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'Cancel culture' may spawn a new, silent voting bloc

'Cancel culture' may spawn a new, silent voting bloc
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Pundits will tell you that the 2020 election will be a referendum on Donald Trump, or a choice between two competing visions for the future of our nation. But the election may well be determined by many voters’ reaction to the rapid shifts we have experienced in American culture, specifically regarding race.  

Critical race theory has become the governing foundation of progressive power and influence in America. It states that Black people are, by definition, oppressed and whites are, by designation, privileged racists and supremacists.  

In June, John Blake wrote a CNN article titled, “‘Am I Racist?’ You may not like the answer.” In it, he explained that “CNN called some activists, psychologists and historians and asked them: "How would you help white people answer that question?” One interview was with Wornie Reed, a veteran civil rights advocate who stated, “You can be a racist even if you don’t intend to be one.”

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Angela Bell, assistant professor of psychology at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, was blunt in her assessment: “If you have to ask if you are a racist, you are. And if you are not asking if you are a racist, you are.”  

The growing belief that America is systemically racist has given license to commit any action in the name of ending racism, and bestows the power to condemn anyone as racist who is not perceived as being on the right side of social justice issues. “Cancel culture” is the weapon of choice. A person’s reputation and livelihood are assaulted in the name of social justice, when an action, statement or conviction is deemed nonconforming by those who are woke to injustice and systemic racism.  

The New York Post reported on the deleterious effects of cancel culture, stating, “This rigidity right now in American political discourse is problematic because you really can’t have a high-functioning democracy without people being willing to engage one another in meaningful ways to hash out their political disagreements.” 

Differences of opinion no longer are defined by one’s approach or framing of an issue, but rather by the person who holds a contrary position as being evil. Because of America’s cancel culture, the public is enduring closed businesses, suspended brands, fired executives, dismissed editors, censured comedians, doxed elected leaders, and the publicly exposed lives of ordinary citizens.  

Comedy, one would think, should be exempt from restrictions on speech, but it is not. Chris Rock stated in an interview in New York, “I stopped playing colleges (because of) … their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.” Jerry Seinfeld, in a USA Today interview, echoed Rock’s concerns: “I don't play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me don’t go near colleges — they’re so PC (politically correct).”

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A survey authorized by the CATO Institute during the summer posited: “The political climate today prevents me from saying things I believe because others might be offended.” Every political demographic, with the exception of strong liberals (42 percent to 58 percent) agreed with the statement; political moderates polled at 64 percent to 36 percent.  

In September, Rasmussen Reports found that “17 percent of likely U.S. voters who strongly approve of the job President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal watchdog accuses VOA parent company of wrongdoing under Trump appointee Lawsuit alleges 200K Georgia voters were wrongly purged from registration list Ivanka Trump gives deposition in lawsuit alleging misuse of inauguration funds MORE is doing say they are less likely to let others know how they intend to vote in the upcoming election.” Even Steve Schmidt, founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, acknowledged to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell: “I suspect there is at least a point or two of undercount for Trump voters.”

Opinion polling is a measure of what is asked, and how it is asked. Frank Luntz recently warned that if pollsters get this election wrong, it may be the beginning of the end of the profession, for credibility reasons.  

I think that pollsters probably have discounted that those surveyed are afraid to give a truthful answer regarding President Trump. John Nolte, writing in Breitbart, summed it up this way: “There are all kinds of reasons to lie to pollsters. Republicans, Trump voters especially … despise the media. … Another reason could be fear. We now live in a world where supporting Trump can get you fired from your job, result in vandalism against your property, result in violence against your person.”

Free speech in America is on the ballot for many Americans who see an intellectual orthodoxy rapidly developing around issues such as race. They fear that zealots have been permitted to gain power to banish anyone who questions or denies progressive beliefs or policies. They see the riots and social unrest in the streets of American cities as a force replacing politics to redress grievances. They are scared, and they are angry.  

Pew Research found that “majorities in both major parties believe censorship is likely occurring (on social media.)” A Morning Consult poll analyzed by Politico found, “A plurality (46 percent) of Americans believe that cancel culture has gone too far.” On Nov. 3, these beliefs may motivate a new voting bloc to cast their votes for the candidate who stands up to cancel culture.

Dennis M. Powell is founder and president of Massey Powell, a management consultancy in Plymouth Meeting, Pa. He has been involved in more than 300 political campaigns doing strategy, messaging, polling and fundraising, including President George H.W. Bush’s campaign in Pennsylvania. He was retained for six years by Trump Entertainment Resorts in a marketing capacity. Follow him on Twitter @dennismpe.