Joe Rogan, Dave Chappelle, and the Left’s Cultural War on Free Expression

First they tried to cancel Dave Chappelle. It didn’t work. Now, the Left is trying to cancel the most popular podcaster in America: Joe Rogan.

It won’t work either.

What Joe Rogan and Dave Chappelle Have in Common

The latest outrage? Musician Neil Young is removing his music from Spotify over the fact that the platform hosts Rogan, who he accuses of spreading “COVID misinformation.” It’s eerily similar to the backlash against Chappelle’s controversial 2021 Netflix standup “The Closer.”

Left-wing LGBT activists insisted that Chappelle’s jokes and views about transgender people were not only wrong, but so harmful they endangered the safety of  transgender Americans. They didn’t argue with Chappelle, they tried to deplatform him. Young believes the same about Rogan’s alleged “misinformation” about COVID-19 and is taking a similar tact.

We’re witnessing an evolution. From LGBT activists to aging rock rebels, many on the Left now believe the public needs protection from views they personally find distasteful.

Thankfully, when activists—and even Netflix employees!—tried to censor or punish Chappelle, Netflix didn’t budge. And Chappelle not only didn’t budge, he doubled down.

In the same way, Rogan isn’t backing down. Many onlookers even laughed when Young threatened Spotify over Rogan recently. Not because Young isn’t a major music legend of value, he certainly is, but Young apparently had no idea how popular Rogan is. (The man has a $100 million dollar contract with Spotify. Good luck bullying Spotify out of that!)

Like Chappelle, Rogan is uncancellable. Or at least, we hope. So we don’t have to worry about them getting shut down, at least, not yet.

The Really Concerning Part of this Cancel Culture Campaign

Instead, the most disturbing aspect of these controversies is the illiberal attitudes of people on the Left, who still imagine themselves to be actual liberals. Yes, it’s true that at BASEDPolitics we strongly support free markets and the ability of private companies to do as they please. And as a matter of law, the First Amendment only applies to the government.

But we also believe America is a free country, and that a culture that embraces open and robust speech is key to basic liberty. Unfortunately, this is not how many modern “liberals” think.

Now, many artists of note—Joni Mitchell, Nils Lofgren of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and others—are standing with Young. They are also demanding their work be removed if Spotify continues to host Rogan. And the anti-free speech Left did score a minor win late Sunday, when Spotify agreed to put a warning advisory on all podcasts discussing COVID-19, including Rogan’s programs.

Some on the Left Are Speaking Out About this Madness

But not everyone on the Left is cheering on this new pro-censorship mentality. Some of the best criticism of this trend has come from progressives who still see the danger of abandoning cultural free speech.

Progressive writer Zaid Jilani said on Friday of the original Young-Rogan-Spotify spat, “The censors didn’t win.”

“If you doubt that ‘censor’ is an appropriate word to describe those pressuring Spotify to dump Rogan, consider this: the platform is the world’s largest streaming service, with a whopping 31 percent market share in the second quarter of 2021,” Jilani wrote at City Journal. “When a private corporation controls such a large portion of an information ecosystem, its content decisions are more than mere acts of moderation; it is laying out the boundaries of the discourse itself.”

“That’s precisely why Young believed that Rogan’s views shouldn’t have a platform,” Zilani said.

He continued, “This brings us to perhaps the most surprising detail about this episode: since when did Young become the sort of person to advocate for shutting up his ideological opponents? The rock and folk artist made his name as a countercultural figure in the 1960s, raging against the cultural and political establishment…”

“Young’s transformation from countercultural champion of freedom of speech to corporate censorship advocate and defender of the public-health bureaucracy didn’t occur in a vacuum,” Zilani observed. “Progressives have become increasingly censorious over the past few years. A majority of Democrats now believe that both private tech companies and the U.S. government should ‘take steps to restrict false info online.’”

Similarly, independent progressive journalist Glenn Greenwald decried the Left’s newfound lust to stomp out speech it disagrees with as a new “religion.”

“American liberals are obsessed with finding ways to silence and censor their adversaries,” he wrote on his Substack. “Every week, if not every day, they have new targets they want de-platformed, banned, silenced, and otherwise prevented from speaking or being heard.”

“(T)he ‘hate speech’ framework for justifying censorship is now insufficient because liberals are eager to silence a much broader range of voices than those they can credibly accuse of being hateful,” Greenwald noted. “That is why the newest, and now most popular, censorship framework is to claim that their targets are guilty of spreading ‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation.’”

We have seen such strategies before, or as Greenwald frames it, “These terms, by design, have no clear or concise meaning. Like the term ‘terrorism,’ it is their elasticity that makes them so useful.”

The Pushback Isn’t Partisan

Thankfully, the pushback on this disturbing trend is transcending all party lines.

Former GOP-turned-Libertarian-Party Congressman Justin Amash—who has a strong record of valuing property rights and free speech—sees the same problem. He put it this way, “The problem isn’t [Joe Rogan]; it’s people who demand submission to their views and seek to silence others rather than persuade.”

 Amash would say in a later tweet, “Joe Rogan values and defends diverse, liberal discourse. People who don’t are the problem.”

Yes, they are. And the problem is bigger than you might know.

The left-leaning group that could always be counted to be absolutists in their defense of speech has been the American Civil Liberties Union. In an interview with HBO “Real Time” host Bill Maher on Friday, longtime ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser explained how he believes his former organization is running away from its liberal roots.

The principled defense of free speech was once the entire point of liberal institutions like the ACLU. Yet Glasser worried that it’s simply becoming yet another partisan organization.

As Jilani noted at City Journal, “Many on the left were once militant in their support for free expression, believing that misinformed, even offensive, viewpoints were as worthy of airing as any other speech.”

Not anymore. The war on Joe Rogan is just the latest attack on free speech by the side of the political spectrum that historically has been known to care most about an open and free exchange of ideas.

This battle likely won’t be the last. Like Dave Chappelle, pray Joe Rogan wins.

The future of true liberalism in the United States might just depend on it.

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Jack Hunter
Jack Hunter
Jack Hunter is a freelance writer, the co-author of Sen. Rand Paul’s 2011 book ‘The Tea Party Goes to Washington’ and the former politics editor for