How to Defend Free Speech

Tevi Troy

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Any survey of contemporary life on America's campuses reveals that our institutions of higher learning are no longer devoted to free inquiry and the pursuit of truth. Instead, they appear riddled with speech codes, "safe spaces," banned speakers, protests, and cancelations of those who express disapproved ideas. Students bemoan "microaggressions" and being "triggered" as faculty advance ahistorical theories that diminish America's achievements and exceptionalism.

The stifling campus atmosphere has led conservatives to worry about the potential for new generations of Americans to appreciate and uphold our freedom and equality under the law. Even some non-conservatives have become concerned. As free-speech advocates Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt warn, "[a] movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense."

Though it has no single point of origin, the current wave of censorship can be traced roughly to 2014. That year, student activists were emboldened by a series of victories as they successfully prevented mainstream speakers like Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali from speaking on campus. For a time, conservatives, civil libertarians, and many on the left believed such impulses against free expression would evaporate as students graduated from college. These former students, they insisted, would enter the professional world, where they would be forced to dismiss campus theories as unreasonable and impractical.

Unfortunately, mounting evidence suggests that such impulses are no longer confined to institutions of higher education. The same campus commissars who monitored and canceled disfavored opinions at our nation's colleges and universities have largely held fast to their beliefs while assuming positions of influence at corporations, as journalists, in the entertainment industry, and on social media. This ascendant intolerance poses a difficult challenge — one that has no easy solutions.

It is not, however, an unprecedented challenge. The last time it arose — in the late 1980s and early 1990s — the conservative movement rallied Americans to successfully counter the first wave of campus-born censorship before it took hold among the public. Examining how these defenders of free speech prevailed can give us valuable insight into how we might build the case for free expression today.

RECLAIMING A LEGACY

Conservatives in the 1980s could not point to a single, pivotal moment that signaled a grave threat to free expression. But serious people at the time recognized that not all was well on American campuses.

One of the first warning flares came from William Bennett, who was then head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 1984, Bennett issued a report called To Reclaim a Legacy, which brought together 32 members of the Study Group on the State of Learning in the Humanities in Higher Education. The report highlighted the importance of the humanities, noting that "they embody mankind's age-old effort to ask the questions that are central to human existence." As for the challenge, the report emphasized the need "to conserve and transmit that tradition" with the understanding that doing so was "not merely to pay homage to the wisdom of the past but to prepare wisely for the future."

The report did not suggest that professors were presenting a biased or blinkered view of Western thought, nor did it identify places where campus radicals were suppressing speech or preventing fellow students from expressing their opinions. It did complain, however, that universities were giving insufficient attention to the humanities and that students were graduating with little or no understanding of the Western tradition.

This critique of higher education reached an inflection point in 1987 when Allan Bloom, a legendary political-philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, published a book that would make him famous beyond the confines of academia. In The Closing of the American Mind, Bloom provided a compelling attack on the state of higher education in America. As Bloom's friend Clifford Orwin wrote, "The Closing...grew out of [Bloom's] teaching, but it had the character of a report from the battlefront."

The runaway bestseller, which captured Bloom's take on the academy based on a lifetime of teaching, was more of an assault on intellectual lassitude than a condemnation of leftist shock troops. He denounced teachers who didn't teach, students who didn't think, and parents who didn't care. The most vivid image he offered was that of a 13-year-old boy completing his homework while wearing headphones, clearly ignorant of the "liberties hard won over centuries by the alliance of philosophic genius and political heroism." A child raised and educated in this environment, Bloom lamented, was unlikely to become a free citizen capable of pursuing a life of virtue. His grievance flowed from the fact that those unreflective 13-year-old hedonists would grow into the 18-year-old college students he was attempting to teach.

Like Bennett's report, Bloom's book did not mention political correctness or censorship. His concern had more to do with indifference to Western thought than hostility toward it. Yet in choosing "closing of the American mind" as his title, Bloom descried the problem that was to come: that a pampered, insufficiently educated child was particularly susceptible to a type of thinking that closes off certain ideas from discussion.

Bloom's target was the precursor to political correctness: a radical notion of tolerance that ripened into a form of intolerance. As he put it, "[r]elativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating." Such indoctrination, in Bloom's eyes, created a mindset that abhorred consequential discussions and challenging dialogue, leading inevitably to calls for limits on free speech and expression.

