The Federalist Wants To Know How Dems Plan To Force People To Stay Friends With Bigots
Back in 2016, one of the reasons many people gave for voting for Donald Trump was that they were tired of political correctness and wanted their friends and family members to stop calling them bigots on social media, just because they were saying bigoted things. This did not pan out as they had hoped, because the president is not actually in charge of making anyone be anyone else's Facebook friend.
And yet, they have not given up. Some have simply decided that it is the job of Democrats to put a stop to this ... somehow.
On Thursday, The Federalist (of course) published an article titled, ever so plaintively, "Democrats Mock Cancel Culture Concerns Instead Of Addressing Them," in which one Emily Jashinsky explains how it is mean to laugh at conservatives for being worried about the cancellation of Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potatohead that didn't actually happen.
It's very funny to leftists that conservatives are in a frenzy over Dr. Seuss. The emergent narrative casts Republicans as fools for obsessing about cancel culture, cynical operators and mindless rubes, whistling past the economic graveyard while Democrats focus on COVID relief.
Yes, because that is exactly what is happening. But Jashinsky would like to claim that actually, what Republicans are doing, re: complaining about Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potatohead, is the thing that is truly important, because of freedom of expression — which she firmly believes the literary estate of Dr. Seuss and the makers of Mr. Potatohead should not be allowed have. At least not to the point that it involves doing something that bothers her or the talking heads at Fox News.
Her heart bleeds, not just for Bari Weiss, but for the everyday Americans who supposedly get "canceled."
For Democrats, this is counterproductive on two fronts. The murky term "cancel culture" broadly refers to the threat of personal and professional punishment for perceived transgressions against cultural leftism. First and foremost, the victims of cancel culture are not merely privileged journalists forced onto Substack. They are everyday Americans, working-class people, without the privilege to easily profit off their cancelation. Democrats have nothing to say to them, except that the Equality Act is essential and they must swallow it or be relegated to the cultural prison for bigots.
Yes. It is essential. And they must "swallow it," because it will be the law (knock wood!) even if they really, really hate gay and transgender people. And yes, hating gay and transgender people or thinking those people are less deserving of rights because of their identity is bigoted.
big·ot (/biɡət/): a person who is obstinately or unreasonably attached to a belief, opinion, or faction, especially one who is prejudiced against or antagonistic toward a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group.
Words have meanings!
In this category, there are direct victims of cancel culture, people forced out of their work or social life over pro-Trump Facebook posts or whatever else crossed the ever-changing line that week.
And how many Republicans have kicked their own damn children out of their homes for being gay or trans? Or even for deciding not to be Christian? Or for having sex before marriage? Or for having an abortion? How many Republicans spent their teen years torturing kids who were different? How many people didn't get jobs or didn't get promotions because someone in charge of that had "traditional" values? That seems a whole lot worse to me than people not wanting to be someone's Facebook friend because they posted in support of a monstrous asshole.
The grand irony is that Republicans are mad about "cancel culture" because they no longer feel they have the social and cultural power to "cancel" others the way they used to.
Jashinsky does finally get around to why complaining about Dr. Seuss is so incredibly vital:
What's the point of freaking out over Dr. Seuss? Isn't it just a culture war fomented by Beltway MAGA cynics and their Fox-guzzling fans? After all, most of his beloved books are still for sale. This is actually an instructive example, although I hardly expect the left to give their angle any pause.
Oh, please instruct us! Because I for one would love to know how conservatives are oppressed by the Dr. Seuss literary estate deciding that racist caricatures from early in his career were not something they felt was in line with the legacy Theodore Geisel would have wanted to leave — particularly since he had previously made some changes to his own books for similar reasons.
When Ted first began to write for children in 1937, many representations of people of color in the media were unfortunately depicted through racial stereotypes. In his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street, his work was no exception. For example, to represent a lone Asian character, Ted employed "traditional clothing" and chopsticks to depict his ethnicity. He originally referred to this character as a "Chinaman" and showed his skin color as yellow. It is important to note that in a later reprint he removed the color and changed the text to "a Chinese man."
