Four hundred years ago, the Catholic Church — then the arbiter of what ideas could be expressed and promulgated — banned books by scientists who claimed the Earth revolved around the sun because that theory conflicted with the orthodoxy of the time, i.e., the Bible and the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the pope and bishops. Even if astronomers’ heliocentric theories were true, the powerful elite could not allow such disturbing words to be read — at least not in the vernacular — for fear such heresies would confuse the masses and undermine the authority of those in charge.
These days it isn’t the princes of Rome that rule on what ideas are true and what news is allowed to be heard, but rather a decidedly secular hierarchy: the doyens of Silicon Valley, the media masters in New York and California, and their agents in Congress and government offices in Washington.
The current ideological conflict is often described as a battle between liberals and conservatives, but that’s last century’s war. Today’s cancel-culture college of cardinals shouldn’t be confused with liberals.
Real liberals aren’t hate-filled, intolerant, angry anarchists, no more than real conservatives are rich, white supremacist nativists. Genuine liberals are First Amendment absolutists ardently supportive of our liberties: a free press, freedom to practice our religions, freedom to peaceably assemble, the freedom to petition the government to better serve us, its sovereign, and to speak freely without fear of violent attack or suppression.
Authentically liberal Americans wouldn’t tolerate censorship of disagreeing — even disagreeable — voices. They’d defend those voices.
The indisputably liberal Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1927 that “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.” A monopoly-busting, free-speech advocate, Brandeis would, I’m sure, see today’s corporate social media lords’ cancel-culture censorship as antithetical not only to the Constitution but to American civil liberties.
Traditional liberalism fights for an individual’s right to freely express ideas, popular or unacceptable, commonly believed or held only by that individual, true or not, whose supporting “facts” are from presumably credible sources or aren’t reliably sourced at all.
Some of President Biden’s inaugural speech was right out of a traditional liberal’s handbook. In his president-as-conciliator role, he said, “We can see each other not as adversaries but as neighbors. We can treat each other with dignity and respect. We can join forces, stop the shouting and lower the temperature.”
Eschewing the inciteful far-left rhetoric of many of his party-mates in Congress, the press and Hollywood, the president warned: “[W]ithout unity, there is no peace, only bitterness and fury. No progress, only exhausting outrage. No nation, only a state of chaos. . . . Let us listen to one another. Hear one another. See one another. Show respect to one another. Politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path. Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”
Left-wing extremists hope Biden’s words are just political speechifying. Unlike reasonable liberals — and conservatives, for that matter — who are committed to social justice, equal opportunity and free speech, the goal of the radical left is to redefine what’s just, to tilt the playing field based on group identity, to amplify the speech of loud leftists and to silence contrary voices.
How fairly the national press reports on the Biden presidency will be important to the future of the nation and to the survival of journalism itself. According to a Gallup survey five months ago, only 9 percent of Americans trust the media “a great deal.” Sixty percent trust them “not very much” or “none at all.” According to Gallup, the percentage of those who don’t trust the media at all went up five points in one year.
News consumers have turned to social media for information. Some wanted to connect on the new social app Parler before Big Tech suppressed it. Yes, the same Big Tech, the new Magisterium, that decides what can be posted and who can post.
I would have preferred that Biden had lost, but the election is over. That virus has left the lab. Disappointed, I must now only hope that he will serve America as a true liberal and reject many Democrats’ condescending intolerance. A sovereign people will oppose authoritarian politics that orders citizens to agree or shut up.
Half the country is vexed by the prospect of a Biden-Harris administration unchecked by the House or the Senate. That situation can be changed in two or four years. But many Americans are even more troubled by the anarchy brought by Antifa and the radial left, which revels in “woke” group-think and seeks to crush the individualism that has made America great.
John O’Connell is a former executive editor of the Herald Community Newspapers. Comments about this column? OConnell11001@yahoo.com.