Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is a journalist focusing on Islam and the radical left.
There used to be a double standard for politicians. And it wasn’t in their favor.
While it would have been wildly inappropriate to pry into the personal lives and private financial dealings of random people, to reprint their damning off-the-cuff remarks in the papers, and to do everything possible to cause them to lose their jobs, politicians were considered fair game.
Politicians were public servants, they wielded political power and only the public could fire them. In a power struggle between the second and fourth estates, the third estate of the public got the final vote.
The politicization of everything by the left means that everyone is treated like a politician. Politics isn’t just something that happens in the White House or at campaign headquarters, it’s everywhere. Every interaction, activity or opinion, private or public, is invested with political meaning. Shopping habits endanger the planet. Any conversation with a member of another race, gender or category contains hidden racial, sexual and other undercurrents that express power relationships and potential abuses.
Everyone is expected to closely monitor the political meanings of their actions or face political scandals. But, unlike politicians, members of the public don’t work for the public or wield political power and they can be fired by their employers rather than by the voters at the polls. The usual justifications that allowed the media to go after politicians don’t apply to their new, ordinary and all too human targets.
The politicization of everything is the first step to the complete loss of personal and political freedom.
The media eagerly goes after Twitter users and random people caught in a moment of rudeness on camera the way that it targeted politicians and celebrities. Opposition research, once limited to politicians or corporate rivals, is now directed at ordinary people who fall afoul of political correctness.
In a typical example, the Huffington Post, owned by Verizon, exposed the identity of AmyMek, a Twitter user retweeted by Trump, getting her husband fired from his job and harassing members of her family. This type of opposition research directed at ordinary people who happen to be politically active, but without occupying any formal position beyond social media influencer, has become commonplace.
But you don’t have to be politically active to be a target. The latest racial witch hunt has targeted white people accused of offending black people in any way. A Portland vegan bakery fired two female employees for following store policy by refusing service to a customer after closing time. The customer was black and live streamed her rant about black fragility on Facebook. The media quickly took her side.
The bakery admitted that the employees had done nothing wrong, but a political point had to be made.
Political participation doesn’t have to be a consensual act. Like those two female employees, anyone can become a political target by those who have more political power and who wield a bigger microphone.
The old political rules of engagement are being deployed by the fourth estate against members of the third estate. And that’s not, in social justice parlance, punching up, it’s quite clearly punching down. A Twitter user or two women working at a Portland bakery don’t have the power to stand up to huge media corporations. The proper term for such abuse of power by the powerful is oppression.
The media was vested with First Amendment protections to protect the public from political authorities. Instead the media has formed a political bloc with one political faction and joined in its reign of terror. That has included everything from the media forming a vital part of the pretext used by the Obama administration to spy on the political opposition to acts of political terror aimed at random people.
Instead of just providing a “popular examination into the action of the magistrates”, as Benjamin Franklin wrote, the media has inverted politics, turning a political lens on the activities of the populace. This power shift is the difference between freedom and tyranny. In a free society, people scrutinize the actions of political authorities. In a tyranny, the authorities scrutinize the actions of the people.
“An evil magistrate intrusted with power to punish for words would be armed with a weapon the most destructive and terrible,” Benjamin Franklin continued his thought. The media is that evil magistrate. It attacks the First Amendment, and seeks to punish individuals and conservative media for their words.
The politicization of everything invests all actions, thoughts and words with political meaning. If nothing is apolitical, then nothing is free of scrutiny by the political authorities and their media arm. When everything is politicized, the very idea of freedom becomes an absurdity. If everything we do is a potential threat to society, then all our actions must be regulated and restricted for the greater good.
The political authorities of the left haven’t yet contrived to shed public scrutiny, though the media has done its best in that regard, but they are forcing the public to live in the same political jungle that they do by leveling the definition of political engagement so that everyone is ‘in politics’ all the time.
This doesn’t level the playing field because while the rules may be the same, their relative power isn’t. When the media treated Ken Bone as if he were Mitt Romney, the actual target was a man who didn’t have a campaign operation and a panel of experts in his corner. The politicization of everything gives the media the lefty moral authority to beat up on people who lack political power as if they actually did.
And that’s an inversion and a perversion of the legitimate role of the media in the political arena.
America had been built on universalizing the scope of representative political power while confining the scope of the activities of elected officials. Freedom is found in that gap between the power of the people over politicians and the power of the politicians over the people. The left has shrunk the scope of representative political power by growing the power of unelected government officials while systematically expanding the scope of the power that politicians wield over ordinary people.
The politicization of everything has redefined politics from direct involvement in electoral matters to doing anything that can be viewed through a political lens. And that has made everyone fair game for the same ruthless tactics that the media once utilized against those wielding political power.
The media once addressed an existing power relationship between elected officials and the public. Now it defines its own ideological power relationships among ordinary people at its own discretion. If everything is inherently infused with political power relationships, then when the media targets a random person accused of some politically incorrect ‘ism’, it’s no different than any political scandal.
But by creating its own definition of political power relationships, one in which everyone is vulnerable, the media is no longer refereeing a power relationship, it’s at the top of the power pyramid. It’s not overseeing a public trust. It isn’t performing a public service. It’s ruling over the public.