Censorship in the US vs. back in the USSR

August 4, 2021 • 10:15 am

There’s an article worth reading in a recent issue of Areo Magazine. It’s by Izabella Tabarovsky, a former immigrant from the Soviet Union identified as “a scholar with the Kennan Institute (Wilson Center) and contributing writer at Tablet” (see also here).

Click on the screenshot to read the article (from May of this year):

Although the article seems to be about censorship in America and its comparison with the censorship in the U.S.S.R. experienced by Tabarovsky before she came to America, it’s really more about censorship culture: the political and sociological climate in the U.S. that makes people afraid to speak out.

But it begins by comparing Soviet government censorship of books like Doctor Zhivago and The Gulag Archipelago with information “bans” in the U.S., or the downplaying of what Tabarovsky considers important stories by the mainstream media. Official Soviet censorship, says the author, severely stunted her cultural awareness, so when she came to American she began a binge of reading novels, watching movies, and absorbing other information that she couldn’t access in the U.S.S.R., including political information like the nature of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. She’s a lot more aware now and with a much richer background of culture, but still chafes at the American form of censorship:

Over the past year, as I have watched instances of American censorship multiply, and extend to speech, books, movies, opinions and plain facts, memories from those early years of my American life, when I first began to grapple with the consequences of living under censorship, have resurfaced. I have been flabbergasted to watch the staff of publishing houses become enraged over the publication of authors they disagree with, designate those works as harmful and demand that they be “cancelled.” I have been utterly perplexed to discover that some California schools have banned venerable classics such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, because of concerns about their use of racial slurs and stereotypes. Of course, we don’t want children to read racist literature. But believing that these particular works propagate racial hatred requires the same mental contortions that Soviet censors exercised when they laboured so hard to imagine all the ways a work of art might lead citizens astray.

Now you can argue, and Tabarovsky realizes this, that “censorship” by publishers, libraries, and schools isn’t at all like Soviet censorship. After all, children can still get access to these works, though they can’t read them and discuss them in schools. That wasn’t true in the USSR.  And while it’s true that some books by American authors simply don’t get published because they’re ideologically unpalatable, there’s always self-publishing, and most “rejected” books eventually get published somewhere. But I think most of us can agree that it’s worth reading the three books she mentions, for they’re only banned for one reason: the use of the “n” word. I strongly believe that they can still be taught with sensitivity and awareness of the racial climate obtaining when these classics were written. Let’s face it: banning these books does not eliminate children’s exposure to racism and racial slurs, and there is much in these novels that is good.

As I said, Tabarovsky realizes the differences between Soviet and American censorship:

Of course, America is not the Soviet Union, and American governmental bodies aren’t the ones doing the censoring. Nor have the clampdowns on dissent been all-encompassing. But they are still enormously effective, partly because so many groups and individuals now depend heavily on privately owned internet platforms to reach their audiences. The conservative social media platform Parler was effectively silenced when Big Tech wiped it off the internet. The New York Post’s audience was massively curtailed when Twitter froze its account in response to its publication of a damaging story about Hunter Biden on the eve of the US presidential election. (Twitter then tagged the story as “harmful” and joined Facebook in preventing people from sharing it.) For a year and a half, people were ridiculed and kicked out of polite company for suggesting that Covid-19 may have originated in a lab in Wuhan as social media muzzled debate on this crucial subject. Today we are learning that this is a highly realistic hypothesis.

Actions like these have far-reaching consequences. Suppressing stories of national significance doesn’t stop them from continuing to develop and affect people’s lives. Soviet censorship didn’t stop Soviet troops from being maimed, murdered and defeated in Afghanistan. The untold stories of Stalin’s repressions came back to haunt us decades later—and still haunt many of us today. American activist journalists and politicians who are now engaged in shaping narratives to benefit their end of the political spectrum should worry that their reading public will later get blindsided, suddenly finding things out that they had previously been prevented from learning. For example, how does it serve the Democrats if those who voted for their candidates continue to believe that last year’s Black Lives Matter protests were “mostly peaceful”—the received dogma that by far outweighed scant reporting on how badly they affected immigrants and minorities? How does it benefit their party to ignore the fact that it is minorities again that are most likely to suffer from the thinning police presence in some cities as a result of those protests? How does it help the Democrats to fail to say out loud that their party’s racialized messages don’t necessarily resonate with members of racial and ethnic minorities? Have they considered that these stories might come to light at a politically inconvenient moment, such as the eve of some future election?

