Remember when Trump said he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and he wouldn’t lose any voters?
Though that statement was sheer campaign trail hyperbole and empty bravado, I can’t help but think such forgiveness from Trump’s base would be even more probable today. Given the climate of fear the president has helped create as Divider-in-Chief, he’s whipped his supporters into such an apocalyptic frenzy they might absolve him of any crime.
But I ask you: Shouldn’t someone who talks like that have social consequences? Notice I said social consequences, not legal. We’re not talking about government legislation of free speech, so spare me the “first amendment” argument.
I dare say Trump has indeed reaped some consequences. Look at how he’s constantly berated by critics and opposed at every turn by his political opponents. Let’s face it: No one likes a jerk, except those who look up to said jerk. Trump’s supporters seem to want to be just like their president, especially when it comes to his cavalier attitude toward consequences. What does that say about American society?
A Nation of Wannabe Outlaws and Political Puppets
It appears our culture has an unhealthy fixation on people getting away with being awful human beings.
Maybe it’s related to the Rugged Individual mythology, birthed from tall tales of a fantastical Old West that never existed. Whatever the origin, lack of consequences goes beyond our ordinary urge to be self-reliant. There are those of us who want to be more than individuals or rebels; more and more Americans are caught up in the romance of the outlaw.
Sure, there’s an allure to being “above the law.” But we seem to have taken that sordid dream to a higher, or rather lower, level. We seem pathologically attracted to the idea, so much so we’ll glibly worship the mythologized outlaw to the detriment of our social responsibility to others.
Compounding our growing interpersonal callousness is the fallout from Machiavellian political manipulation. We’ve let sociopathic governmental power brokers like Newt Gingrich pull our puppet strings and pit us against each other for the sake of mere votes. Talk about consequences! We’re living with the results of decades of fear-based manipulation; our current societal upheaval, with its disturbing preponderance of Social Darwinism devotees, is the price we’re all paying for falling for partisan rhetoric.
Given all of the above, it’s no wonder there are paranoid people wringing their hands in fear of being “cancelled.”
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Cancellation?
“Cancel culture” is the social boogieman du jour. Basically, it’s the boycotting and shaming of public figures or companies, primarily through social media. Many decry it as a sign of an “intolerant culture” that seeks to “ruin” people’s careers or—gasp—their very lives.
Let’s get something important out of the way: The current demand for various statues to be pulled down is not cancel culture.
First, and most critical, statues are not more important than living, breathing human beings. If you need to be reminded of that, you need to do some serious soul-searching about your priorities in life.
Second, last time I checked, statues are not the only means of teaching people history. They’re not even the most efficient or effective teaching tools. Ever heard of books or the Internet?
Third: The definition of cancel culture requires the subject of said “cancellation” to be a person—and specifically a well-known public figure—or company. We’re also not talking about online bullying or harassment, which are tactics used by trolls to intimidate or otherwise undermine people who are innocent of any real wrongdoing.
Back to “canceled” public figures: you’ll generally hear that celebrities are the “victims” of cancel culture. Take the likes of Roseanne Barr, Aziz Ansari, Alex Jones, or Bill O’Reilly, as just a few examples. All suffered consequences for words or deeds that were socially unacceptable at best, and injurious of others at worst.
But did they actually suffer? All of them are, no doubt, well-off enough to survive any lack of gainful employment. But did you know Bill O’Reilly has a new show? Not to mention that Alex Jones is still spewing verbal garbage and selling his snake oil supplements. Aziz Ansari has been doing comedy tours. Roseanne is spouting her own paranoid conspiracy theory rhetoric to anyone who’ll listen.
No, none of these people is the victim, though they’ll try to convince you otherwise. The same goes for J.K. Rowling, who recently caught flack for comparing transgender hormone treatments to “gay conversion therapy.” She’s going to be fine, don’t shed any tears for her. Just like many other celebrities, more often than not they find a way to bounce back just fine.
People, Pendulums, and Public Opinion
Can we, as a species, swing to extremes? Oh, yes. People can seem more like out-of-control pendulums when it comes to going on crusades, and we can become overzealous in our righteous indignation. Will there be people undeserving of “cancellation” who experience the untender mercies of mass judgment? Yes, that’s always a possibility, and it’s not right, either. Mob mentality has been with us long before social media. We need to be aware of nuance when it comes to each individual. Unfortunately, when emotion is involved, we don’t do nuance very well.
Still, I believe those who don’t deserve harsh consequences eventually emerge from under the “social microscope” of their peers. The Court of Public Opinion can be cold comfort, but its penalties for the innocent aren’t as frequent as some want us to believe. The true, lasting consequences are reserved for those who truly deserve them.
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