming that such protests were “vital to the national public health,” and adding, “This should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-at-home orders.” Infectious-disease expert Ranu S. Dhillon of Harvard Medical School told The New York Times, “Protesting against systemic injustice that is contributing directly to this pandemic is essential. The right to live, the right to breathe, the right to walk down the street without police coming at you for no reason… that’s different than me wanting to go to my place of worship on the weekend, me wanting to take my kid on a roller coaster, me wanting to go to brunch with my friends.”
Julia Marcus, epidemiologist at Harvard Medical School, and Gregg Gonsalves, epidemiologist at Yale School of Public Health, penned an article at The Atlantic claiming, “Public-health experts are weighing these same risks at a population level, and many have come to the conclusion that the health implications of maintaining the status quo of white supremacy are too great to ignore, even with the potential for an increase in coronavirus transmission from the protests.”
Cities like New York actually told their contact tracers not to ask whether those diagnosed with Covid had attended a protest.
Now, this would seem to be a simple scientific question: who is most vulnerable to Covid? The most vulnerable obviously ought to be given the Covid vaccine first. And, as it turns out, that question has an obvious answer: the elderly, who are most susceptible to multiple preexisting conditions. Covid risk is heavily striated by age: according to the Centers for Disease Control, the death rate of Covid for those above the age of eighty-five is 630 times the death rate for those between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine; for those between seventy-five and eighty-four, the death rate is 220 times higher; for those between sixty-five and seventy-four, the death rate is 90 times higher. So it should have been an easy call for the Centers for Disease Control to set out vaccine distribution guidelines based on age. That, however, was not what happened.
On November 23, 2020, CDC public health official Kathleen Dooling presented her recommendations for tranching out the vaccine to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Dooling explained that essential workers—some 87 million people—should receive the vaccine before the elderly. Yes, Dooling’s modeling acknowledged, this would increase the number of deaths somewhere between 0.5 percent and 6.5 percent. But such differences were “minimal,” Dooling stated, when compared with the fact that racial equity could be pursued through her recommended policy. After all, Dooling pointed out, “racial and ethnic minority groups are underrepresented among adults > 65.” Because white people have a longer life expectancy than black and Hispanic Americans, Dooling was arguing, there were too many old white people. Why not prioritize younger black and Hispanic people at lower risk of dying from the disease as a sort of reparative measure?
On December 5, The New York Times reported that the committee had unanimously supported Dooling’s proposal. At least eighteen states had decided to take into account the CDC’s “social vulnerability index” in tranching out vaccines. As the Times acknowledged, “Historically, the committee relied on scientific evidence to inform its decisions. But now the members are weighing social justice concerns as well, noted Lisa A. Prosser, a professor of health policy and decision sciences at the University of Michigan.” The Times quoted one Harald Schmidt, an alleged expert in ethics and health policy at the University of Pennsylvania, expressing himself in blatantly eugenic terms: “Older populations are whiter. Society is structured in a way that enables them to live longer. Instead of giving additional health benefits to those who already had more of them, we can start to level the playing field a bit.” All it would take to level that playing field was to bury some disproportionately white bodies in the low-lying areas.
When science becomes The ScienceTM, Americans rightly begin to doubt their scientific institutions. They begin to believe, correctly, that the institutions of science have been hijacked by authoritarian leftists seeking to use white coats to cram down their viewpoints in top-down fashion.
Postmodernism claims that even scientific truths are cultural artifacts—that human beings cannot truly understand anything like an “objective truth,” and that science is merely one way of thinking about the world. In fact, science is a uniquely Western (read: racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc.) way of thinking about the world, since it is a theory of knowledge that has historically perpetuated systems of power.
As theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss writes, “academic science leaders have adopted wholesale the language of dominance and oppression previously restricted to ‘cultural studies’ journals to guide their disciplines, to censor dissenting views, to remove faculty from leadership positions if their research is claimed by opponents to support systemic oppression.”