And she still feels that Americans aren’t sufficiently aware of the perils of censorship and “the absolute value of free speech.” With this I agree. During every orientation period of students entering American colleges and universities, or even earlier, there should be a unit on free speech. I am not aware of any of these, though there are plenty of other topics on which new students get indoctrinated, particularly in maters of racial sensitivity and sexual harassment. Those are fine, but please add a bit on the First Amendment or the Chicago Principles!

Here’s another comparison I found instructive, and we all know about stuff like this:

A couple of weeks into last summer’s protests, I got a message on Twitter from someone I followed but had never interacted with. She summarized her (incorrect) assumptions about my political beliefs, then told me that she had scrolled through several weeks of my Twitter feed and noticed that I had failed “to voice outrage about police brutality or the death of yet another unarmed Black individual.” (“Please correct me if I’m wrong,” she added.) She concluded with a brief lecture on the politics of the moment and exhorted me to join her in condemning white supremacy.

This message stunned me. It was the first time since I’d left the USSR that someone had demanded that I engage in ritualistic political expression. In its author’s brash and invasive tone I heard the voice of Soviet communist league activists who believed they had a right to demand that everyone around them march to the same tune. But there was more to it than that. The message felt intimidating. All around me, people were losing jobs, careers and reputations for what was characterised as voicing wrong opinions, sharing wrong content or failing to convey enough enthusiasm for the new, still nameless ideology that was now sweeping through our lives. A long forgotten fear crept up my spine. My great-grandfather had been murdered by the NKVD in 1941 because of four short phrases he’d used over the course of eight months, which a friend reported to the police. I knew how easy it was to weave together a destructive narrative about a person using disparate pieces of information.

Tabarovsky’s first instinct was to explain herself and apologize, to reveal that she was a Jew and wrote about the Holocaust, which are her bona fides, but she decided that wasn’t the way to go: she was not going to let herself live in fear.

Her message becomes clearer when she goes after “cancel culture”, using as an example the attack on Steve Pinker that I wrote about in July of last year, when a big group of people circulated a petition to strip Steve Pinker of his honor of being a fellow of the Linguistics Society of America. That petition is still online, and has now been signed by 638 academics. But as I showed in my post about this fracas, the entire mess was generated by a few Pecksniffs, out for blood, taking five tweets and one passage from Pinker’s work out of context and distorting the whole shebang to make him look like a racist and sexist. He is neither. And of course that campaign went nowhere.

At least the signatories gave their names, but, as Tabarovsky reports, the New York Times approached the signers, including some well known people, and nobody wanted to comment on the record. This is from the NYT article:

The origin of the letter remains a mystery. Of 10 signers contacted by The Times, only one hinted that she knew the identity of the authors. Many of the linguists proved shy about talking, and since the letter first surfaced on Twitter on July 3, several prominent linguists have said their names had been included without their knowledge.

Clearly a bunch of yellowbellies—at least the ones who did sign the document. Now Pinker notes that, as a tenured Harvard Professor, he’s not in any danger. It’s not people like Pinker whom we’re kvetching about being “canceled”. Instead, it’s the 62% of Americans who “say the political climate these days prevents them from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.”  How can we have a national discourse, how can we engage in discussion of sensitive issues—which are often the most important ones—if nearly two out of three people are cowed into silence?

Tabarovsky is confident that “censorship culture” will come to an end, as it largely has in Russia. I’m not as sanguine, for I want it to end in my lifetime, and I don’t have long before the Earth reclaims my clay.

In the meantime, Tabarovsky does have some good advice, based on her experience in the USSR, on how to combat the climate of censorship:

So it is on all of us to do what we can to resist this culture, no matter how pervasive and intimidating it feels.

How can you do this? Master your fear: if you are reading this from the US or elsewhere in the democratic west, remember that you are a free person living in a free country. Become well informed: read across the aisle. Question everything—especially if it comes from a source whose ideology is close to your heart. Assume that the other side holds grains of truth—and look for them. Add shades of grey to your thinking on every issue. Align your speech with your true self: resist falling into lockstep. Refuse to speak in slogans. Do not say things you don’t mean. Say only things that are true for you in the moment. Do not let others dictate what you should think or feel. And, for heaven’s sake, sign only those group letters that you are ready to defend personally, and on the record.

I’ll add this: USE YOUR REAL NAME. Stand behind the things you say by showing who said them. It is cowardly to to sign group letters anonymously.