Closing was a canary in the coal mine of higher education. It garnered tremendous attention, and its massive sales surprised even Bloom himself. Yet although the book touched a nerve, its argument alone did not change the trajectory of developments on campus. Bloom's focus was not on an overly ideological university so much as an institution that was failing to do its job of educating the next generation. It would take another commentator to reveal the extent to which the university had become politicized.

In his 1990 book Tenured Radicals, art critic and social commentator Roger Kimball made just such an argument. He maintained that the radicals of the 1960s had burrowed into the universities where they had once protested, becoming professors and administrators who actively rejected the tenets of Western culture. Once there, they worked to inculcate the next generation with their radical ideology. As he put it, "[w]hat we have witnessed is nothing less than the occupation of the center by a new academic establishment, the establishment of tenured radicals." In only a few short years, the argument had progressed from criticizing a failure to hand down the ideas of Western civilization to observing the outright hostility toward the tradition that had developed among the faculty.

On the heels of Kimball's work came Dinesh D'Souza's 1991 book Illiberal Education. D'Souza, an Indian American and graduate of Dartmouth, embedded himself on college campuses to report on the radicalism within. Whereas Kimball had focused on the faculty, D'Souza zeroed in on the students, using his youth and ethnicity to ingratiate himself within student circles and convince young people to open up about their extreme beliefs. His tales shocked the American public, which was largely unaware of the extent to which thought and speech policing had infiltrated the nation's campuses.

From Kimball and D'Souza, a fuller picture of what came to be called "political correctness" began to emerge. The combined insights they provided were genuinely frightening, not to mention incongruous with the broader American culture. The two warned that multiculturalism — a new set of theories that deliberately criticized the notion of America as a melting pot of people, ideas, and cultures — was on the rise in college and university curricula. These theories entailed a brutal denunciation of the Western tradition and wholesale rejection of the West's greatest minds. In their place, multiculturalism's adherents offered courses in racial- and ethnic-minority studies, which were often accompanied by a dangerous blend of reduced academic standards and Marxist indoctrination.

Perhaps even more worrisome than the new curricula was the emerging picture of stifled debate on campus. While Bloom had sketched out the theory that radical tolerance had become a new form of intolerance, Kimball and D'Souza demonstrated how this intolerance manifested itself within educational institutions. They wrote of how well-regarded professors could be silenced by accusations of racism or sexism, how factual and numeric arguments about affirmative action were verboten, and how, a mere generation after racial integration, minority students were pursuing a new form of self-segregation based on race.

D'Souza's book was a sensation on the right in part because of the youthful energy of its author. Bloom beheld his own book's success with a certain detached bemusement, remaining on campus teaching students (and chain-smoking his beloved cigarettes). In contrast, D'Souza aggressively promoted his work. He published excerpts, gave interviews, and generated media coverage. He and his publicists were savvy about public relations, making sure to drive discussions about the book on both the left and the right, in both high-brow and middle-brow publications. Writing for Commentary magazine, the late Joseph Adelson noted that Illiberal Education had "received so much deserved attention prior to publication that its themes [did] not need much exposition."

Thanks largely to the efforts of Bloom, Kimball, and D'Souza, the notion that political correctness on campus was not only a fact but a problem gained wide purchase across American society. Multiculturalism was mentioned in 40 articles in 1981; by 1992, that number had reached more than 2,000. Beyond the volume was also the spread. In those pre-internet, pre-social-media days, three major networks dominated the scene, weekly newsmagazines were a major force, and people did not have algorithms selecting what news they saw or did not see. When a book like Bloom's or D'Souza's garnered attention across the media landscape, their arguments became part of the national conversation.

In addition to the reach of their arguments in elite media and academic circles, there emerged a concomitant receptivity among the public. To hear that the principles of Western civilization were being ignored, rejected, or mocked on college campuses was shocking to the vast majority of American adults, who had been taught at school to admire those principles — and, even if they had been radicals themselves, to value free speech. Americans of the time were also disposed to seeing the silliness in political correctness. Linguistic pretzel-twisting by campus radicals — like changing "women" to "wymyn" to exclude the word "men" — struck the broader populace as absurd. Likewise, the idea that campus leftists wanted to re-segregate by race just a few decades after the struggle for racial integration was jarring to many. And the destruction of someone's career based on a politically incorrect statement smacked of McCarthyism, which was anathema on the left and disapproved of generally in mainstream America.

