How White Religious Conservatives Invented Cancel Culture
It’s time to toss that broken record into the trash. It’s played out. It’s fake news.
At the Republican National Convention in August, President Donald Trump and his cast of sycophants returned to a familiar refrain: “Cancel culture” is the devil, possibly the single greatest hurdle to making America great again. It must be stopped.
For those unfamiliar with The Great American Threat, “cancel culture” is a phenomenon of the “Karen” era, likely to be cited by the type of person who’d be called a “Karen.” (It’s also a term that originated in the Black community, which, I suspect, has a lot to do with how conservatives react to it — but that’s a subject for another story.)
If you’ve been shamed on social media or rendered unpopular and possibly unemployed for committing an unpardonable offense (R. Kelly, Roseanne Barr, Megyn Kelly, and Chick-fil-A), you’ve been canceled. It’s Americans doing what Americans have always done well — judge others — only social media allows everyone to join the mob and wield a degree of influence.
Trump, who has experienced cancel culture from both sides, has turned it into a political grenade against Democrats because, well, isn’t everything their fault? His entire family echoes him, painting themselves and their conservative Republican flock as victims of a liberal scourge previously known as “political correctness.” Never mind that while they’re complaining about the lefties who try to shut them up, they are doing the same thing in return.
They’ve employed it at various times throughout U.S. history, and they are quite happy to revive it today whenever it benefits them.
It’s the sort of astounding hypocrisy and contradiction that has defined America since its founding fathers declared all men equal while preaching the morality of White supremacy. Today, conservatives play victims of cancel culture supposedly created by liberals while straight White conservatives have been cracking that whip (figuratively and literally) for the country’s entire history. It’s time to toss that broken record into the trash. It’s played out — to use one of their other favorite phrases that evokes a specter of their own devising, it’s fake news. Actual history, not the rewritten stuff conservatives like to peddle, proves that the sort of White conservatives who trumpet Trump are the real architects of cancel culture.
They’ve employed it at various times throughout U.S. history, and they are quite happy to revive it today whenever it benefits them. Just take a look at their responses to recent events: Black Lives Matter protests, Trump’s cancellation of the World Health Organization, Democratic governors, and the U.S. Postal Service.
Not convinced? Have a seat. Let’s backtrack.
The Salem witch trials
In one of the earliest instances of cancel culture on American soil — running concurrently to the first decades of the cancellation campaigns against Native Americans and Black Americans by White Americans — colonial Massachusetts put people on trial for suspected witchcraft. The trials and subsequent executions by hanging set a violent precedent for the Communist witch hunt centuries later and laid the foundation for a conservative ideology that revolves around fear and conquest. If Salem’s judges and juries were alive today, they’d likely be leading the brigade to rid America of socialists and Black Lives Matter, on and off social media.
The Confederate States of America
Cancel culture can start wars, as it did when seven Southern states tried to cancel the United States by seceding from it shortly after Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November 1860 and before he assumed office the following March. They didn’t just attempt to cancel the Union: In 1861, they launched a protracted four-year military campaign to kill it, all in the name of severing ties to preserve the peculiar institution of slavery.
The Civil War, America’s bloodiest conflict, had far more severe and long-lasting ramifications than any boycott or modern-day agent of cancellation. Its reverberations persist in debates over Confederate statues, reparations, and Black Lives Matter.
Jim Crow laws
For a century after the Civil War, many White Americans continued to try to cancel Black Americans. Once Black people won emancipation, many in the White majority wanted to keep them subservient or, better yet, invisible. Assaults, lynchings, and separate-but-unequal facilities taught Black Americans everything they would later use to launch their own cancellation campaigns — the most notable and effective of which was the boycott.
Injustice against the LGBTQ community
In the ’20s and early ’30s, William Haines was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. In 1933, MGM head Louis B. Mayer presented an ultimatum: Give up his male partner and enter into an arranged marriage with a woman or be canceled by the studio. Haines chose the latter, effectively ending his Hollywood acting career.
At the time, it wasn’t an unlikely scenario, although many gay actors chose differently than Haines did. Even today, most remain closeted out of fear of being canceled by conservatives over their sexual orientation. Although prevalent in movies and music, homophobic cancel culture can destroy lives and careers in any field, and it has. We have America’s conservative, judgmental streak to thank for that.
Decades later, a gay couple walks into a bakery and requests a cake for their upcoming wedding. The owner refuses to serve them, claiming gay marriage goes against their religious beliefs. The couple takes the case to the Supreme Court, which rules in the baker’s favor.
When the LGBTQ community unites and denounces the bakery on social media, conservatives paint them as villains of cancel culture — but who canceled whom first? Conservatives have tried to cancel the LGBTQ community for centuries, and under Trump, they’ve had the government on their side. Yet somehow, when the LGBTQ community unites against a common enemy — whether it’s a homophobic vice president, a comedian who jokes about beating the gay out of his young son, or a well-known author who promotes transphobia dressed up as White feminism — they’re supposed to shut up and let grown folks speak.
As usual, conservative Republicans are the only ones who get to express their opinions and enjoy the protection of freedom of speech. The rest of us must sit there and take whatever abuse they dish out.
In 1975, All in the Family creator and sitcom social stirrer Norman Lear caused more uproar with a new sitcom called The Jeffersons. It was the first TV series to feature a Black and White interracial married couple, Tom and Helen Willis (played by Franklin Cover and Roxie Roker, better known as Lenny Kravitz’s mom). Predictably, controversy ensued, courtesy of CBS’s more conservative viewers.
Despite conservatives’ laying the blame for cancel culture squarely at the feet of liberals, their selective outrage over “sinful” TV marriages has continued in the decades since The Jeffersons. In 2013, when Cheerios posted a commercial featuring an interracial couple and their daughter on YouTube, the vitriolic response forced the company to close the comments section.
If this were to happen today, Donald Trump Jr. probably would blast Cheerios for closing the comments section while giving a pass to bigots who would deprive decent Americans the right to marry someone of another race.
After the comedian posed for a mock photo of herself holding Trump’s severed head, the same people who are okay with a president who regularly bullies and threatens rivals — and invited a White St. Louis couple who pulled guns on Black Lives Matter protesters to speak at the Republican National Convention — called for her head.
Griffin’s career, naturally, tanked. Her bad-taste move was a joke — an unfunny one, but a joke nonetheless. What’s Trump’s excuse?
Much of Swift’s 2020 documentary Miss America was dedicated to conservative cancel culture. Fully aware of what happened to Dixie Chicks in 2003, Swift’s handlers urged her not to come out as a Democrat during the 2018 midterm elections for fear of what conservative country fans would do to her career — and possibly her limbs.
Sounds absurd, right? After all, we know how accepting conservatives are of liberals who think differently than they do.
Conservatives doth protest just as much as anyone else does. Unfortunately for them, freedom of speech isn’t a one-way street. If they can’t take the traffic, maybe it’s time to get off the block.