Nature—perhaps the most prestigious science publication on the planet—quickly issued a policy stating that editors would be seeking outside opinions on the “broader societal implications of publishing a paper,” an open invitation for political interference into the scientific process. This means the death of scientific inquiry at the hands of the woke.
Doctors have claimed that gender identity is “the only medically supported determinant of sex,” despite the fact that biology clearly exists. In 2018, the American Medical Association announced that it would oppose any definition of sex based on “immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” instead favoring language stating that doctors “assign” sex at birth—a laughable assertion. The AMA even outlined legislation that would ban therapists from suggesting to children that they ought to become more comfortable with their biological sex rather than acting in contravention to it.
The New England Journal of Medicine, likely the most prestigious scientific journal in America, printed an article in December 2020 recommending that sex designations on birth certificates be moved below the line of demarcation, since they “offer no clinical utility.”
In 2020, the Association of American Medical Colleges hosted professional racists Ibram X. Kendi and Nikole Hannah-Jones to explain that the standards for entrance into the scientific community ought to be changed in order to achieve demographic parity. Hannah-Jones explained to the annual meeting of the AAMC that when she requires a doctor, she tries to “seek out a black doctor”; Kendi explained that the lack of black doctors overall is a result of “stage 4 metastatic racism.” Kendi told the AAMC—which administers the Medical College Admissions Test—that standardized tests are racist, because standardized tests tend to weed out black and Latino students. “Either there’s something wrong with the test, or there’s something wrong with the test-takers,” Kendi said. And of course to suggest that not all individuals perform equally well on tests is to suggest that there is something wrong with some of the test takers—which would make you racist.
According to Claremont McKenna professor Frederick Lynch, between 2013 and 2016, medical schools “admitted 57 percent of black applicants with a low MCAT of 24 to 26, but only 8 percent of whites and 6 percent of Asians with those same low scores.” Meanwhile, the National Science Foundation, a federal funding agency for science, says that it wants to pursue a “diverse STEM workforce”—not the best scientists of all races, but a specifically diverse group.
In October 2020, the politicization of science—and its replacement with The ScienceTM—became more obvious than ever before. Scientific American, perhaps the foremost popular science publication in America, issued the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. Naturally, they endorsed Joe Biden.
Not to be outdone, Nature similarly endorsed Joe Biden. “We cannot stand by and let science be undermined,” the editorial board explained. Among their reasons: Trump’s rejection of the Iran nuclear deal, a decidedly ultracrepidarian concern.
The Civil Rights Act and its attendant corpus of law didn’t merely outlaw governmental discrimination—it created whole new classes of established victim groups that had the power to sue companies out of existence based on virtually no evidence of discrimination.
Corporations resides almost solely with the Left. One study found that survey participants dinged a fake company, Jones Corporation, 33 percent for conservative politics, and said they were 25.9 percent less likely to buy its products, 25.3 percent more likely to buy from a competitor, and 43.9 percent less likely to want to work there. For companies perceived as liberal, no penalty accrued. As James R. Bailey and Hillary Phillips observed in Harvard Business Review, “That a company engaged in conservative or liberal political activity did not affect Republicans’ opinions of that company, but it did for Democrats…
In December 2020, NASDAQ, a stock exchange covering thousands of publicly traded companies, announced that it would seek to require those listed on its exchange to fulfill diversity quotas on their boards. According to the Wall Street Journal, NASDAQ told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it would “require listed companies to have at least one woman on their boards, in addition to a director who is a racial minority or one who self-identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.”
Goldman Sachs stated it would not help roll out initial public offerings for companies without a “diverse” board member. The civil rights movement that once sought to treat people by individual merit rather than group identity has been turned completely on its head—and corporations, which supposedly used to stand for the meritocracy, are pushing that moral inversion.
In October 2020, Yelp—a site that allows members of the public to review businesses—announced that it would place an alert on a business if “someone associated with the business was accused of, or the target of, racist behavior.”
