This article originally appeared in The Federalist, dated July 16th, 2020.
Bari Weiss, the Jewish-American columnist at the New York Times who argued sometimes controversial but well-reasoned positions, left the Opinions section of the paper in a stormy resignation letter. In her letter, she describes in chillingly familiar terms the culture of the nation’s paper of record.
“The truth is that intellectual curiosity — let alone risk-taking — is now a liability at The Times,” she writes. “Why edit something challenging to our readers, or write something bold only to go through the numbing process of making it ideologically kosher, when we can assure ourselves of job security (and clicks) by publishing our 4000th op-ed arguing that Donald Trump is a unique danger to the country and the world?”
The prevailing conservative interpretation of Weiss’s resignation is that Weiss was a “martyr” overrun by the cancel-culture mob, yet another example of the left’s sadistic sacrifice of dissenting viewpoints on the altar of wokeness.
“What’s happening is that [people like Bari Weiss] are being rooted out, or they just can’t work there because it’s such a miserable climate because of what the other employees, some small minority of very angry woke progressives, are subjecting them to harassment and bullying and name-calling that makes it a toxic environment for anyone that disagrees with them,” said Reason senior editor Robby Soave on Fox News.
Whining About Cancel Culture Won’t Stop It
This is a true statement, but it’s also not enough. The right can complain about cancel culture and cry “1984” all they want, but a minority of angry progressives exerts a huge influence over all our mainstream institutions of power, and conservatives seem helpless to stop it.
The left does not care about dissenting views. They have already made that clear. If they could suppress every conservative in America into hiding in a cave, they would. Vanity Fair even says flatly that “for Bari Weiss it was bound to end like this.”
While the right’s usual free-speech strategy, crowing about “intellectual diversity” and lamenting the Orwellian suppression of “wrongthink,” might make conservatives feel better about themselves, it will not win the narrative back from the left.
Ross Douthat, also from The New York Times, argues convincingly in his July 14 column that the right and left both cancel. The right is just far too weak to do it effectively. “Attempted cancellations on the Right are mostly battles for control over diminishing terrain, with occasional forays against red-state academics and anti-Trump celebrities,” Douthat says. “Meanwhile, the Left’s cancel warriors imagine themselves conquering the entire non-Fox News map.”
If the right is to stop hemorrhaging territory to the left and even start rolling back the left’s domain, it must follow a different strategy, led by individuals, not collectives. Individual conservatives must each take one — yes, probably just one, as the individual burden would be unbearable with more — viewpoint about which they are passionate and knowledgeable and then die on it. I call this the “Rowling strategy,” named after the woman who personifies it best.
As many conservatives now know, J.K. Rowling, the acclaimed author of the Harry Potter books, tweeted her support for a woman who was fired for saying “men and boys are male” and “it is impossible to change sex,” comments that were accused of being anti-transgender.
The mob descended immediately, demanding a retraction and apology. Rowling did not bend. She dug in her heels, doubling down on the fact that transgenderism denies biology and that allowing men in women’s bathrooms endangers women. No matter what the left threw at her, Rowling did not recant her statements and has emboldened a previously demoralized conservative movement on the sex issue.
When the left-inspired “Equality Act,” which would allow transgender people to enforce their identity in all of public life no matter the repercussions, reached the Senate, Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., successfully blocked the bill, in part due to his citation of Rowling’s defense of the true meanings of sex and gender.
Choose Your Battle, and Don’t Stop Fighting
Conservatives need more people like Rowling, who isn’t even a conservative, taking a stand on just one thing they really care about. Of course, most conservatives don’t have the clout of Rowling, who is arguably one of the most famous authors in the world. Many professors, scientists, students, and others have been canceled for trying the Rowling strategy long before she did it successfully, and her fame is a significant factor in why she is seemingly uncancellable.
But the culture war needs more than isolated instances of people speaking up. The Rowling strategy is an individual mandate — but it’s a mandate for everyone on the right.
We need to expect full-forced attacks from the left and then realize how puny and small they really are when pitted against a true defense. Each individual conservative thinker needs to pick an issue, do his or her homework on it, draw a line in the sand, and refuse to budge.
One of President Donald Trump’s most admirable moments occurred when he defended his judicial nominee Brett Kavanaugh when Christine Blasey Ford accused the judge of sexual assault. Trump could have allowed the left’s wailing and howling to get to him, forcing Kavanaugh to get canceled and lose everything, but Trump stood by his judge and fought back at the complete lack of evidence from Ford and her leftist cronies. As a result, Kavanaugh is on the Supreme Court, and the left has hushed up about sexual assault grievances now that Joe Biden has his own problems.
Conservatives must learn to specialize. Being a general “conservative” means nothing if every tenet you hold dear is sinking rapidly into the quagmire of the racists and bigots. We must dig deeper than the left, which is not too hard, and sustain the pressure, which is harder. If we do, we win. If we don’t, the left not only wins but will use that win to compel us into shame, misery, and defeat.