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The riot that produced the U.S. Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump has its analogue in the cancel culture rampaging through North American institutions. Neither cancels the other, of course. Both are horrid, each in its especially hideous way.
The January 6 attack on America’s federal Capitol destroyed institutional property, mobbed and halted the democratic life of a people, took human life.
Cancel culture draws its malignant power from the simmering destruction intrinsic to mobs as well, though most of its violence is rhetorical rather than physical. It spares lives but slaughters reputations, leaving its victims to endure financial uncertainty, isolation, bewilderment, psychic pain equivalent to being hit by a truck.
In that darkness, however, there is light. The institutions desecrated by Trumpist violators have done far more than sweep up their broken glass and honour their dead. They are now robustly carrying out the constitutionally measured, democratically overseen, trial of the instigator in chief.
The former U.S. president might escape impeachment. But the impromptu barbarians have been turned back. More, with a magnanimity possible only under the rule of law, they’ve learned what it means to be allowed to remain citizens (albeit in some cases incarcerated) of the very Republic their attack sought to bring down. Round one for sanity.
Nor, despite contrary appearances, is cancel culture winning in a walk over. Voices are rising against it, calling perpetrators out, challenging quisling administrators to stand up and recover the integrity of their own institutions.
In recent weeks, one of the most effective voices (anyone surprised?) has been that of Barbara Kay in her revived role as stinging fly extraordinaire at the National Post. In late January, Kay published a superb piece of journalism on the cancel culture malice and cowardice at the heart of former CTV reality show figure Jessica Mulroney’s horrendous mistreatment.
She followed that up last week with a kick against the pricks (Acts 9:5 and 26:14 King James Version of the Holy Bible) over attempts to cancel a young political science student at the University of Toronto.
A petition has been got up to revoke Arjun Singh’s award for demonstrated leadership in promoting understanding of diversity and inclusion. Why? Because his social media postings don’t all conform to cancel mob orthodoxies about how the “historically marginalized” should be represented.
Kay gets straight to brass tacks by noting that Singh’s real offence appears to be that he “is a presumed victim of oppression who refuses to act like one.” And she gives the money quote to the young man himself: “It’s quite odd that white progressives are the first to ostensibly, ‘defend minorities’ on issues — even when most minorities themselves are indifferent, or see no problem, with the actions (being) critiqued.”
More than even the sentiment – a worthy one – the act of the target rhetorically firing back is truly heartening. In recent weeks, I’ve been working on two acts of cancel culture in which those who’ve come under attack have steadfastly refused to give ground. One involves an eloquent, highly cerebral young woman, Caylan Ford. While still in the early stages of an already brilliant public career, Ford was cut low by being smeared as a “white supremacist” for having the temerity to run in an Alberta provincial election.
The sheer implausibility of that allegation is evident in her intelligence and poise during this podcast interview I did with her. But my emphasis here is on her courage in fighting back against her cancel culture accusers by suing them for $7 million. They used tactical hit-and-run allegations to turn the court of public opinion temporarily against her. She will use the enduring institution of our courts of law to seek adjudication and redress. Real redress.
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A second story I’ve been working on involves an internationally respected theologian and professor of religious studies at Montreal’s McGill University. Late last month, in the later stages of a long and respected career, Douglas Farrow was subjected to an open letter from students in the Religious Studies department. The letter publicly denounced him for “homophobia,” “transphobia” and generalized disregard for the sensibilities of those among society’s “marginalized” able to compete their way into one of Canada’s elite universities.
So far, the McGill administration hasn’t pronounced itself on the students’ letter. Nor, it must be noted, has it come to the aid of a professor who has served it well and faithfully for almost a quarter century. Farrow himself, out of respect for due process, has kept scrupulous silence about what the administration should or shouldn’t do.
But he has been far from taking the letter lying down. In published remarks, he has dismissed it as “absurd,” then dissected its inconsistencies and outright inventions with the iron chef precision of someone expert in exegesis before his accusers knew their own names.
The stories of both Ford and Farrow deserve further telling, and I will be writing about them in future columns. But the critical point for now is their willingness to stand and refuse to allow those running riot to cancel the reason and sanity at the heart of our cherished institutions.
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