explicitClick to confirm you are 18+

The Establishment Right’s Bizarre, Masochistic Double Standards on Free Expression

thriftegamingMar 1, 2021, 3:51:56 AM

Rage Against Paul Ryan

Before he became widely hated on the right for being one of the major faces of spineless controlled opposition conservatism, Paul Ryan’s first major rise to national media prominence was as the vice presidential candidate choice for Mitt Romney (another now widely hated figure on the right, but this article isn’t about Romney). One of the first big “stories” about Ryan, if it can be called a story, was that he had once stated in an interview that he was a fan of the band Rage Against the Machine.

For the few who don’t know, Rage Against the Machine is a very outspoken far left political rock band. The members of the band have praised and supported numerous radical communist groups around the world, promoted Marxist writers, and stated numerous times that they believe America is an evil country that should be destroyed. In fact, the members of RATM want all nations to be destroyed, being staunch globalists, along with whatever vague brand of communism/socialism/anarchism is trendy this week. Band members have also shouted on stage that every US president from Truman should be lined up and shot, that “we should hang all their white asses”, and numerous other statements advocating for political violence. Despite this, RATM has been considered a mainstream band as far back as the 90’s. Their songs are played at sporting events.

While the reaction to this revelation about Ryan seemed completely predictable and unremarkable in the political climate of the time, it’s extremely revealing about the trajectory of both American conservatism and American culture in general, along with being an extremely useful contrast study to several hypotheticals and real life cases I’m going to also cover in this essay.

The reaction to Ryan’s RATM fandom was outrage, scorn, and mockery… from the left. RATM guitarist Tom Morello was asked about it, and called Ryan “the epitome of the machine we’re raging against” before accusing Ryan of a list of isms that’s so standard I don’t feel the need to recite it here. Surely you have it memorized. Numerous mainstream leftwing publications ran articles gloating over Morello’s reaction and mocking Ryan’s “cluelessness” for enjoying the band while not subscribing to their politics.

From the right on the other hand, there was nothing. No negative reaction to the affair. No criticism of Ryan for either listening to the band, or publicly speaking about it, thus giving them exposure. No criticism of RATM or their politics. Ryan himself felt no need to make any kind of public statement distancing himself from the band. Listening to a far left, openly anti-American band was considered perfectly acceptable by the right. So acceptable that not even an, “I enjoy their music but I don’t subscribe to their views” was called for.

To be clear, I’m not saying the right SHOULD have condemned Ryan for liking a band’s music. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes music is just music. But imagine for a moment that instead of RATM, Ryan had announced that he was a fan of the infamous white power, national socialist punk band Skrewdriver. Do you think the reaction from Republicans would have been the same? Complete indifference? Or do you think action would have been taken to “address” this in someway? Would all of the mainstream conservative people who advocate separating the art from the artist in the case of RATM would hold the same stance on Skrewdriver? Would music just be music?

There's no doubt in my mind that if it were Skrewdriver instead of RATM, it would have been treated differently. Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if the Republican Party went as far as far as replacing  Ryan as VP candidate and passing him over for his position as Speaker of the House three years later if he’d declared his love for Skrewdriver instead of RATM. At the very least, a public statement distancing himself from the band’s political views would be demanded from on high.

CPAC’s Mixed Message

If you’re skeptical that the Republican Party would react that way, let me steer away from hypotheticals to another real incident, one that happened much more recently. I’m of course talking about the most recent CPAC, the topic of which was “cancelling cancel culture.” The conference got off on a sour foot before it even began, when the organizers banned African American hip hop artist and Internet personality Young Pharaoh for past highly controversial comments about Jews, including calling Judaism a fake religion, saying that social media and pedophile circles are run by Israeli Jews, and giving an open challenge to Jewish rabbis to debate him on the validity of Judaism for $50,000.

It should be noted that Young Pharaoh was NOT speaking about Judaism at CPAC. He was going to be one of a group of panelists discussing doubt and missed opportunities. 

It should also be noted that the Democratic Party has had plenty of its own entanglements with antisemites in recent years, most notably Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, and more low key but also more significantly, Ilhan Omar. While there has been some mild distancing on the part of Democrats from Farrakhan, it’s been far more measured than the immediate ejection of Young Pharaoh from the “anti-cancel culture” “pro-free speech” conference by conservatives. Some internet conservatives defended these actions by arguing that Young Pharaoh has a right to free speech, but not to be platformed by CPAC if what he says goes against their principles, an argument that sounds suspiciously similar to the arguments made to justify right wingers (or centrists, or TERFs, basically anyone not in lockstep with woke orthodoxy) being banned from major social media outlets.

It’s all worth it though, because by their actions, CPAC organizers ensured that the conference was completely optically clean and there was no way conservatives could be demonized as a bunch of evil Nazi, racist ismists! Oh wait. Online leftists have been sharing that the CPAC stage resembled a Norse Odal rune, proving that the conservatives are dog whistling that we’re all a part of the secret neo-Nazi empire. Articles and blogs about the “Odal rune” stage are on the first page of google search, and unlike that crazy conspiracy theory that maybe the elite cabal of powerful billionaires who secretly “fortified” the 2021 election, which is now universally admitted to thanks to TIME magazine, might not have been entirely on the up and up, Odal Rune rants aren’t going to get oversaturated with pushback and counter-articles from mainstream news outlets about what an insane conspiracy theory it is. Far more likely, outlets like MSNBC will run “neutral” articles about the “controversy” that will give it tons of uncritical free publicity.

