It’s very funny to leftists that conservatives are in a frenzy over Dr. Seuss. The emergent narrative casts Republicans as fools for obsessing about cancel culture, cynical operators and mindless rubes, whistling past the economic graveyard while Democrats focus on COVID relief.
For Democrats, this is counterproductive on two fronts. The murky term “cancel culture” broadly refers to the threat of personal and professional punishment for perceived transgressions against cultural leftism. First and foremost, the victims of cancel culture are not merely privileged journalists forced onto Substack. They are everyday Americans, working-class people, without the privilege to easily profit off their cancelation. Democrats have nothing to say to them, except that the Equality Act is essential and they must swallow it or be relegated to the cultural prison for bigots.
In this category, there are direct victims of cancel culture, people forced out of their work or social life over pro-Trump Facebook posts or whatever else crossed the ever-changing line that week. There are also indirect but immediate victims, like the thousands of girls now confronting “irreversible damage” done to their bodies because parents and journalists were too afraid to push back when schools started normalizing dangerous gender curricula in the name of political correctness.
Similarly, there are victims of domestic violence getting sleepless nights in women’s shelters where they’re forced to rest alongside biological men and middle-class girls losing out on scholarships to pay for their educations because biological men are beating them. There is absolutely nothing stopping these demographics from ballooning dramatically.
The second front on which this is a counterproductive position for Democrats is politics. Because these threats are very real to everyday people, everyday people genuinely worry about them. This is a big concern outside the Acela Corridor where Patreon subscribers are slightly harder to amass.
What’s the point of freaking out over Dr. Seuss? Isn’t it just a culture war fomented by Beltway MAGA cynics and their Fox-guzzling fans? After all, most of his beloved books are still for sale. This is actually an instructive example, although I hardly expect the left to give their angle any pause.
To the vast bipartisan coalition of normal people annoyed by “cancel culture,” news of backlash against Dr. Seuss means norms have quickly shifted even more out of alignment with their fundamental values. It also makes people feel as though they’ve been implicated in gross moral wrongdoing. It creates anxiety that these rapid and unpredictable shifts will soon catch up with them or their loved ones, and that reading a simple children’s book could land them in hot water with enforcers of these new norms in their communities.
It’s also worth adding that the right’s decades of slippery-slope warnings about political correctness are now vindicated on a daily basis, so focusing on individual “cancelations” of varying scope is hardly pointless. For Democrats, silence on these questions is nothing to be proud of or smug about. The party’s perpetuation of identity politics and complicity in cancel culture is hurting their own constituents. It’s actually beyond complicity. They’re eagerly working to pass legislation like the Equality Act that would make this much worse.
After the New York Times yanked an anodyne op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) over the summer, this was clear enough to leftists like Gloria Steinem and Noam Chomsky that they added their signatures to the so-called Harper’s Letter. It’s wrong, intellectually and morally, and it’s harming real people. The elite bubble struggles to understand that because they’re insulated by their own privilege.
Two of the media’s Substack refugees put it well in their newsletters this week. “Power in America now comes from speaking woke, a highly complex and ever-evolving language,” wrote Bari Weiss. On the press’s breathless defense of Taylor Lorenz, Glen Greenwald observed, “This transparent tactic is part-and-parcel of the increasingly ideological exploitation of identity politics to shield the neoliberal order and its guardians from popular critique.”
That’s the correct framing. There are ways to protect vulnerable people and purge the lingering remnants of bigotry from our institutions that do not involve scorched-earth iconoclasm. But, of course, that isn’t actually the goal. For our elites, the “exploitation of identity politics,” as Greenwald puts it, is about boosting their own fortunes.
Democrats fall into two categories: personally and professionally terrified of the mob, or mostly in agreement with it. Beyond Tulsi Gabbard, will one prominent Democrat seriously take up this issue? The answer so far has been no. The political discourse is not a zero-sum game limited by time and space. Economic distress and the immediate destruction of free expression are not mutually exclusive. Democrats’ silence is deeply telling.