And if there was “resounding evidence of egregious, racist actions from a business owner or employee, such as using overtly racist slurs or symbols,” such evidence being “a news article from a credible media outlet,” the business would be hit with a “Business Accused of Racist Behavior Alert.” Yelp had now created a Stalinesque system of woke snitching, in which all it would take to forever destroy a business would be an account of racism about an employee, a twenty-two-year-old reporter looking for clicks, and an email address. Between May 26 and September 30, more than 450 alerts were placed on business pages accused of racist behavior related to Black Lives Matter alone.
In 2016, North Carolina passed a bill that would ensure separate bathroom facilities for men and women throughout the state, in contravention of a local Charlotte ordinance that would allow transgender people to access the bathroom of their choice. The business world reacted with universal outrage, and big business vowed not to do business at all in the state: PayPal dumped plans for a facility, as did Deutsche Bank; Adidas decided to hire in Atlanta rather than Charlotte; the NCAA vowed to cancel championship games; Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan stated, “Companies are moving to other places, because they don’t face an issue that they face here.” According to the Associated Press, North Carolina was slated to lose some $3.75 billion over a dozen years if the state didn’t dump the bathroom bill. In March 2017, the bathroom bill was duly repealed.
After Georgia passed a pro-life law, Hollywood production companies announced they wouldn’t do business in the state—even while doing business in human-rights-abusing China.
When Amazon Web Services, whose sole job is to provide cloud services, decides to deplatform Parler, that’s polarizing. When Mailchimp, an email delivery service, refuses to do business with the Northern Virginia Tea Party, that’s polarizing. When PayPal announces that it uses slurs from the Southern Poverty Law Center to determine which groups to ban, that’s polarizing. When Stripe announces it will not process funds for the Trump campaign website after January 6, that’s polarizing.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the advantage for large companies. Between March 2020 and September 2020, more than 400,000 small businesses closed. Meanwhile, big companies got bigger.
In September 2020—in the midst of the supposed racial “reckoning” sweeping the nation after the death of George Floyd—the Academy Awards announced it would shift the standards for its golden statuettes. No longer would films be selected on the basis of quality. Instead, studios would be given a choice of fulfilling one of four criteria. First, the film could itself contain certain woke prerequisites: either a lead or significant supporting actor from an “underrepresented racial or ethnic group”; or at least 30 percent of all actors in secondary roles would have to be from such a victim group or a woman or LGBTQ or have a disability; or the main story line would have to center on such an underrepresented group. Second, the film could be staffed by members of those underrepresented groups. Third, the film company could provide paid apprenticeship and internship opportunities for such victimized groups. Finally, those participating in the marketing could be from one of those victimized groups. Academy president David Rubin and CEO Dawn Hudson explained, “We believe these inclusion standards will be a catalyst for long-lasting, essential change in our industry.”
The last four Best Pictures winners are, in reverse chronological order, a morality tale about the evils of income inequality (Parasite); a morality tale about racism and homophobia (Green Book); a morality tale about the evils of the military, and discrimination against the disabled, blacks, homosexuals, communists, and fish (The Shape of Water); and a morality tale about racism and homophobia (Moonlight).
In 2015, on the back of massive racial unrest after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Hollywood’s woke contingent began complaining that Hollywood had marginalized black creators. In 2015, the Academy hadn’t nominated a single black actor in any of its categories. This, obviously, meant that Hollywood had to get woke. Thus the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite was born. Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy, said that as soon as she saw the nominations, “my heart sank.”
Conservatives exist in dramas as foils for more open-minded and tolerant liberals; in comedies, they generally take the form of wrong-thinking incompetents. Occasionally, a stray libertarian may be portrayed as a cynical life guide (see, for example, Ron Swanson in Parks and Recreation or Jack Donaghy in 30 Rock), but it is an absolute certainty that no mainstream television show or movie will ever portray an advocate for traditional marriage as anything but a bigot, or a thoroughly pro-life woman as anything but a sellout.
