Don’t get how cancel culture could possibly hurt the richest and most powerful? MAGA Republican cultists are happy to spell it out for you. Credit: markus winkler / unsplash

For the last few years, Republicans have puffed themselves up as defenders of free speech and opponents of cancel culture.

They’ve been bellowing about their so-called principles for so long that some liberals are foolish enough to echo them.

Think President Obama denouncing wokeness or Bill Maher making fun of Asian Americans who are offended by offensive illustrations in books by Dr. Seuss.

Well, by chance in one week, we have more proof that this Republican posturing is a fraud—like almost everything else the party supposedly stands for in the age of MAGA.

That is—they reserved the right to cancel your culture while defending their right to say whatever they want.

Consider the recent cases of Sidney Powell, President Trump’s election lawyer, and Professor Alan Dershowitz, one of Trump’s most vigorous defenders. Let’s flip a coin to see which hypocrite we examine first. Looks like you win, Professor Dershowitz . . .

Celebrity criminal defense lawyer, best-selling author, Fox News talking head, and Harvard Law School professor Dershowitz invoked the sacred fight against McCarthyism to defend Trump’s First Amendment-protected right to fire up insurrectionists at his infamous January 6 call to MAGA arms.

Free speech being a treasured underlying principle of our democracy—as established by the founders. A theme Dershowitz also articulates in his latest book, Cancel Culture: The Latest Attack on Free Speech and Due Process.

Oh, if Dershowitz only practiced what he preached—a lesson being learned by Dr. Bandy X. Lee, formerly a psychiatrist at Yale. Formerly being the key word in that sentence.

In 2019, Dr. Lee opined in a tweet that Trump and Dershowitz had a “shared psychosis” of “grandiosity and delusional-level impunity.”

Instead of looking the other way or tweeting a response, Dershowitz took the matter to Dr. Lee’s employer. He wrote an e-mail to officials at Yale, contending that Dr. Lee had violated “rules of ethics” by diagnosing him without actually meeting him.

Let’s pause to consider the irony. There are rules of ethics for relatively low-level shrinks at Yale. But nothing but unbridled free expression for the president, the most powerful man in America.

As I read an article about this case, I hoped Yale officials would have responded to Dershowitz’s e-mail by invoking the University of Chicago principle. That’s the one stipulated by Robert Zimmer, former president of the University of Chicago, which states that it’s “not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas or opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive.”

You know, so snowflakey undergrads wouldn’t whine about someone making fun of their ideas, ethnicity, gender or looks, religion, or whatever.

But you know how it goes. When you’re, say, a gay student protesting homophobia, you’re a snowflake. But when you’re one of America’s most influential lawyers complaining about a signal tweet—oh, my god, we need rules of ethics!

Lee claims Dershowitz’s e-mail played a role in the fact that Yale did not reappoint her. So she recently filed a suit against Yale, contending that the tweet was not a formal diagnosis, and that Yale violated her “First Amendment rights and impinged on her academic freedom,” as the New York Times put it.

Meanwhile, there’s the case of Sidney Powell. In the days after November’s presidential election, Powell and her sidekick, Rudy Giuliani, were all over TV contending that the election was stolen. And that Trump had actually won, even though Biden beat him by more than seven million votes.

Powell unleashed an elaborate theory that election fraud existed even if you couldn’t see evidence of it because Dominion Voting Systems, a company that manufactures vote-counting machines, had devised a way to change votes cast for Trump into votes for Biden. 

Dominion has filed billion-dollar defamation lawsuits against Powell and Giuliani. 

In a response last week, Powell’s lawyers issued the ultimate statement of free expression. They argued Powell shouldn’t be held accountable for the accusations she made because “no reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.”

Or as her lawyer put it: “Reasonable people understand that the ‘language of the political arena, like the language used in labor disputes . . . is often vituperative, abusive, and inexact’ . . . It is likewise a well recognized principle that political statements are inherently prone to exaggeration and hyperbole.”

Oh, if only people were so reasonable. Roughly 67 percent of Republicans believe the election was invalid, according to a recent poll. Trump’s January 6 rally was dedicated to “stopping the steal.” That “stop the steal” cry that was echoed by MAGA followers as they stormed the Capitol to pressure Vice President Pence and Congress to take the victory from Biden and give it to Trump.

Moreover, guarding against future election “steals” is one reason Georgia Republicans passed a bill (signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp) to essentially make it harder for Democrats to vote. Especially Black Democrats. 

And good luck finding more than a handful of Republicans right here in Illinois who have the guts to challenge the central premise that the presidential election was stolen. Even as lawyers for Powell, looking to save her neck, essentially argue that no reasonable person would believe it.

I can’t say it enough: the current batch of Trump cultists who’ve seized control of the Republican Party are the biggest bunch of frauds I’ve seen in 40 years of covering politics.

And I covered Mayor Rahm.

They have no principles—only tactics. They will say whatever they need to say to win a political battle, even if it contradicts what they said the day before.

All their prattle about “cancel culture” (by us) and “free speech” (for them) is fuel for the endless culture wars they’ve been waging so they won’t have to present legitimate proposals to any of the real problems our country faces. Including COVID-19, climate change, racial tensions, and so on.

The sooner Dems stop pandering to these frauds, the better we’ll all be.  v