When the Biden administration announced the creation of a Disinformation Governance Board last month critics immediately started portraying the agency as the “Ministry of Truth” from George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984.
Critics were right to make this comparison. The federal government has no business, constitutionally or morally, in deciding what Americans can say and not say.
But there was more to it than that. It was a line. A marker thrown down by the Left in the ongoing culture war over free speech.
Because it was truly crazy that the Biden administration would even consider going there. That any president in modern times would. This showed not only that mainstream Democrats had become this comfortable with censorship, private or even public, but that they believed their governance of our speech was a reasonable policy that Americans should just accept. It’s as if the people governing the country were completely unfamiliar with the historic rules and norms of the country they were running.
Hey Joe Biden, meet ‘America!’
— Glenn Jacobs (@GlennJacobsTN) May 18, 2022
Yet on Wednesday, the Biden administration announced that the Disinformation Governance Board was “paused” for the time being—just three weeks after its creation was announced.
This is also a marker in the war over free speech. And it’s not the only victory in recent times for those of us who oppose censorship. For a change, it has been the Left on defense recently.
Obviously, Team Biden figured out that the creation of this new Department of Homeland Security agency was bad politics for them heading into the midterm elections, along with a dozen other obstacles they will have come November.
But this move was also an acknowledgment that people aren’t going to put up with being dictated to by the woke mob anymore, which has seemed to control much of social media, entertainment, and the Democratic Party for the past few years.
I shared this tweet. It went viral.
The Disinformation Governance Board is disbanded. Netflix has told employees they will have to tolerate content they don’t agree with. Dave Chappelle and Joe Rogan are still standing, more popular than ever.
The tide is turning. Stand up for free speech. Stand up for liberalism.
— Jack Hunter (@jackhunter74) May 18, 2022
Much of the replies came from conservatives confused or even offended by my use of the word “liberal.” This is understandable. In modern American politics, “liberal” has long been used to identify people on the Left, Democratic voters, Green Party voters and so on.
What I meant is a definition my fellow libertarians and certain types of conservatives would also recognize. In the simplest terms, the Oxford dictionary defines “liberal” as “willing to respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own.”
In the cultural battle over free speech in the US right now, it is libertarians, conservatives, and a minority of old school progressives standing up to protect free expression, both public and private, and an increasingly authoritarian Left that clearly does not “respect or accept behavior or opinions different” from their own. They want to label speech they don’t like as “disinformation” and cancel anyone who disagrees with their narrow vision of what is socially acceptable in today’s America.
The contemporary Left is not liberal. It is becoming more illiberal by the day. I’m not saying conservatives have never been guilty of similar censorious attitudes, because some Republican politicians still do push illiberal speech policies.
But, broadly speaking, it seems to me that the base of the American Right is now firmly in the pro-free-speech camp, at least as far as the culture war over cancel culture and free expression online is concerned. That’s why it’s important for those of us who care about this issue to stand up for free speech and the true spirit of liberalism that affords it.
Because, who else will?
It was important last week when Netflix sent out a memo to employees letting them know that if they had a problem with the content the company produces, they should hit the road. “As employees we support the principle that Netflix offers a diversity of stories, even if we find some titles counter to our own personal values,” read the memo, titled “Netflix Culture — Seeking Excellence.”
It continued (emphasis added), “Depending on your role, you may need to work on titles you perceive to be harmful. If you’d find it hard to support our content breadth, Netflix may not be the best place for you.”
It was not clear in October what Netflix might do when the woke mob went after comedian Dave Chappelle for allegedly making “anti-trans” comments in his special The Closer. Just a few short months ago, the illiberal Left still appeared to have some leverage, and so what Netflix might do was more of an open question.
Netflix ultimately stood by Chappelle. Netflix employees threatened and then staged a walk out in protest. It didn’t work. Chappelle is possibly even more famous—if that’s even possible—than he was before the controversy.
And Netflix just told any employee who doesn’t like their content to pound sand.
It was a victory for free speech when the woke mob went after podcaster Joe Rogan for allegedly saying offensive or untrue things about COVID-19 health care, and Spotify stuck with Rogan.
Initially, Spotify tried to moderate, manipulate and even censor Rogan’s content to satisfy left-wing activists and singer Neil Young. Then, Rogan made clear he was not going to put up with being treated in such a manner, and Spotify backed down.
Like Chappelle, Rogan is arguably more famous today after the controversy.
Rogan and Chappelle were uncancelable. For the first time these events showed the limits of what the woke mob would be able to accomplish.
This week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer sent a letter to Fox News demanding they censor host Tucker Carlson for saying things Schumer did not like.
Think about it. A high-ranking US politician thinks he has the power to dictate what a major news outlet can say. Schumer might be a progressive, but that’s not “liberal” in any way, shape, or form.
It is never appropriate for senior political officials with immense power over media corporations to tell them which views they can and can't broadcast (leaving aside Schumer's lie about what Fox hosts are arguing).
But this is now normal because Dems 100% believe in censorship. https://t.co/E9zHQkwWcI
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) May 17, 2022
The “pausing” of Biden’s Disinformation Governance Board could be another example of elites realizing they might be taking things too far. Thinking they could get away with exerting even more control and quickly discovering they were mistaken.
One classic aspect of being an elite is not realizing when the culture has changed. That you have lost a degree of control. This usually happens because elites try to exert too much power over determining what’s acceptable and unacceptable. People will only take so much.
Rogan and Chappelle are not right-wing. Neither are similar famous figures fighting for the same freedom of expression, like HBO’s Bill Maher or billionaire Elon Musk. Neither is Netflix. Neither necessarily are millions of Americans who have had it with elites trying to control speech in their country.
But in the political culture war, it seems to me that it is the Right which is primarily standing up for free expression in our culture. We ought to reclaim the mantle of true liberalism and apply its principle across the board. We should “respect or accept behavior or opinions different from one’s own” in government, the broader culture, and anywhere ideas are expressed in the US.
Is now the turning point, the great pushback against our technocratic censor-happy overlords? Time will tell.
But free speech must be defended if we are to protect a basic liberty most Americans for generations have considered their birthright.
This will mean defending liberalism, too.