Few men have had to endure more slings and arrows from the authors of history than Senator Joseph McCarthy, infamous for his quixotic crusade to seek out and purge all traces of communist thought from the entertainment industry. His name has become synonymous with bigotry, intolerance, and paranoia, and deservedly so. The widespread demonization of thought that goes against the mainstream is dangerous, not only to the offending individuals, but to society at large. Culture benefits hugely from the presence of a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives, and while you would have to look hard to find a more vigorous opponent of communism than me, I recognize that holding a witch hunt to root out so-called dangerous ideas is a really, really bad idea.
Naively, I assumed we were all on the same page on this. The hatred of McCarthy seemed to prove that such censorious bullying was not something that Americans were willing to tolerate. Alas, I read the signs wrong. It turns out that the objection to McCarthy has more to do with his target than his methods.
Exhibit A in this revelation is the treatment of actress Gina Carano, who was recently fired from her job on the popular Mandolarian TV series because she made some jokes on Twitter that the folks at Disney didn’t find funny. If you only read the headlines, you could be forgiven for thinking that she went on an unhinged, bigoted rant full of racial slurs and calls for violence; that’s the implication of the way this story is being reported. The truth is, she reposted a meme about Californians covering their entire heads with surgical masks (hilarious); she pointed out that the “snitch on your neighbors” mindset of the COVID police is reminiscent of what happened in Germany prior to the Holocaust (it is); and she listed her gender pronouns as beep/bop/boop (again, pretty funny).
Yes, these are supposedly offensive posts that got her fired.
Despite being decidedly tame—you’ll hear vastly more offensive jokes within five minutes of entering any comedy club, back when such things were legal—you may notice that the common thread here is a modest level of cultural conservatism. Like many sensible people, she poked fun at the over-the-top hysteria of COVID safety guidelines, and made the eminently valid critique that when government turns citizens against each other, bad things happen. As for the pronouns, she posted those in response to encouragement (some might say bullying) from her fanbase to display gender pronouns in her Twitter bio. And hey, if she doesn’t want to do that, she doesn’t have to. It’s still a (sort of) free country. In the past, she has also voiced concerns about voter fraud, which gives you a hint about why Hollywood actually hates her. Even asking questions has become an intolerable heresy in the eyes of the powers that be. The almighty Narrative must not be challenged.
I should be clear that Disney has the right to terminate an actor’s contract if they want to. I’m not disputing that. But more troubling to me than the company’s decision is the support they are receiving from people who really ought to know better. People who used to believe in free and open expression, and who still unaccountably call themselves libertarians, are shrugging or else actively cheering Carano’s firing. This is a mistake, and I think there’s three main reasons behind it.
Reason the first: Trump Derangement Syndrome still looms large in the minds of many otherwise rational people. For some reason, the ex-president continues to inspire such loathing that, even after he’s gone, anyone who shows any whiff of sympathy for him must be purged. Part of this has to do with the Capitol riots on January 6th, which were unquestionably dumb and stupid and also dumb. But to use that one event to claim some kind of existential threat from anyone who had questions about the election results requires one to jettison all knowledge of history, civics, and basic logic.
I may not know much, but I’m willing to confidently assert that Carano is not a threat to the Republic.
Reason the second: people remain terrified of offending the woke brigade, and will therefore fall in line behind their increasingly loony demands in the naïve hope of being left alone. The heresy of questioning election integrity is topped only by the heresy of anything other than unflinching obedience to the latest in a series of ever-changing politically correct speech codes. People follow these codes in order to virtue signal. Because they are afraid, and as Carano’s case shows us, they have good reason to be.
Reason the third: there exists a subset of myopic libertarians who remain unable to distinguish between things that should be illegal and things that are just a bad idea. No one with any sense is suggesting that it should be illegal for Disney to fire Carano. Private companies can operate as they see fit. But “it’s a private company” does not automatically mean everything it does is good and should be encouraged. We can be outraged at something without demanding the government come in and do something about it, and indeed, this is the appropriate response to things that upset us most of the time.
So, let me offer a word to the wise: a culture that celebrates tearing down people with dissenting opinions is not one you want to live in. Because sooner or later, the same people who come for Carano will come for you. You may think you’re safe because you’re on their side now, but these things have a way of shifting with alarming rapidity. Just as Donald Trump can become president almost before anyone realizes what is happening, you can easily wake up one day to find that the people who most hate you have seized power and mean to use it against you. The only defense against this is not to stick your head in the sand and hope that “the good guys” stay in charge forever, but to build a culture that absolutely refuses to tolerate McCarthyism of any stripe, whether the target be Hollywood communists, conservatives, libertarians, or people who just don’t like the idea of spending the rest of their lives in a state of constant fear. Personally, I find the idea of having to hide in the shadows, speaking only in hushed whispers lest my opinions be heard by the wrong people far more frightening than the possibility that I might, one day, get sick.