Why does this matter? It matters because, as my old mentor Andrew Breitbart used to say, culture is upstream of politics. Americans engage with the culture far more than with politics: political feeling is just the manifestation of underlying feelings people have about compassion and justice, about right and wrong. And those feelings are shaped by the cultural sea in which we all swim.
According to Nielsen, Americans over the age of eighteen spend at least four hours per day watching TV; they spend more than twelve hours a day on average engaged with TV. And that cultural sea is dominated by the Left, from top to bottom. There is a reason Netflix has green-lit a multiyear slate of projects from Barack and Michelle Obama; that Obama administration alum and now Biden staffer Susan Rice was on the Netflix board; that 98 percent of all donations from Netflix employees went to Democrats in 2016, and 99.6 percent in 2018; that Netflix announced it would not invest in making film or television in Georgia if the state’s pro-life law stood (Netflix has no problem doing business with China, of course). There is a reason Disney said it would have a tough time doing business in Georgia, too (and yes, Mulan was filmed in Xinjiang, where the Chinese government has been stuffing Muslim Uighurs in concentration camps).
Hollywood studios regularly prescreen their shows for activist groups like the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation; GLAAD brags that its media team “work closely with TV networks, film studios, production companies, showrunners, scriptwriters, casting directors, ad agencies, and public relations firms” to ensure “fair and accurate representation” of LGBT people. By “fair and accurate,” GLAAD presumably means reflective of GLAAD’s agenda.
In the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests and riots of 2020, the reality series Cops was canceled from Paramount Network after a thirty-one-year run—all because of fears that the show might show police officers in a positive context. The leftist activist group Color of Change cheered the decision, stating, “Crime television encourages the public to accept the norms of over-policing and excessive force and reject reform, while supporting the exact behavior that destroys the lives of Black people. Cops led the way…. We call on A&E to cancel Live PD next.” Days later, it was.
Hollywood critics are monolithically adherents to authoritarian leftism. This authoritarian leftism has infused film criticism to an extraordinary extent: films, if perceived as political, are no longer judged broadly on their merits. Instead, they’re judged on checking woke boxes.
When critics come into conflict with audiences, there can be only one explanation: Americans are a bunch of bigots. So naturally, Ghostbusters’ failure became evidence that Americans simply couldn’t handle powerful females.
This phenomenon has been invoked over and over again to explain just why critics like movies the public often doesn’t. If fans think that Star Wars: The Last Jedi was an incoherent mishmash of bad plotting, destruction of beloved and iconic characters, addition of new and boring characters, with a side plot of animal rights silliness, that’s not because maybe they’re right—it’s because they are “toxic fans.” If, in particular, Star Wars fans found Rose (Kelly Marie Tran) to be an absolutely superfluous and soporific character (she was), that was because they were racist and sexist. The critics spoke, and loved The Last Jedi (90 percent fresh); the audience spoke and hated it (42 percent fresh).
When Hillbilly Elegy premiered, the critics savaged it (27 percent fresh)—not primarily because of its moviemaking, but because between 2016 and 2020, it became un-woke to take seriously impoverished white protagonists, or to champion the power of individual decision making. The movie review for The Atlantic, which deemed the film “one of the worst movies of the year,” found it worthy of note that the original book, which sold several million copies, “often appears uninterested in interrogating deeper systemic issues.” Audiences, by the way, loved the film—the audience rating was 86 percent fresh on RottenTomatoes.
Even if you’re offended by Netflix mirroring the woke dictates of BLM, you can’t exactly switch over to Hulu or Amazon: those companies put up their own propagandistic film categories designed to respond to America’s racial “reckoning,” and announced their own solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Renormalization of Hollywood, combined with closing the door to dissent, has created an entertainment monolith.