Geisel's great nephew Ted Owens recalled his uncle's decision to make that change: "It was the first time he had changed one of his books . . . . Art and humanity are always evolving."
But go on, Emily.
To the vast bipartisan coalition of normal people annoyed by "cancel culture," news of backlash against Dr. Seuss means norms have quickly shifted even more out of alignment with their fundamental values. It also makes people feel as though they've been implicated in gross moral wrongdoing. It creates anxiety that these rapid and unpredictable shifts will soon catch up with them or their loved ones, and that reading a simple children's book could land them in hot water with enforcers of these new norms in their communities.
If your fundamental values include racist caricatures in children's books, to the point where you feel like those books need to stay in print forever, I don't know what to tell you. But the "gross moral wrongdoing" is not "having read And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street as a child" so much as insisting that things stay the same forever, even if they are hurtful to others, because it would hurt your feelings to feel like you participated in hurting others.
And the fact is, it's not actually about white people! No one is saying, "Oh, you read this one Dr. Seuss book as a kid and now you are racist forever, sorry" — it's that children who are not white also read children's books. Why should they have to see themselves represented like that, so Emily freaking Jashinsky doesn't feel "implicated in gross moral wrongdoing"?
This is also not some crazy new phenomenon. They stopped publishing Hugh Lofting's Dr. Dolittle in the 1970s because it was so incredibly racist — and in the 1980s, it was rewritten with the racist parts taken out. For instance, a scene in which Dr. Dolittle bleaches the skin of an African prince so he can marry a white princess. That, too, was "a simple children's book."
After sharing multiple quotes from Bari Weiss and Glenn Greenwald, Jashinsky ends her post by calling on Democratic politicians to "seriously take up this issue."
Democrats fall into two categories: personally and professionally terrified of the mob, or mostly in agreement with it. Beyond Tulsi Gabbard, will one prominent Democrat seriously take up this issue? The answer so far has been no. The political discourse is not a zero-sum game limited by time and space. Economic distress and the immediate destruction of free expression are not mutually exclusive. Democrats' silence is deeply telling.
It's unclear, of course, what it is that Jashinsky actually expects anyone to do to address her "concerns." Apparently, pointing out that not all books get published continually, forever, and that this is what those in charge of Dr. Seuss's literary estate determined he would have wanted were he alive, was not what she had in mind. It is equally unlikely that she would be interested in hearing about the M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist that Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead were actually the exact same toy all along.
The curious thing about Ms. Jashinsky's article is that she never actually proposes a solution. She never says, at any point, what it is she wants Democrats in office to do to address these "concerns." Does she want them to actively push others to change their behavior or how they react to things? No, that can't be — because isn't that exactly what she and others are railing against in the first place? Using social pressure to get people to change their behavior?
Like, she doesn't think that people like her should be told, "Hey, don't say mean things about people," but she does think that other people should be told, "Hey, don't say mean things about people who say mean things about people."
She certainly can't mean pushing for labor protections, can she? Because I'm pretty sure the fastest way to get conservatives to shut up about "cancel culture" would be to suggest we get rid of at-will employment. What kind of legislation would she have in mind?
None of this is new. Conservatives have been screaming that social change is coming too quickly since the term "conservative" was first invented. At no point has any social change ever come at a pace they were comfortable with. There is nothing they can point to and say, "Well, see? We were okay with how that changed! We handled that just fine!" because it has absolutely never happened. There is no difference in reaction or strategy between people crying about the Equality Act and people who were crying about the Civil Rights Act. There's no difference in how they would react to the Equality Act being passed now and the Equality Act being passed a hundred years from now. As you may recall, they also weren't "ready" for a black president and they weren't "ready" for gay marriage and at no point have they ever, ever been "ready" for anything. They are an ill-prepared people.
I'd like to say that eventually they will come to terms with the fact that things change and their favorite hairstyle or form of bigotry won't remain in fashion forever, but we all know that's not going to happen.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse