In the early 1950s, at the nadir of McCarthyism, the Cincinnati Reds baseball team was so fearful of anti-communist crusaders that it actually changed the team’s name. Overnight, they reverted to their original name, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, and then for several years became the Redlegs. The anti-communism was justified; the mob mentality was not. Today, we are all Redlegs. This time, the repression is coming from the left.
It’s not just that a careless word can cost your job, it’s that people tremble in fear that they might say the wrong word. Today, as in the past, the loudest, most extreme voices claim the right to control speech and judge whether it is worthy of being heard at all. The giants of technology and media have either bowed to these demands or embraced them enthusiastically. The result, as in the early 1950s, is a shriveled, impoverished public square. Genuine debate is suppressed, even in classrooms, which should nurture informed discussion with multiple viewpoints. All too often they have become pipelines for indoctrination.
What’s wrong with this rigid groupthink? First, it takes real problems, such as police misconduct or Confederate statues, and inflates them for political purposes. It vastly exaggerates their extent and gravity, mistakenly generalizes them (Ulysses Grant is not Stonewall Jackson), ignores significant progress in correcting old errors, calls any disagreement “racist,” and relies on intimidation and sometimes violence, not democratic procedures, to get their way. The loudest voices say America and its history are fundamentally evil, that its institutions need to be smashed so they can be reestablished on “socially just” foundations. The mob and their fellow travelers will determine what is just. Who gives them that right? This arrogation of power and attack on public order will not end well.
The second problem is that America’s major institutions have been overwhelmed by these demands and have bowed down to them. Public trust has eroded in all America’s major institutions since the late 1960s. We now see the supine results. Instead of standing up to this swelling irrationalism and intimidation, they have appeased it—and sometimes embraced it. Predictably, appeasement has only fueled more extreme demands.
The rot began in America’s universities before spreading to mass media, cultural magazines, philanthropies, museums, and corporations. More and more parents are concerned that it now suffuses K-12 education. They don’t want a Pollyanna history, but neither do they want their children indoctrinated with a grim, doctrinaire view that America is an evil nation, incapable of reforming its own defects.