Two Party Extremism?
The denigration of public discourse and examining the effects of Elon Musk's Twitter takeover
Elon Musk has purchased Twitter. For a paltry sum of $44 billion, he has proclaimed that his goal is to “unlock” the potential of the strictly-regulated social media platform by providing users with the ability to reclaim their First Amendment rights without fear of being suspended, banned or suppressed. Understandably, this dedication to free speech has royally ticked off a few people, while proponents of free speech have rejoiced. While Musk has yet to officially take over the platform, users are already reporting that shadow-banning (which was often called a “conspiracy theory”) has come to an end ahead of the official acquisition. Users have stated that their accounts are gaining tens of thousands of followers in one day, proving that, indeed, conservative-leaning profiles were being suppressed by Twitter programming and algorithms.
Musk has been relentlessly and viciously attacked by censorship-supporters online, accusing him of everything from racism to fascism. “The extreme antibody reaction from those who fear free speech says it all,” Musk stated on Twitter, shortly following the announcement that Twitter had accepted his offer.
One Twitter user stated, “Mr @elonmusk has invited the world to abuse him verbally on his own property. That’s my definition of a generous and gracious host.” Musk himself replied to this comment with, “Freedom of speech means freedom of speech.”
Interestingly, this Twitter acquisition has taken Elon Musk, a brilliant innovator, the mind behind Tesla and the energetic determination behind SpaceX, and launched him to the forefront of a political conversation that many people (including myself) are surprised to see unfolding.
Musk has never been a poster child for conservatism, and yet many conservatives are touting him as the savior of Free Speech in western society. Perhaps, in their eagerness to fashion a savior to rescue them from this sorry state of affairs that the U.S. has fallen into, Musk is a breath of fresh air. And I’m not saying that he isn’t.
What I’m saying, is that Musk is not a conservative, and frankly, I don’t think he needs to be. In my opinion, Musk remains most effective being exactly who he has always been.
To further explore this topic, we need to look at what conservatism actually is, and what liberalism actually is. There is a dichotomy between what those two things are meant to be and what they actually are presently.
Everything in moderation
Musk has built the entire concept of Tesla, an electric car manufacturing company, on the idea that our world needs clean, green energy. He is passionate about combating climate change. For many conservatives, climate change is not a topic that they are concerned about, because the term itself has been so politically weaponized to justify expensive policies (The Green New Deal, for example) and to authorize higher taxes and regulations, all in the name of “saving the planet.”
While I agree that climate change itself is government-sponsored propaganda, I myself am always careful to define my terms on this subject. There is a difference between environmentalism and conservation. I support conservation and clean energy, sure. I actually really like what Musk’s company has done as a whole to provide competition to gas-powered vehicles. I just like to point out that there is a difference, for me, between common sense Biblical dominion over the Earth and what is being presented as climate change policy.
Musk has never made himself out to be a conservative, and he still is not. In fact, the very concept of conservatism vs. liberalism has so radically changed over the last few decades that Musk is hardly political at all, if you compare his views with how culture has changed in society.
This is a phenomenon that the billionaire himself has taken note of, posting a graphic to Twitter on Thursday to illustrate exactly how the American political landscape has changed:
He added that, “I strongly supported Obama for President, but today’s Democratic Party has been hijacked by extremists.” He was careful to augment that he was not a fan of either the “far left” or the “far right.” Rather, Musk is advocating for the political neutrality of Twitter itself as a platform, instead encouraging users to engage in political and ideological discourse to hash things out.
In this, Musk is not demonstrating either conservatism or liberalism. He is demonstrating basic common sense.
Left vs. Right
The definition of the word conservative is literally “traditional or restrained in style.” Liberal is literally defined as “favoring reform” or “open to new ideas.” For lack of a better term, liberal can also be interchanged with the word tolerant in many respects, because it purports to acquiesce to new ideas and concepts with open arms.
Conservatism in America today tends to embrace economic policies and social justice policies that are true to the historical and cultural roots of U.S. society. Social justice policies, actually, aren’t high on the list for conservatives, because they believe in maintaining certain elements of culture in order to keep the peace and protect people from what they might consider to be objective immorality. Often, conservatism is balanced with Evangelical Christianity and the core tenants that come along with those beliefs.
