How Should We Hold Him Accountable?
Yesterday I blogged about Former President Donald Trump's inciteful comments that stoked the fires of dissent and led to the January 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill. Many people claim that former President Donald Trump should be canceled because of his words and actions. Facebook and Twitter banned him from their social media platforms after he claimed the 2020 election was stolen from him. Calls for his being canceled persisted following supportive comments of protesters during the January 6, 2021 insurrectionists.
The problem with cancelling Trump is we lose an opportunity to critically examine his behavior considering prevailing political views and the lack of a constructive dialogue on controversial issues assigned to his presidency. How will we ever learn about bad behaviors and potential harms to society if we do not open a constructive dialogue about such offensive behaviors.
Some argue that cancelling Trump, or anyone for that matter, is a violation of the First Amendment. That is only one-half of the story. Yes, if the cancelling were in the form of government censure it would violate free speech rights. However, private companies like Facebook and Twitter can do what they want with respect to cancelling someone’s free speech rights. In other words, free speech is not always free.
Cancelling someone online whose opinions you disagree with does not make real change in how those issues are perceived in society. To make real change also does not happen overnight. It occurs after a period during which the criticisms about Trump’s behavior are explored through public discourse. In other words, the offending comments should be dissected, and a consensus of sorts reached on whether a person should be shunned by a community or all of society.
Cancelling someone for their offensive comments and actions to hold them accountable for their behaviors does have some merit. Two people come to mind – Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. Their egregious behavior was worthy of being canceled to send a clear message that sexism and sexual behaviors towards women have no place in an equalized society.
People ask me all the time what the origins of the cancel culture are. I trace it back to three events. The first is when Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the playing of the national anthem. Many in the public were shocked to see a professional football player shunning the USA, a country that enabled him to earn as reputation for excellence. Kaepernick was forced out as the S.F. 49er quarterback and no other NFL team gave him a shot at quarterback even though he had taken the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
A second set of events is the #MeToo movement following widespread allegations of power brokers being sexually inappropriate with females and the expectation of grateful behavior following a quid pro quo with respect to having given them starring roles and the ability to make a name for themselves in Hollywood.
Another set of events is the senseless shootings of black Americans by the police following allegedly threatening movements against the police. The Black Lives Matter movement took place following these incidents. If you do not support it then you, too, might be cancelled.
Taken to its extreme, the cancel culture can lead to bullying online because of offensive words or actions. Lots of people jump on the bandwagon after the disclosures and create havoc for the offending party. It may get so severe that the perpetrator might try to harm themselves to alleviate the pain and criticisms online.
It is easy to bully someone online because of the anonymity of the internet but it is more difficult to do so face-to-face. Another unintended consequence of leading our lives openly online.
We must keep the cancel culture in check. It might be a good way to go after certain bad actors and hold them accountable but, in many situations, it is a bridge too far and creates an ethical slippery slope where cancelling one group leads to demands to cancel another group and soon after we all are cancelled.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on June 1, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.