Within one week, the Left’s allies in the political Establishment joined forces in their quest to destroy democracy for the sake of saving democracy.
On April 21, President Barack Obama spoke at a symposium Stanford organized to address social media problems. His recommendations included more government regulation against toxic information, which he defined as lies, conspiracy theories, junk science, quackery, White supremacist, racist tracts, misogynist screeds.
You just have to raise enough questions, spread enough dirt, plant enough conspiracy theorizing that citizens no longer know what to believe, Obama said. Once they lose trust in their leaders, in mainstream media, in political institutions, in each other, in the possibility of truth, the game’s won.”
On the same day, Hillary Clinton tweeted support for the European Union’s Digital Services Act, which sets for the first time the rules on how Big Tech should keep users safe online, especially regarding misinformation or propaganda in light of Covid-19, the Financial Times reported.
For too long, tech platforms have amplified disinformation and extremism with no accountability, Clinton tweeted. The EU is poised to do something about it. I urge our transatlantic allies to push the Digital Services Act across the finish line and bolster global democracy before it’s too late.
Then on April 27, the Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of a Disinformation Governance Board, which would promote the Biden Administration’s narrative on irregular migration and Russia.
It should surprise nobody that those actions coincided with Elon Musk’s attempt to buy Twitter, increasingly known for banishing users who express opinions that contradict woke ideology or the Democratic Party’s policies. But the Left’s panic represents far more than fear over losing a convenient means to control narratives.
Such panic reflects the pervasive influence of an idea that violates the nation’s basic political and cultural values.
That idea is repressive tolerance, a concept philosopher Herbert Marcuse promoted. A member of the neo-Marxist Frankfurt School that developed critical theory, Marcuse provided the foundation for today’s cancel culture, university speech codes and online censorship.
In his 1965 essay, Repressive Tolerance, Marcuse dismissed the traditional definition of tolerance. Instead, he advocated an institutional bias that advances left-wing ideas and suppresses opposing ones.
Liberating tolerance, then, would mean intolerance against movements from the Right, and toleration of movements from the Left, Marcuse wrote. As to the scope of this tolerance and intolerance … it would extend to the stage of action as well as of discussion and propaganda, of deed as well as of word.
Marcuse even advocated undemocratic means in the name of social justice to allow a subversive majority to realign society. The means Marcuse outlined are all-too-familiar today:
They would include the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies, armament, chauvinism, discrimination on the grounds of race and religion, or which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc.
Moreover, the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior — thereby precluding a priori a rational evaluation of the alternatives.
In other words, only left-wing ideas and solutions could be discussed, considered and adopted, as Marcuse reiterated in a second essay in 1968:
Tolerance would be restricted with respect to movements of a demonstrably aggressive or destructive character (destructive of the prospects for peace, justice, and freedom for all). Such discrimination would also be applied to movements opposing the extension of social legislation to the poor, weak, disabled. (Parenthesis in original)
As against the virulent denunciations that such a policy would do away with the sacred liberalistic principle of equality for ‘the other side,’ I maintain that there are issues where either there is no ‘other side’ in any more than a formalistic sense, or where ‘the other side’ is demonstrably ‘regressive’ and impedes possible improvement of the human condition.
Compare Marcuse’s position with some of Obama’s comments at Stanford:
A regulatory structure, a smart one, needs to be in place, designed in consultation with tech companies, and experts and communities that are affected, including communities of color and others that sometimes are not well represented here in Silicon Valley, that will allow these companies to operate effectively while also slowing the spread of harmful content.
It’s not just that these platforms have — with narrow exceptions — been largely agnostic regarding the kind of information available and connections made on their sites. It’s that in the competition between truth and falsehood, cooperation and conflict, the very design of these platforms seems to be tilting us in the wrong direction.
Obama even manufactured a moral equivalence between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s former campaign advisor and host of the podcast, War Room, to reinforce his point:
People like Putin and Steve Bannon, for that matter, understand it’s not necessary for people to believe this information in order to weaken democratic institutions. You just have to flood a country’s public square with enough raw sewage.
