From Thomas Frank in Le Monde diplomatique: Can President Joe Biden mend a torn America?
Thomas Frank (author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?) writes in Le Monde diplomatique:
It is the ‘duty’ of American citizens, President Joe Biden announced in his inaugural address last week, to ‘defend the truth and to defeat the lies’. Much of Biden’s speech was an unremarkable stringing-together of patriotic platitudes, but this call for a great truth crusade stood out for its audacity. America is, after all, the homeland of the public relations industry, of televangelism, of Madison Avenue, of PT Barnum. Our leading scholars worship at the shrine of post-structuralism; our brightest college graduates go on to work for the CIA; our best newspapers dynamite the barrier between reporting and opinion; our greatest political practitioners are consultants who ‘spin’ the facts this way or that.
In declaring a national quest for truth, of course, Biden was referring to none of these things. His target was a single man: Donald Trump, the most energetic shit-shoveler ever to occupy the Oval Office.
This essay is not a brief for free speech absolutism or an effort to rationalise conspiracy theory or an attack on higher learning. It is about the future of the Democratic Party, the future of the left, and here is the suggestion I mean to make: the form of liberalism I have described here is inherently despicable. A democratic society is naturally going to gag when it is told again and again in countless ways, both subtle and gross, that our great national problem is our failure to heed the authority of traditional elites.
Worse, when those traditional elites come together with unprecedented unanimity to insist their high rank proves their correctness and justifies their privilege … when they say we are in a new cold war against falsehood … when the news media dumps its neutrality and likens itself to superheroes and declares it is mystically attuned to truth and legitimacy … when they do those things and then get the biggest news story of the decade fabulously wrong, a society like ours is going to spot the hypocrisy. And we are going to resent it.
But when they look at liberals, they will shake their heads with disbelief. How could they have thought it was wise to try to enlist the great economic and cultural powers of our time — the masters of Silicon Valley — to try to censor our opponents? Ira Glasser, the old ACLU chief, relates how liberal academics embraced speech codes because they ‘imagined themselves as controlling who the codes would be used against’. What these well-meaning liberals didn’t understand, he continued, was that ‘speech restrictions are like poison gas. It seems like it’s a great weapon to have when you’ve got the poison gas in your hands and a target in sight, but the wind has a way of shifting — especially politically — and suddenly that poison gas is being blown back on you.’
As Glasser’s metaphor suggests, this cannot end well. The mob attack on the Capitol frightened us all. But for Democrats to choose censorship (via the monopolists of Silicon Valley) as the solution to the problem is a shocking breach of faith. There are many words one might use to describe a party that, over the last 30 years, has shown itself contemptuous of working-class grievances while protective of the authority of the respected… but ‘liberal’ isn’t one of them.
Read the whole thing.