WATCH: MSNBC Takes On … Cancel Culture?
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 24: A booth of NBC News and MSNBC is seen at the Wells Fargo Center on July 24, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Modern cancel culture “feels like…a kind of massive, intense form of social conformism.” That comment — which would pass without notice on Fox News or Newsmax — was made on MSNBC during an extended segment that derided social media mobs as “The New Puritans.”

The incessant desire to punish people for their political views or perceived microaggressions has left countless innocent people “ostracized,” said Anne Applebaum, who wrote of her observations in The Atlantic, during Tuesday’s “Morning Joe.”

“They lose their jobs. Sometimes they lose their livelihoods. Sometimes they lose all their friends,” she continued.

Joe Scarborough began his interview by noting that “about a decade ago I start noticing this moral self-righteousness and moral preening … popping up on the far-Left,” whose demands for ideological purity reminded him of watching 1980s televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

Applebaum hearkened back to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter.

Those accused of violating ever-changing politically correct speech codes are canceled after “procedures that are unclear, or anonymous, or conducted behind closed doors. Sometimes they understand very little about it. That feels, to me, deeply unfair,” she said.

In her view, the latest round of cancel culture goes well beyond the regular cycle of “generational conflict” because the consequences have become severe and nearly universal. “The atmosphere of intellectual life in a lot of institutions is frozen. People are afraid to say things. They’re afraid to publish things. They don’t talk to one another. There’s topics that can’t be brought up,” she said. “That means that we have universities, we have schools … [where] difficult subjects aren’t dealt with.”

The fear-based silence emanating from Cancel Culture cuts across generations, Joe Scarborough told fellow panelist Walter Isaacson, a professor of history at Tulane University. When he and wife Mika Brzezinski invite liberal friends over, “I can tell you, every dinner discussion somehow always got back to this.”

“It’s true,” Brzezinski interjected.

“And most of the people that were talking about it, surprisingly enough, were left-of-center people who were going to take their kids out of New York City schools,” Scarborough continued.

The students, who have the longest future in this culture, feel the impact of online feeding frenzies the most.

“The most frightening thing I heard came” from college students, who told them: “We don’t talk in class anymore. We don’t have public discussions anymore. If you say one wrong thing … your social life at school is over.”

“We heard this time and again, and it made me sick,” Scarborough said.

He then launched into a pitched defense of intellectual engagement, free speech, and open debate:

For those who went to college when we went to college, it’s about saying stupid things in class, about getting it terribly wrong, and about getting your preexisting prejudices and getting your idiotic ideas out on the table, having it discussed and you growing as a person. That is not happening at so many colleges, because the students are scared to death to talk, go up on social media, and be canceled.

Isaacson said he makes his classroom “a safe zone,” where “you’re going to be free to say what you want, and we’re going to respect what everybody says.” He draws out both “very conservative voices” and “other voices” to “make it a civil dialogue.”

Applebaum noted that often the mobs that cancel popular figures are motivated by more than just misguided social justice.

“There are a lot of other issues involved: jealousy, or competition, or people trying to get back at other people,” she said. “This was also, by the way, typical in very conformist societies, where people are attacked for all kinds of reasons other than the ostensible one.”

Many of those targeted had difficult, gregarious, or demanding personalities, or set high standards for their colleagues — “which, of course, doesn’t mean that they deserved to be eliminated from public life.”

Scarborough thanked Applebaum — who has likened President Donald Trump’s supporters to people who “collaborated” with the Soviet Union during the Communist occupation of Eastern Europe—for pointing out “illiberalism on the far-Left.”

The panel was not without its problems. Scarborough and his MSNBC panel attempted to portray both sides of the political spectrum as equally guilty of engaging in Cancel Culture. “The victims of this mob justice are certainly not confined to the Right. So many are also on the Left, whether in media or whether in academic circles, wherever it is,” Scarborough said.

Joe Scarborough also asserted, without evidence, that an “overcorrection” against the Woke mob and Critical Race Theory could erase slavery and segregation from U.S. history classes.

“How do we make sure first of all that we don’t have mob justice from the Left, but there isn’t an overcorrection of this and we suddenly have people saying: ‘Oh, we can’t talk about slavery. Oh, we can’t talk about Reconstruction. Oh, we can’t talk about Jim Crow laws,’ which some people are actually saying out there,” he said.

Scarborough offered no examples. This author is unaware of anyone who has advocated removing these subjects — which have been taught in public schools since both he and Scarborough were children — from the classroom.

Jonathan Lemire of The Associated Press also attempted to play the “Republicans pounce” card, confusingly arguing that the GOP may use online pressure to cancel Cancel Culture. “The general phenomenon of cancel culture, of course, has been seized upon by both political parties, but particularly on the Right,” Lemire said, where Donald Trump’s supporters are in “favor of his call against political correctness.”

The article, too, suffered from certain contradictions. Because many of Applebaum’s subjects lost their jobs due to sexual harassment cases over “ambiguous” words or actions, according to Applebaum, the article mentions “Department of Education Title IX regulations that are shockingly vague.” But it does not mention that in June, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona began the process of repealing and rewriting the far more robust Title IX due process protections instituted by Trump administration Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, which allowed defendants to know the facts in the case and have someone question their accusers.

She also adds, “Certainly nothing in the academic texts of [C]ritical [R]ace [T]heory mandates this behavior.” She says that “these are rather typical behaviors in illiberal societies with rigid cultural codes, enforced by heavy peer pressure. This is a story of moral panic, of cultural institutions policing or purifying themselves in the face of disapproving crowds.” But Critical Race Theory is a censorious moral code that induces panic within cultural institutions by demanding that they purify themselves by redistributing wealth, position, and prestige or be deemed complicit in the greatest (and virtually only) modern-day social sin: racism.

Those caveats aside, the segment marked a rare and notable example of a left-wing cable news network expressing concern over the methods and results of cancel culture, which loom ominously over society.

If these trends are not reversed, Applebaum wrote, “[d]emocratic principles like the rule of law, the right to self-defense, the right to a just trial — even the right to be forgiven — will wither.”

She told Scarborough that “ending [cancel culture] is going to require that we begin to think differently about how we judge people.”

You can watch the first half of the panel discussion below:

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  WATCH: MSNBC Takes On … Cancel Culture?