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What Neera Tanden’s Demise Says About ‘Cancel Culture’

What Neera Tanden’s Demise Says About ‘Cancel Culture’


Neera Tanden became the first casualty in President Joe Biden's cabinet on Tuesday when she withdrew her appointment as budget director. The Republicans who sunk it haven't accomplished much. Biden's next candidate will be a little more or less progressive, and a little more or less competent, but not significantly different in any way. The next candidate, however, will not have Tanden's record of combative tweets against Republican senators. These tweets prevented her from being confirmed.

What Neera Tanden’s Demise Says About ‘Cancel Culture’


Disappointed supporters of Tanden criticize his Republican opponents for hypocrisy. It's not just that Republicans waited right after Donald Trump's presidency to start saying nasty tweets are disqualifying. They have also become increasingly concerned about the excesses of the “cancellation culture”, except when it comes to canceling Tanden.

 How Twitter killed Neera Tanden's chances  and why it will happen again


For some people who speak out against the behavior of Republicans, the point is, Tanden should have been confirmed. For others, it is that complaints about the "cancellation of culture" are never more than political weapons. When people say they are canceled, make the argument, they are not silenced; they try to silence the critics.


My first reaction to the claim that Tanden has been canceled is that it's nonsense: Of course, politicians have a right to weigh what political activists have said when they decide to give them jobs. I had the same reaction when Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Leader, said his colleague Liz Cheney had embraced the culture of cancellation by saying that a Conservative conference should not have invited Trump to take the speech. He is a politician who urges political activists to move in a different direction from the one they are taking. It's just normal politics. And, for that matter, Cheney is not the subject of an attempted annulment just because some Republicans want her out of the Republican House leadership because she voted to impeach Trump.


On second thought, however, perhaps these seemingly opportunistic invocations of "the culture of cancellation" tell us something about this phrase and the phenomenon it describes. The view that "canceling culture is not real" makes sense because the concept is vague. If you are a book editor, or the director of a speaker series, or the editor of an opinion page, where do you draw the line between the reasonable exercise of discretion over who should be able? to use your platform and the non-liberal deletion of the debate?


Jonathan Rauch, a centrist who has written about the challenges of free speech for decades, proposed a six-point checklist for distinguishing between criticism and cancellation. A campaign to get someone fired for something he said trips two sons of Rauch: it's 'organized' and 'punitive'. If you are a skeptic of the undo culture, this checklist won't convince you that it is real, as the items in it are matters of degree. No one tried to deny Tanden the opportunity to earn a living, but she was denied an opportunity for career advancement. Does this count as punitive? The difference between a campaign of hostility and a spontaneous stunt of disapproval, meanwhile, can be undetectable on Twitter.


When we discuss the cancellation of culture, what we are really discussing is how far tolerance should be extended. Of course, then, the culture of cancellation cannot be defined more precisely than intolerance. We can understand that intolerance is a real phenomenon - a phenomenon that can increase and decrease, change character, have consequences - without having a formula to determine what falls into this category. Being tolerant or intolerant is a matter of disposition rather than principle. This is why Rauch's checklist is useful: it provides guidelines rather than trying to define it precisely.


He also draws attention to the background to any controversy over the cancellation. Was a racial insult used or just mentioned? Was the view expressed as a view that many intelligent and good-faith people will have in our society, or a view that is evidence of bad character? Are critics trying to fire a truck driver or prevent a politician from getting elected?


What Tanden's defeat tells us most is that you shouldn't insult a group of thin-skinned people if you might need their support.


in the future. It doesn't tell us much about the larger issue of our culture's tolerance. Most people, according to polls, think the answer is less and less. We quickly attribute disagreements to bad motives. To change that will take something more than the First Amendment or even dedication to its spirit. It will take good judgment, which continues to be scarce.

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