Writer and aspiring politician J. D. Vance recently offered this astute observation: “Barack Obama is articulate but has never made a memorable speech. The reason is that his views are utterly conventional. He’s [incapable] of saying anything outside the elite consensus. He’s a walking, talking Atlantic magazine subscription.”
Which should give us pause. Obama—who divides his time between a mansion in Washington D.C., another in Martha’s Vineyard, and similar enclaves where he lends his manicured hands to whatever elite cause needs them—recently gave a speech at Stanford expressing alarm that people are allowed to read things The Atlantic would never print. What Obama advocated was the suppression of political speech that is unpopular among people who live in places like Martha’s Vineyard and who send their children to schools like Stanford.
Obama remembered just enough from teaching constitutional law to know that he needed some obfuscation. So he burbled about the importance of protecting “democracy.” Most people equate that word with popular sovereignty, which indeed is what democracy has historically meant. But for Obama and his allies, it actually means a system that reliably produces the political outcomes desired by elites. Which is why The Atlantic and similar amplifiers of elite opinion cast nationalists and populists who win free and fair elections as threats to “democracy.” By contrast, globalists, who brazenly undermine governments actually chosen by voters, are portrayed as the true champions of so-called democracy. Hence, the consistent demonization of Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, and Poland’s Law and Justice Party, a right-wing populist entity that combines staunch social conservatism, economic populism, and a distrust of elites, depriving such retrograde forces of the political power given to them by the voters.
Anyone on Facebook and, until recently, Twitter has a sense of how Obama-style democracy works. The plutocrats who controlled Facebook and Twitter in 2020 and 2021 waged concerted campaigns first to ensure that Donald Trump was not reelected and that no one questioned the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s election, and then to promote whatever action was being urged at the moment by Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Those who supported Trump, questioned whether Biden had actually won, or challenged the medical order of the moment from Fauci and the CDC, faced either permanent bans, temporary suspensions, or more surreptitious measures designed to minimize their audience. Incredibly, anyone posting anything at all on the topics of election fraud or COVID-19 on Facebook had a label appended to his post saying that experts had determined that there was no election fraud or that there was no reason to doubt Fauci or the CDC.
Nor were Facebook and Twitter outliers in these efforts. Silicon Valley as a whole has become an enthusiastic participant in America’s continuing culture war, and there is as little doubt about the “rightness” of the elite agenda in Silicon Valley as there is in Davos, Wall Street, D.C., or the faculty lounges of Harvard, Yale, and Stanford. Research psychologist Robert Epstein estimated that Google’s efforts on behalf of the Biden campaign were worth some 6 million votes.
Barack Obama and the other self-professed champions of democracy have the same goal as the Party did in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: to make opposing their agenda literally unthinkable. In his Stanford speech, Obama briefly denied that he had any desire to ban all forms of “hate speech” but pivoted quickly to emphasize that the First Amendment’s protections applied only to government actions. He went on to urge comprehensive regulation of both the content of social media and its users.
“While content moderation can limit the distribution of clearly dangerous content, it does not go far enough,” Obama said. “These companies need to have some other North Star other than just making money and increasing market share. Fix the problem that, in part, they helped to create, but also … stand for something bigger.”
In other words, Obama thinks that Silicon Valley’s inventing a technology that allowed for the dissemination of unorthodox ideas is a “problem.” Solving that problem requires not just suppressing disfavored ideas but also promoting a world in which whatever the inventors deem to be “racism,” “ethnonationalism,” “sexism,” “class conflict,” “religious strife,” or “nationalism” are unthinkable and intolerable expressions. In other words, it is now the very apogee of respectable opinion to insist that you and I just shut up.
Obama no doubt thought he was outlining an inevitable future. But days later, the world’s richest man decided Twitter was going to have free speech, as delimited by American jurisprudence. Maybe we don’t have to shut up after all.
Image: President Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg shake hands at the seventh annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, on June 24, 2016. [GES Photo/Public Domain]