Such wide-ranging rejection of political correctness was further magnified once politicians from both parties lent their voices to the issue.

POLITICAL BACKLASH

The right detested political correctness because it was anti-Western, anti-patriotic, and coming from the left. But many liberals at the time were also uncomfortable with it on censorship grounds. In fact, the biggest vulnerability political correctness faced in the 1990s was its rejection of free speech.

Freedom of expression is, of course, a core American value enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution. And the importance of protecting it was a deeply held belief among those on the left during the second half of the 20th century. The free-speech movement at Berkeley in the 1960s, for example, was a leftist revolt against limitations on expression. The American Civil Liberties Union of that era was so committed to free speech that in 1978, it defended the right of neo-Nazis to march in the heavily Jewish town of Skokie, Illinois — something difficult to imagine the organization doing today. The subject even worked its way into the 1988 presidential election, with the Democratic Party taking up the mantle of free speech as Republican George H. W. Bush pressed for a ban on flag burning.

Bipartisan receptivity to the problem meant that politicians and commentators on both sides of the aisle felt free to criticize political correctness. One of the most significant expressions of this political interest came in 1991, when President Bush — now casting himself as concerned about threats to free speech — mentioned the subject in his commencement address at the University of Michigan.

Recognizing the noble intentions behind the movement, Bush observed that "[t]he notion of political correctness...arises from the laudable desire to sweep away the debris of racism and sexism and hatred." However, he maintained that political correctness simply "replaces old prejudice with new ones." His central concern was that the posture "declares certain topics off-limits, certain expression off-limits, even certain gestures off-limits." He also offered a solution — namely that "[w]e must conquer the temptation to assign bad motives to people who disagree with us."

Bush's rebuke of political correctness was mild, especially by today's standards. He began his critique by recognizing the admirable goals of political-correctness advocates even while warning they were going too far. He also recommended a solution that required no new laws or federal intervention. Bush knew that presidential words carry great weight, so he allowed his comments alone to serve as a contribution to the defense of free speech in the ongoing battle against political correctness.

The journey from ardently debated topic in the conservative world to presidential speech is instructive. One of the main drivers of the transition was journalist Tony Snow, who had joined the White House staff as chief speechwriter. Snow had come from the world of conservative journalism, having served as the opinion editor at the Washington Times. Although that world was much smaller back then than it is today, the narrower range of options allowed for greater unity of focus. Right-leaning outlets like the Washington Times, along with Commentary, National Review, The Public Interest, and the Wall Street Journal regularly covered the books discussed above. They also ran independent pieces on the outrages and excesses taking place on college campuses. The budding conservative case against political correctness in the media was a unified though not coordinated effort, and the sustained focus helped the idea migrate outside of the conservative-opinion ghetto.

As an editor, Snow had been immersed in tales of political correctness on campus and the dangers it posed. When he made the move to the White House, he was thus well equipped to write a speech on the topic. And thanks to conservative media outlets drawing attention to the problem, Republican operatives inside the White House were sufficiently familiar with and receptive to his arguments.

Snow was not alone in urging the Bush administration to weigh in on political correctness. Other administration officials who pressed the issue included Bennett, who had ascended to the position of secretary of education. As secretary, Bennett vocally criticized Stanford University's effort to end its Western-civilization requirement. Lynne Cheney, who was serving in Bennett's old slot at the National Endowment for the Humanities, also expressed opposition to the movement, prompting Washington Post columnist George Will to label her the "secretary of domestic defense." The reference was to both her husband's role as defense secretary as well as Cheney's effort to oppose the "domestic forces...fighting against the conservation of the common culture that is the nation's social cement." The fact that these officials were so invested in the political-correctness debate helped lay the groundwork for a presidential speech on the subject and its dangers.

Bush's speech elevated the issue all the more. Maureen Dowd, then a reporter for the New York Times, covered the address. Her report was somewhat dismissive of the claims, writing that Bush "attacked what he called the 'notion of "political correctness,"' saying it had led to 'inquisition,' 'censorship' and 'bullying' on some college campuses." Sneer quotes and wiggle words aside, she covered the speech accurately and acknowledged that the president had "joined a growing political backlash against the idea that free speech should be subordinated to the civil rights of women and minority members."