55 thoughts on “Censorship in the US vs. back in the USSR

  1. This is indeed scary stuff. Of late I have been carefully noting when reporters include in their reports phrases such as “according to a source who requests anonymity,” or “according to (unnamed) sources close to the President,” or “according to staffers,” or “my sources tell me,” … etc. One hears from these “unnamed” sources all the time, every day in fact, from every news outlet, mainstream and fringe. Rather than gloss over the nature of the source and accept the rest of the statement as true, as I may have in the past, I now treat the statement as suspect a priori—even if it comes from a news outlet I trust(ed). Since most news outlets have a recognizable agenda, why should we trust? Sadly, we shouldn’t.

      1. I read that story earlier today. I’m ashamed at how I failed to question the premises and conclusions of that story. A small woman threatened by a large man on a mission to shut down off-leash dog owners in Central park, threatening her and trying to tempt her dog to him with dog treats he carried around for dealing with “intransigent dog owners”. “You do what you want to do and I’ll do what I want to do, but you won’t like it” were the words he reported saying on Facebook. He threatened to hurt her dog. Others had reported this man’s aggressive confrontations. He apparently has a reputation.

        Put yourself in that young woman’s shoes — or reverse the races and imagine a young black woman threatened by a large, angry white man, and see whether you don’t find flaws with MSM reporting on the subject. And that woman has lost her job because of the incident and gone into hiding because of vile online threats. She’s a human being, and a story like that is like blood in the water for so many sharks.

        I’m sorry for every time I’ve prejudged a situation like that. I hope I’m not too old to learn. If a story seems to fit the dominant social narrative a bit too neatly, that’s good reason to examine it more closely.

    1. I believe the policies of many news organizations expressly forbid using anonymous sources except under the most pressing and important circumstances, or to keep crime victims anonymous at their request.

      1. There are general journalistic guidelines as well as publication rules on the use of anonymous sources. It’s a question of whether they are following them. Remember when the NYT got rid of the Public Editor in 2017? This is the kind of thing that role policed.

  2. “It is cowardly to refuse to sign group letters anonymously.”

    Wait, I think that may have one too many, or one too few, negatives for what you intend.

  3. I have an issue with the insistence on “us[ing] your real name.” The use of a *nom de plume* (although some would insist that *nom de guerre* is the more accurate term) has a long and honored history since LONG before Samuel Clemens became Mark Twain.

    I have never hidden the fact that my real name is Terence Geoghegan. I’m a lawyer in Ventura, California. There, see? You want my phone number or email address or whatever, just google my name.

    I have used my *nom de guerre/plume* for over twenty years, because as a ranking official of the International Taekwon-Do Federation (and a VP of the U.S. affiliate thereof), I have a duty to the organization (which involves a LOT of young children) to retain a certain persona. Politically neutral, among other things. So I don’t post anti-Trumputo rants and libertarian screeds and filthy jokes and atheist diatribes on social media as TG; I do ALL of those things and more as Brujo Feo. Everyone in my world understands the importance of maintaining that separation, no matter how artificial it may seem.

    1. I think there are entirely noble reasons to write under a pseudonym (heck, the authors of The Federalist Papers all wrote under the pen name “Publius”), and I think you’ve stated one, but I also think far too many people do it merely because they lack the gumption to put their names to their public opinions.

      Anonymity also encourages posters to flame one another, essentially cost-free.

  4. There are lots of instrumentalist arguments to be made for free speech. Censorship (even of “misinformation”), though, strikes at the heart of democracy. If you feel that certain people shouldn’t know certain things, you are saying that they are not capable of being independent citizens. (You may say we already do that with classification of documents. Yes, we do. I would argue that that power has been abused heavily by the government not just to keep secrets from other nations or to protect citizens information, but merely to shield officials from embarrassment and oversight.) That the government is encouraging this should be enough to forfeit confidence in our governors. If you believe in democracy.

  5. While Tabarovsky makes some good points, her examples of the New York Post, Parler, and the early reaction to the lab origin story are poor choices, IMHO. The New York Post is a worthless rag, Parler is a Twitter look alike for conservatives that had zero chance of going anywhere, and the early suppression of the lab origin story was solely because those that were pushing it had no evidence and purely political motives. Perhaps she needs to do some more reading.

    1. I agree with your views on the quality of The New York Post and Parler, and I’m undecided on whether or not the “de-platforming” they experienced is problematic or not. But Tabarovsky is correct that these things happened. That the entities they happened to were (are) worthless rags is not really relevant. Also, it is indeed a bad look when “sources” that your opponents favor are de-platformed. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had a Streisand effect in these cases.

