Home/Rod Dreher/Soft Totalitarianism & Anti-Biden Ad

Soft Totalitarianism & Anti-Biden Ad

The ad Facebook won't let you see

The next issue of National Review has a very strong review of Live Not By Lies in it. I won’t quote much, because it’s not online yet [Note: Now it is! — RD] but I do want to put this passage out there:

The underlying and unwelcome message of Live Not by Lies is that fast approaching the doctrinally flabby, enervated Western church is a time of great trouble of a kind not seen in American history and that orthodox Christians should recognize the fact, prepare responsibly, and live out their faith boldly (if shrewdly): They should live their lives worthily of the calling they have received. “You may not have the strength to stand up in public and say what you really believe,” Dreher writes, “but you can at least refuse to affirm what you do not believe. You may not be able to overthrow totalitarianism, but you can find within yourself and your community the means to live in the dignity of truth. If we must live under the dictatorship of lies, . . . then our response must be: ‘Let their rule hold not through me!’”

Did he say “totalitarianism”? Indeed so. InLive Not by Lies, Dreher asserts that the Christian Church in the West, along with Western culture in general, is increasingly under the dominion of “soft totalitarianism.” This is not to imply the introduction of prison camps, executions, or the midnight knock on the door. Instead it is the now-familiar movement in which progressive-minded men and women— rootless, self-righteous, violently intolerant of viewpoints other than their own, tediously foul-mouthed, and wondrously ignorant—endeavor to use the levers of corporate and political power to control the way people think, speak, and act at the most granular level.

We have a good example of this just now in what Facebook has done to an ad criticizing Joe Biden for his support for the so-called Equality Act, which would (among other things) allowed male-to-female transgenders to participate fully in women’s sports. The ad targets Michigan voters. Here it is:

You can disagree with the ad, but it’s a perfectly normal criticism of the Equality Act. It says that by permitting biological males to compete with girls, it will “destroy girls’ sports.” In fact, here is the transcript:

All female athletes want is a fair shot at competition. At a scholarship. At a title. At victory. But what if that shot was taken away by a competitor who claims to be a girl but was born a boy? Senator Gary Peters and Joe Biden support legislation that would destroy girls’ sports. They call it Equality. Really? That’s not fair. Not fair at all. Vote against Gary Peters and Joe Biden. They’re too extreme for Michigan.

So why won’t Facebook let people post this ad?  Jon Schweppe, head of American Principles Project, the organization that made the ad, explains what happened. He says that gay-rights and left-wing media groups began screaming bloody murder about the ad, calling it “hate speech.” But the independent fact-checking outfit PolitiFact rendered a verdict saying this is not a matter of fact-checking; they can’t fact-check a prediction. That should have been the end of it, right? Nope:

On Tuesday morning, Facebook slapped a warning label on our ad, urging our target audience that the ad wasn’t providing enough context. By Tuesday night, Facebook had removed the ad entirely.

The justification? Previously, Facebook had indicated they would take down ads that failed to pass a fact check from one of their “independent” fact checkers. Obviously APP’s ad passed the fact check, which PolitiFact admits. So Facebook added a brand new category to justify taking down demonstrably truthful political ads like ours: “Missing Context.” This newly invented rating seems to suggest we didn’t do enough to explain our opponent’s point of view. Objectively, of course, that could be said of every single campaign advertisement in the history of American politics. It certainly could be applied to every campaign advertisement being run by Joe Biden this cycle.

Will Facebook take down this ad, where the Biden campaign slams Donald Trump for concerns over mail-in voting but fails to provide the important context that some states, like New Jersey, are planning to send mail-in ballots to every voter on their voter rolls, whether or not they have applied for absentee ballots? Or what about this ad, where Biden accuses Donald Trump of “purposely downplaying” COVID-19 early on in the pandemic, without providing obvious context—that the president was trying to avoid creating a panic, and that he was far from the only one to undersell the virus’s potential to cause havoc?

Schweppe knows, though, that this is not about facts at all: it’s about privileging left-wing gender ideology, and suppressing criticism of it. More:

We’ll produce a new ad, and Facebook will reject that one, too. Maybe Politifact can write it for us. But then, of course, the goalposts will move again. Big Tech has appointed itself the sole arbiter of our elections, and American Principles Project PAC is not allowed to participate. Social conservatives are not allowed to participate. Anodyne Republicans will soon not be allowed to participate.

Read the whole thing. 

This is a garden-variety example of soft totalitarianism. Nobody is going to throw Jon Schweppe into a gulag. He’s just not going to be able to say anything against the Equality Act. It’s Facebook today, but you know it’s not going to stop there. Woke Capitalism — including tech and media giants — will increasingly stop at nothing to control the narrative and suppress truth, or at least dissent. Expect this to get worse — especially if Donald Trump wins re-election.

