I know, I know; don’t remind me. People of the political right go on and on these days about speech censorship by people of the political left.
I grieve to say the case they present grows more and more immediate, the danger they point to more and more real.
The danger may abate. I would not take that for granted. Attitudes on the political left are hardening — as at the New York Times, our second most prestigious newspaper after the Wall Street Journal.
The Times has kicked out its opinion editor for insufficient fealty to the Times’ conviction — as a 40-year Times subscriber, I know the lay of the land there — that white Americans are the principal barrier to racial justice and equality, hence deserving more of the boot toe than the admonitory finger wag.
This conviction of the Times’ we used to call bull-hockey, back before the liberalization of public language gave license to more graphic expressions. The unfortunate editor, during this moment of turmoil in the streets, ran an op-ed contribution it had solicited from Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, whose offense was to endorse the idea of using the military to supplement National Guard and police efforts in behalf of calm. Liberals (which is pretty much everyone at the Times) went bonkers, as did the general run of liberals outside the newspaper trade.
Mercy! Space in the Times — the Times! — for a viewpoint understood easily enough as favoring public order over disorder, the protection of private property over its exposure to looting? So, out went the editor, for the misdemeanor of promoting discussion of an urgent issue. We don’t want discussion around here! There’s just one side to this matter! One!
This dispiriting incident came a day or so after another of like caliber. The editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer got kicked out the door for not killing a headline on a story by the paper’s architecture critic about local property destruction. The headline: “Buildings Matter, Too.” Only a certain kind of political energumen — or wimp — could have objected to such a headline.
I would certainly, back in my own editing days, have OK’d the hed (newspaper spelling) for its tightness and nondisparaging wordplay. “Really nice,” I would have said to the writer. Naturally, back in those primordial times, when animal-skin suits were in vogue, there was no alliance between newsroom radicals and the vast echoing precinct of the streets.
This stuff goes on and on. Over the weekend, the progressive mayor of Minneapolis was silenced at a rally for failure to commit himself to abolition of the police force.
Abolition of the police force?! Where, oh, where are we presently going as a nation, as a culture wrestling with racial reconciliation and the right of all Americans to protection from unjustified and malicious treatment? The idea that we can’t talk as well as shout about such matters is nincompoopery. The once-esteemed New York Times, sad to say, is run by nincompoops undeserving of their “privilege,” whatever their skin color.
We live in crazy times. You might suppose that those desirous of steering or guiding us at the moment would take thought for the effects of their words and actions. I hardly need to add President Donald J. Trump to that list. Half the country is on his case, which, you might say, goes with the territory. So, if you want to shout at Trump, shout — having taken thought for the consequences of mere clamor as discourse, meant less to persuade than to silence or compel, intended to make your neighbor do as you say, never mind his intuitions or moral habits.
Abolition of the Minneapolis police force? The replacement of cops by social workers? This is baloney, thickly sliced, wherever served up and to whom. Our self-appointed moral guardians seem to have taken the national crisis firmly in hand. You can’t say, “Buildings Matter.” You can’t wring your hands too hard over disorder in the streets. What can you do? It’s hard to say. Maybe the Times will tell us soon enough, having figured the whole thing out for us, and without charge, no doubt.
William Murchison is writing a book on moral reconstruction in the 21st century. His latest book is The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson.
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