      I pretty much entirely disagree with you on the Chinese lab origin story issue though. This was an own goal that may have been easily avoided by the press if only they could have conveyed what experts were actually saying with some accuracy. But they never seem to be able, or willing, to do that relatively easy thing. It’s real simple. “The evidence so far doesn’t support that, but we are working on figuring it out. Though it is of course possible other explanations are more likely based on what we know right now.”

      The lab origin “theory,” at least certain versions of it, were (are) entirely plausible. And yet “our” side used it as a primary weapon to mock its proponents as racist morons for months. I think enough competent journalism could have prevented that, but I wouldn’t put it all on the press. Our side also has many that are perfectly willing to play fast and loose with the facts and strip away important nuances in order to vilify their opponents.

      I don’t think Tabarovsky has been particularly negligent in her reading.

      1. Yes, that they are worthless rags is strictly irrelevant but that’s why I only called them poorly chosen examples.

        While I’m sure some bad reporting was done on the lab-origin story, from what I recall on CNN they did a reasonable job of covering it. Similarly for WaPo and NYT. They quoted eminent scientists who dismissed it but it was clear (to me at least) that they had no inside knowledge and couldn’t prove the lab origin story to be false. Sure, they glossed over the science but I wouldn’t expect them to cover it closely. There were many other more sciencey publications that gave the details. CNN also called for the politicians trying to blame COVID on the lab to produce their evidence and noted that none did. I could easily imagine a lazy CNN viewer getting the idea from all this that CNN was shooting down the lab origin theory but that wouldn’t be accurate. They were simply exposing the lack of evidence.

      2. What I remember when I first saw the lab origin rumors, was that it wasn’t just that the virus originated in the lab, but that the virus originated in the lab AND was deliberately released. It was always the second part that seemed irrational.

        1. Yes, that was indeed one version. Even more improbable was the version in which it was engineered, like a bioweapon.

          But the more mundane accidental release of a naturally occurring virus being used for research in the labs is plausible and was also being talked about.

        2. I think multiple variations of the lab leak hypothesis were floated. The scientists created a deadly virus on purpose, they were just breeding a natural virus for study, or they were modifying the virus’s function. It leaked accidently or on purpose or both. The number of variations also supported the idea that people were making this stuff up and had no real evidence whatsoever.

      3. I read her “realistic” and a “plausible” as a bait-and-switch non sequitur – everything has a likelihood of happening (but very low if it is “forbidden” for some reason) so can be argued realistic or in some senses plausible (if unlikely). To me it looks like a bad choice as well.

    2. I think they’re relatively good examples of maybe (what I see as) the most pressing free speech problem of our age: how to ensure it when the free exchange of ideas and culture is overwhelmingly happening in private spaces owned by a few powerful people. How do we balance the public’s interest in maintaining free speech (where they want to hold it, and in fact where they are invited to hold it) with those owners’ rights to decide how their property is used? The fact that the Post and Parler were right-wing is somewhat irrelevant, since all it would take is for Dorsey or Zuckerberg to flip politically and all of a sudden you’d have legit information being squelched across 90% of the e-space people use. Balkanization of these spaces can help. A “PBS” model where the government provides an alternative public e-space might also be part of a solution. Public-private partnerships may also be part of the solution. But I do think we need to address this problem of a few people effectively owning what has become, pragmatically, the public square. Because relying merely on the good liberal graces of people like Mark Zuckerberg is not a good plan.

      1. We need a law saying that internet “platform” companies with a large market share must act as “public accommodations” and must provide service to all in a politically neutral way.

        After all, that’s how utility companies are expected to act.

          1. No way! Do you think they’d have shut down the NYPost/Hunter Biden story if it had been about one of Trump’s children? No way. And if Parler had been a haunt of the woke, rather than of the right, there’s no way they would have destroyed it. Et cetera, et cetera.

            1. The difference between Biden and Trump kids is that the Trump offspring were involved in the Trump administration, but that has never been true of Hunter Biden and Joe. So, it isn’t a fair comparison.

            2. So it isn’t the misinformation that they’re focused on? One party is lying about virtually everything, almost to the point where its members are trying to outdo each other in order to attract the attention of the Big Guy and his most rabid followers.

  6. As I see it, the biggest problem with these righteous-seeming attempts at censorship, preventing kids from reading the n-word for example, is that they will create censorship mechanisms that would eventually be co-opted by those with more malicious or self-serving intent. Once a censorship board is established, its membership and guiding principles are very likely to suffer mission creep. Better to not have the mechanism in the first place.

