For a short while on Wednesday, “Lynch Mike Pence” was trending on Twitter. Given Twitter’s notable aversion to threats of violence (I was once suspended for seven days for suggesting that some mouthbreathing mope who’d just been fired from BuzzFeed “News” to “learn to code”), I was shocked. And then I realized this is the platform that allows daily threats of death and sexual assault to be directed against conservative women, recalled that Mike Pence was not a Democrat, and it all made sense.
This is what set off the furor.
Will Wilkinson is a vice president of some sort at the left-wing Niskanen Center; a Soros-esque open-borders think tank that, naturally, has many libertarians on staff. Full disclosure, at one time, Wilkinson rented a house from me. I’m not a fan of either his writing or his politics. But I have to admit that I was shocked to find an ostensible adult in a position of responsibility thought that a lynching joke would be thought of as funny outside of his own OrangeManBad bubble.
The story was picked up by The Daily Caller and The Federalist and here at RedState, NY Times Contributing Writer Tweets Biden Should Lynch Mike Pence.
At some point, the management at Niskanen decided to toss Wilkinson under the bus even after an abject apology. This is the statement from Niskanen president Jerry Taylor:
— Gabe Hoffman (@GabeHoff) January 21, 2021
According to Fox News, the New York Times is “reassessing” their use of Wilkinson as an op-ed contributor–that is never good:
A Times spokesperson told Fox News, “Advocating violence of any form, even in jest, is unacceptable and against the standards of The New York Times. We’re reassessing our relationship with Will Wilkinson.”
At Reason, Robby Soave was offended, and he makes some very sound points.
But Wilkinson’s case is a classic, textbook cancellation: excessively harsh, drastic disciplinary action in response to one dumb tweet that would otherwise likely have been forgotten in a matter of days.
True. This kind of remark rates a “wtf are you thinking?” ass-chewing. In one fell swoop, Wilkinson has been bounced from his well-paid house cat gig that allowed him to point out to all who would read that he was much, much smarter than most anyone…perhaps even Kevin Williamson, and he seems to be toxic to the fine sensibilities of the New York Times. He is now in the position of the unjust steward, “I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed,” because the market for smug NeverTrump libertarians or anything else cratered on Wednesday. Ironically, Wilkinson was noted for claiming that the cancel culture was overblown and hinted that this was a rightwing phantasm. I suspect he’s reevaluated his views by now.
This affair has produced several hypocrisies. First, if the Niskanen Center “draws the line at statements that are, or can in any way be interpreted as, condoning or promoting violence,” then it would have to fire its president. Taylor has arguably used Twitter in a manner that suggests he condones violence. He rooted for antifa to punch out Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who waved their guns at protesters encountered on their private street. “If I were in that march, and these racist lunatics were waiving [sic] guns at me, I’d like to think I’d rush them and beat their brains in,” said Taylor. “And I wouldn’t apologize for it for one goddam [sic] second.”
Unlike Wilkinson’s tweet, there’s little reason to assume this was meant in jest. And unlike Wilkinson, Taylor is the president of the organization and sets the tone for what is permissible. If the boss can tweet an unapologetic call to “beat their brains in,” his employees might very well think that edgy humor is okay. Perhaps that’s why Taylor deleted his statement regarding Wilkinson’s firing—he realized that it impugned him as well. (Neither Taylor nor a spokesperson for the Niskanen Center responded to a request for comment. Wilkinson declined to comment.)
Correct in all respects. But, if Wilkinson had tweeted his missive while his boss was urging mob violence on the McCloskeys, it is highly unlikely that anyone would have cared. Offense on the internet is strictly situational. Who you are and who you wish death and whether that death wish helps or hinders the progressive movement determines your fate.
Another hypocrisy concerns the conservative news outlets that wrote about Wilkinson in the first place. Both The Federalist and The Daily Caller complain constantly about cancel culture, and favorably cover those who criticize it. They are often right to do so. (In fact, I have been quoted in The Federalist, The Daily Caller, and even a Niskanen Center report, about the perils of cancellation.) But when the time came to show the exact sort of mercy they otherwise would have called for had the subject been a victim of left-wing activists or the mainstream media, these elements of the right poured gasoline on this fire without any hesitation.
Let me say upfront that I think the whole cancel culture is odious. Not because it is mostly the province of odoriferous and marginally educated leftists targeting conservatives over some imagined offense against wokeness but because it is wrong. That said, I see the issue as analogous to grade inflation in academia and efficiency report inflation in the military. If the cancel culture is the dominant paradigm, then you have two choices, you either hold to principle and let your people be driven into obscurity or you grab hold of Saul Alinsky’s Rule #4 and make the sons of…those people live by their own rules.
Wilkinson’s firing was unjust and excessive. Nothing he said merited what happened to him and what is still to come as he tries to re-establish himself. That said, if we are going to end this nonsense, then pain needs to be felt by the people who are using the tactic. Showing the aforesaid mercy is not going to be rewarded. It will only encourage more extreme behavior by the left and perpetuate the practice of collecting scalps from the other side. It is ugly behavior driven by an intolerable situation. Publicizing his tweet gave the left a clear choice. They could renounce the cancel culture and acknowledge things had gone too far and ended it. Or they could decide that retaining the weapon was worth the career of one of their own. They chose the latter. That is not on us; that is on them.
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