Author Peter Beinart, who previously wrote one of the best takes on Antifa and left-wing violence, has a new piece in the Atlantic about Republicans and racism. Titled, “Republican Is Not a Synonym for Racist,” the main thrust of Beinart’s argument is that progressives have become a bit too comfortable labeling everyone on the right a bigot. He points out that while Republicans currently have a lot of institutional power in America (the White House, Congress, state houses) progressives have most of the cultural power and a tendency to abuse it:
Conservatives need liberals to stop abusing their cultural power. Although conservatives dominate America’s elected offices, liberals wield the greater power to stigmatize. In the 1950s, conservatives could exile liberals from polite company by calling them Communists. Being called anti-American can still sting; ask the NFL players who kneel when the national anthem is played. But in most elite institutions, being accused of bigotry is now more dangerous than being accused of insufficient patriotism. In 2014, Brendan Eich was forced out as the head of the tech company Mozilla for having donated to an anti-gay-marriage initiative. He probably would not have been forced out for donating to, say, a campaign to eliminate the Pledge of Allegiance from California’s schools.
Conservatives feel their cultural vulnerability acutely. In 2011, researchers at Tufts University observed that conservatives consume more “outrage-based” political radio and television than liberals do. One reason, they suggested in a follow-up paper, is that conservatives are more fearful than liberals of discussing politics with people with whom they disagree, because they dread being called a bigot. “When asked how they feel about talking politics,” the researchers noted, “every single conservative respondent raised the issue of being called racist.” Liberals expressed no comparable fear. As a result, they felt less need to take refuge in the “safe political environs provided by outrage-based programs.”
Beinart moves on to other related topics (which are interesting and worth a read) but I want to camp out on this one a little more. In particular that line above which I’ve put in bold reminded me of something else I wrote about several months ago.
When UC Berkeley defended itself against a lawsuit from the College Republicans which claimed conservative speakers had been treated who came to campus were treated unfairly, the school argued it was not the result of discriminating against a political viewpoint (which would violate the First Amendment). Berkeley argued it was only placing additional restrictions on conservative speakers for the purpose of campus safety.
As I pointed out at the time, the need for that additional security was driven by threats made by people on the far-left who were determined to shut down or “no platform” their political opponents. In other words, even if no violence ever took place, the threat raised the cost, literally and figuratively, of conservative speech on campus. And so, when Ben Shapiro came to Berkeley to speak earlier this year, the school spent a reported $600,000 ensuring the safety of a 2-hour event. When a progressive speaker comes to Berkeley, none of that additional expense is necessary because no one on the right is making similar threats.
I think the dynamic Beinart is describing is similar. The threat, in this case, is verbal, not violent. The attacks are cultural, not physical but the goal is the same: To silence conservative speech. And even if the tactic doesn’t succeed in silencing conservatives, by labeling opponents bigots or racists, the left raises the potential cost of conservative speech. If you know that speaking your mind on the need for tougher immigration laws is likely to get you called a racist and maybe lead to people contacting your employer and claiming you’re a Nazi, you’ll probably think twice about opening your mouth.
And that’s often how the left uses the cultural power it has these days. You see it on Twitter all the time. You see it in it’s purest, and therefore ugliest, form on college campuses where students motivated by a desire to silence conservative ideas will accuse people of bigotry and racism (without any evidence at all in some cases) and then try to shout them down.
If you wonder why the right is so concerned about this campus behavior, this is why. Because it suggests that the abuse of cultural power by the left is actually becoming more extreme over time, not less. It’s no longer necessary to make arguments or offer evidence, it’s enough to claim a conservative’s mere existence is cause to attempt to silence them and if possible make them regret ever speaking in the first place.