Victor Davis Hanson: The cowards of ‘cancel culture’

Each generation deals with its own manifestations of age-old mob frenzies, bullying and public shaming. Salem, Mass., had its witch trials in the 1690s. The 1950s endured its McCarthyism. And we now are enduring our “cancel culture.” 

But 21st-century public shaming reaches not thousands but tens of millions. And it does so instantaneously on the internet and on social media — too often, all under the cloak of masked Twitter handles.

Our generation’s bane is a many-headed hydra of doxing, revenge porn and canceling out the careers of public figures. Smears are predicated on the assumption that those targeted will panic; they will apologize and seek penance, reducing themselves to timid careerists and fawning toadies. The aim is electronic Trotskyization — making one disappear from computer screens as if they had never existed.

Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson is now the mob’s latest target. 

His sin? 

In our times of urban riot, arson, looting and violence, Carlson noted that Kenosha, Wis., had “devolved into anarchy because the authorities in charge of the city abandoned it. People in charge, from the governor of Wisconsin on down, refused to enforce the law.” 

That was a factual statement. It was not just his own personal observation. Carlson’s point was borne out both by the furor of the anti-police protesters who quickly screamed for help when hurt, and by those who took up arms to protect stores when no police were to be found.  

But what put Carlson’s neck in the mob’s noose was his further observation about the police: “They stood back and they watched Kenosha burn. So are we really surprised that looting and arson accelerated to murder? How shocked are we that 17-year-olds with rifles decided they had to maintain order when no one else would?”

Note that Carlson was simply repeating an age-old adage that when the police do not hold a monopoly on the use of force, others less trained, often more unsavory, fill that void. Therefore, we should not become suddenly shocked that pre-adults convince themselves that they are needed to protect businesses as general lawlessness escalates on its way to murder. 

Again, Carlson’s point was not to condone the 17-year-old shooter — a criminal court will adjudicate his innocence or guilt. Carlson simply noted that both the teenager and those he shot are the tragic results when supposed adults in the room — governors, mayors, district attorneys, police chiefs — fail to guarantee the civic rights and tranquility of American citizens. Does anyone watching the last three “summer of love” months believe authorities have protected small businesses and kept the calm in Portland, Seattle, Chicago or Kenosha?

Almost immediately the Twitter global throng mobilized to equate Carlson with the shooter himself, to render Carlson not just untenable as a news anchor but toxic to his advertisers. Or, as a former Obama official tweeted, “Tucker straight up endorsing vigilante murder on the show tonight. What advertisers are still ok with this?”

Note how the pack has not only tried and convicted Carlson as an abettor to murder. The horde also has prejudged the shooter as a murderer — before a court has even heard evidence of whether he was attacked and, in panic, shot in self-defense, or instead gratuitously killed without need. 

How ironic that the Twitter mob deplores vigilantism yet its brand is an electronic lynching without weighing evidence or cross-examination — all from the safety of their smartphones.

Carlson’s mob knows all this. 

But they also assume that their scatter-gun tactics of character defamation usually work — although, recently, a variety of intellectuals and writers such as J.K. Rowling, Steven Pinker or Yale classics professor Joshua Katz have said “no” and scattered the mob. And this election year, Carlson is a big target, given his growing cable news audience and his often-scorching commentaries about the past three months of escalating urban violence. 

The cancel culture feels that if it can take out Carlson, it can wound its old nemesis, Fox News, and send a warning to any other journalists who dare argue that blue-state officials are either oblivious to the dangers of unchecked rioting or see it as apparently useful in this contentious election year. 

Part of the intensity of venom shown Carlson reflects Democratic fears that the news cycle is changing. Polls suggest that keeping mum about the silence is backfiring politically. 

The recent warnings from Nancy Pelosi that presidential campaign debates should be cancelled, from Hillary Clinton that Joe Biden should not concede even if defeated, and from CNN’s Don Lemon that it’s time for Democrats to condemn the violence, all reflect the fears of the mob as it lashes out.

Target Carlson is not alone, of course. This same week, social justice warriors took out a University of Southern California business professor for a lecture on cross-cultural speech patterns. His crime? Professor Greg Patton cited a Chinese word (na ge) for “that,” which to the outraged seemed similar in sound to an American racial slur. 

Professor Patton was quickly unplugged from his virtual classroom by the officious dean of the USC business school, for the apparent thought crime of supposedly employing a coded slur. 

Anyone who watched Patton’s classroom video knows that such a charge is an outright lie. The slur was similar to the late 1990s’ Salem witch-style epidemic of destroying the careers of any bureaucrats who had once naively used the ancient English adverb “niggardly” (meaning “stingily” or “greedily”) that linguistically has nothing to do with the N-word. 

We have not just created millions of bored, ignorant online scolds but, rather, sleepless and vicious character assassins. They notch their smartphones with the names of their victims. 

How ironic that, as bullies, they melt away when called out, while destroying the very institutions of tolerance and free speech they, too, will miss when the mob devours its own — as it eventually always does. 

Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, a historian and author of more than 20 books, including “The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won” (2017), and an occasional unpaid on-air guest of Fox News. Follow him on Twitter @VDHanson.

Tags Cancel culture Don Lemon Fox News Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Kenosha protests Nancy Pelosi progressives Tucker Carlson Twitter

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