    1. Additionally, there really is almost no chance that Covid-19 “may have originated in a lab in Wuhan”. Much more likely, it originated with workers getting contaminated while *collecting bats in the wild for study*. Possibly, the contamination happened when the animals were being unpacked after transport, but even if that happened inside a lab building, it’s misleading to say “it originated in a lab”. That phrase is just agitprop by the usual suspects.

      1. Right, but it is still a reasonable subject to discuss. My point is that those that came out against it early were largely countering conspiracy theorists lacking evidence. It was still taken seriously as a possibility then and now. It bothers me that so many on the Right are calling “I told you so” on this issue. They (and we) still have no evidence.

    2. Censorship on social media is a tricky topic. Without moderation, a social media site can quickly degenerate into a cesspool that hardly anyone wants to visit. I note in this regard that GETTR, the social media site recently launched by Trump’s on-again, off-again spokesman Jason Miller — which advertised itself as anti-censorship — has been inundated by posts from ISIS, including decapitation videos.

      And Trump himself was recently offered an ownership stake in Parler by the Mercer family, but the deal fell through when Trump — free-speech proponent that he is when it comes to Twitter and Facebook — insisted that all criticism of him on the site be censored.

      1. “Censorship on social media is a tricky topic.”

        Understatement of the new century. Although I hate censorship and wouldn’t want to see the government in charge of it, I do think something is going to have to be done. Social media is just too powerful and easy to abuse. It is ultimately beyond the power of social media companies to control it and we wouldn’t want each company to set its own rules as that hasn’t worked. As I’ve said in past comments, I think we need to create laws that prevent certain abuses and put it in the hands of juries to decide individual cases. This will keep the actual censorship criteria at the meta level (eg, outlaw speech putting people in danger, rather than saying “fire” in a crowded theater specifically) and avoid government deciding individual censorship cases (a jury decides whether saying “fire” in a crowded room rises to the level of danger).

  7. Hats off to Izabella Tabarovsky. To the list of books countering the current wave of woke-Stalinism in academia (such as “Coddling” and “Cynical Theories”), I would add Heather MacDonald’s excellent
    “The Diversity Delusion”, which I have just read. BTW, the label of woke-Stalinism is entirely fitting,
    given that the denial of biological sex is part of the woke package, just as the denial of chromosomal inheritance was part of the official line imposed on Biology in the USSR in the 1940s and 50s.

    But what these books lack is a sociological analysis of HOW something like the Lysenkovshchina became so widely (and weirdly) influential in our academic sphere. There is no dictator at the top imposing these doctrines, no NKVD arresting its opponents. Yet a wave of hysterical conformism has swept academia, with scholars dutifully and ignorantly signing statements denouncing colleagues, just as was often done in the old USSR. What is the mechanism of this Stalinism without Stalin?

    Some Marxist sources (such as the World Socialist Website) ascribe it to a devious plan by the ruling, investing/managerial class to distract public attention from economic power realities. This might seem too conspiratorial, but—hmmm—at least it has some explanatory power. Another
    theory might be psychiatric: the return of a repressed disposition toward the lynch-mob mentality among pseudo-intellectuals. A related theory (which I favor) focusses on the mentality of the opportunists in Russia who flocked to the Bolshevik Party after it seized power, and who flock anywhere to any gimmick for seizing status in academic and other institutions. In any case, the subject merits serious psycho-sociological analysis.

  8. Latest news in UK cancel culture is someone sacked for posting on social media (quite separately from any work-related activity, and re the relaxation of lockdown):

    “Thank f*** our pubs open up today. We cannot let our way of life become like some sort of Muslim alcohol-free caliphate just to beat Covid-19.” (paywalled link)

    1. The presence of people regularly spying for politically incorrect casual remarks in order to report them and hurt their authors, is just another similarity between today’s so-called Free World and Soviet-style dictatorships.

    2. I’d probably get sacked for a comment like that – yes, even in my ‘off time’, on my own private account, etc. – if it was publicly linked back to my place of business. Nor is there anything woke about my employer. That’s just pretty typical corporate PR-CYA stuff.

      Thus a good reason for some anonymity.

      1. Let me guess, you’re in the USA, with at-will employment laws, rather than in Europe, where we (supposedly) have employment-protection laws preventing arbitrary dismissal — or, rather, we thought we did until recent cancel culture.

        1. Yep! I guess my point is that this problem predates, and is not dependent on wokeism…and therefore fixing wokeism and it’s particular brand of ‘cancel culture’ is not going to make incidents like this stop happening.