Repressive tolerance aggravates a phenomenon that goes beyond woke ideology, one that FrontPage Magazine twice examined. Political and corporate interests use social media to manufacture supposedly grass-roots opinion. Techniques include building ostensibly independent social media accounts that disguise the interests behind them.
Those campaigns received a cynical nickname: astroturf.
The whole point of astroturf is to try to give the impression there’s widespread support for or against an agenda when there’s not, said independent journalist Sharyl Attkisson, who won five Emmys at CBS News. Astroturf seeks to manipulate you into changing your opinion by making you feel as if you’re an outlier when you’re not.
Special interests have unlimited time and money to figure out new ways to spin us while cloaking their role. Surreptitious astroturf methods are now more important to these interests than traditional lobbying of Congress. There’s an entire industry built around it in Washington.
Astroturfing includes manipulating Wikipedia, arguably the most used online resource.
Anonymous Wikipedia editors control and co-opt pages on behalf of special interests, Attkisson said. They forbid and reverse edits that go against their agenda. They skew and delete information in blatant violation of Wikipedia’s own established policies with impunity.
Another technique involves making incessant personal attacks, essential parts of the woke arsenal.
Hallmarks of astroturf include use of inflammatory language, such as ‘crank,’ ‘quack,’ ‘nutty’, ‘lies,’ ‘paranoid,’ ‘pseudo,’ and ‘conspiracy,’ Attkisson said. Use of the charged language tests well. People hear something’s a myth, maybe they find it on Snopes and they instantly declare themselves too smart to fall for it.
Add such epithets as racist, homophobe, climate denier, insurrectionist and anti-vaxxer.
Be aware when interests attack an issue by controversializing or attacking the people, personalities, and organizations surrounding rather than addressing the facts, Attkisson said. That could be astroturf.
Personal attacks intend to intimidate anyone questioning a prevailing narrative.
Astroturfers tend to reserve all of their public skepticism for those exposing wrongdoing rather than the wrongdoers, Attkisson said. In other words, instead of questioning authority, they question those who question authority.
Obama combined astroturf and the idea of repressive tolerance in his speech to address two ongoing issues: the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and the integrity of the 2020 Presidential election.
The fact that scientists developed safe, effective vaccines in record time is an unbelievable achievement, he said. And yet despite the fact that we’ve now, essentially clinically tested the vaccine on billions of people worldwide, around one in five Americans is still willing to put themselves at risk and put their families at risk rather than get vaccinated. People are dying because of misinformation.”
In December, FrontPage Magazine reported on the possibility that COVID-19 vaccines and boosters cause heart problems in highly trained athletes. More recent studies confirmed the links between the vaccines, pericarditis and myocarditis, especially in children and young adults.
When addressing the 2020 Presidential election, Obama dismissed the idea of potential fraud:
President Trump’s own attorney general has said that the Justice Department uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud. A review of the ballots in Arizona’s largest county, the results of which were endorsed by some pretty courageous local Republicans, because many of them were harassed and received death threats, actually found more votes for President Biden and fewer votes for President Trump. And yet today, as we speak, a majority of Republicans still insist that President Biden’s victory was not legitimate. That’s a lot of people.
One county in Arizona, however, signifies no trend. Increasing evidence shows numerous irregularities in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — at least. So does Dinesh D’Souza’s documentary, 2000 Mules, which chronicles nationwide ballot stuffing.
But the DHS’s Disinformation Governance Board represents the ultimate embrace of repressive tolerance. Serving as director is Nina Jankowicz, who promoted the now-discredited ideas that Hunter Biden’s laptop was what she called a Trump campaign product, and that Trump colluded with Russian agents to win the 2016 election.
Given the Biden Administration’s embrace of the kind of woke ideology Marcuse would favor, that board represents the ultimate rejection of the marketplace of ideas, which forms the philosophical basis for the Constitution.
Joseph Hippolito is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to FrontPage Magazine. His commentaries have appeared in The Federalist, The Stream, Wall Street Journal, Jerusalem Post and National Post.