The Wall Street Journal, too, followed the Bush speech by publishing a favorable editorial, writing that "[t]he university movement flying under the banner of 'political correctness' has encountered an opposition of remarkable diversity." This diversity, the Journal noted, included pieces criticizing political correctness not only in its pages but also in the New Republic and the New York Review of Books. As the Journal put it, "[l]iberals and conservatives, on campuses and in the press, have joined to define and defend the fundamental Western values of free inquiry and free speech."

The ideological diversity of those condemning political correctness was crucial. Criticism from across the political spectrum helped expand the audience and increased receptiveness to the argument. With people like socialist literary critic Irving Howe, Marxist historian Eugene Genovese, Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, and liberal historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., decrying the assault on free expression, it was hard to argue that disapproval was limited to conservative cranks.

As the presidential election of 1992 heated up, efforts to highlight the downsides of political correctness paid off. The backlash became so mainstream that even Democrat Bill Clinton's presidential campaign took pains to show that it was not beholden to the notion. In June of that year, in front of African American leader Jesse Jackson, Clinton famously dressed down rapper and activist Sister Souljah's dangerously violent anti-white rhetoric by saying, "[i]f you took the words 'white' and 'black' and reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech." This step was so noteworthy that it went down in history as the "Sister Souljah moment," defined as when a major-party candidate is willing to criticize the more extreme elements of his own party in order to re-assure centrist voters.

Clinton's Sister Souljah moment showed voters that the candidate was serious about being a moderate president in the mold of the Democratic Leadership Council. It also showed how Clinton recognized that identity politics — the force behind political correctness — was not popular with the broader electorate.

Another notable, if less remembered, anti-political-correctness moment occurred at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Barbara Jordan, a congresswoman and African American icon who in 1976 had become the first woman to give the keynote address to the convention, addressed the party's delegates 16 years later in New York. Halfway into her 30-minute speech, she rejected what she called "separatism," saying that it "is not the American way." She then declared, to much applause, that "[w]e must not allow ideas like political correctness to divide us and cause us to reverse hard-won achievements in human rights and civil rights."

This statement was the only deviation from liberal orthodoxy in the address, but it was an important one. As major convention addresses are typically vetted by the nominee's campaign apparatus, Jordan's comments served as an important signal that neither the Clinton campaign nor the party leadership would be beholden to the demands of the politically correct. The speech is rarely mentioned today — David Horowitz has referred to it as "memorable but un-honored." Yet at the time, it reflected the widespread nature and diversity of the pushback against political correctness in the partisan realm.

GOING MAINSTREAM

Another factor that put political correctness into remission by the mid-1990s was super-saturation. Widespread negative attention at the time caused political correctness to be so universally reviled outside the far left that the issue eventually became passé.

After the initial pushback from groundbreakers like Bloom, Kimball, and D'Souza, more mainstream and even left-leaning authors published books that took a similarly dim view of political correctness. New York Times reporter Richard Bernstein's 1994 book Dictatorship of Virtue offered an exhausting chronicle of politically correct excesses from a source the left could not easily dismiss. Similarly, Jonathan Rauch's 1993 book Kindly Inquisitors highlighted the problem of political correctness from the perspective of someone with strong liberal and journalistic credentials. With widely respected writers on the left ratifying and building on the earlier work of Bloom, Kimball, and D'Souza, there seemed to be widespread agreement in mainstream intellectual circles on the need to defend free speech against the excesses of political correctness. Meanwhile, on the political front, Bush's presidential defense of free speech as an important tenet of the American creed was affirmed by the Clinton campaign's more muted but no less significant acknowledgment that free expression was an essential American value.

Animosity toward political correctness was so universal at the time that Hollywood made a movie criticizing the concept. In the 1994 film PCU, Jeremy Piven and David Spade made campus radicals the punch lines. This being Hollywood, Spade played the obligatory Republican antagonist and leader of a fraternity of blazer-and-tie-wearing Neanderthals, while Piven's character Droz stood aloof, mocking the pretensions of campus radicals and generally belittling all sides. The movie even allowed leftists to parody themselves. In one scene, a feminist asks a friend accusingly, "[y]ou went out with a white male?" The accused responds defensively: "I was a freshman! Fresh-person."