          It’s IMO just a change coming from the internet age. Used to be, your company mostly didn’t give two shoots what you said or did in your off-time because they could always ignore ‘what he said’. After all, it’s not like there was some reporter in the bar with you recording your every rant, and even for the people present it would disappear down their memory hole by the next weekend. But the internet remembers everything. It IS the journalist sitting next to you recording your every rant (at least online). So they can’t ignore it, and culturally we’ll probably never go back to that ‘didn’t see, wasn’t recorded, so don’t care’ sort of personal privacy.

          I’d like (some?) European style workers rights, but I think pragmatically they only take you so far. Even if your current employer can’t fire you for embarrassing online behavior, you’re not getting a leadership promotion if they think your online behavior will turn off clientele or damage relationships with government and private entities. Plus, like a Uni looking up a prospective student on facebook, if you want to change jobs, your next employer can certainly opt to not-hire you if they don’t like your past on-line behavior.

    3. But the point of the report is that the individual’s views were judged to be his genuine philosophical opinions that are protected under the Equality Act 2010. The tribunal concluded that he shouldn’t have been sacked for expressing them. The only outstanding question is whether he was discriminated against. (No, I don’t understand that bit either). Still, this is actually a small victory for freedom of expression.

      1. Just for precision, the tribunal didn’t conclude he should not have been sacked, they only ruled that his speech was indeed protected speech, and so allowed him to proceed to the next stage where he will argue (1) that he was wrongfully dismissed, and (2) that he was discriminated against (on the grounds that a Muslim making the same remark would not have been sacked). So we’ll see what happens.

  9. Because of the Big Lie performance by our X president we had an insurrection and nearly a take over of the government. Yet most people seem perfectly happy to just live with that fact. And also the fact that this continued fraud and lying about the 2020 election several states have now passed legislation making it much harder for many to vote. Even including taking over election results they do not like and adjusting them. As this action moves forward we are at great risk of losing our democracy. So the most important important and critical part of our existence as a free country with a free press, the ability to hold free elections are at great risk. So far I do not see the masses rising up to confront this propaganda and the big lie. It is working perfectly and very well may work. So the complete lack of censorship in a free society may be what brings it down. Every person’s free speech is in great danger and it is primarily due to our inability to censor speech. There are currently more than 74 million Americans who enable the big lie and help to promote it. Many of them are our congressmen and local politicians. All of them from one party.

    1. Of course, many people do object to the Big Lie and the state legislation it has inspired. As far as the “masses rising up”, where do you suggest we go? What should we do about it? There are plenty of efforts to fight these laws. Our hope is that they are successful. I don’t think we are at the point where we need to be demonstrating in the streets. Of course, I don’t live in a red state.

      1. By the masses I mean the supposed larger population of democrats & independents compared to that 74 million in the cult of Trump. I don’t know what you mean by efforts to fight these laws. There are demonstrations and lots of talk but i see nothing to overturn these laws. Even the events used in Texas are only a delay of the inevitable. We have specific democrats in the Senate and in the White house who refuse to get rid of the filibuster. So there is no way to actually do anything about these laws and this trend unless the democrats are willing to remove the filibuster. You also don’t think we are at the point where we need to be demonstrating in the streets. I remind you the 2022 election is about one year away. If nothing is done with the voting suppression by then, it may be game over. Once they have the house and the Senate, it makes no difference who is in the White house. Currently there are a couple of people in the Senate writing up a new voter rights bill. That is good, they needed to do this. But it goes nowhere in this Congress under the current filibuster rules. Most other legislation goes nowhere as well. For years the republicans have been operating with no rules. The democrats still seem to mostly go by the rules. Guess who wins?

        1. I share your disgust at what they are doing but I suspect what happens in 2022 won’t be as bad as the worst-case scenario. The unfair aspects of voter ID laws are being challenged legally and some may be overturned. Those that remain will be used by Dems as a call-to-action to get voters IDs and out to polls.

          The most troubling of these new laws are the ones that allow GOP officers to somehow intervene when voting problems are perceived, declaring the vote invalid or whatever. Perhaps some of these will be declared unconstitutional before they go into effect. If the GOP try to use them to overturn an election, all hell will break loose. Certainly their use will be challenged in the courts. The GOP may have created laws that they don’t dare ever use.

          The creation of these new laws is going to be used by Dems in each state to hammer the GOP. While that won’t matter to the corrupt GOP base, it might very well bother independents and such. They could very well cause Republicans to lose elections.

