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Daniel Elder, Scapegoat

Daniel Elder (DanielElderMusic.com)

A year ago, I wrote in this space about Daniel Elder, a music composer (and a man of the center left) who made a terrible mistake last year. With parts of his city (Nashville) on fire in a Black Lives Matter riot, he posted this to social media:


The reader who sent me that item added:

He will have significant career ramifications, from loss of sales of music to loss of performances and commissions. His pieces will more than likely be blacklisted by many, if not pulled by his publishers.

You are right about soft totalitarianism. It is here and it is terrifying.

As an artist, I’m terrified to speak about anything controversial because of exactly this; that I would be misunderstood or say something stupid in a moment of emotion and be destroyed for it. I keep mostly silent on social media or retweet things. But even posting articles is starting to feel like a landmine.

How are we to move forward when our first instinct is to think the worst of people? Instead of privately correcting someone or pointing out how something might be misconstrued, the best option is to incite the mob to destroy them.

And how in the world do you create art in this environment that is in any way challenging or thought-provoking? Or a critique of the accepted cultural sacred cows? It feels very isolating sometimes and the struggle to create meaningful art riddled with great risk.

Maybe I’m alone in this. I just feel like I’m one misstep away from falling off the cliff.

The reader was right about what was coming for Daniel Elder. Robby Soave at Reason updates us on the fate of Elder. His career has been destroyed. More:

Many former appreciators of Elder’s music expressed regret that it had come to this. One recommended that he read Robin diAngelo’s White Fragility. Another expressed “hope that you find a way to lose that hate in your heart.”

Again, Elder’s “hateful” rhetoric was a two-sentence objection to the fire at the courthouse. He had not condemned the broader movement at all. Yet the messages did not cease.

“Do some research and maybe some inner reflection and maybe figure out where your racist tendencies are coming from,” wrote another critic. “You are canceled. Black lives matter!”

Within 24 hours, the controversy had garnered the attention of GIA Publications. In the world of choral music, GIA is not merely publisher; it is the major publisher of religious content, thanks to its association with the post–Vatican II Roman Catholic Church. GIA was Elder’s publisher, and an important source of his income. On the morning of June 1, GIA President Alec Harris and media editor Susan LaBarr contacted Elder about posting an apology.

This apology had already been written by GIA; all Elder had to do was post it. The remarks prepared on his behalf are as follows, and worth reading in full:

“Over the weekend I made a post on my social media accounts that was insensitive and wrongly-worded. I deeply apologize for the anger, offense, and harm that this post caused. While this offense was not intended, it is what was created. For this I am truly sorry.

“There is no justification that I can offer for my post. So, rather than try to offer an excuse for what was done, I offer a promise for what I will do going forward. I commit to making amends and to dialogue. I commit to continue educating myself about privilege and bias. I commit to continue seeking an understanding of the experience of others, especially the Black community. I know that working for justice requires that we each first act justly. My work begins now.”

LaBarr added that while “we know that you write music that promotes social justice,” this was not clear to people who had read the Instagram post.

“We’re feeling time pressure on this as some people are calling for boycotts,” added LaBarr. “It’s all very heavy.”

Elder wasn’t inclined to make such a groveling apology, and was dismayed to see his colleagues siding with his critics.

“I chose to be that guy who didn’t issue the apology,” he says. “Things went from there and it wasn’t good.”

Within hours, GIA issued a denunciation of Elder.

“The views expressed in composer Daniel Elder’s incendiary social media post on Sunday evening do not reflect the values of GIA or our employees,” it read. “GIA opposes racism in all its forms and is committed to do what Michelle Obama called ‘the honest, uncomfortable work of rooting it out.'”

Note this PR statement endorses the view that Elder had made an “incendiary” statement. Neither Harris nor LaBarr responded to a request for clarification as to which aspect of Elder’s anti-arson agenda they oppose.

GIA also announced that the company would no longer publish Elder.

“We are grateful to those who brought this to our attention and to all who continue to hold individuals and organizations to account,” the statement concluded.

GIA made this announcement on Facebook. Virtually all the comments were supportive, though one person asked why the company had not scrubbed all referenced to Elder on its website. (“What’s the plan?” asked this individual. “Keep supporting a bigot?”)

For Elder, the consequences were far-reaching. The coronavirus pandemic had already upended his business: In the era of COVID-19, few activities had become as verboten as choir singing. Without the support of a publisher and professional network, Elder’s work was impossible. Moreover, local choral directors refuse to do business with him because of the controversy. They are afraid to associate with him, or to be seen as defending him in any way.

“It’s a bad look for them,” says Elder. “It’s really quite extreme, the effect this has had.”

The toll on Elder’s mental well-being has been equally catastrophic: losing countless friends, colleagues, and fans is no small matter for an artist. He has seen a therapist and a psychiatrist, and he says he has needed to be “talked off the ledge” several times. Needless to say, he has struggled to compose new music since everything fell apart.

Read it all.

And listen to some of Elder’s work here:

His YouTube channel is here — on it, you can hear all kinds of choral music from him. He’s a very talented man, but he cannot get work, because he violated the ridiculous orthodoxy within the music community.You people who think I am exaggerating when I call this “soft totalitarianism,” and warn in Live Not By Lies that we are descending into ideological madness, ought to tell Daniel Elder that I’m being alarmist.

