Some years ago, a family friend from China asked me to explain various aspects of the American political structure and ideology. Hearing of separation of powers, individual rights vs. collective rights and rights of minorities, and so on, her view was that the situation is riddled with 矛盾, contradictions. Who can blame her? After well over 200 years of nationhood, we are still struggling with these 矛盾. The recent events in Charlottesville have brought matters to a head as they dramatically illustrate the tensions between various competing goals in American values.
As I reported recently regarding PayPal, and has now been seen for companies such as Google, some social network and online commerce companies have started to refuse service to right-wing extremist “hate” groups. In principle I applaud such policies. But as many have pointed out, there are very serious questions as to “where to draw the line.”
Putting aside the obvious inconsistencies — last I heard, PayPal continues to serve the violent leftist group Antifa — Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies writes that Twitter has been censoring any tweet of his that mentions the term illegal immigration.
A few days ago, I made a blog post regarding a high school boy who apparently had been severely bullied by classmates over his support of President Trump. At the request of a concerned reader, I later deleted the post, which is yet another example of our competing goals. On the one hand, the reader’s concern for the victim’s family is understandable, but on the other hand, hopefully society will learn from the incident and do its best to prevent such tragedies in the future.
This is highlighted by the report that a student — a Latino student, in fact — has withdrawn from Boston University, due to death threats stemming from his conservative views.
As a liberal Democrat, I have long pointed to the fact that my fellow liberals in the ACLU have defended the right of organizations on the other side of the political spectrum to demonstrate. As a person of Jewish background, I have often noted to friends the incident in Skokie IL, in which the ACLU, with a number of Jews in their leadership over the years, defended the rights of neo-Nazis to demonstrate in a heavily Jewish Chicago suburb.
Indeed, in the Charlottesville case, the ACLU went to court to demonstrate the right of the United the Right group to demonstrate. The tragic outcome has now prompted the ACLU to change its stance — but only in a measured, thoughtful manner. The organization now says it will not defend groups that carry guns or otherwise appear to be bent on violence.
In other words, the ACLU is giving careful (though likely painful) thought to this central question of “Where do we draw the line?”, and has chosen a reasonable place to draw it. Clearly, Twitter and others are not giving anything like careful thought to the matter. Krikorian’s mere usage of the term illegal immigration is swooped down upon and excised.
In addition, even if debate, say on the key issue of immigration, is not explicitly stifled, the dissemination of information — obviously a central ingredient to constructive discussion — is being suppressed. Take the two reports by the august National Academies of Science (NAS), for instance. The 1997 commission found that “[in] California, each native household now pays an additional $1,200 a year [in taxes] because of immigration.”
Actually, it is my view that the fiscal effects of immigration are essentially impossible to measure (lack of good data, too many indirect effects to consider, etc.), but my point is the marked contrast between past and present. This year’s NAS report papered over the problems brought up by some commission members, and outright ignored some big ones (I would cite the severe loss in political clout by African-Americans). At least to me, it was clearly a case of “the fix is in.”
The liberal magazine The Atlantic ran an article recently discussing the self-censorship that has evolved among liberals in the last decade or two on immigration. Author Peter Beinart even mentioned the fact that my pro-H-1B UCD colleague Giovanni Peri has been funded by the industry and its allies. Good for the magazine for actually running the piece, but it certainly illustrates the fact that the Powers That Be are actively obstructing constructive discussion on the immigration issue.
In such a climate, it should be noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has become to go-to “expert” on such topics by those same Powers. The SPLC maintains their own “official” list of hate groups that is often cited by the press, and the Boston mayor has asked the SPLC for guidance regarding demonstrations. It may well be that this is in fact very valuable and fair guidance, but at the same time the SPLC describes in the general “hate” realm (if not actually on the official “hate” list) Mark Krikorian and Roy Beck, two highly decent people who don’t have a racist bone in their bodies. The press takes the SPLC claims as factual, without any proper skepticism.
Finally, the press is exacerbating the problem, all in order to sell newspapers and air time. As I mentioned the other day, in a nation of 325 million people, statistically there are bound to be a few with warped minds. So why are such people newsworthy? The press never used to give interviews to such people in the past, and now they do so routinely, making them household names. The true hate groups are feeding on this, and CNN et al have become the enablers. At the same time they are giving inadequate voice to sincere analysis of issues such as immigration, the press is willingly handing the real haters a huge platform.
Ironic and scary.