So CPAC gave no quarter to intolerance at its free speech conference, undermining its own message and principles in the process, and is still being portrayed as basically a Nazi rally by the left. Are ya winnin’ yet, establishment conservatives?

Why are Conservatives Self Harming?

Hypocrisy over free speech and expression from political parties is certainly nothing new. It’s the norm. But when Democrats shriek and cry about how awful and scary January 6th was, and how “dangerous” Trump supporters are after being all in on supporting the “fiery but peaceful” protests of the previous years that resulted in 47 deaths, and attending seminars by actual domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, their motivation is obvious. Their double standards are self serving. There’s enormous benefit and power to be gained from being that sort of hypocrite. However morally repulsive I find it, I understand it.

What makes the establishment right’s double standards on free expression so baffling is how self defeating they are. They show the most tolerance and indulgence to the extremists who most hate them, have the least common ground, are the least willing to compromise, and are the greatest political threat. Although they may say that fascism and communism are equally bad, their actions, what they choose to tolerate and refuse to tolerate, tells a very different story, suggesting that communism is in fact, not as bad. Their standards on what to suppress, ban, and gatekeep make far more sense for a moderate left group than a moderate right one, especially a moderate right group that’s currently floundering on the edge of irrelevance, dissolution, or worse, actual government suppression. What they are doing defies both principles and realpolitik. It's self destructive nonsense.

How did this happen?

Although many would chime in at this point with a simple and reductive answer of varying degrees of validity depending on their own ideological leanings (they’re all just grifters, they’re deep cover socialists, they’re agents of the (((people Young Pharaoh has beef with))), the deep state has photos of them at Epstein's island, they’re just cowards) and call it a day, I believe this was the result of a lengthy process, and there are a whole lot of important lessons we can and MUST learn by studying that process.

We need to talk about how the right completely and unequivocally lost the previous culture war. 

The Rise and Catastrophic Fall of William F. Buckley Jr.’s Respectable Conservatism

If you’re from the millennial or younger generations (like myself) you might not be very familiar with William F. Buckley. By 1990 he was mostly retired from public political life, but from the 50’s all the way through the 80’s he was the most prominent intellectual figure of American conservatism. Buckley’s National Review magazine became a dominant voice in conservatism, Republicanism, and the American right, bringing together often conflicting voices of traditionalism, libertarianism, and anticommunism into a coherent coalition to challenge the rising tide of various strains of leftism in the country.

But there were a lot of voices that Buckley had no interest in bringing into his coalition, and National Review became an outlet to denounce these people and groups as well. Ideological disagreement could be a motivator, but optics, and even personal conflicts were also a reason. White supremacists, antisemites, and segregationists like George Wallace were denounced (although Buckley initially defended segregation, a fact which is unsurprisingly stressed by left wingers when writing about the man), but also deemed worthy of exclusion were the likes of Ayn Rand (for her atheism) and the John Birch Society (for being “far removed from common sense”).

Buckley was no pushover RINO. The man authored a book decrying the secularization of the Ivy League, coauthored another passionately defending Joseph McCarthy as an American hero, and even defended the governments of Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet. In another of his writings later in life Buckley accused academia of replacing God with a worship of multiculturalism. But, despite advocating for legalization of marijuana as early as the 60’s (one of his positions that gained little traction in the wider right), his version of right wing politics was extremely constrained and controlled. Moderation, decorum, professionalism, optics, and exacting standards were the order of the day. No weirdos, eccentrics, or loudmouths. And nobody who had a view on any particular issue that Buckley took too much of an objection to.

Buckley was no free speech absolutist either. During his infamous interview with writer Gore Vidal, Buckley defended the actions of the Chicago Police Department in tearing down a Viet Cong flag displayed on someone’s property, comparing it to an American displaying a Nazi flag during World War II, and claiming that the removal was simply distasteful views being rightfully “ostracized.” He sounds shockingly like modern left wing social activists appealing to the “court of public opinion.” But, however you might disagree with Buckley’s view on free expression, it was consistent

For decades Buckley’s “respectable conservatism” stance seemed like a smart political move. In contrast to a left where all manner of radicals, criminals, and unwashed hippies were gaining increasing prominence, he presented a clean cut, suit wearing, sane, soothing alternative. Buckley’s appeal was to who in modern times we’d call “the normies", and political gains were made for conservatives under his wing. Or appeared to be made.