In 2014, a white police officer shot to death eighteen-year-old Michael Brown; Brown had assaulted the officer, attempted to steal his gun, fired it in the officer’s car, and then charged the officer. Members of the media repeated the lie that Brown had surrendered to the officer with his hands raised. The slogan “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” became shorthand for the accusation that Brown had been murdered, and for the broader proposition that police across America were systematically targeting black Americans. And the sports world followed suit: five players on the St. Louis Rams walked out during the pregame introductions with their hands raised in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” pose. The NFL quickly announced there would be no consequences, with NFL vice president Brian McCarthy explaining, “We respect and understand the concerns of all individuals who have expressed views on this tragic situation.” This wasn’t out of a generalized respect for free speech values, however—it was about catering to wokeness. In 2016, after a Black Lives Matter supporter shot to death five police officers, the NFL rejected the Dallas Cowboys’ request to wear a decal paying tribute to the victims.
By 2020, after the killing of George Floyd in police custody resulted in nationwide protests, virtually every sports league mandated wokeness. The NBA festooned its sidelines with the phrase “BLACK LIVES MATTER”—a semantically overloaded phrase suggesting that America was irredeemably bigoted against black Americans. That was in and of itself a rather shocking contention coming from an 80 percent black league60 in which the average salary is $7.7 million per season. NBA players were told they could emblazon woke slogans on the back of their jerseys, limited to: Black Lives Matter, Say Their Names, Vote, I Can’t Breathe, Justice, Peace, Equality, Freedom, Enough, Power to the People, Justice Now, Say Her Name, Si Se Puede, Liberation, See Us, Hear Us, Respect Us, Love Us, Listen, Listen to Us, Stand Up, Ally, Anti-Racist, I Am a Man, Speak Up, How Many More, Group Economics, Education Reform, and Mentor. Thus, it became a common sight to see Group Economics blocking Justice, and I Can’t Breathe throwing up an alley-oop to Enough. How any of this had anything to do with sports was beyond reasonable explanation.
In response to the death of George Floyd while in police custody, massive protests involving millions of Americans broke out in cities across America. Never mind that even the circumstances surrounding Floyd’s death were controversial—the police had been called to the scene by a shop owner after Floyd passed a counterfeit bill, was heavily drugged on fentanyl, resisted arrest, asked not to be placed in the police vehicle, and was in all likelihood suffering from serious complicating health factors.1 Never mind that there was no evidence of racism in the actual Floyd incident itself. The impetus for the protests was rooted in a false narrative: the narrative that America was rooted in white supremacy, her institutions shot through with systemic racism, that black Americans are at constant risk of being murdered by the police (grand total number of black Americans, out of some 37 million black Americans, shot dead by the police while unarmed in 2020, according to The Washington Post: 15).
Police officers, realizing that even a proper arrest, if effectuated by a white officer against a black suspect, could result in a media-led crusade against them and their departments, stopped proactively policing. As a result, thousands of Americans died in 2020 who simply wouldn’t have died in 2019. As Heather Mac Donald observed in The Wall Street Journal, “The year 2020 likely saw the largest percentage increase in homicides in American history…..Based on preliminary estimates, at least 2,000 more Americans, most of them black, were killed in 2020 than in 2019.”
So when the media—quite properly—expressed outrage at the insanity of the January 6 Capitol invasion, Americans with an attention span longer than that of a guppy could see the hypocrisy and double standard a mile off. The media, it seems, is fine with political violence when it is directed at one side.
Skewing of journalism makes its purveyors, quite literally, Fake News. They pretend to be news outlets but are actually partisan activists. It would be difficult to find a single bylined staffer at The New York Times who voted for Donald Trump. The same holds true at The Washington Post. Certainly, CNN, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press—none of them are hotbeds of Republican activity. According to a 2020 report in Business Insider, a survey of political donations from establishment media members found that 90 percent of their donated money went to Democrats (the survey included names from Fox and the New York Post). In 2013, a survey of journalists showed that just 7 percent identified as Republican. And by 2016, according to Politico, “more than half of publishing employees worked in counties that Clinton won by 30 points or more,” with just 27 percent of employees working in a red district.
