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The 'Letter on Justice and Open Debate' Should Be Seen as a Stance Against Trumpian Authoritarianism

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/07/15/letter-justice-and-open-debate-should-be-seen-stance-against-trumpian

I just don’t think an open letter can be defended when signed by people who have perpetrated the exact wrongs that their letter is protesting. From here in Champaign-Urbana, IL it was shocking to see that one of the signers was Cary Nelson who strongly supported and endorsed the absolute destruction of Steven Salaita’s career (his all but formalized offer of a tenured position at the Univ. of Illinois was rescinded by the board of trustees) because he posted several vitriolic tweets against Israel’s slaughter of Gazans in 2104. Bari Weiss likewise built a career on trying to cancel and professionally destroy those who she politically disagreed with.
That kind of unabashed hypocrisy makes a mockery of the letter and gaslights the targets of those signers who committed these acts that they now supposedly condemn.

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I have read the (short) letter, skimmed Isaac’s piece here and the one he links to, and I watch a fair amount of HillTV Rising where Zaid Jilani spoke pretty well on the letter I thought (~https://youtu.be/lzRdP44h2WE). With my limited background, I completely reject your claim. An open letter is available for people to sign, and if a signer can’t read the letter and decide whether it is both a) not too vague as to be intending a very different message depending on who is saying it (and this letter was not vague in my opinion), and b) a message they agree with (which I did), then I feel sorry for them if they need to know who is is signing in order to make up their mind.

In general, I am fully in support of aligning with people I mostly disagree with like Mike Lee who is a complete nutball when it comes to religion/evolution (and most likely a great many other things), but when the topic is an area that I do agree with the person (as with Yemen where Mike Lee has a better stance than most Democrats), then there is no issue aligning with them and if that is what it takes to get a progressive policy (e.g. ending war in Yemen) passed and a politician won’t do it because it involves working with people wrong on other issues, they are doing a great disservice to US voters (and in this case to innocent people in other countries).

I do wish the letter had called out some of the key cases that cancel culture has produced that are quite absurd:

  1. The NYT editor (James Bennet, who couldn’t even defend himself) being pushed out (he says he resigned, but I believe most people talk of him being pushed out - it’s not luck he suddenly found a better job at this exact time) for running Tom Cotton’s editorial on using the military for domestic law enforcement (as was done in the Rodney King riots). No one has to agree with the editorial and I think NYT doesn’t have nearly enough editorials with truly left positions, but my sensitivities aren’t so delicate that I can’t handle seeing Cotton in print saying something I already know he believes and talks about in Congress.

  2. Stephen Hsu being forced out of a vice president of research at MSU (but still is a professor there) for publicly discussing research done at MSU on racial bias in police shooting (this is a statistically complicated topic I realize - but citing and discussing academic papers on the topic is to be encouraged, not cancelled).

On the claim that some signers are cancellers, I have heard this only for Bari Weiss (who I can’t stand), but if there are others I’d be interested in knowing who. Jilani said that Weiss was a college student when she tried to get pro-Palestinian professors fired - maybe she’s evolved (I doubt it), but regardless - an open letter can stand on its own. It’s even better when people like Weiss sign it because now they can be flogged (but not cancelled) with it.