          I know I’m being a bit Pollyannaish here. We do still have to fight and it also still may all go south.

    2. Randy, you present the other side of the coin in the free speech debate that the advocates of unfettered free speech (except in cases of inciting violence) ignore or downplay: free speech can mean the end of free speech by ending democracy. Through free speech many Republicans believe still that Trump won the election. They will show no regrets if democracy is undermined. Those who support essentially unfettered free speech retort that the way to fight bad speech is with more good speech. This admonition, if it ever did work, has not worked in society today because people are in their own ideological bubble and without reflection reject opposing views, if they are exposed to them at all.

      Of course, has been pointed out many times at this site, censoring free speech carries with it its own perils. My conclusion is that what keeps a society free is the adherence to democratic values among the vast majority of the populace. If that does not exist, as is currently the case, no matter whether you have unfettered free speech or some restraints on it, democracy is in danger.

      1. free speech can mean the end of free speech by ending democracy

        That’s a bit histrionic. Trump’s antics have not ended democracy. Not only did he fail, he lost the Senate, he lost GA, and pretty much no republican State elections board backed his claims.
        Seems to me the “more good speech” did it’s job.

        1. I am not being histrionic at all. Authoritarians rarely give up. Hitler had tried a coup and failed, but free speech allowed him to take power in 1933. Perhaps you have not heard the recent news that Trump tried to get the DOJ to declare the election corrupt. One of his toadies in the DOJ prepared a memo to this effect, but the higher ups failed to go along with Trump’s attempt to undermine the election. Also, it was the Capitol Police that put down the insurrection on January 6th – barely. In both instances, Trump came very close to succeeding. What will happen in the future is hard to say, but democracy may not be so lucky next time. But, it doesn’t take a majority to end democracy. Mobs can do that. Since a large portion of the Republican Party still doesn’t accept the results of the election, the democratic consensus necessary for a free society doesn’t exist. Trump and Fox News still represent a threat as they use freely their free speech rights.

          See this Washington Post article on Trump’s attempt to get the DOJ to activate his coup attempt.


          1. Well put! In our democracy, it is likely to be far easier to destroy democracy in a quasi-legal manner than in a violent coup. Trump has shown us beyond a doubt that our system of government depends on people in many positions acting in good faith. He didn’t get it right the first time but he will definitely try again. Just like Hitler, as you say.

          2. Authoritarians rarely give up.

            I will make you a bet that Trump won’t file the paperwork to be an official candidate for President in 2024. He might do a Palin and say, for a while, that he’s running. This lets him legally funnel early, ‘unofficial’ campaign donations into his private bank account. But he won’t file, which makes his candidacy official and puts restrictions on how he can spend those donations. He’s given up on that.

            Perhaps you have not heard the recent news that Trump tried to get the DOJ to declare the election corrupt. One of his toadies in the DOJ prepared a memo to this effect, but the higher ups failed to go along with Trump’s attempt to undermine the election.

            I had not heard, but this again supports MY point, not yours. When Trump is stopped by someone (here, higher ups) speaking out, this is an example of more good speech being the solution to bad speech. It means Trump was stopped by exactly the method you pooh-pooh as not being able to stop him.

            it was the Capitol Police that put down the insurrection on January 6th – barely. In both instances, Trump came very close to succeeding.

            Succeeding at what – delaying the ratification? Hurting a congresscritter or forcing them out of the building for a while? Yes, they could’ve done that. It would’ve been bad, but it’s not Trump-becomes-President-illegally. I have no problem calling the attack sedition, illegal, etc. The intent to overturn the legal election was there. But like McVeigh thinking he could somehow stop the Federal government from functioning by bombing a building in Oklahoma City, these people were crazy if they thought invading the Capitol and interrupting the ballot count would make Trump President. Trump had no, none, zero, nada chance of January 6th events resulting in him being President.

            The right has fallen for the ‘domino effect myth’ for a long time. If we just do one small ideal thing, it will result in huge changes. We just need to light the correct match, push the right domino, and the whole corrupt structure will topple (and conservative culture blooms, and everything is flowers and puppies). But it’s a myth. The US government doesn’t work that way. It’s too big, too many interlocking parts. The whole executive, legislative, and judicial branches don’t suddenly stop functioning just because one building is attacked. All those state governments don’t suddenly say “oh, our bad, you’re right, our counts WERE wrong” just because there’s a bunch of people holding the Capitol building hostage. That’s the domino myth. They believe it – don’t you believe it too.

