Never in the field of human conflict has so much misery been caused to so many by so few.
I’m thinking of the hard-left rage mobs that have been policing the public square since the beginning of June — quite literally in the case of the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle. I’ve been keeping a list of all the people who have suffered catastrophic career damage because they’ve fallen foul of the Red Guards — and it’s growing ‘exponentially’, as a virologist might say. Like the COVID illness at its peak, it has been doubling every two to three days.
Some of the victims have been people you’d expect to lose their heads in this cultural revolution. Nigel Farage, for instance, the former leader of the Brexit party, who lost his job as a radio presenter in London within 48 hours of comparing statue-destroying protesters to the Taliban.
Others have been canceled, not for anything they’ve said, but because those close to them have breached a taboo — like the LA Galaxy midfielder Aleksandar Katai, who was ‘released’ by the club after his wife captioned a photo on Instagram of a looter carrying boxes out of a shoe store with the words ‘Black Nikes Matter’.
But by far the largest group of victims have been white liberals in their forties or fifties who have made the mistake of genuflecting to the BLM protesters. They’ve issued pro forma statements of solidarity that have been judged insufficiently pious by their more enlightened peers. They took a knee, as it were, when what they should have done was throw themselves to the ground and beg for forgiveness.
That was the fate that befell Adam Rapoport, editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit. On May 31, shortly after George Floyd’s death, he wrote a piece for the magazine’s website which, to the untrained eye, seemed to hit all the right notes.
The outbreaks of civil unrest in American cities was described as ‘uprisings’ rather than ‘riots’; he admitted to having had a ‘blind spot’ about race, used the word ‘intersection’ and said that ‘inclusive wellness’ had always been ‘core’ to his ‘mission’. Surely, this charcuterie of leftist mumbo-jumbo would be enough to save the editor of Condé Nast’s food monthly? But no.
‘This is so fucking empty,’ tweeted one black food writer. Another accused Rapaport of ‘performative’ wokeness. (Is there any other kind?) When someone else brought up the fact that he’d dressed as a Puerto Rican for Halloween 16 years earlier — something he’d already done penance for — he was toast. He parted company with the magazine on June 9.
Another casualty of just-one-knee syndrome was Claudia Eller, editor-in-chief of Variety. On June 3 she wrote an opinion column for her own publication lauding the ‘peaceful demonstrators’ who were ‘standing up for justice’ and decried the ‘systemic racism that has existed in our country for centuries’. All good stuff, right?
She continued: ‘As editor-in-chief of Variety I have tried to diversify our newsroom over the past seven years, but I HAVE NOT DONE ENOUGH.’ Those are her capital letters, not mine. Forgive me, Lord, for I have sinned. She even threw in a dig at Trump, whom she accused of ‘fanning the flames of racism’. Surely, that would be enough to secure benediction?
Nope. Piya Sinha-Roy, an entertainment reporter, took to Twitter to upbraid Eller for paying lip service to the cause. ‘I remember speaking with you years ago about the lack of diversity in your newsroom. POC voices are constantly dismissed. We are not here to make you look better. We are here to work.’
Eller then made the rookie mistake of snapping back. ‘When someone cops to something why would you try to criticize them?’ she tweeted. ‘You sound really bitter.’
Oh dear. That wouldn’t do at all. Her response meant she hadn’t been ‘listening’, according to owner Jay Penske. Eller immediately issued a groveling apology — ‘I am so ashamed, humiliated and regretful for my actions and the pain it has caused both internally and externally’ — but the die was cast. She has now been placed on ‘administrative leave’.
But the best example yet of this phenomenon is the Poetry Foundation, a charity established nearly two decades ago by the heiress to a pharmaceutical fortune.
On June 3 it issued a statement which began: ‘The Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine stand in solidarity with the Black community, and denounce injustice and systemic racism.’ It even included the statutory mea culpa: ‘As an organization we recognize that there is much work to be done, and we are committed to engaging in this work to eradicate institutional racism.’ This handwringingly liberal organization had essentially confessed to being an outpost of the Ku Klux Klan. But, once again, this was judged to have fallen well short of the required degree of humility.
Three days later an ‘open letter’ appeared, signed by thousands of poets, denouncing this citadel of white privilege.
The solidarity statement was described as ‘vague’ and ‘non-substantive’ and ‘worse than the bare minimum’ because it ‘contained no details, action plans or concrete commitments’. The letter writers included a list of demands running to 750 words, including the resignation of the foundation’s president, Henry Bienen, and board chair, Willard Bunn III. Their sins boiled down to not having given the poets enough free money.
Memo to white liberals running magazines and arts institutions: don’t abase yourself at the feet of the mob. They’ll see it as a sign of weakness and start readying the guillotine.
This article is in The Spectator’s July 2020 US edition.