Cancel Culture’s Biggest Loser: The Political Left

Reed Cleland, Staff Writer

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) newfound fixation on Dr. Seuss is the latest maneuver from a prominent Republican Party elitist in fanning the flames of the American culture war. While discussion of Green Eggs and Ham on the floor of the House of Representatives is not particularly (at all) helpful in addressing unprecedented economic dysfunction throughout the United States, McCarthy’s cry of “foul!” is a critical issue. Cancel culture is very real and infectious, yes, but the participants who are most endangered are any and all members of the political left residing in communities throughout mainstream America. This would include me. 

A sociological phenomenon relatively unique to the 2010s, cancel (or call-out) culture is inherently connected with the rise of big tech companies, the construction of the social media landscape and the growth of “safetyism” on college campuses. In broad terms, this has visibly manifested as a collective group’s response to behaviors or statements from others that might be perceived as politically incorrect or unpopular. Within the context of the United States, the narrative has usually consisted of liberals as “the cancellers” and conservatives as “the cancelled.” An example might be a private firm’s decision to fire an employee for posting controversial material regarding gay marriage on one’s Facebook page. That employee’s name might later become subject to rounds of shaming among their friendship circles, a permanent savaging of that individual’s reputation. At a different level, former President Donald Trump’s various social media accounts, including his beloved Twitter, were taken down following his role in the diet-coup attempt on January 6, 2021. 

To be clear, Trump eagerly boiled conservative anxieties over cancel culture particularly in the final year of his presidency, whether over statues of famous slave-owning Americans or abstract predictions for the cancellation of Christmas. He was not the only one: a vast majority of Republican politicians and conservative journalists have copied him, preaching that liberals in Black Lives Matter want to erase American history and that atheist Marxists in the Democratic Party are engaged in an invisible war against Christians. (If this last argument is true, then the Democratic Party is doing a poor job, given that Christmas decorations may be purchased even before Halloween at your local Walmart). 

To my liberal and progressive university friends, we must honestly ask ourselves: how many times, after a long and enriching semester, have we returned to our homes in Suburbia or Farm Country and found ourselves delivering an impromptu lecture to a family member, neighbor or friend with new vocabulary words (intersectionality, critical race theory, male privilege, etc.) with a private desire to flex our woke muscles? I wish that I could deny this, but I would be lying if I did. It is not a mindset that any progressive should be proud of, particularly for those of us who care deeply about substantive issues of economic, social, racial and environmental justice. Far too many liberals approach political discourse with this zero-sum mindset of right and wrong, moral and immoral, just and unjust; we are always on the hyper-alert for any statements or actions carrying privileged undertones. Not only do we exhaust ourselves and spin in circles, but how the hell are we supposed to convince others of our arguments after imperializing them with elitist vocabulary and comprehensive character evaluations when they cross our abstract social boundaries? Many of us choose the easy path of telling the white woman driving a dirty pickup truck with a Trump bumper sticker that she is a racist, and we ignore her legitimate concerns for her own economic survival. Make no mistake: this all-or-nothing mindset endangers the validity of the Black Lives Matter agenda far more than Trumpian law-and-order populism could ever do. 

Are conservatives immune to operating as cancellers? Absolutely not. Just ask Trump after he threatened flag-burners with prisoner time or the Republican senators who were censured by their respective state parties for voting to impeach Trump. The list goes on. The G.O.P. is as guilty as they come for creating a national environment of political discourse where conformity receives high praise and freedom of expression receives adversarial judgement. 

But just as Fox News hosts shout that socialism has never been successful, neither has groupthink! Time for liberals to stop trading punches with conservatives over a culture war that has distracted us from dangerous levels of income inequality, a broken criminal justice system and a deteriorating planet. Time for us to stop classifying everyone who thinks differently from us as racist, sexist, homophobic or stupid. Once Mark Zuckerburg, Jack Dorsey and the remaining big-tech oligarchs satisfactorily silence online Trumpists, their next targets will be those who question the concentration of their economic power: progressives. If the American left intends to fight a war for a safer world, we need to learn how to surrender battles.