            1. Your Trump/McVeigh analogy is just wrong. McVeigh wasn’t at all trying to overthrow the government. Blowing up a building can’t be more than just a protest. On the other hand, Trump really did want to stay as president.

              Trump didn’t have a complete plan for pulling it off. He has followers to handle the details. He understands that if he guided the process too closely he would be culpable. He was hoping that if he pushed in the right places, and enlisted the help of the right henchmen, they would pull it off for him. He knew that preventing the vote counting on 1/6 wouldn’t directly give him the win. He was hoping that chaos would result and his GOP pals would do the rest. The recently released call notes that have Trump saying, “Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen” shows exactly how he works. He understand that he can rally the masses to the streets if they truly think evil forces have stolen the election. All he needs is a few key people in Justice and the military, and the recipe would be complete.

              Trump thought he was going to win in 2020 so he didn’t do enough planning to have a good shot of pulling off this slow coup. Now he realizes, barring a complete meltdown by Biden and the Democrats, a slow coup is his only shot at returning to power. He has four years to work it out and a much more desperate and craven GOP ready to help him.

            2. eric, I am going to second the comment made below at No. 10 by Jon Gallant, concerning our apparent collective amnesia, and question your assessment of the resilience of our institutions. I will quote Karl Jaspers:

              ”Everywhere in the world I dread that same self-deception which holds that ‘it can’t happen here.’ It can happen anywhere. It becomes unlikely only where the mass of the population is aware of the threat, where there is accordingly no relapse into lethargy, where the character of ‘totalitarianism’ is known and recognized from its very inception and in each of its aspects-as a Proteus which is constantly putting on new masks, which glides out of your grasp like an eel, which does the opposite of what it claims, which perverts the meaning of its words, which speaks, not to impart information, but to hypnotize, divert attention, insinuate, intimidate, dupe, which exploits and produces every type of fear, which promises security while destroying it completely.”

              (Note that the quotation is often misattributed to Richard Lawrence Miller, who quoted it at the beginning of his Drug Warriors and Their Prey—From Police Power to Police State. See https://www.amazon.com/Drug-Warriors-Their-Prey-Police/dp/0275950425

              OF COURSE it can happen here. We’re LONG overdue.

        2. But clearly he wanted to end democracy, right? I’m sure he doesn’t think of it this way. He just thinks of his own winning and has no real notion of anything worth protecting. His minions are effectively considering 2020 as practice for the coup. I see no chance they’ll win in 2024 as he surely isn’t gaining new voters. They certainly aren’t acting like he’ll legitimately win as his only platform is “Stop the Steal” and his minions at the state level are greasing the skids by passing laws allowing them to step in if they don’t like the election results.

  10. ” It’s not that we’re on the verge of Red Dawn. But after a generation of forgetting, we have few cultural T-cells left to recognize coercive unanimity, punitive group think, and other warning signs when they appear in the body politic. It seems only those who experienced the Cold War or lived through communism firsthand have the cultural memory to worry about the current moment.” See
    thoughtful article at: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/communism-mary-mycio .

  11. It seems to me that such a scenario is possible.
    When the system begins to crack under the influence of physical, astrophysical factors.
    Not faster, however, because chaos and panic translate directly into human life, it is better for the rulers to have a kind of HOPE and a solid scientific exit from the dead end for the masses of people.
    What I am writing is not about political correctness.

    1. Sorry, misunderstood the pages, answered questions elsewhere regarding the attack on a deep and fundamental cultural prohibition, etc. contemporary taboos (existing above political systems)
      among fans of Harry Potter books.
      I wanted to remove it, but I think this option is gone. (previously there was an option on Jerry’s website) Please do not comment on my post.

  12. The puzzling thing about the voting requirements that Republican state legislatures are enacting wherever they can is how “progressive” they still are. They still allow suffrage to non-whites, women, and white men who do not own land. Yet, when the constitution was written in 1787, most state legislatures restricted the franchise to white, male landowners. This limitation was unquestionably known to the constitution’s framers, yet they explicitly empowered the states to govern the process of elections. Surely, then, it is surprising that neither Justice Antonin Scalia, nor Justice Clarence Thomas, nor the Federalist Society, nor any other proponents of constitutional Originalism, have ever called for legislation to bring voting fully back in line with the founders’ “original intent”. Oh, wait, maybe that will come next.

    1. Well that’s damning with faint praise. ‘Oh sure, they may be trying to roll voting back to the 1960s, but hey, think how much worse it could be if they were trying to roll voting rights back to the 1860s!

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