Even a horse has now suffered this fate. Bob Baffert, the trainer for Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, which recently failed a drug test, appeared on Fox News this week with a message carefully tailored to the cable news channel’s bogeyman-du-jour. “This America is different,” Baffert said. “It was like a cancel-culture kind of a thing.”
The problem with applying this so broadly, beyond stripping it of any real meaning, is that it can come back to bite you. What happens when cancel culture warriors want to sanction someone they disagree with?
That’s what just happened to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).
Cheney took to the House floor Tuesday to deliver her final remarks before the House GOP voted Wednesday, as expected, to remove her as the party’s No. 3 leader. Cheney’s sin? Her continued criticism of Trump’s baseless election claims and her party’s complicity in them. The subject her GOP colleagues just happened to be discussing at the time? Cancel culture.
“I know the topic is cancel culture; I have some thoughts about that,” Cheney said slyly.
Cheney didn’t actually dwell on this point. Instead, she delivered a high-minded speech about defending democracy and rejecting the kinds of false claims Trump and his allies have made about the election. She was essentially daring her colleagues to confront the merits of her argument in ways they have refused to. (So much of the GOP argument about Cheney is that she’s out of step with the party or too focused on the past — this despite Trump and others remaining very focused on the past as well, and Republicans almost never actually disputing Cheney’s claims.)
But she clearly raised the point for a reason. She is being canceled, by the definitions of many of those who supposedly reject cancel culture.
Hawley was asked about this earlier this week, given his own claims to have been canceled. “She’s still going to be a member,” he said, adding: “It’ll give her, certainly, a media platform. I don’t think it’s being canceled in terms of she’s being silenced. It’s a decision for the House caucus who represents them.”
Let’s break that down.
“She’s still going to be a member.” That applies to both Greene and Hawley, despite their claims to have been canceled. It also applies to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who has claimed canceled-martyr status amid growing evidence against him.
“It’ll give her, certainly, a media platform.” Neither Greene nor Hawley have had any trouble getting attention since their alleged cancellations. Hawley has even proudly promoted his status as an Amazon bestseller, despite his claims that “big tech” is canceling him (and that being the subject of his book).
“It’s a decision for the House caucus who represents them.” This is indeed true! It’s also the prerogative of a social media platform to allow you to use it. It’s the prerogative of a publisher to distribute your book — or not. It’s the prerogative of Congress to decide whether a member spouting false information and promoting violence should be allow to serve on committees. All of these are privileges that you can forfeit.
It’s also the prerogative of Major League Baseball to move its All Star Game because of a Georgia voting law it objects to, which Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and many others on the right labeled “cancel culture.” The MLB wasn’t depriving Atlanta of its team, nor was it silencing its critics, who have remained vociferous. It was taking back a privilege it had bestowed.
Whether any of these moves were warranted is a fair debate, but there is no question they had the power to do them, either in the business or political sense.
Even this past week, Hawley bristled at tough questions during a Washington Post live-stream interview about his election challenge.
“Don’t try to censor, cancel and silence me here,” he said. “You raised the issue —”
The Post’s Cat Zakrzewski retorted, rightly, “Senator, we’re hosting you here.”
The idea that a senator being asked difficult, probing questions during a live stream he was invited to on a media company’s platform (a decision for which that company was criticized) was somehow being canceled pretty much gave away the game, if Baffert didn’t. If that’s cancellation or these other things were cancellation, Cheney is being canceled, too. The defense that you would still have other platforms or still hold on to some (albeit reduced) power apparently didn’t mean these other things weren’t cancellation, so why would it exempt Cheney’s excommunication?
The thing about Cheney’s exit from House leadership is that, yes, the House GOP perhaps has some valid justification here. You can make a pretty compelling argument that being out of step with most of a conference that supported Trump’s baseless election challenges and stands by Trump today means she shouldn’t be one of their leaders. It’s certainly a commentary on the state of the GOP that Cheney saying true things that her colleagues aren’t actually disputing has led to this point. But at least that makes sense and they have a right to do it.
It’s just that this is precisely the kind of thing her colleagues have labeled cancellation. The substance behind those cancellations never mattered; any sanction of an ally had to be thrown beneath this ridiculously broad umbrella term to create an us-vs.-them situation. It’s a neat trick in that it allows them to avoid accounting for Greene dabbling in 9/11 trutherism and violent rhetoric or Hawley trying to overturn a democratic election. It doesn’t matter whether those are acceptable forms of discourse; it just matters that someone was out to get them.
Except now those same cancel-culture warriors have been very obviously out to get someone who doesn’t toe their own very speciously drawn line. And on Wednesday, they, by their own definitions, engaged in the same cancel culture they have decried.
It’s just that in this case, it was actually deserved, or something.