America Is Better Than Cancel Culture
By: Nikki Haley
Over the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to college students across the country. The same topic always comes up. At every school, students feel afraid to speak their mind. They worry their professors will fail them, their peers will attack them, and their schools will punish them. Many students have learned the hard way to stay silent. Every time I hear their stories, I worry for America’s future.
But college students aren’t the only ones who feel that way anymore. After the last few months, Americans of all ages and all walks of life are worried about being attacked for speaking out. We should all be worried about where our country’s headed.
What started with political correctness — “PC Culture” — has morphed into so-called “cancel culture.” If someone says or does something that offends someone else, the mob comes after their jobs, their families, their futures. People of goodwill are being told they have no right to talk, and if they do, they’re forced to shut up. The list includes journalists, professors, athletes, sports announcers, chaplains, and countless others.
Cancel culture is not only on social media, it’s taken to the streets. Statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have been torn down. Monuments to abolitionists have been defaced. Even a statue of Abraham Lincoln, paid for by freed slaves and praised by Frederick Douglass at its unveiling, needed armed guards to prevent its destruction. This isn’t just about canceling people — it’s about canceling America’s past.
This turn of events has made two things clear.
First, cancel culture doesn’t speak for the vast majority of Americans. There’s a screaming 1% that’s trying to shout down the other 99%. The last thing that cancel-culture warriors want is to have an honest and open discussion about anything. They’re too blinded by anger to sit down with anyone who feels differently than them. They prefer the quick rush that comes from driving people apart to the hard work of bringing people together.
Which leads to the second thing that’s now clear: Cancel culture is un-American.
Our society is built on the values of free speech and mutual respect, but cancel culture rejects both. In place of free speech, it demands conformity. Instead of mutual respect, it tears people down. It basically says there’s no point talking through the difficult questions or trying to work them out through democracy and legislation. All that matters is some people forcing their views on all of society, telling the rest of us how to live, work, and think.
The cancel-culture warriors think that their approach is necessary to make America more fair, but there’s no such thing as mob justice. Far from moving America closer to our ideals, censorship and violence only make it harder for us to end injustice and fulfill our country’s ideals. If we really want to make our country better, we shouldn’t silence anyone. We need to speak up and show that America is better than this.
There are some positive signs. After the left tried to get a University of Chicago economist fired for criticizing “Defund the Police,” the school defended the professor and he kept his position. The CEO of Ford Motor Company refused to stop making police cruisers after cancel culture demanded it. There are many other examples where people stood for their beliefs and free speech, rather than let angry voices on social media dictate what they should and shouldn’t say or do.
Others have given in to cancel culture only to realize just how radical it is. Seattle’s mayor let rioters run wild in her city, to the point of setting up their own “autonomous zone,” free of police. It collapsed after people were killed in shootings in the police-free area. Similarly, as many urban leaders have backed the “defund the police” movement, violent crime and murder have spiked in cities like Chicago, New York, and others. What started with some people shutting down debate on the critical issue of public safety has ended with Americans’ — including children — losing their lives.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s possible to have an honest debate about even the toughest of topics. For that to happen, we need more leaders to do their jobs, set the example, and bring people together instead of letting the mob drive us apart.
I know this can happen, because we did it in South Carolina in 2015.
Then, like now, people were furious in the wake of a national tragedy. An avowed racist opened fire in a Charleston church, murdering nine African American worshipers. It wasn’t long before photos were discovered of the killer posing with the Confederate flag. That same flag flew outside the statehouse in Columbia, which quickly became the center of attention.
Then, like now, there were people with strong opinions about what to do. While I called for the Confederate Flag to be taken down, I also said that people’s “voices will be heard and their role in this debate will be respected.” Sure enough, instead of giving in to more violence, the whole state had a frank and hard discussion. We let democracy work, and it did. I ultimately signed the bill to remove the Confederate Flag, and South Carolina emerged from the crisis more united than ever.
Could the same thing happen today, in the current cancel culture? Could we have the same kind of discussion about any of the big issues we face? It would definitely be harder. But it’s also desperately needed. Cancel culture is doing real damage to our democracy. It’s ripping America apart at a time when we should be coming together.
The good news is that “cancel culture” doesn’t speak for the overwhelming majority of Americans. Our fellow citizens don’t want to tear each other down or wipe away our country’s past. We want to unite and work together to ensure a future where every American is respected, and where America itself lives up to our ideals more fully.