If you thought that the transformation of Jeff Goldblum from a bookish scientist into a fly in the 1986 movie The Fly was a dramatic metamorphosis, just consider the sudden conversion of Elon Musk from liberal hero to hated nemesis. And a transmogrifier wasn’t even necessary!
It seems like just yesterday that Musk was the belle of the ball at the liberal cotillion, having seemingly single-handedly established the electric car industry, which is going to save us from a planetary sauna. Environmentalists beamed. Affluent liberals scrambled to buy a Tesla to park in their driveway to let their neighbors know just who the most conscious people on their block were. His boring company promised to speed the construction of public transit. Musk’s antics, like smoking pot on a podcast, thrilled his young fans. Liberals cooed in adoration.
What did he do to incur liberal wrath? He staked out a position as a free speech absolutist, criticizing Twitter’s decision to bar Donald Trump and his often colorful tweets that sent lefties into a conniption fit and occasionally embarrassed moderate Republicans. Liberal reverence for free expression comes with some major exceptions.
In April 2022, Musk agreed to buy Twitter, and the left went apeshit. The New York Times pronounced that Musk was “dangerous” to the entire world, while another publication shrieked that he “put free expression in danger.” The fact that we had somehow survived more than 200 years of free speech before the labels “misinformation” and “hate speech” started getting flung around reassured no one.
After Musk consummated his purchase in October, the attacks intensified. Every setback at any of his companies was gleefully detailed. Reports that Twitter employees were informed that they would be expected to change out of their pajamas and come into work shocked a generation that had decided that they preferred working from home.
Musk is not the only one who has metamorphosed. The left, the media, and academia have transformed dramatically as well. These institutions, which previously had professed a role as the fiery champions of free speech, have now embraced censorship and become ideological filters.
The free speech movement wasn’t all that long ago, so this turn-around is quite a shock. The idea that the left, instead of the right, might be the ones seeking to censor speech was only predicted by old, paranoid Cold Warriors. What happened?
Well, the left has become “the establishment,” which seeks to protect its hegemony and requires at least an ostensible show of fealty to the progressive creed. Government, educational, and corporate institutions are expected to be supportive. These days, what large institution doesn’t have an office of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” and doesn’t espouse “green” values?
Do we truly need to be protected from “toxic” ideas? Aren’t adults capable of sifting through the clamor of voices in the public discourse and deciding for themselves? It is curious to hear liberals, who are quick to dismiss the suggestion that social contagion might account for the astounding increase in teenagers who suddenly believe that they are misgendered, yet who also believe that the public is so susceptible to influence that just hearing an Alex Jones podcast will send them charging into the street in violent insurrection.
Previously, the one point of agreement between the right and the left was that each side was entitled to be heard, no matter how obnoxious their opinions. The ACLU once felt so strongly about the principle of free speech that they even supported the right of neo-Nazis, a repellant group, to march in Skokie, Illinois. The idea that anyone might be attacked for being a “free speech absolutist” would have been preposterous, and yet, here we are.
John Donegan is a retired attorney in Pismo Beach who is so supportive of free speech that he just won’t shut up. Send a response to [email protected].