If the Trump administration and the Trumpist movement represent anything, it is the destruction of establishmentarian sacred cows. Already, the spirit of populist iconoclasm the President embodies has left globalist false idols scattered like tombstones up and down the Acela Corridor. Some of the casualties are obvious, such as the presumption that the administrative state is made up of disinterested experts, rather than ideologically motivated sleeper agents. Some of the losers from the Trumpist Zeitgeist are equally obvious: mainstream media outlets and the tech industry.
However, what seems to occur to few people is that the fall from grace that such ideas and institutions are suffering is not only of their own making, but all traceable back to the same cause. Namely, the shift of such institutions from attempting to promote freedom to attempting to constrict it. In other words, groups that were originally designed and trusted to make the world bigger have instead begun systematically trying to make it smaller. They have gone from battering rams to gatekeepers.
Take the mainstream media. While conservatives correctly bemoan the liberal bias that infects the landmark publications and TV networks, and has infected them all the way back to the Vietnam War, it is easy to forget a simple fact about that anti-Vietnam coverage: It was the first time the media’s reporting was not subjected to official censure by the military. No doubt this led to anti-American bias that distorted the story, but for Americans watching, the idea of a media that was critical of the government line no doubt seemed like an advancement for freedom to access information and freedom to be skeptical of government policy.
Flash forward to today, though, and it is obvious that the media has gone from being uncensored truth-tellers to censors themselves. From the cyberbullying, SJW left morality policy approach of sites like the defunct Gawker and Vice, to the arrogant agonizing by media figures over their supposed ability to “control what people think,” to the overwhelming and unprecedented hostility toward the president that even the most seemingly respected media falls prey to, it is very clear that giving the public greater freedom to make informed decisions has ceased to be a media objective. Rather, out of fear that those informed decisions will not meet the partisan standards of the reporters themselves, they seek a full-on pre-Vietnam role reversal: now the political and military actions approved by the American people must pass muster with them to be legitimate. Americans, who have never much liked being told what they must believe or what they must do, have rightly rebelled.
But while the mainstream media’s behavior is egregious, it is also fair to say that they are rapidly becoming a marginal player in the information marketplace. More sinister and influential is the rapidly growing tech industry, and in particular the social media wing of that industry. But here, too, we are observing a corruption of organizations that previously offered freedom. In its early days, Google gave Americans the extraordinary power to find new information and new perspectives, YouTube provided a fertile and untamed Wild West-style playground for creative minds to make a living, and sites like Facebook and Twitter offered the ability to connect and speak to both friends and strangers from all around the world.
To say that this is not the case anymore is a gross understatement. Now, Google openly admits to viewing conservative viewpoints as contrary to science, and acts as if its blatantly partisan policy preferences are somehow apolitical good sense because they can find a few pet Republicans to agree to them. This is reflected in their search results, which now exclude disfavored viewpoints, and their stewardship of YouTube, which now strips money and possibly even subscribers from its users, sometimes for such minor crimes as simply telling off-color jokes that offend the humorless sensibilities of corporate HR departments. Facebook and Twitter, meanwhile, liberally (pun intended) shadowban or outright shut down the accounts of users who do nothing but express distasteful opinions, or call them out on censorship. Facebook has even arrogated to itself the right to decide what does and does not count as “fake news” using standards insourced from left-wing donors, despite having previously landed in hot water for acting too much like a newsroom and less like a neutral platform.
In short, Silicon Valley fears the freedom that it created and seeks to curtail it, despite the fact that the only thing that gave their business models life was the perception that they were building a world where both people and information could be free.
So far, an emerging rebellion from consumers, in tandem with tougher scrutiny of their practices, is not working out for the mainstream media, or the tech companies. The first is shedding trust and likely will shed viewers in the future. The second is facing an emboldened raft of competitors that actively market their political neutrality and commitment to freedom of speech and information. The gatekeepers have had their gates blasted off their hinges and now are watching their Towers of Babble being sacked.
Mytheos Holt is the Senior Fellow in Freedom to Innovate at the Institute for Liberty, and a former speechwriter for US Senator John Barrasso (R-WY).