Public courage is vanishing in America.
Even as they exert more control over our daily lives, our political, corporate and cultural leaders are increasingly fearful of woke bullies. In fairness, sometimes the mob has a point. But in recent months we have seen a new phenomenon in which the powers that be cravenly crumble and cave in response to claims that are false or that they have previously rejected.
This lack of courage led…
- Major League Baseball to pull its All-Star Game from Atlanta after President Biden and bylined activists in the media falsely cast Georgia’s new voter laws as the revival of Jim Crow. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred (pictured) must know that a Washington Post fact check gave Biden four Pinocchios for his voter suppression claims. It didn’t matter.
- Scores of corporate leaders, including those from Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Xerox and Merck, to condemn the law, which makes it easier to vote in Georgia than Biden’s home state of Delaware, or New York, where many companies are based. Ken Chenault, the former chief executive of American Express who helped lead the drive against the law, told the New York Times, “Some were concerned about the attention that it would draw to them and their company.”
- New York Times Editor Dean Baquet to reverse course and, a year after the paper reprimanded star science reporter Donald G. McNeil Jr. for harmlessly uttering the N-word, prompt his resignation once staff members demanded McNeil’s head.
- McNeil to sign a Soviet-style letter of resignation in which he apologized for thought crimes he later said he did not commit.
- Conde Nast to fire its newly installed editor of Teen Vogue after anti-Asian tweets she had sent a decade earlier while in college – which the company was aware of when it hired her – sparked a newsroom revolt.
- Parents at New York’s elite Dalton School to insist on anonymity when they signed a letter criticizing the school’s anti-racism agenda. Similarly, parents at the tony Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles insisted on anonymity before complaining at length to reporter Bari Weiss about anti-racism indoctrination their children are receiving.
It is tempting for the rest of us to claim that we would be different, that we would show steely spine in the face of unrelenting pressure. If we ran MLB or a large corporation, we would stand up to bogus charges of racism and promised boycotts. If we ran newsrooms, we would tell our underlings to stop complaining and get back to work. We might even remove our kids from top-notch schools instead of hiding behind blind quotes.
Perhaps. But life shows that we don’t really know how we will act until the personal risks are real – until it is our own jobs and our own children’s future that are at stake. There’s a reason history is littered with so many atrocities. Any of us might have been slaveholders or “good Germans.”
Still, the lack of courage we see now has a contemporary flavor; it is less an indictment of a handful of powerful decision-makers than a reflection of contemporary America.
Many of our leaders, now in their 50s and 60s, have never been called upon to make real sacrifices for the public good. Blessedly, they were not drafted into wars; they were not forced to confront great evils. They have passed their lives in a time of unprecedented prosperity, where achieving success was their greatest challenge outside of family.
An irony of our age is that a gnawing sense of insecurity has arisen amid this material comfort and wealth. The historic American optimism that withstood wars and depressions to insist life would only get better has been replaced by a palpable fear that everything might come crashing down in an instant. There are multiple reasons for this, including the shocks of 9/11 and the Great Recession as well as the catastrophist narratives about climate change and the nation’s future pushed by the media. And, of course, there has been the coronavirus pandemic. (In younger people, all this has contributed to broad increases in depression and other forms of mental illness.)
It hardly surprising that our fearful leaders lack the courage to stand up for what’s right. As people of whom so little has been asked, they see life as a series of transactions rather than a test of principles. The health of our society is not their problem, or their concern.
They are only doing what they always have: looking out for No. 1.