Americans aren’t blind. They distrust the media for a reason. Members of the media frequently blame Trump for endemic American mistrust of the fourth estate. They neglect the simple fact that Americans, particularly on the right, had justified trust issues long before Trump ever rose to prominence in politics. In 2013, for example, only about 52 percent of Americans trusted traditional media. Today, that number is 46 percent; only 18 percent of Trump voters trust the media, compared with 57 percent of Biden voters. Six in ten Americans believe “most news organizations are more concerned with supporting an ideology or political position than with informing the public.”
Establishment institutions declare themselves objective, and thus trustworthy. But in reality, sometimes partisan hacks can print truth, and self-appointed “objective” outlets can print lies; “objective” journalists can lie through omission, favor allies through contextualization, focus on stories most flattering to their own political priors. Bias is simply inseparable from journalism. Some journalists do a better job than others at attempting to remove their own biases from the stories they cover. Virtually all fail—and over the past few years, they have begun to fail more and more dramatically. The establishment media’s slavish sycophancy for Barack Obama, followed by their rabidly rancorous coverage of Donald Trump, followed again by their absurd ass kissing for Joe Biden, has ripped the mask away.
Five historians, including Pulitzer Prize winner James McPherson and Bancroft Prize winner Sean Wilentz, as well as famed founding-era historian Gordon S. Wood, wrote a letter to the Times blasting the accuracy of the project, including its mischaracterizations of the founding, Abraham Lincoln’s views of black equality, and the lack of support for black rights among white Americans. The historians asked that the Times correct the project before its distribution in schools. Hannah-Jones then derisively referred to McPherson’s race in order to dismiss the criticism.
In the end, after the Times spent millions of dollars to publicize the 1619 Project, the Pulitzer Prize committee gave the pseudo-history its highest honor. After all, the narrative had been upheld, and its critics chided.
For nearly two decades, Media Matters, a pathetic hit group started by unstable grifter David Brock and backed by Hillary Clinton’s team, has spent every waking minute monitoring conservative media for opportunities to push advertiser boycotts. That generally involves cutting conservatives out of context, then letting media allies know about those out-of-context quotes, spinning up controversy—and then creating a fake groundswell of outrage directed at advertisers, who generally wish to be left alone.
This stuff is fully delusional: were conservatives to be deprived of Fox News, they’d seek similar conservative outlets. But that delusion is consistent with the authoritarian Left’s true goal: a reestablishment of the media monopoly it had before the death of the Fairness Doctrine and the rise of Rush Limbaugh. Many on the authoritarian Left celebrated when Limbaugh died, declaring him “polarizing.” The reality is that they were polarizing, but they had a monopoly… and Limbaugh broke that monopoly. Now they want to reestablish it, at all costs.
Curbing free speech has two particular benefits for the establishment media: first, it boots their competitors; second, it purges the public sphere of views they dislike. It’s a win-win. All they require is ideologically authoritarian control.
This is dangerous stuff. It’s dangerous that the guardians of our democracy—the media—aren’t guardians but political activists, dedicated to their own brand of propaganda. It’s even more dangerous that they now work on an ongoing basis to stymie voices with whom they disagree, and use the power of their platforms to destroy their opponents at every level. A thriving marketplace of ideas requires a basic respect for the marketplace itself. But our ideologically driven, authoritarian leftist media seek to destroy that marketplace in favor of a monopoly.
One month before the 2020 election, the New York Post released a bombshell report—a report that could have upended the nature of the election. That report centered on Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee. According to the Post’s report, “Hunter Biden introduced his father, then–Vice President Joe Biden, to a top executive at a Ukrainian energy firm less than a year before the elder Biden pressured government officials in Ukraine into firing a prosecutor who was investigating the company, according to emails obtained by the Post.” A board member of Burisma, the company on whose board Biden sat, sent Hunter Biden a note of appreciation to thank him for the introduction. The bombshell rebutted Joe Biden’s consistent statements that he knew nothing about his son’s business activities abroad, and that Hunter’s activities had all been aboveboard.
