Thursday, February 22, 2024

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 16-01-2021 09:05

Censorship is on the march

Once upon a time, progressives, or “liberals” as North Americans call them, agreed that censorship was bad. They would have been appalled by the notion that the richest men on Earth were entitled to prevent the sitting US president, however obnoxious many thought him, from communicating with his followers.

These days, the many people who dislike the United States and what its politicians say it stands for are in a self-congratulatory mood; they feel that things are moving their way. From their point of view, what followed the invasion of the Capitol by an unruly mob was far more significant than the, for them, enjoyable spectacle provided by bizarrely garbed individuals who smashed their way into it and then wandered about knocking things down and sending frightened legislators scurrying to what presumably were safe spaces.

By banning Donald Trump from Twitter and FaceBook, calling what happened an “insurrection” and the perpetrators “domestic terrorists,” the thoroughly politicised Big Tech billionaires, plus most Democrats and those Republicans who broke ranks, all egged on by much of the “mainstream media,” told the world that it was okay to treat anyone who still supported the outgoing president as either a criminal or a mentally challenged nutcase who, like Trump himself, deserved to be turned into a non-person and permanently banished from cyberspace.

Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Xi Jinping, Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam et al took note of the hyperbolic reaction to what happened in the “temple of democracy.” They agree that dissent can be dangerous, should be stamped down on hard and are more than happy to know that the companies whose digital networks span the world and control much of what is said can be persuaded to cooperate. Their attitude was summed up by a Russian legislator who said “social networks must work under strict rules within a legal framework because absolute freedom of information is becoming a weapon in the hands of extremists.”

Trump was booted out of the contemporary version of the public square of which Mark Zuckerberg and the rest are gatekeepers for allegedly “inciting insurrection.” Did he? Though he evidently fired up his supporters by telling them to “fight like hell” for what they believe in and stage a protest outside the Capitol, he did not ask them to storm the building and, when they went inside, quickly let them know he was in favour of the police and against violence.

His Big Tech accusers know this, which is why they say they decided to blacklist him because they think that in the current context anything he says could be construed as incitement to violence. Of course, much the same could have been said about politicians such as US vice-president-elect Kamala Harris who cheered on the “Black Lives Matter” rioters when they and their Antifa allies, and a lot of other disgruntled people were on their rampage, but it would seem that nobody then thought it would be a good idea to ask leading Democrats to help calm things down by keeping their mouths shut. On the contrary, on that occasion members of the Big Tech top brass went out of their way to let the rioters who in places like Portland were burning down public buildings know they had not only their backing but also that of many top politicians.

Like Alberto Fernández when he was about to be sworn in as president, Joe Biden says he wants to bring people together and heal his country’s many political and social wounds by governing for everyone, not just for those who voted for him. Impeaching Trump, whose term in office is almost over and, after comparing him to Osama bin Laden – as some Democrats have taken to doing, calling his wilder supporters terrorists – is a strange way to go about it.

So too is Biden’s stated determination to ensure that “Black, Latino, Asian and Native American-owned small businesses, women-owned businesses,” will be first in line for any emergency federal aid that may be forthcoming. Perhaps he thinks such a blatantly racist policy will put all those “white supremacist” males Democrats say backed Trump in their proper place, but as well as being clearly illegal, a programme based on racial quotas is certain to infuriate many who have been hard-hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and who, despite efforts to make them understand that they are among the lucky beneficiaries of “white privilege,” cling to the reactionary and, it would appear, utterly discredited belief that, as Martin Luther King insisted, people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin.

Leading Democrats seem to be convinced that, thanks to the loutish performance of a number of his supporters, Trump has irrevocably disgraced himself in the eyes of an overwhelming majority of his compatriots, but even if many have recently come to the conclusion that the Orange Man is indeed toxic, most will continue to think that, by and large, he was right about the things that to them really matter, among them the unhappy plight of many millions of North Americans of all complexions who know there will be no place for them in the brave new world that is being constructed by technology-driven globalisation.

If authoritarians among the Democrats take advantage of the chance they have been given to ram through measures specifically designed to hurt men of European extraction, as Biden, surrounded as he is by identity-politics enthusiasts, says he will, the despair those on the chopping block already feel is liable to turn into anger, with dire consequences for the country that, thanks to its demographic size, wealth and inventiveness, still remains the most powerful, and, for good or ill, most influential on the face of the planet.

Once upon a time, progressives, or “liberals” as North Americans call them, agreed that censorship was bad. They would have been appalled by the notion that the richest men on Earth were entitled to prevent the sitting US president, however obnoxious many thought him, from communicating with his followers. But times have changed and plenty who see themselves as progressives are fully in favour of silencing anyone who does not share their viewpoints and are therefore congratulating Twitter, FaceBook and company for moving against Trump. No doubt the Silicon Valley oligarchs hope that, as a quid pro quo, the Democrats will forget about applying antitrust legislation to them so they can continue raking in huge amounts of money.

Watching all this with keen interest are politicians in the rest of the world who want to gag their critics without exposing themselves to attacks from Western defenders of free speech. They can now say that if the self-proclaimed guardians of democratic values are willing to censor a man who not that long ago won 74 million votes, they should not be criticised for doing the same in their own countries where, they tell us, potential “domestic terrorists” – Uighur Muslims, Hong Kong democrats, followers of Fethulah Gulen in Turkey, separatists of one kind or another – are even thicker on the ground than they are in the United States.     


James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).


More in (in spanish)