Does anyone remember “Gamergate”? In October 2014, a friend urged me to pay more attention to the controversy that erupted over accusations of unethical favoritism by journalists covering the videogame industry. It has been gathered that “GamerGate” had awakened videogame enthusiasts to the menace that feminists and other “social justice warriors” (SJWs) posed to their pastime.
No less an authority than feminist author Amanda Marcotte has claimed that understanding “GamerGate” is crucial to explaining how Donald Trump was elected and, while my views are diametrically opposed to Marcotte’s, I cannot deny the possibility she is correct about this, although perhaps not in the way she intends. What happened in “GamerGate,” from my perspective, is that the Left exploited the political prejudices of liberal journalists in order to redefine disagreement as “hate,” and to prohibit criticism as “harassment.”
Snowball Social Justice
The use of these tactics to silence conservative voices online — to “de-platform” and “de-monetize” the Left’s opponents — has escalated to the point that some have suggested anti-trust regulation be invoked against companies like Twitter, Facebook, and Google. Beyond the First Amendment issues concerning online free speech, however, the Left’s increasingly common tactic of smearing their enemies with the “hate” label has important ramifications for every sphere of public-policy debate.
However crazy the Left might be, they are not stupid, and what they have done in recent years can be described as a deliberate effort to shift the so-called “Overton Window”. This refers to a concept developed by the late free-market advocate Joseph P. Overton describing how the limits of “acceptable” public discourse are defined. Because voters are apt to reject any policy that is considered “radical” or “extreme,” advocates of innovative policies are unlikely to see their ideas enacted if politicians fear that this would cost them re-election by voters who reject these changes as too drastic.
Therefore, advocates of change must first persuade the public that the proposed policy is within the “mainstream” of acceptable opinion. Overton worked at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, whose president Joseph Lehman says: “Generally speaking, policy change follows political change, which itself follows social change. The most durable policy changes are those that are undergirded by strong social movements.”
Democrats took alarm at Donald Trump’s 2016 upset victory over Hillary Clinton because it demonstrated the falsehood of their belief that they were “on the right side of history.” If Republicans could win with a candidate as seemingly “extreme” as Trump, this suggested that Democrats had not only failed to shift the Overton Window permanently leftward, but also that a post-Obama backlash had shifted the range of acceptable policy to the right. From this fearful reaction emerged the delirious accusations that “fascism” had arrived in America, and that violent far-right “hate” was surging nationwide. Such alarmist rhetoric had many effects, inspiring left-wing “Antifa” radicals to riot whenever conservative speakers came to University campuses, to assault Trump supporters at rallies, and to mob Republican officials in restaurants. The climate of fear orchestrated by Democrats and their media allies also inspired bogus “hate crime” hoaxes.
We must be clear about what the Left aims to accomplish by these tactics. The Overton Window can be shifted not only by persuading the public that policy proposals hitherto regarded as extreme are now “acceptable,” but also by convincing people that opposition to such policies is unacceptable. If the Left can succeed in depicting its opponents as “radical” or “extremist” — discrediting conservatives as hateful bigots — then it becomes easier for Democrats to advance left-wing policies.
This is why, as the 2020 presidential primary field begins to take shape, we see so many Democratic hopefuls rushing to endorse far-fetched proposals like the “Green New Deal,” “Medicare for all,” universal “free” college education and voting “rights” for illegal immigrants. These candidates apparently believe that Trump is so unpopular as a symbol of extreme “right-wing” policy that voters will eagerly embrace outright socialism as an alternative. Democrats believe “Love Trumps Hate,” to quote a slogan frequently seen on T-shirts and protest signs at the Women’s March, and this belief is predicated on their success in defining conservatives as proponents of “hate.”
Era of Fake News
Consider the recent effort by Media Matters to smear Tucker Carlson by mining the audio archives of Carlson’s radio appearances with “Bubba the Love Sponge.” Supposedly, things said on a shock-jock program 10 years ago are proof that Carlson is guilty of hate or, more specifically, “white nationalist rhetoric.” That label is how Media Matters characterizes comments about a variety of subjects ranging from the Iraq War to the Congressional Black Caucus despite the fact that at the same time, Carlson disavowed the identity-politics use of racial categories.
Disagreement with the Left is being redefined as “hate,” and practically any conservative commentator could be smeared the way Media Matters has smeared Tucker Carlson. The purpose of this tactic is to stigmatize anyone associated with the Republican Party as “outside the mainstream,” to silence the most effective and popular critics of the Democrats in advance of the 2020 presidential campaign. If this tactic succeeds, it won’t matter how ill-qualified the candidate Democrats nominate or how crazy their policy ideas might be. By smearing and/or silencing their opponents, the Left seeks to shift the Overton Window by making it unacceptable to vote for President Trump’s election.
In 2016, nearly 63 million Americans voted for Trump, and polls indicate that the president remains overwhelmingly popular with Republican voters. Very few of them are apt to be influenced by the Left’s smears, and the Democrats’ media allies aren’t much help. It’s not just that CNN’s ratings consistently trail Fox News, but CNN is often rated lower than the Hallmark Channel or Nickelodeon.
Because the Left can’t win in the marketplace of ideas, they are attempting to shut down their critics, to label opponents “fascists” or “white supremacists,” to exercise totalitarian control over public discourse in the same way left-wing professors and student “Antifa” mobs now control university campuses. Tucker Carlson understands this, and his response to the Left’s smear tactics has been to call them out by name and expose them in front of his 3 million viewers.
He’s winning, and I’d say this is driving his enemies crazy, but the Left has never been entirely sane.