'Cancelation,' and the First Amendment's rope-a-dope with U.S. culture

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“Cancel culture”

  • Merriam-Webster: “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling … as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure”
  • Dictionary.com: “the phenomenon or practice of publicly rejecting, boycotting, or ending support for particular people or groups because of their socially or morally unacceptable views or actions”

So-called “cancel culture,” mob mentality and/or the almighty dollar have struck again. As most of you will know, Sirius XM radio’s Road Dog Trucking channel canceled a well-known talk show host, Kevin Rutherford. (Rutherford is back to broadcasting this week via a live sreaming program at his Let's Truck site.) The precipitating reason for the end of his long-running program there was a comment Rutherford made about a congressman’s own statement on Twitter. As noted in the explanation of the situation written by Overdrive’s Todd Dills two weeks back, Gallego himself had let fly provocative commentary on truckers then planning to protest against vaccine and other COVID-related mandates, suggesting their trucks should be impounded and given to others.

Rutherford’s own provocative statement about this Congressman’s comment, delivered on his show, may well have been over-the-top and construed as a threat, but to me this is just another example of an overabundance of a dangerous mentality when it comes to the speech rights of individuals.

Merriam-Webster defines the cultural phenomenon directly, as noted above, but it also refers to it in its very definition of the verb cancel itself, definition 1e to be exact: “to withdraw one’s support (for someone, such as a celebrity, or something, such as a company) publicly and especially on social media.” 

There’s another phrase for it out there, directed at those quick to take offense and do the canceling: snowflake mentality.

Fundamentally, though, to me cancel culture is in fact a kind of rule of the mob to silence an individual. It can be extremely dangerous, as we have seen it played out over the centuries, from the death of Christ to the hangman’s noose of the old West and riots burning our cities throughout history. 

Yet mob mentality can also play out for the good – we’ve seen it in our country from the Revolutionary War to protests for equal rights and bringing awareness that every life is precious. 

[Related: What the cancelation of Kevin Rutherford's Sirius XM show might teach us about the outrage machine]

Only strong, ethical leaders are truly equipped for using a mob for good instead of bad. Clamping down on the right to protest is just another slippery slope, and requires leaders who can place their own political agendas aside for the good of all, something our founding fathers understood.

While our democracy may not be perfect, and often goes through growing pains, I believe it provides the best example of fair treatment of the inalienable rights of humanity in history. Yet it’s a sad state of affairs when we have reached the point in our society when we cannot agree to disagree, and the mob has the power to silence leaders willing to speak frankly. Especially when that same mob might push and promote those who are clearly objectionable, who pride themselves in being objectionable, and flourish on stirring up hate and discontent simply because it makes them feel powerful.

We have examples in history as to how dangerous a slippery slope this can become. Here is a quote from one of my favorite authors, one you likely recognize that emerged from post-World War II Germany, from the pen of a Lutheran pastor, academic and foe of Hitler who’d spent much of the war in concentration camps. 

First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -- because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me -- and there was no one left to speak for me. --Martin Niemöller

I, too, am not a socialist, yet I can agree to disagree and stand up for what I believe in. Or at least I would like to believe that I have the courage to do so. 

I believe Kevin Rutherford has worked hard throughout his career to help others flourish, making a stand for those who otherwise may not have a voice.

Though Rutherford's case is a complicated one, I'll say that no one should be canceled simply because of an offense to someone’s viewpoint. Greater weight should be given to, in his case particularly, the sheer number of people he’s helped to become more successful in business, or to work closely on health, thereby extending their ability to be productive in an industry perpetually screaming about labor shortages. 

If a broadcast platform like Sirius XM can give a voice to Howard Stern, who clearly thrives on being objectionable, they should be able to accommodate a voice that has proven itself through the years to have helped people live healthier, happier lives. 

This, of course, is just my opinion, and you can elect to agree or disagree. You can cancel me, too. But like Rutherford, one way or another I will continue to stand for those who do not have the strength to do so, or for those who have just as much a right to a life of happiness and the pursuit thereof, something else our founding fathers felt important enough to enshrine in our founding documents.

You too can choose to agree or disagree, by simply reaching over and changing the station, or switching off the radio altogether.

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