Incessant Republican complaints about “cancel culture” might have more credibility if the Republicans didn’t engage in so much canceling of their own.
The Grand Old Party’s alarm over “cancel culture,” the hottest buzzword of its sort since “political correctness” was all the rage, has hardly been subtle.
“I don’t know where it ends,” Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, said in a ferocious defense of then-President Donald Trump during the latest impeachment debate. “The cancel culture doesn’t just go after conservatives and Republicans. It won’t just stop there. It’ll come for us all. That’s what’s frightening.”
“Cancel culture,” in case you’re wondering, is very much like the earlier, easily abused catchphrase “political correctness.” Nurtured by social media, it originally referred to the withdrawal of support from public figures or companies for something considered objectionable or offensive enough to be worthy of group shaming. If you didn’t like “PC,” you’ll really hate “cancel culture,” especially if you’re on the receiving end.
As a scourge, the term proved too tempting for Trump’s legal team to pass over during his impeachment trial. Trump attorney Michael van der Veen labeled the trial “constitutional cancel culture” and “a shameful effort as a deliberate attempt by the Democrat Party to smear, censor and cancel, not just President Trump, but the 75 million Americans who voted for him.” Never mind the 80 million or so who voted against him.
This cancel culture theme already was getting popular in GOP circles as early as last summer’s Republican National Convention, where Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina (“Don’t give in to cancel culture …”), former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and former Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle called for an end to “cancel culture.”
But you don’t need to go any further than the ex-president himself, who constantly referred to news media as “fake news” and “enemies of the state” when he disapproved of coverage, which was almost daily.
Of course, there’s nothing unusual or unique to one party when it comes to presidents who disapprove of their news coverage. But presidential feuds with bearers of unwelcome news can have real consequences. Just ask Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. He was fired from the National Security Council and forced to retire early, without protest from Republicans, after he testified truthfully about conduct that led to Trump’s first impeachment.
Now, for some dissenters, like Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the canceling is coming in even from members of his own family. As one of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, the Illinois Air National Guard lieutenant colonel from Channahon has been rebuked by county GOP parties across the state – and by some of his own family.
Eleven family members sent him a handwritten two-page letter of outrage two days after he called for Trump’s removal from office following the deadly Jan. 6 storming at the Capitol. First reported by The New York Times, it accused him of having joined “‘the devil’s army’ (Democrats and the fake news media)” for his public break with the president.
“Oh my, what a disappointment you are to us and to God!” they wrote. “You have embarrassed the Kinzinger family name!”
That’s sad, but not too surprising, considering how deeply countless other households have been divided in these polarized times between mainstream Republicans and Trump loyalists.
But, despite his having lived a life that falls short of what one might call an ideal Christian, Trump still maintains a downright religiously devoted following, which has helped his approval ratings among GOP voters to tick back up after a drop following the Jan. 6 insurrection.
That enables him to maintain a tight hold as potential kingmaker or king breaker in GOP primaries. That helps to explain why even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell excoriated Trump’s role regarding the Jan. 6 riot as “a disgraceful dereliction of duty” on the former president’s part – then voted in his favor, claiming it was unconstitutional to impeach a president who no longer was in office.
That’s a thin reed, indeed, since a wide array of constitutional law experts disagree. But it’s thick enough to help him put the divisiveness aside until the next blowup, perhaps around the bipartisan “9/11-type commission” for which Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing.
All of which exposes “cancel culture” to be far less urgent than the “No. 1 issue for the country to address,” as Jordan called it in a Fox News interview. I’d rank it farther down, way below the older but still persistent challenge of getting straight talk and accountability from our public officials, regardless of their party. We need it.
Email Clarence Page at email@example.com.