Because arguments against political correctness were so ubiquitous at the time, there was very little cost — and the potential for enormous accolades — for anyone who stood up against the excesses of campus censors. As David Brooks observed in a 1995 essay for The Public Interest, "a cable-TV show, a book, and a Broadway production carry the title Politically Incorrect and seem to applaud themselves for their supposed courage." Noting the proliferation of easy anti-political-correctness sentimentality, he added that it had reached "the point of absurdity" when African American actress and liberal activist Whoopi Goldberg denounced it. "It was all one could do," he remarked, "not to hurl something at the television and shout: 'Ms. Goldberg, you are political correctness.'"

Near the turn of the century, it appeared that political correctness had been beaten back, if not utterly defeated. Engaging in language policing in the mid-1990s was not "safe," to use today's parlance. Political correctness may not have disappeared from the English department at Brown University, but forcing someone to write "wymyn" instead of "women" would have elicited mockery among mainstream Americans. As Brooks quipped at the time, "[i]s there anything more boring than the debate about political correctness?"

LESSONS FROM THE LAST WAR

When a battle is declared "boring," it's hard to see the point in fighting any longer. Yet as we have learned in more recent decades, the war had yet to be won. Today, political correctness has been replaced by "cancel culture" — a more aggressive yet somehow less reflective version of its predecessor that has become far more widespread in its virulence.

Like the 1960s radicals re-emerging in more senior roles on campus in the 1990s, their students appear to have bided their time, resurfacing with a vengeance in the 2010s and 2020s. The results have arguably been much worse. Cancel culture has not only imposed politically correct linguistic strictures and thought limitations on English departments, but on the human-resource divisions of major corporations, the editorial desks of mainstream media companies, and the backlot offices of major Hollywood studios. In the 1990s, one could escape political correctness by avoiding ethnic-studies courses on a college campus. In the 2020s, cancel culture is omnipresent — and ready to punish anyone whose views diverge from the progressive orthodoxy.

Arguments in favor of free speech appear to have less resonance today than they did in the 1990s. Disturbing polls show that increasing numbers of young people do not believe in freedom of speech or expression as stand-alone values. This is especially the case when censors frame their restrictions in the Orwellian language of "safetyism." Free speech, it seems, has some kind of exception that emerges when anyone declares that the language used makes him feel "unsafe."

Though the current situation may be dire, key lessons from the first battle against political correctness are still instructive. The first is the power of right-leaning intellectuals to make an argument part of the national conversation. Beginning with Bloom, who did not call himself conservative but arguably counted as one, the effort grew to include self-proclaimed conservative writers like Kimball and D'Souza. Bloom's arguments about the weaknesses of contemporary education laid the groundwork for further investigation, while Kimball and D'Souza built on his arguments with new theories and practical applications. As Bloom's and Kimball's works helped bring the issue to the attention of elites, D'Souza's aggressive publicity campaign allowed it to reach a broader audience.

The second lesson has to do with the ability of politicians, and particularly the president, to elevate issues to a national audience. Once the right-leaning intelligentsia broke the story in the late 1980s and early 1990s, journalists helped it reach the political realm. Former conservative journalist Tony Snow was especially instrumental in bringing the concept to the attention of the Bush White House, leading to a presidential speech that was elegant, unifying, and even a bit understated.

The third lesson relates to the need to build alliances across the aisle. Arguments from right-leaning writers like Bloom, Kimball, and D'Souza could have only gone so far without allies from the left making common cause in defense of free speech. The addition of more mainstream and left-leaning voices meant that people couldn't dismiss criticism of political correctness as the work of right-wing zealots. Having real moderates and liberals — especially ones with serious journalistic credentials like Rauch and Bernstein — on the side of the anti-political-correctness arguments gave them real credibility. It also helped Democratic politicians like Bill Clinton and Barbara Jordan see that there were political benefits to be gained from making the case in favor of free expression.

Then there was the power of the entertainment industry. As comedians mocked the pretensions of political correctness and movies like PCU showed that even some in Hollywood wanted to hop on the bandwagon, the term "politically incorrect" became a badge of honor. Disseminating the anti-political-correctness argument through popular culture allowed it to transcend the world of left versus right and reach the bulk of the American population in a way that even leftist arguments in the mainstream media could not have done.