You might want to check out his blog too. Daniel Elder is a deep and discerning artist. These contemptible totalitarians who crushed this man’s career simply for saying arsonists are fools — they don’t realize it, but they are contributing to the hellacious backlash coming. In Spain, I spoke to a professor — a conservative — who said that if the broad middle class adopts hardcore nationalism as a reaction to militant wokeness, “we will get fascism.” That came to mind when I was reading an advance copy of Charles Murray’s new book, Facing Reality — sure to be a blockbuster — on the train to Madrid this afternoon. Murray writes that the racial antagonism of wokeness is going to tear America apart:

Perhaps the deepening polarization would have continued just because of the alienation between elites on the coasts and the people who live everywhere else. It is also plausible that the alienation between Blacks and Whites played a role. Purely on grounds of expediency, the rhetoric about White privilege and systemic racism coming from Black opinion leaders has always seemed self-defeating. Blacks, constituting 13 percent of the population, are telling Whites, 60 percent of the population, that they are racist, bad people, the cause of Blacks’ problems, and they had better change their ways or else. Right or wrong, that rhetoric has been guaranteed to produce backlash by some portion of the 60 percent against the 13 percent.So far, this effect has been masked because the strategy has worked so well with White elites. Ordinarily, you can’t insult people into agreeing with you, but White guilt is a real thing. In the summer of 2020, many White college students and young adults agreed that they had sinned, even though they hadn’t realized it until now, and joined in Black Lives Matter marches. The New York Times, the Washington Post, NPR, PBS, CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and MSNBC gave sympathetic coverage to the protests and, to varying degrees, downplayed the riots and looting.

Meanwhile, many middle-class and working-class Whites have not been insulted into agreement. They’re just insulted, and to their minds unfairly insulted. I’m not talking about White nationalists and White supremacists – their numbers are relatively small. My concern is the extremely large majority of middle-class and working-class
Whites who don’t think of themselves as racists and have not behaved as racists. Tens of millions of these people live in towns that have few Black or Latino residents, and racial issues haven’t impinged on their lives. They don’t understand why they are being accused of racism. Still other tens of millions live in large cities where racial problems have been real, but they see themselves as having treated Black and Latino neighbors and coworkers with friendship and respect.

They believe that everyone has a God-given right to be treated equally. Now all of them are being told that they are privileged and racist, and they are asking on what grounds. They are living ordinary lives, with average incomes, working hard to make ends meet. They can’t see what “White privilege” they have ever enjoyed. Some are fed up and ready to push back.

How widespread might the backlash be? It is one of those topics that the elite media has been unable to investigate more than superficially. But it seems beyond dispute that a growing number of Whites are disposed to adopt identity politics – to become a racial interest group in the same way that Blacks and Latinos are racial interest groups.

The question asks itself: If a minority consisting of 13 percent of the population can generate as much political
energy and solidarity as America’s Blacks have, what happens when a large proportion of the 60 percent of the population that is White begins to use the same playbook? I could spin out a variety of scenarios, but I don’t have confidence in any of them. I am certain of only two things.

First, the White backlash is occurring in the context of long-term erosion in the federal government’s legitimacy.
Since 1958, the Gallup polling organization has periodically asked Americans how much they trust the federal
government to do what is right. In 1958, 73 percent said “always” or “most of the time.” Trust hit its high point in 1964, when that figure stood at 77 percent. Then it began to fall. By 1980, only 27 percent trusted the government to do what is right. That percentage rebounded to the low 40s during the Reagan years, then fell to a new low, 19 percent, in 1994. It rebounded again, hitting a short-livedhigh of 54 percent just after 9/11. Then it plunged again, hitting another new low, 15 percent, in 2011. It has been in the 15–20 percent range ever since. A government that is distrusted by more than 80 percent of the citizens has a bipartisan legitimacy problem.

When a government loses legitimacy, it loses some of the allegiance of its citizens. That weakened allegiance means, among other things, a greater willingness to ignore the law. The federal government has enacted thousands of laws and regulations. Many of them apply to every family and every business in the nation. They cannot possibly be enforced by the police or courts without almost universal voluntary compliance. When a government is seen as legitimate, most citizens voluntarily comply because it is part of being a citizen; they don’t agree with every law and regulation, but they believe it is their duty as citizens to respect them. When instead people see laws and regulations as products of the illegitimate use of power, the sense of obligation fades.

Events since the summer of 2020 make me think it is too late to talk about if Whites adopt identity politics. Many already have. That’s the parsimonious way to interpret the red-blue divisions over wearing masks, the widespread belief in red states that the 2020 election was stolen, and the rage that resulted in the invasion of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. This is all evidence that the federal government has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of many Whites. If that reaction spreads, the continued ability of the federal government to enforce its edicts in the reddest portions of the nation will be thrown into question. The prospect of legal secession may be remote, but the prospect of reduced governability from Washington is not.

The second thing of which I am certain is that Donald Trump’s election and the lessons of his term in office
changed the parameters of what is politically possible in America. Someone can win the presidency without having
been a governor, a senator, or a general. Someone can win it without any experience in public service at all and without any other relevant experience. Someone can win with a populist agenda. Someone can govern without observing any of the norms of presidential behavior. Those lessons have not been lost on the politically
ambitious of either the left or the right. All over the country, people at the outset of their political careers see a new set of possibilities. They include many who are as indifferent to precedent and self-restraint as Donald Trump was and who are more serious students of the uses of power than Trump was. It is increasingly possible that, the next time around, someone who is far more adept than Donald Trump can govern by ignoring inconvenient portions of the Constitution.

I’m going to write more about the explosive Facing Reality in a separate post. Better get your copy before Amazon stops selling it. I’m serious. The point is, what the woke did to Daniel Elder — a liberal (!) who has been blacklisted by the woke left as effectively as any leftist from the McCarthy era — is a vivid, infuriating instance of the kind of thing that is going to spark the backlash Murray fears. You can’t destroy people’s careers like that forever without calling up a hellacious reaction. These leftist fools and their fellow travelers within American institutions have no idea what they are calling down on our country.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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