But the long term legacy of Buckley’s respectable conservatism was an unmitigated disaster for the right. Mainstream right wing politics became a cultural wasteland. The restrictive, stuffy, hyper-critical, dispassionate environment, with an emphasis on decorum over blunt truth, was kryptonite to creative and artistic minds. Art is in expression of emotion. Of passion. Often the more extreme and exaggerated it is, the more effective it is. Buckley’s control over conservatism left no room for that, and those who wanted to make art were left with three choices:

1. Be right wing and make art passionately and without restraint, ensuring that you will almost certainly not only be attacked and blacklisted by the left, but also ostracized and blacklisted by all the major sources of power and money on the right when you inevitably go outside the bounds of what’s considered “acceptable.”

2. Don’t be political, or be extremely restrained in your political expressions.

3. Be left wing and get support from leftists with power and money. Even if you cross a line and get in trouble, the majority of leftists will continue to support you.

Looking at those choices, is it any wonder that the arts and media industries became completely dominated by the left? You can easily rank which choice is going to be the most rewarding. Compounding the issue, Buckley’s stuffy, respectable conservatism had little appeal to young people, society’s most voracious consumers of entertainment. So the left had a corner on that youth dollar too, which brought the business interest into the picture.

It took a long time for the consequences of Buckley’s conservative cultural wasteland to filter from the cultural landscape to the political one, but it surely did. As the arts became dominated by the left, left wing messages were expressed more and more frequently and grew more and more extreme. Conservative disapproval, like Buckley’s of that Viet Cong flag, became increasingly impotent. As far left messages in art became mainstream, so did far left politics in the country. 

Zombies of a Lost Culture War

Finally, sometime in the 90’s conservatives gave up entirely, and in aftermath of a very long road we had Paul Ryan, Republican VP candidate, Speaker of the House, and RATM fan. The conservative movement had gone from “tear down that Viet Cong flag” to “I don’t support the Viet Cong, but their flag is pretty cool. Besides, what other flag am I going to fly? All the flags are communist.” After about half a century of Republicans tearing down anticommunist regimes’ flags in their neighborhoods for zoning violations, the communist flags in the left wing neighborhood across the tracks were all they ever saw anymore. No Republican could identify a Union Jack, and if they could they’d debate if it should be taken down for anti-Americanism, since we fought the Brits in the Revolution.

I apologize for taking that metaphor so far, but you get my meaning.

The conservative establishment’s decision to embrace concepts of “separating the art from the artist” and free speech absolutism wasn’t born out of a genuine belief in those ideals. It was an act of surrender. They looked at the mainstream cultural landscape of America and realized they’d lost almost all ground. So they threw up the white flag of surrender in the culture war, while expecting to still be able to fight the political war. It works about as well as telling an invading army you consent to letting them occupy your country, but they better not go interfering with your government and its decisions. Good luck with that. As goes the culture, so goes the country. And it has so gone.

At heart the conservative old guard still believes in the old respectable conservatism methods of Buckley, which is why they continue to police and blacklist the only groups they can still harm, those who fall outside the protective umbrella of left wing woke cultural hegemony. It’s futile, pitiful, and doomed to failure.

The Culture War is Over, 

Viva La Culture War

Let’s end on a message of hope. A whitepill, as the kids say.

As the left’s culture war victory started to trickle down into politics and then that trickle grew into a flood, a process that began under Barack Obama, something very interesting happened. They started to repeat all the same mistakes Buckley made back in the 60’s, perhaps even worse. The motives may be different, the outfits may be more garish, but the incredibly constraining, stifling nature of their ideology didn’t take long to seep into the cracks of every leftist dominated institution. Orthodoxy is the order of the day, and if you stray from the party line, you’re kicked out of the clubhouse.

It’s a much bigger clubhouse than Buckley’s, with a lot more money than Buckley would've dreamed of, but the effect is no less potent. A large number of modern Hollywood movies have an observable soullessness to them. People are more and more dissatisfied with the end product. Everything is focus grouped and sterilized of “problematic” content, often for large foreign markets as well as America. Every actor, comedian, and musician who hasn’t already become a defector walks a tightrope, fearing their inevitable cancellation. It’s a miserable time in these industries for exactly the same reasons that made being a right wing creator under respectable conservatism so unappealing. The passion and fire of unrestrained artistry has all but gone out in establishment entertainment.

Meanwhile, in alt tech there has been a slow but steady growth of creative, talented people and projects. The roots of a new underground scene. A new indie industry. The start of a new rebirth. The surprise election of Trump was a political backlash to the overbearing nature of the new leftist hegemony, but a problem with a cultural root requires a cultural solution.

The current woke leftism may seem unstoppable and all consuming, but it’s already on the path to its own destruction. The board is flipped. The positions are reversed. 

Just don’t look to the old guard respectable conservatives of the establishment to lead the way. They have one foot in cultural surrender, one in the losing tactics of a bygone era. We can’t afford to keep repeating the mistakes of the past.

The new counterculture that will lead the way has a tricky path forward. It’s fractured and splintered into many different ideologies, but isn’t that how all big social and political movements start? Focus on common ground. Allow for people to make mistakes, to be human, to develop and alter their beliefs. Don’t expect everyone to march in lockstep with whatever your own personal ideology is. A civil discussion or agreeing to disagree can be a lot more productive than most people today seem to be willing to recognize.

Let's try an actually principled stance for free expression.

Last but not least remember, sometimes music is just music.