A typical response from my liberal friends, when I criticize some lefty over-reach, is outrage at my audacity. “You cannot be comparing that to insurrection!” they say.
Well, no. Relax. I’m not comparing erasing Dianne Feinstein’s name from a San Francisco school to storming the Capitol with the intention of stopping the final confirmation of a free and fair election.
But, at the same time, if that’s your standard then nobody could ever criticize the left for anything. Nothing it has done comes anywhere close to the lies, sleaziness, incompetence and now physical violence that has oozed from Donald Trump, too many of his supporters and from a large cast of mainstream Republicans who know better but have covered for him to save their own political backsides.
Some on the left want to set the bar at Trump and then imply that their own actions can’t be criticized because they don’t go as low as that. But that’s just a dodge.
No, these things aren’t as bad as what the right-wing populists have done, but woke leftists who want to cancel the First Amendment when the writer or speaker dares to question increasingly strict liberal orthodoxy, or forget the presumption of innocence when the accused is a police officer or a man accused of sexual assault, or who justify violence because it’s associated with a righteous cause should not be beyond criticism.
Classical liberal values are under attack from both extremes — and let me say again, because I guess nobody can say it enough — that the attacks from the right are worse. Trump called the free press “the enemy of the people” and, at times, seemed to encourage physical attacks against reporters at some of his rallies.
But, just to offer a couple of high-profile recent examples of leftist intolerance, self-righteous activists have sought to shut down publication of books by Woody Allen and Sen. Josh Hawley. Allen has been accused, but never proven to have sexually assaulted one of his children. Hawley has been blamed for sparking the Capitol insurrection, but he’s still a United States senator and likely to be a major candidate for president. By the way, his book is on “the tyranny of Big Tech”, something a lot of the left would agree with him about.
Left-leaning staff members of the New York Times engineered the firing of the paper’s editorial page editor for simply printing an oped from Tom Cotton, a far right senator from Arkansas who argued that troops should have been used to quell riots last summer. I think Cotton’s arguments were ludicrous, but readers should have been allowed to judge that for themselves. Cotton should have been (and, in fact, was) allowed to hoist himself on his own petard. I didn’t need to be protected from Cotton’s words.
The First Amendment protects speech; it does not protect us from speech.
So, yes, right-wing populists are scary for the actual physical violence they sometimes threaten, but left-wing populists too often seek to be arbiters of what we may read and what voices we might hear. They will destroy careers and reputations just on an allegation or by digging up some long ago statement or action that doesn’t meet today’s rigorous standards for purity.
Let me say it one more time. The threat to classical liberal values is not equivalent. The right is worse. But that doesn’t excuse the intolerance and abuses of the left.