When Can We Cancel This Conservative Cancel Culture War?

Culture Wars

Republican House Rep. Jim Jordan from Ohio declared Sunday that "cancel culture" was “the number one issue for the country to address today." COVID-19, which has killed at least 487,000 Americans, is like a bridesmaid alternate. (This happened to a friend; she still had to buy the dress just in case!)

Cancel culture is no longer something overcompensated New York Times conservative "diversity hires" whine about on the op-ed page. It's now big business for Republicans who were elected to actually help their constituents, but that's too much like work.

Bari Weiss, who is one of those silenced voices whose opinions you'll never escape, claims that “cancel culture necessarily erases intent. It relies on taking someone's worst moment out of context, on elevating a moment of ignorance, on exaggerating a misstep and using that error to destroy someone's life." Conservatives promote the myth that people are subject to zero-tolerance policies from the totalitarian Left. There's not much evidence supporting this.

After all, Jordan argued that Democrats were attempting to “cancel" the one-term loser. Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz from Florida also likened impeachment to “cancel culture." However, the insurrectionist in chief wasn't impeached (twice) because Democrats took his “worst moment out of context." His entire presidency was one extended moment of ignorance.

It seems like what conservatives really want is a lifelong pass for consistently awful behavior. Gina Carano never actually apologized for all her offensive statements. She just insisted she's not a bigot and smeared liberals some more. This was the point Democrats made after the Capitol attack: Reconciliation is impossible without accountability, nor is forgiveness without atonement.


For all the talk about cancel culture, a recent poll shows that only half of Americans are aware of the Republican talking point. The GOP will likely spend the next two years building brand awareness for cancel culture. It's like that product you didn't know you needed until you saw the happy people in the ads. What Andrew Shepherd observed in The American President remains true of Republicans.

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

Joe Scarborough, who helped inflict the twice-impeached thug on us, warned Democrats that “cancel culture," despite current polling numbers, is “a bigger problem for Democrats than most of their leaders understand." That's if you call cancel culture a different name entirely, like “political correctness." OK, and Joe Scarborough called by a different name — Lawrence O'Donnell — has opinions worth my time.

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Scarborough bolstered his opinion with this quote from an Atlantic article: “Among the general population, a full 80 percent believe that 'political correctness is a problem in our country." This was published in October 2018. A month later, Nancy Pelosi reclaimed her speaker's gavel during the Blue Wave. Democrats obviously won a chunk of the anti-PC vote.

Conservatives' victim mentality defines oppression as simply acknowledging other people's existence. Carano objected to adding gender pronouns to her official Twitter bio. That's no more “Orwellian" than standardized business cards, but what conservatives resent is that politeness and basic manners now include marginalized groups. Writer Neil Gaiman imagined "a world in which we replaced the phrase 'politically correct' wherever we could with 'treating other people with respect."

This is somehow incompatible with “freedom." Demanding respect is simply crying for a safe space, like say your own cable TV propaganda outlet that you trade for another one when it displeases you.

Political activist Rafael Shimunov tweeted this response to Weiss's latest cancel culture diatribe:

Imagine if @bariweiss offered 10% of the defense she gives white supremacy to all the antifascist, Jewish-allied, Black and brown women of color she has made a career putting in danger. NYT staff of color felt so unsafe around her that she had to resign.

Texas House Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who should have more important things to do, was quick to condemn how namby-pamby American society has become thanks to stupid liberals.

The "words make me unsafe" crowd reveals a low point in human resilience and a high point in mental fragility. The Americans who stormed the beaches of Normandy to fight *actual* fascists wouldn't believe this new-age pathology to even be possible. Yet here it is.

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Texas businesses had signs stating “We serve whites only, no Spanish or Mexicans" during World War II. When Texas schools were desegregated in the 1950s, white protesters greeted Black students with baby alligators as “warning" that if they tried to enter the school, they'd become “gator bait." There was plenty of fascism here at home.

Refusing to share a water fountain with Black people represents true mental fragility. And Weiss's argument that cancel culture “destroy(s) someone's life" is a low point in human resilience. Gina Carano wasn't shot down over the sea of Japan; she didn't have her contract renewed.

Conservatives who denounce “cancel culture" don't actually believe in a free exchange of ideas. In yet another column on the topic for the New York Post, Weiss set up some progressive strawmen and then shot them down without even bothering to engage their relative flaws or merits. Her POV was just objectively correct. (This is probably why no one liked her at the Times.)

Do not nod along when you hear the following: That Abraham Lincoln's name on a public school or his likeness on a statue is white supremacy. (It is not; he is a hero.) That separating people into racial affinity groups is progressive. (It is a form of segregation.) That looting has no victims (untrue) and that small-business owners can cope anyway because they have insurance (nonsense). That any disparity of outcome is evidence of systemic oppression (false). That America is evil. (It is the last hope on Earth.)

Note that Weiss argues constantly that her disparities in outcome as a non-liberal in perceived “liberal" spaces is evidence of systemic oppression and a threat to freedom everywhere. Weiss is one of the whiniest snowflakes on the planet, but she's incapable of recognizing her obvious hypocrisy. This is especially true of Republicans who censure (i.e. “cancel") their own colleagues who didn't show sufficient fealty for their mad king.

Writer Jill Filipovic described conservatives as the “original architects of cancel culture." They prefer when they're the arbiters of what's offensive and acceptable. Marginalized groups have a voice now, and that upsets the balance of power. The Republican obsession with cancel culture might strike you like cynical politics, but fighting an endless culture war is all the modern GOP can offer.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).

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