The Biden campaign and its media allies responded by calling the Hunter Biden story “Russian disinformation.” The story, needless to say, was not Russian disinformation; there was no evidence that it was in the first place. In fact, about a month after the election, media reported that Hunter Biden had been under federal investigation for years—CNN reported that the investigation began as early as 2018, and that it had gone covert for fear of affecting the presidential election.
The Hunter Biden story never fully broke through into the mainstream consciousness. According to a poll from McLaughlin & Associates, 38 percent of Democratic supporters weren’t aware of the story before the election; by contrast, 83 percent of Republicans were aware of the story. There was a reason for that: social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook simply shut down the story cold.
When the Post tweeted out the story, Twitter itself suspended the Post’s account. The company went so far as to prohibit users from posting a link to the story itself. Twitter tried to explain that it would not disseminate stories based on hacked materials—even though the Post’s story was not based on hacked materials.
Then, a few days later, Twitter did the same thing with the Post’s follow-up story. Those who attempted to post the links were met with the message, “We can’t complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful.”
Meanwhile, Andy Stone, the policy communications director at Facebook—and an alumnus of the Democratic House Majority PAC, former press secretary for Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and former press secretary of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee—tweeted, “While I will intentionally not link to the New York Post, I want to be clear that this story is eligible to be fact checked by Facebook’s third-party fact checking partners. In the meantime, we are reducing its distribution on our platform.” He added, “This is part of our standard process to reduce the spread of misinformation. We temporarily reduce distribution pending fact-checker review.” In other words, Facebook admitted to curbing the reach of the Post story before it had been fact-checked at all. It had no evidence the story was false—as it turns out, the Post story was true. But Facebook restricted the reach of the Post piece anyway.
The real story of the Hunter Biden saga, as it turned out, was not about Hunter Biden per se: it was about the power and willingness of an oligopoly to restrict access to information in unprecedented ways.
Facebook’s mission statement for its first decade was “to make the world more open and connected.” Twitter said that its goal was “to give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly, without barriers.” Google’s working motto was simple: “Don’t be evil.” For a while, it worked. The social media giants were essentially open platforms, with a light hand in terms of censorship. Then the 2016 election happened. The shock that greeted Trump’s victory in 2016 fundamentally altered the orientation of the social media platforms. That’s because, up until that moment, the personal political preferences of executives and staffers—overwhelmingly liberal—had meshed with their preferred political outcomes. But with Trump’s win, that math changed dramatically.
In February 2017—just weeks after the inauguration of President Trump—Zuckerberg redefined Facebook’s mission. Now, he said, the goal of the company was to “develop the social infrastructure to give people the power to build a global community that works for all of us.” This was a far more collectivist vision than the original vision. And it called for new content standards to help reach this utopian goal, designed to “mitigate areas where technology and social media can contribute to divisiveness and isolation.”
In a congressional hearing in April 2018, Zuckerberg went so far as to state that “we are responsible for the content” on the platform—a direct contravention of Section 230.
In 2020, Dorsey cut a $10 million donation to Ibram X. Kendi’s “Center for Antiracism Research,”29 which has to date presented no actual research. Kendi’s website explains, “Our work, like our center, is in the process of being developed.”)
According to a Senate report in 2018, for example, the last month of the 2016 campaign generated 1.1 billion likes, posts, comments, and shares related to Donald Trump, and another 934 million related to Hillary Clinton.33 In total, according to a report from New Knowledge, of Russian-created posts from 2015 to 2017, 61,500 posts from the Russian influence operation garnered a grand total of 76.5 million engagements. Total. Over two years. That’s an average of 1,243 engagements per post—an extremely low total.
The iron triangle of informational restriction has slammed into place: a media, desperate to maintain its monopoly, uses its power to cudgel social media into doing its bidding; the Democratic Party, desperate to uphold its allied media as the sole informational source for Americans, uses threats to cudgel social media into doing its bidding; and social media companies, generally headed by leaders who align politically with members of the media and the Democratic Party, acquiesce.
By 2019, according to the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of adults got their news from social media either “sometimes” or “often,” including a plurality of young people. Establishment media saw an opportunity. By targeting the means of distribution—by going after the social media companies and getting them to down-rank alternative media—they could reestablish the monopoly they had lost.
In December 2016, Facebook announced that it would partner with a slate of fact-checkers to determine which sources were most trustworthy. According to BuzzFeed, Facebook would verify “participating partners”; those participating partners would then have access to a “special online queue that will show links Facebook determined may be suitable for a fact-check.” How do links end up in the queue? Users report them as false, or the link goes viral. It’s easy to see how such a system can be gamed: just put together an action response team, email them to spam Facebook’s system, and then refer conservative links to fact-checks by left-wing organizations. And that’s precisely how the fact-checking business works. Facebook’s original “participating partners”: the Associated Press, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org, Snopes, The Washington Post, and ABC News.
When President Trump was banned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube in the aftermath of January 6, none of the companies could explain precisely what policy Trump had breached to trigger his excision. Zuckerberg simply stated, “We believe the risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great.” Twitter explained that it had banned Trump “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
The media, in their ever-present quest for authoritarian rule, use social media as both their tip line and their action arm. They dig through the social media histories of those they despise, or receive tips from bad actors about “bad old tweets,” and proceed to whip the mob into a frenzy. Then they cover the frenzy. The same media that declaim their hatred for misinformation and bullying engage in them regularly when it comes to mobbing random citizens with the help of social media.
Justine Sacco, a thirty-year-old senior director of corporate communications at IAC, watched her life crumble after sending a tweet joking about AIDS in Africa to her 170 followers. The tweet read, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” The tweet was apparently supposed to be a joke about the insufficiency of Western aid to Africa. Nonetheless, when she got off her eleven-hour flight, she had been targeted with “tens of thousands of tweets.” She lost her job.
Our social media oligopoly—cudgeled, wheedled, and massaged into compliance by a rabid media and a censorious Democratic Party—threatens true social authoritarianism at this point. In a free market system, the solution would be to create alternatives. Parler attempted to do just that.
After the January 6 riots, based on vaguely sourced reports that Parler had been an organizing place for the rioters, Apple, Amazon, and Google all barred Parler. Apple’s App Store barred Parler on the basis that Parler’s processes were “insufficient” to “prevent the spread of dangerous and illegal content.” Amazon Web Services used its power to kick Parler off the internet entirely, denying it access to its cloud hosting service. Amazon’s excuse: Parler had allowed “posts that clearly encourage and incite violence,” and that it had no “effective process to comply with the AWS terms of service.” None of the big tech companies could explain what, precisely, a minimum standard would have looked like.
Facebook has 2.8 billion monthly active users; more than 90 percent of all web searches happen via either Google or its subsidiary YouTube; fully 70 percent of digital ad spending goes to Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
To be politically incorrect means to say that which requires saying, not to be a generic, run-of-the-mill jackass. There is a difference between making an argument against same-sex marriage and calling someone an ugly name. In fact, conflating the two grants the authoritarian Left enormous power: it allows them to argue that nonliberal points of view ought to be quashed in order to prevent terrible behavior. Fighting political correctness requires a willingness to speak truth and the brains to speak the truth in cogent, clear, and objectively decent language.
When it comes to the authoritarian Left’s desire to cram down “diversity training” that discriminates based on race, for example, lawsuits are fully merited. If companies force employees to attend training sessions segregated by race, or in which white employees are taught of their inherent privilege, white employees ought to seek legal redress. So-called anti-racism training often violates the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 by explicitly discriminating on the basis of race.