Which is one reason to consider voting for him: to spite the controllers. I’ve thought since this summer that Trump would certainly lose. All the usual factors are lined up against him, and he’s been doing badly in the polls. Besides which, he’s running a poor campaign, and is often his own worst enemy. In Alabama yesterday, I talked to a conservative resident of the state who is ticked off at Trump for costing Jeff Sessions the GOP Senate nomination out of spite. The voter said returning Sessions to the Senate would have put one of the best conservative lawmakers back in action, but now conservatives will have to vote for Tommy Tuberville, the former football coach, who is (said the man) a total mediocrity.

But you know, I’m really not sure that Trump is going to lose at all. If I were not a pundit, and I were going to vote for Trump, there’s no way I would tell a pollster; I wouldn’t trust them with that information. This is entirely anecdotal, but a few weeks back, I decided to ask people who tell me they intend to vote for Trump if they would say so to a pollster. They all react like it’s a crazy question: of course they wouldn’t tell a pollster — because they don’t trust a stranger with that information.

Moreover, I don’t know that I have ever observed such a disconnect between the political and cultural landscape as presented by the mainstream media, and the political and cultural landscape as it is. Maybe I’m living too much inside my own bubble, but if you read the major papers, listen to NPR, and look at the broadcast and cable networks (their websites, at least), you would think that the country has turned deep blue. My social media feed, and my scanning of right-of-center websites, reveals a very different story. Let me be clear: I know that I self-curate my reading, and that I could be every bit as stovepiped as the liberal media, maybe even moreso. But with each passing day, I have my doubts.

As I mentioned earlier, I was in Alabama this week at a TAC event. I took advantage of being in the area with a car to visit friends I haven’t seen in a while — people who read my blog, and who know the kinds of things I’ve been focusing on. It continues to astonish me how many conservatives have been intimidated into total silence about racial conflict. I don’t say that as critics of them in the least. I’m hearing people who have been hit really hard by this fast-emerging situation, and who don’t know what to say at all. People who are now questioning longstanding friendships, even family relationships — all because others who had been close to them are accusing them of being racist, simply for not agreeing with their woke take.

Again, it’s all anecdotal, so take it with a grain of salt, but I’m getting a growing sense of deep anger over all this — over the feeling among these people that they are being harassed and threatened into silence, even by people they know well, or thought they knew well. When you have people in your family, and people in authority, telling you that “silence is violence,” and trying to force you to say things you don’t believe in, what do you do? On the long drive back home to Louisiana today, I thought: well, yeah, they’re going to vote Trump, because their secret vote might the only thing they know that they can do to protest this without risking their jobs and reputations. 

My sense — and that’s all it is — based on e-mails and conversations, is not that people think Trump can or will stop this stuff. It’s that they don’t know what else to do. They believe — and I think that they’re absolutely right here — that a vote for Biden will be a vote to give the executive branch over to these woke militants. Interestingly, a lot of conservative professors I know, people who don’t like Trump at all, are now strongly on his side since late summer. Having to see how their own university administrations are going militantly ideological, and trampling down an ethos of free speech and an free inquiry, has made something click inside them about what to expect when people like that run the executive branch.

Either way, we’ve got big trouble ahead. If Trump wins, look for Facebook, Google, Twitter, and woke capitalists everywhere, to convulse, and nakedly seek to suppress the free exchange of ideas. If Trump loses, I expect them all to consolidate and extend their efforts to control thought and expression. I see no way out of this, except straight through it, fighting. I wish I did. If you see a clear and struggle-free path forward, let’s hear from you. We have to prepare, spiritually and otherwise, while there is time.

(By the way — and sorry, but I don’t know how else to do this — when I was able to check my TAC e-mail today after 36 hours offline, I saw that I have several interview requests around Live Not By Lies. If you’d like to talk about scheduling an interview, please reach out to publicist Gwen Nappi at gwen — at — mnspublicity — dot — com.)

UPDATE: As soon as I posted this, I saw this line on Axios:

If President Trump defies today’s swing-state polls and pulls off another upset, what will we have missed that could have been a clue?

Here’s an answer: the silence the left forced onto dissenters. You can’t see an absence, maybe, without looking hard. But the media isn’t interested in looking hard outside its Safe Spaces™. Besides, I’m hearing from conservatives that they will not work with the media if asked. They don’t trust them to treat them fairly. I wouldn’t have said it in an earlier election cycle, but I’ll say it now: smart move. Most of them just want to find a way to shoehorn you in to an anti-Trump story. The point here is that Trump voters are so distrustful of pollsters and media that they kept their true views to themselves. The thing you media will have missed is the environment that you helped created in this country where people are afraid to say what they think, on account of what the left will do to them.

Anyway, look: If Trump pulls off another upset, what will the media have missed that could be have been a clue?

