I know that’s not a popular thing to say, but, in principle, it’s true. Political correctness demands that people be respectful in their words and actions toward others, especially those who have suffered from discrimination, including women and minorities. It does not deserve to be fodder for the culture wars and the political whipping boy of the right and blamed for many of our ills.
Being politically incorrect is not something to proud of.
However, there is no question that political correctness has run amok in incidents accurately described as “PC gone mad.” Respect for others cannot turn into censorship, shutting down debate, silencing people you disagree with, or into an excuse for ignoring inconvenient facts.
Often, that’s exactly what’s happened as political correctness has morphed into “cancel culture.”
Merriam Webster defines that as “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure." The dictionary defines “canceling” as “to withdraw one's support for (someone, such as a celebrity, or something, such as a company) publicly and especially on social media.”
In the past few days, two news events have thrust cancel culture into the spotlight again.
Pope Francis Steps into Cancel Culture Controversy
In his annual address to the Vatican’s diplomatic corps on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, the pope warned against cancel culture and how it is “invading many circles and public institutions.” He called it “one-track thinking” that “leaves no room for freedom of expression.”
Pope Francis added that “under the guise of defending diversity, it ends up canceling all sense of identity.”
He is also concerned about how cancel culture often ignores nuance and human development. He believes that historical situations must be interpreted in the context of their times and not by present-day standards.
As the U.S. faces an ongoing and important reckoning about its past, the pope’s words provide thoughtful and clear guidance to the debate about individual cases, both recent and historic.
As an aside, I should mention that the pope also attacked “baseless” ideological misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines and said it’s a moral responsibility to get vaccinated. While he did not directly connect that to cancel culture, COVID vaccines have certainly become a battleground in the broader culture war. In fact, anti-vaxxers on the right have tried to cancel conservatives who publicly advocate for the shots. That’s especially ironic because former President Trump, whom many of them see as their leader, just called politicians who won’t say they’ve gotten a booster “gutless.”
American Airlines Accused of Double Standard in Cancel Culture Incident
An American Airlines passenger complained to the airline on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2022, that a pilot had an anti-Biden “Let’s Go Brandon” tag on his luggage. The passenger asked on Twitter if the airline accepts “cowardly rhetoric on their crew luggage when they’re in uniform.” She went further in her hyperbole, accusing the pilot of displaying political propaganda supporting insurrection against the US government.
“We take this very seriously and have sent this over to crew leadership,” American replied apologetically to a direct message on Twitter from the passenger. “They will handle this internally after review,” the ariline said. “We assure you appropriate internal review will occur.”
This led to a bit of an uproar on the right, with pundits calling the complainer a “Karen” and a “bully,” while demanding American do nothing about the incident.
Customers shouldn’t have to deal with politicking by employees on public transportation, grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, pharmacies, entertainment venues, or any other business.
Corporations and individual business owners have the power to limit political speech in the workplace. They also have the right to take steps to restrict political statements. That certainly includes a pilot carrying around a “Let’s Go Brandon” tag.
So, American has every right to tell pilots and other employees to keep their politics to themselves while on the job.
One little problem for the airline: In 2020, American made news when it allowed crew members to wear BLM pins, while upsetting other employees who wanted to wear pins supporting law enforcement.
So, American seems to be engaging in a double standard. By the way, so do many other corporations that have taken sides on hot-button issues of the day.
Many will argue that BLM is somehow more virtuous than an insulting anti-Biden tag because it is a movement seeking to highlight racism, discrimination, and violence against Black people.
However, people on the right don’t see it that way, often focusing on BLM’s alleged role in the riots triggered by some of 2020’s racial justice protests.
And opposition to BLM appears to go well beyond those on the right. A poll by Civiqs, a nonpartisan online survey firm affiliated with the progressive Daily Kos, found that 52% of White Americans oppose BLM and only 34% support it. More important politically is that 45% of independents oppose BLM, and just 36 support it.
Business owners can decide what political speech is appropriate on company time. But once they start allowing some types of political speech while censoring others, the slope gets slippery, awfully fast.
How Do Americans Feel About Cancel Culture
Cancel culture is an issue on which Americans of all political stripes tend to agree: They believe it has gone too far and unjustly punishes people for their past actions or statements.
A Hill-HarrisX poll published in November of 2021 found that 69% of registered voters surveyed said it unfairly punishes people, with the other 31% saying it does not.
Surprisingly, majorities of Republicans (79%), Democrats (65%), and independents (64%) said cancel culture unfairly punishes people.
A whopping 71% also said that cancel culture has gone too far.
I posed the questions to my followers on Facebook in an informal, highly unscientific survey and the results appear to mirror that. I will write in more detail about cancel culture in the near future.
Undoubtedly, a divide exists between those who see cancel culture as a needed move toward accountability for people’s actions, and those who see it as censorship and punishment for past behavior that’s unwarranted because of changing standards. Finding common ground will be an ongoing struggle.
Cover photo: Pope Francis baptizes babies in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel on Sunday Jan. 9, 2022, the day before his address criticizing cancel culture. (Vatican Media/Pool/Spaziani/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images)
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