Saturday, February 27, 2021

"When What You're Doing Sounds Like An "Onion" Headline, Stop."

"Bill Maher" was trending on Twitter Saturday morning as he frequently does after having the audacity on Real Time to suggest that freedom of expression is a liberal value liberals shouldn't erase.

Tweeters responded to an interview the evening before in which Maher, in what was probably not his finest 10-15 minutes, chatted with Megyn Kelly about the now fashionable (both as behavior and as cliche) "cancel culture."  Most of the comments were negative, including "Bill Maher giving a platform to Megyn Blackface Kelly why?"; "Bill Maher and Megyn Kelly feel the biggest problem in America right now is white people being targeted;" "Can’t wait for Bill Maher to go the way of Chris Matthews. Wake up people;."

Of course, we must not have good interviews (though this one uncharacteristically fell short) on television.. Although the Megyn Kelly interview was not up to his standards, Maher's "New Rule" commentary at the close of the show continued the theme of the Kelly segment. The comedian remarked

In an era where everyone is online, everyone is a public figure. It's like we're all trapped in the hills, have eyes and wi-fi.

Take Mr. Emmanuel Cafferty. He is- was- a San Diego Gas and Electric worker but he got fired because someone reported him making a white supremacist hand gesture outside the window of his truck.

But he's not a white supremacist, he's a Latino and he wasn't making a hand gesture. He's probably just flicking a booger.

Is this really who we want to become- a society of phony clenched asshole avatars walking on eggshells always looking over your shoulder about getting ratted out for something that actually has nothing to do with your character or morals?

When expressing a conservative viewpoint, even liberals can play fast and loose with the truth, and a fact-check thus is critical.

In June, 2020, in midst of the protests over the killing of George Floyd, Cafferty was indeed employed by San Diego Gas and Electric. According to a piece written by The Atlantic's Yascha Mounk at the time, Cafferty is of Mexican and Irish descent on his father's side and Mexican on his mother's side. That doesn't completely preclude someone from being a white supremacist but makes highly questionable any suggestion that he is. As to the event to which Maher alluded, Mounk explained

At the end of a long shift mapping underground utility lines, he was on his way home, his left hand casually hanging out the window of the white pickup truck issued to him by the San Diego Gas & Electric company. When he came to a halt at a traffic light, another driver flipped him off.

Then, Cafferty told me a few days ago, the other driver began to act even more strangely. He flashed what looked to Cafferty like an “okay” hand gesture and started cussing him out. When the light turned green, Cafferty drove off, hoping to put an end to the disconcerting encounter.

But when Cafferty reached another red light, the man, now holding a cellphone camera, was there again. “Do it! Do it!” he shouted. Unsure what to do, Cafferty copied the gesture the other driver kept making. The man appeared to take a video, or perhaps a photo.

Two hours later, Cafferty got a call from his supervisor, who told him that somebody had seen Cafferty making a white-supremacist hand gesture, and had posted photographic evidence on Twitter. (Likely unbeknownst to most Americans, the alt-right has appropriated a version of the “okay” symbol for their own purposes because it looks like the initials for “white power”; this is the symbol the man accused Cafferty of making when his hand was dangling out of his truck.) Dozens of people were now calling the company to demand Cafferty’s dismissal.

By the end of the call, Cafferty had been suspended without pay. By the end of the day, his colleagues had come by his house to pick up the company truck. By the following Monday, he was out of a job....

When Cafferty was wrongly accused of being a white supremacist, he fought hard to keep his job. He said he explained to the people carrying out the investigation—all of them were white—that he had no earthly idea some racists had tried to appropriate the “okay” sign for their sinister purposes. He told them he simply wasn’t interested in politics; as far as he remembered, he had not voted in a single election. Eventually, he told me, “I got so desperate, I was showing them the color of my skin. I was saying, ‘Look at me. Look at the color of my skin.’”

It was all to no avail. SDG&E, Cafferty told me, never presented him with any evidence that he held racist beliefs or knew about the meaning of his gesture. Yet he was terminated.

Sadly, the incident did occur as Maher scantily described it, and there are other incidents which threaten to have a significant political effect.  Republicans now are continuallycomplaining about "cancel culture" and being cancelled, even when (especially when) there is no cancellation involved, because they recognize the political power in it. The theme of this year's CPAC is "America Uncanceled."

Mounk understands

such injustices are liable to provoke a political backlash. If a lot of Americans come to feel that those who supposedly oppose racism are willing to punish the innocent to look good in the public’s eyes, they could well grow cynical about the enterprise as a whole.

However, the primary reason this rush to judgement against anyone who at any time said something which might have offended a protected class is destructive. As philosophy professor Luke Cuddy argues

One of the core tenets of liberal democracy is that people should not be punished for accusations against them that are unsubstantiated, for actions that are perfectly reasonable, or for offenses that were committed by others. No matter how worthy the cause they invoke, you should not trust anyone who seeks to abandon these fundamental principles.

Or as Maher recommends, the left should begin to "stand your ground (and) stop apologizing."

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