UPDATE.2: A reader writes:

Per your post, I had the exact same thought about Trump voters and pollsters after hanging out the other day with several couples we get together with every few weeks. It was at our house and it was clear people felt “safe” — and somewhat to my chagrin that meant the conversation immediately turned political. Every one of them is a Trump voter, but it was crystal clear none of them would talk to a pollster in a million years. All expressed a deep distrust that ANYONE outside a very tight knit circle of trust could be relied upon not to use information about their politics to harm them. They basically took it for granted that if they gave politically incorrect answers to a pollster their name was going on a list that would be used by the left to take punitive action against them in the future.

These are all pretty successful, solid folks, who I know from experience would give you the shirt off their back – the kind of people who would typically be defenders and sustainers of the institutions that have helped give them a pretty good life. But their level of social trust is now basically zero. It’s disturbing, but I get it.

This is our country now. I’m thinking this morning about the following conversation I had with the widow of Czech dissident Vaclav Benda, in their family’s Prague apartment. From Live Not By Lies:

Kamila Bendova sits in her armchair in the Prague apartment where she and her late husband, Václav, used to hold underground seminars to build up the anti-communist dissident movement. It has been thirty years since the fall of communism, but Bendova is not about to lessen her vigilance about threats to freedom. I mention to her that tens of millions of Americans have installed in their houses so-called “smart speakers” that monitor conversations for the sake of making domestic life more convenient. Kamila visibly recoils. The appalled look on her face telegraphs a clear message: How can Americans be so gullible?

To stay free to speak the truth, she tells me, you have to create for yourself a zone of privacy that is inviolate She reminded me that the secret police had bugged her apartment, and that she and her family had to live with the constant awareness that the government was listening to every sound they made. The idea that anybody would welcome into their home a commercial device that records conversations and transmits them to a third party is horrifying to her. No consumer convenience is worth that risk.

“Information means power,” Kamila says. “We know from our life under the totalitarian regime that if you know something about someone, you can manipulate him or her. You can use it against them. The secret police have evidence of everything like that. They could use it all against you. Anything!”

Kamila pointed out to me the scars along the living room wall of her Prague apartment where, after the end of communism, she and her husband had ripped out the wires the secret police used to bug their home. It turns out that no one in the Benda family uses smartphones or emails. Too risky, they say, even today.

Your first instinct is probably to think that she’s paranoid. It was mine. But then she showed me where the eavesdropping wires had been, and it seemed to me that I was looking at scars on the back of a slave who had once been whipped. I have been thinking a lot lately about her warning that the more information you give to those who would harm you, the greater power you surrender to them. She was not talking about pollsters; she was talking about our digital masters. But yes, I can well imagine that she would advise everyone not to talk to pollsters if they intend to vote for Trump. I would advise that too.

UPDATE.3: Another reader writes (I’ve edited slightly to protect his wife’s identity):

Apropos of what you say about formerly Trump-hesitant people losing their hesitation, I relay to you the following personal anecdote.
Last night I was watching the Spectator’s recent YouTube video analyzing the state of the election (recommended, by the way). My wife was doing paperwork in the same room and half paying attention. Afterward, she said to me, “Are you going to vote for Trump? I think we have to.” And she spent the next few minutes trying to convince me to vote for him.
Here’s the thing about that. I didn’t vote for Trump (or Clinton) in ‘16. I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Like you, I’m a social and religious conservative who generally thinks that Trump’s manifest character flaws and general nuttiness disqualify him for high office. I’m increasingly inclined to vote for him this year, but I remain undecided. But my wife… she went to [elite New England boarding school] and then to [super-liberal Northern college], where she majored in fine arts. She has a graduate degree in [a psychology-related field], and went to Burning Man multiple times and loved it. She’s not a very political person, but if I had to pin her down, I would call her a Rockefeller Republican: leave the family trust alone, no capital gains tax, and social libertarianism. Sort of the opposite of me, now that I think about it. She’s also a survivor of sexual violence, which inclines her to the #BelieveWomen position. But the point is: the events of this summer have shifted her into the position of thinking it is urgently important to vote for Trump, and she spent some minutes last night trying to convince me of this urgency.
I don’t need much convincing. But it was a personal mundus inversus moment for me, illustrating what you talk about in your post – how the Left is driving erstwhile normies, and even some elite New Englander types (QED) into Trump’s camp. I’m so used to my wife being the politically moderating voice in our marriage, pulling me from my quasi-integralist orbit back towards the center. But this summer has really shaken things up. Biden may still win, but that won’t prove that our media institutions have harmonized themselves with reality, or understood the electorate, to a greater extent than they did in ‘16.
UPDATE.4:Here’s a link to the National Review piece, which published online today. I thank James E. Person Jr. for his generous review of my book.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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