The current war against cancel culture has the potential to seize on some of these same strategies. Despite several ideological and policy fissures, right-leaning Americans of nearly all stripes recognize the anti-American, anti-freedom tendencies of cancel culture. No matter where a right-of-center outlet stands on divisive issues like trade, immigration, or foreign policy, it's a safe bet that it will be opposed to this new wave of political correctness. Indeed, since its emergence in 2014, opposing cancel culture has become one of the right's most prominent unifying issues.

Like political correctness before it, cancel culture has gained widespread attention. When op-ed editor Bari Weiss quit the New York Times with a compelling letter blasting the Times' repressive and monolithic culture, a photo of her appeared on the front page of the New York Post with the headline "Troubled Times." The placement of the article ensured that the Post's readers would be familiar with the controversy and indicated that the Weiss saga had gone mainstream.

Weiss's letter showed something else as well. A political moderate who leans left, Weiss is only conservative in the sense that defending free speech makes one a conservative in 2020s America. And she is not the only person on that side of the aisle who has noticed something awry. Other non-conservatives who have made the case for free speech include Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone; Jonathan Chait of New York magazine; Glenn Greenwald, who left the Intercept on free-speech grounds; and Matt Yglesias, who did the same with Vox. Some, like Jonathan Haidt, have even migrated away from the left altogether, in large part because of their steadfast belief in free speech.

Others on the left have tentatively dipped their toes into the waters of free expression. In July of 2020, Harper's magazine published an open letter that, after some requisite anti-conservative throat clearing, made a clear-cut case for free speech. Many leftists were attacked for signing the letter, and some even recanted their signatures — a telling tale of cancel culture's power in itself. But the incident proved that at least some thinkers on the left, including even Noam Chomsky, remain supportive of free expression.

On the political front, however, Democratic politicians have proven largely unwilling to call out cancel culture for fear of being canceled themselves. Some, like Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have minimized the threat, incorrectly likening cancel culture to simple criticism. But a few have been more receptive to the dangers it poses. In 2019, former president Barack Obama made an anti-cancel culture statement, suggesting that at least one Democratic politician — albeit a retired one — is willing to support free speech.

The fourth area of opportunity for free-speech advocates is in the realm of popular culture. Here, too, things are more challenging than they were in the 1990s. Hollywood is, if possible, even more left leaning than it was that decade, and cancel culture has a powerful grip on the entertainment industry. In fact, PCU is unavailable on streaming services today; the only way to access it is via DVD on the secondary market, which will cost you $35. It would not be unreasonable to surmise that there may be a political reason behind its relative unavailability.

Still, there are some rays of hope on the cultural front as well. Many comics, including Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, will not perform on college campuses because of students' hypersensitivity. These refusals are themselves a statement that some of our most prominent comedians recognize things have gone too far. At the same time, comedian Ricky Gervais has been willing to take on cancel culture more directly. The left-leaning Gervais is annoyed that his free-speech advocacy has earned him the "conservative" moniker, insisting that "[f]reedom of speech shouldn't even be a political issue. Everyone on every side should agree with that." Outspoken liberal Larry David has made language policing a theme for ridicule on his popular HBO show Curb Your Enthusiasm. Parody sites like the Babylon Bee — which has over 800,000 followers on Twitter — take the position that the best way to push back against cancel culture is to poke fun at it.

There is little doubt that cancel culture is more ingrained in the American society of the 2020s than political correctness was at the turn of the century. Defeating it will be challenging. But the experience of the 1990s should be both instructive and encouraging, not just to conservatives, but to all those who wish to defend free expression. And indeed, there is some reason for optimism. Even in these hyper-partisan times, a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 46% of American voters think cancel culture "has gone too far" and that 49% believe it has had a negative impact on society. In addition to the encouraging numbers, the fact that the question was even polled is a sign that the issue is garnering attention.

The American people have good instincts on this question. If they can continue to receive solid guidance from a unified conservative movement while some key politicians speak out, some leftists defect, and some talented comedians and entertainers stand up for free speech, there is a chance that cancel culture, like political correctness before it, will be seen as a joke of the past rather than the scary reality of our future.

Tevi Troy is a presidential historian and former White House aide. His latest book is Fight House: Rivalries in the White House from Truman to Trump. Barak Eisenman assisted with the research on this article.


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