The case of Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla who was forced out of his job in 2014 after it was revealed that he opposed same-sex marriage, remains a watershed event in the ongoing culture war between the left and right.
Or, rather, we should call it a culture siege, with the left containing the right in ever-smaller redoubts in the United States.
The balance of aggression falls squarely on the side of progressives, identity politicians and activists, millennial social justice warriors, and (as we shall see below) Democratic politicians.
Eich was a famous casualty, a lesson that progressives wanted conservatives to learn. His resignation was prompted by a hostile op-ed campaign and threats of a boycott of the company he led, and the left wanted his downfall to be publicized widely so other conservatives would realize what would happen to them if they supported the wrong things.
The same tactics were applied to University of Chicago historian Rachel Fulton Brown, who objected to claims made by younger scholars of color that white supremacy lay at the root of her field, medieval studies. Brown’s ripostes were heated, to be sure, though no more than were the initial allegations against (putative) Medievalist racism.
As in the case of Eich, the response to her was voluminous. More than 1,500 people, many of them accomplished academics, signed a letter of complaint accusing her of “[employing] unconscionable and dangerous tactics.” They sent the letter to University of Chicago officials. Once again, the case was reported across the higher education press. Publicity is always crucial to this kind of action. Even if nothing further happens to the target, others get the message.
A more recent case is professor Amy Wax, who gave a talk at the National Conservatism conference in Washington in July arguing that immigration should be limited, mostly to people from countries whose culture matched that of the United States. When the content of her speech was reported, a petition to get her fired from her post at the University of Pennsylvania law school was started. It now has more than 62,000 signatures.
And now, another element in the Eich episode was recently repeated. Eich’s original crime in the eyes of the left was to have contributed $1,000 to Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that declared the state would recognize only those marriages between a man and a woman. The initiative passed in 2008, but the controversy over Eich’s donation didn’t start until 2014. Why?
Because his support didn’t become public knowledge until 2012, when The Los Angeles Times compiled a database of all donors to the “gay marriage battle.” Eich’s name came up in the record, with his employer and amount given as well. When Eich was promoted to head of the company, and evidence surfaced that he had contributed funds to conservative politicians in the 1990s, including Pat Buchanan, the outrage boiled over and became a well-organized effort to shame, vilify, and oust Eich.
Consider the implications. If you give money to a cause that progressives abhor, you may lose your job. A political contribution to an initiative that passed several years earlier may be circulated by the media and used against you. This is an abuse of freedom.
Transparency laws make those contributions available for review, but they were never intended to go after private individuals making fairly small donations. They aimed at corruption and cronyism, big donors and special interests buying influence.
What activist progressives, with the help of the media, have done is turn any support for conservative politicians and platforms into fair game.
Who’s Funding Trump?
Democratic politicians, too, are now in on this warfare. Rep. Joaquín Castro (D-Texas) sent out a tweet with a chart bearing the heading, “WHO’S FUNDING TRUMP?” It listed the names of 44 San Antonio donors to the Trump campaign in 2019, along with their employers. Castro added the comment, “Their contributions are fueling a campaign of hate that labels Hispanic immigrants as ‘invaders.’”
This is a form of doxing. It exposes individuals to retribution, and it discourages anyone else in San Antonio, in Texas, in the United States from giving to Trump 2020. It breaks all the rules of American civics, making politics the decisive valuation of your citizenship.
You may have supported President Donald Trump because you think his tariffs help U.S. manufacturing, or because his secretary of education backs charters and vouchers, or because of his penal reforms. No matter. Castro’s tweet converts your donation into a mobilization of race hatred. It’s no longer an issue of political disagreement.
Castro’s act is a mode of demonization, taboo, and ritual shaming. That’s the point of naming names. If you do this, we’ll make you pay. You can expect your employer to receive angry emails and your neighbors to shun you.
What you thought was an ordinary expression of a democratic freedom is really an act of malevolence. The voting booth is private; a $100 donation is not.
Once this step is taken, it’s hard to go back. In targeting individuals in this way, the left has broken the civic compact. It can’t be repaired because they don’t want it to be repaired. They don’t believe in American pluralism. They have raised political differences into psycho-political, religious, and racial differences that cannot be reconciled.
After Castro’s tweet appeared, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) sent out an endorsement tweet that said: “Chairman Castro, they don’t like it when you name their donors. The public needs to know who funds racism.”
You got that? Such actions, in the eyes of the left in 2019, are public service announcements. That’s one way of looking at them. Another way is to see them as strikes in a political war that may very well result in street violence.
Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory College. His work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Weekly Standard, The Washington Post, TLS, and Chronicle of Higher Education.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.