Cool dude gazillionaire, Elon Musk, and political troublemaker, former President Donald Trump, have between them taught America a very valuable lesson about democracy. How much these two men have in common, in terms of political ideology, is not certain. But whether either of them likes it or not, they have been bound together, in a way, by a common accusation leveled against them by the political left. They are both, apparently, a threat to democracy. As it turns out, this is a good thing because the moment one takes a careful look at the left’s idea of democracy, one realizes that anything likely to destroy it is well worth having.
Left-wing Twitter – you know, the people who can say anything they like without getting banned – has lost its collective mind since Musk became the principal single owner of Twitter stock and then offered to buy the whole company. Of course, losing such a tiny thing is not all that difficult; for perspective, this is a mind smaller than the average TV remote – and far less sophisticated.
To fully appreciate the panic and hysteria incited by the thought of a free-speech guy gaining control of the left’s favorite echo chamber, one need only look at the rantings of two leading thinkers – and bear in mind that the word “thinkers,” in this case, is being used with a great deal of, shall we say, flexibility.
Please Don’t Threaten Us with Freedom
Max Boot – the only man with a name that describes what he requires – recently wrote on Musk’s soon-to-be new social media platform, “I am frightened by the impact on society and politics if Elon Musk acquires Twitter. He seems to believe that on social media anything goes. For democracy to survive, we need more content moderation, not less.”
As the kids these days like to say, let that sink in. Democracy needs more “content moderation.” Why is that, exactly? How could democracy possibly benefit from more censorship? And let’s not fool ourselves for a second; content moderation means censorship.
Stung by the barrage of well-deserved criticism he received for this marvelous gem of enlightened thinking, Boot scurried off to the darkest cellar of the nation’s most well-known Washington newspaper to pen an opinion piece, lashing out at his detractors, with whom, apparently, he preferred not to engage on Twitter.
Boot was outraged by the concept of unbound free speech. He was seemingly appalled that Musk had once compared Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Adolf Hitler. Nobody on Boot’s side of the ideological divide has ever stooped so low as comparing a Western politician to Hitler, of course. Perish the thought. Just ask Trump, George W. Bush, or any on a long list of Republican politicians and conservative commentators who have been slapped with that dubious comparison.
Then there’s Robert Reich, a former US secretary of labor and a Berkeley professor. In an April 12 opinion piece for The Guardian, Reich managed to make Boot appear rational. Reich celebrated the fact that Twitter banned Trump, yet then attempted to point out the hypocrisy of Musk, a self-proclaimed “free speech absolutist,” blocking him (Reich) on Twitter. This is a classic example of cognitive dissonance. It is perfectly acceptable to throw someone off a social media platform if one doesn’t like what that someone says but it isn’t OK for another person to block you because they don’t like what you say. Reich does not appear to understand the very simple idea that absolute free speech means a person can say whatever he or she wants to say but they aren’t compelled to listen to everything someone else says. Free speech is not forced speech. Free speech does not strip anyone of the right to not listen to opinions they don’t like.
That is exactly why free speech is never dangerous; because no one is obligated to pay attention to opinions – or even facts – that make them uncomfortable. Everyone has the option to doubt what they have heard or read and to research, for themselves, the truth of the matter by seeking out alternative sources of information. Weirdly, that seems an awful lot like what journalists and columnists are supposed to do. Go figure.
The best part of Reich’s diatribe, though, was the ending:
“In reality, that world would be dominated by the richest and most powerful people in the world, who wouldn’t be accountable to anyone for facts, truth, science or the common good.
“That’s Musk’s dream. And Trump’s. And Putin’s. And the dream of every dictator, strongman, demagogue and modern-day robber baron on Earth. For the rest of us, it would be a brave new nightmare.”
It is quite clear to most people – at least in the Western world, and regardless of their own political opinions – that the planet is already dominated by the richest and most powerful and that those people are not accountable to anyone. As for facts, truth, science, or the common good, who gets to define those things? All have been manipulated, throughout history, to suit political agendas – by both right- and left-wing political leaders. They still are today.
And back to the left’s warped interpretation of “democracy.” Consider the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the German Democratic Republic – now non-existent. Left-wing authoritarians have a great fondness for using words like “people” and “democratic,” but each of the countries mentioned – and they are not the only ones – have several common characteristics; brutally oppressive regimes, a total absence of any respect for individual liberty, a homicidal aversion to free speech, and a complete lack of anything resembling a truly democratic process.
If that is the modern American left’s idea of democracy, then we should only hope that people like Donald Trump and Elon Musk will continue to threaten it.