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Trump’s Immigration Order Triggers Left’s Cultural Totalitarianism


By now Federalist readers are well-aware many leaders on the Left don’t appear to have learned anything from the election of their once-beloved, now-archnemesis Donald Trump. Their behavior recalls the dramatic, incessant mind-messing reversals from “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia and allied with Eurasia” to “We’ve always been at war with Eurasia and allied with Eastasia!” of the famous novel about totalitarianism, George Orwell’s “1984.”

People who refuse nonessential services to others based on deep-seated conscience conflicts are bigots. No, you dummy, they’re heroes, and don’t even need a two-thousand-year global philosophical tradition informing their capricious transaction refusals!

Previously we were very concerned, if not openly apocalyptic, about corporate influence on politics. Now if corporations don’t influence politics, they’ll be written up on a public registry for their social crimes!

And it’s totally the most horrible thing you can do to discriminate against people for their faith—except if they are nuns who have taken vows of poverty to serve the poor and just want to do what their belief system commands. Then they need to pay tens of millions per year, get mauled in the press, and be hauled before the Supreme Court for affirming a disfavored religion!

Now travel bans are evil, racist, bigoted, discriminatory. But just a few months ago they were the sign of an enlightened social leader expressing disfavor at legal actions taken by the duly elected representatives of millions of people!

Let’s Define that Hot Term

This all smacks of totalitarianism in deeper ways than Eastasia-Eurasia linguistic whiplash. People throw around strong terms like “totalitarianism” all the time, however, so let’s develop some criteria for using it before proceeding, to keep the discussion fair and centered.

Totalitarianism, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, is “The principle of government according to which all institutional and private arrangements are subject to control by the state. There are thus no autonomous associations, nor is there any principled or legally recognized private/public distinction. See privacy (social).”

The term is usually applied to governments, of course, but can also be fairly applied to cultures. If we apply the designation to a government, core criteria are: Are there any things walled off from the state? Or are all things open for government coercion and manipulation? If we apply this to culture and society, we get: Are there any things walled off from politics? Or are all things open for politics-driven social coercion and manipulation?

It’s clear from the behavior of, notably, BuzzFeed, but also a great variety of left-leaning public figures in their response to Trump’s immigration order that they support cultural totalitarianism: A world in which people and organizations ought to be hauled out of the closet for the crime of associating with non-PC ideas.

I’m An Actor, So Obviously I’m Enlightened

Consider public figures attempting to use social status they earned in arenas entirely outside of politics to claim a special authority over politics, despite their lack of political authority duly delegated from voters.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a longtime public Trump critic, took the occasion of Trump’s executive order to opine publicly: “I have lots of thoughts about what we’ve done to ourselves as a country and what we’ve allowed to happen. But we’ll see where this goes. Obviously the [executive order] roll-out was Keystone Kops-like by any measure with objectivity,” he told reporters.

Excuse me, but did anyone elect Gregg Popovich to represent Americans? No. Popovich is a private citizen who has rights and duties equal to those of every other citizen. So where does he get off presuming some special political authority over fellow Americans? That basketball job has gone to his head. Please deflate that ball, Mr. Popovich. Bouncing it doesn’t give you power to manipulate my political choices.

Of course, no Trump action is complete without celebrity pearl-clutching. Ashton Kutcher opened the Screen Actors Guild Awards Sunday insulting everyone who doesn’t automatically assume foreigners have the right to enter our country without complying with the rules for doing so set by political representatives the American people have commissioned.

“Good evening fellow SAG AFTRA members, and everyone at home, and everyone in airports that belong in my America!” Kutcher shouted triumphantly. Dear Mr. Kutcher: Who decides who belongs in America? You, or Americans as a whole? It seems tens of millions of them weighted in on this question in the last presidential election, and not favorably to your position. Did they commission you to address this? No. So why are you doing it?

Of course there are many other examples of this sort of behavior. You could just watch the entire SAG awards for a highlights reel. I’m particularly concerned by BuzzFeed’s amplification of the Left’s tactic of using big business to pressure politicians. This technique exploded in the RFRA battles in Indiana, Georgia, and North Carolina last year, but the Left has used it for a long time to give a tiny minority power over their majority opposition (see: Brendan Eich; ALEC; the Heartland Institute; and Memories Pizza, just for starters). It’s totalitarian because it seeks to control speech and to eviscerate the livelihoods of those whose ideas you oppose. That’s not the fair way to play ball. It’s sick, twisted, and dirty.

Excuse me, corporatists, but in America you don’t get more sway simply because you have more money. Making me a pricy mocha has precisely zero to do with your authority to tell me how to think, voice my political views, or vote. You’re not more equal than other citizens just because you each employ a tiny fraction of us. We are Americans, not serfs. You should have just as much political power as you have votes and voices that are equal those of everyone else. That’s a distinctly American idea, because remember: we’re not a monarchy, and we’re not a kleptocracy.

Further, under the distinctly American form of non-totalitarian, limited government, there are some things no one else is never allowed to touch using the political process, because in America it’s our government that is limited and our rights that are individual, inherent, indivisible, and only partially wielded by our governmental delegates at our discretion. These execs should tell BuzzFeed to stick their cultural totalitarianism where the sun don’t shine, and if they want to live under totalitarianism, they can ship off for North Korea. In America, we don’t tell people to clap harder or cry more according to someone else’s political preferences at risk of losing their livelihoods and social status.

Or at least we didn’t used to.

But Isn’t This Just Free Speech?

Perhaps one could say these folks are merely exercising their free speech rights to openly advocate for political outcomes. I firmly support the crucial rights to free speech and assembly of all Americans, even those with whom I disagree. But notice the commonality here of doing so in distinctly non-political forums. They’re not at a political rally, march, or townhall for their political representatives. They’re not at a hearing, a vote. They’re in nonpolitical, cultural contexts: sports, entertainment.

They are also expecting to be heard, not as just another American citizen with the same powers and responsibilities as the rest of us, with respect for fellow Americans’ rights to self-government, to think through and make their own decisions. If they had that attitude, they would be trying to persuade us by making arguments, not target our employers. Persuasion is respectful. It inherently acknowledges the other person’s human dignity and right to consent to his government and its rules.

Instead, their statements assume that everyone who disagrees is stupid or evil. They make no recognition that Americans clearly have legitimate policy disagreements on a very broad variety of issues, which includes how to manage immigration. They attempt to engage, not fellow Americans’ rational capacities, but our emotional ones. That’s why they make not arguments, but assertions couched in dramatic language.

This is coercion. They’re using power they earned in nonpolitical spheres to manipulate their fellow Americans, to socially shame us into at least outward compliance with their political preferences. Intentionally induced intense public shame is a form of manipulation because it engages emotions, not persuasion, which engages the rational faculties. They are politicizing private spheres. They are being cultural totalitarians.

People should not be publicly humiliated for having non-PC ideas. They should be respected as human persons with civil and natural rights regardless of their political views. Not doing so is not only horribly rude, it’s how you get Trump. When people feel disrespected and herded, they mass behind a man who hits back for them. That’s a normal response to a pack of bullies: hire protection.

Do we all really want to be in the middle of this streetfight? How about we all resort to speech instead of punches, and persuasion instead of manipulation? After all, that’s what free people do. They restrain themselves so somebody else doesn’t have to.