Cancellation Nation: The Building Backlash

July 13, 2020

First it was pancake syrup and Paw Patrol. Now, even Scrabble isn't safe. You can forget the triple word score on at least 236 "slurs" the North American players association is stripping from the group's lexicon. The goal, these gamers say, is to make the game "friendlier" for all types of people. Of course, no one has seen the official list of "potentially offensive" words -- leaving many to wonder if this new vocabulary is just W-O-K-E.

George Orwell used to say that if you control the language, you control the people. And the fringe has certainly taken that advice to heart, putting a bullseye on phrases as pedestrian as "peanut gallery," "no can do" and the ever-inflammatory "eenie meenie miney moe." A grammarian, writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer, argued that all of these phrases are linguistic bigotry and should be blacklisted. (Actually, he didn't use that word, since it's almost certainly offensive too.) The point, NRO's David Harsanyi warns, is that "attempting to dictate what words we use is another way to exert power over how we think."

But is it working? New polling says no. If anything, a growing number of Americans -- including an impressive number of prominent liberals -- think the cancel culture has worn out its welcome. In an astonishing turn, 153 of them, including well-known authors, intellectuals, and public figures, signed on to an open letter in Harper's magazine, calling for an end to the "public shaming and ostracism" and a new tolerance for "opposing views."

"The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted... [There is a new] tendency to dissolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty. We uphold the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters. But it is now all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought... [This] stifling atmosphere... invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation."

Signed by a collection of people who no one would mistake for conservatives, the mainstream pushback was just one of the signs that the honeymoon with the mob is over. Even more telling is the surprising shift of public opinion away from groups like Black Lives Matter -- which, 70 percent of Americans insist -- isn't improving race relations. In fact, many believe the movement has done more harm (38 percent) than good (26 percent). That decline in public approval has been especially steep over the last month, as more Americans realize George Floyd's death was just an excuse for radicals to hijack the conversation. "Some 40 percent of Republicans in early June thought the 'underlying anger of the protesters' was fully justified after the killing of Floyd," Liz Peek explains. "Later in the month, only 18 percent thought so."

The woke crowd is on shaky ground, Mark Hemingway agrees. Friday, on "Washington Watch" with Sarah Perry, he warned that a lot more people in this country care about free speech than the media would like to admit. "And they're getting frustrated," he said, pointing to the open rebellion of letters like Harper's. If you want to blame someone for this unrest, Mark insisted, try academia. It's our colleges and universities who created this chaos by allowing certain Marxist theories to take hold of U.S. campuses.

"In the last 20 years, it's reached critical mass," he pointed out. So much so that "the point of education [is now] to rectify injustice and to create activists, not to impart knowledge. And I definitely think that that has taken hold among younger people that haven't really even, frankly, been that well educated on competing ideas regarding basic things like free speech or free enterprise. And that's a problem. They've been taught that [only] one set of ideas only is correct."

If we want to save our country and stop these forces from remaking America, then we've got to reassess education. Obviously, Mark points out, public schools and universities aren't going away any time soon. "But I think people care about their kids learning some basic ideas that have made Western civilization, such a belief in absolute and transcendent truth. The belief that the way to be prosperous and happy is to engage in the free exchange of ideas... And I think if you can inculcate that in a future generation, or -- at the very least -- create enough of a sizable group of people that exists outside of this current dominant thinking, in 10 or 20 years then you might have something."

We've seen the homeschooling movement start to drive that counterculture, along with uncompromising Christian colleges, parents, and churches. It will take all of them to undo what the far-Left have done to the one thing we should all have in common: freedom.