In theory, liberalism is the open embrace of new ideas and reform, preaching tolerance above all else. Liberals often tend to believe that government should be heavily involved in forming social justice policies in America, and they typically advocate for a type of welfare-statist environment, in which groups are socialized under a uniform government entity that provides resources and structure.
The very concept of liberalism itself is not compatible with what the left party in America has become. What we see now is a movement of people who believe that, for example, free speech is dangerous. Liberalism is predicated, however, on the idea that thoughts and concepts should be openly discussed and mulled over. Opposition to free speech does not allow this. In fact, the death of a narrative, or the suppression of one stream of information in favor of another, can be defined as a form of totalitarianism (literally: a system that prohibits the opposition of countering parties and countering information).
Therefore, I contend that there has been a slowly-evolving but now-seismic shift in the leftist party of America. Liberalism has been wholly redefined, because its original definition does not suit it at all. Liberalism, instead, has exchanged its own core tenants for a new set of ideals rooted in totalitarianism, which is little more than a superhighway to communism.
Where does this leave Americans today, who may have once embraced more progressive concepts or new ideologies and debated them openly with each other? Unfortunately, it leads only to confusion. This new, despotic American political landscape has been fashioned into a field of extremism, with the left having been “hijacked,” as Musk said, and conservatives vehemently ceding no territory at all because the political water has become so incredibly – and so dogmatically – muddied.
An Assembly of Demigods
What we see today is really a perversion of the original American system. I think, too, that many historians get this one wrong. In our haste to defend American heritage and to present a hallowed picture of our Founders, we often forget that the culture of the 1700s was not so terribly different than today’s. Not at all.
The Founding Fathers hotly debated, for example, how the American system should look. They were not divided into such black and white camps of leftists vs. conservatives. They were, instead, having public and political discourse and debating ideas, concepts, and theories. They did this openly.
In fact, many people seem to wholly brush the fact aside that our Founders’ political styles were similar to today’s, with some favoring big government, and others favoring very little. The Federalists and the Anti-Federalists quarreled and debated over this topic endlessly during the Constitutional Convention (Thomas Paine even wrote a book about his arguments in favor of a bigger centralized power, called The Federalist Papers).
Thomas Jefferson called the men who had assembled to have a dialogue on these concepts “an assembly of demigods,” recognizing the impressive veracity of these men to meet together and civilly discuss (albeit the discussions were quite heated at times) the core ideas that would shape America.
In a letter to Jonathan Jackson in 1780 (before the Constitutional Convention), John Adams wrote that he dreaded the very thought of a two-party system in America. He said, "There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution."
We can see that Adams’ dread was well-founded. Today, rather than debating ideas and concepts and theories openly and without fear, people defend party lines and party ideals. Americans are divided into color-coded camps of red and blue, and the disdain for each other runs deep. The fracture has been cataclysmic, and it has never been so apparent just how much damage it has done to intellectualism as a whole in the U.S. as when you take a moment to scroll through the comments of hive-minded college students who announce with deep-seated resentment: “Censorship is coming to an END on Twitter? How will people be protected from hate speech now? I’m deleting my Twitter account!”
People often tend to forget that freedom of speech does not necessarily negate freedom from the consequences, either. As a private platform, Elon Musk could easily institute any rules he wanted to. Instead, he is choosing to provide users with free speech. He doesn’t have to do that. And yet, here he is, doing something that, 15 years ago, would have won him the hearts of college students everywhere.
What has changed?
Well, definitions have changed. Party lines have changed. Red vs. blue has poisoned the well of American politics. No longer can men and women simply debate, openly, political ideas and beliefs and walk away as friends. No, instead, concepts are blindly fought for without any logic or comprehension of their ramifications. Loyalty to the cause – no matter how lost or faulty it may be – seems to be the goal here.
And how sad, because free-thinking used to be so highly valued.
People need to talk
The American media has divided its citizens into tribes. These tribes consist of us vs. them, minorities vs. white privilege, blacks vs. police, LGBTQ activists vs. feminists, feminists vs. men, and so on and so forth. There is a term for everything. There is a therapy and a label for everyone. Everyone has a cause, and because of this, no one seems to have a cause.
What this really boils down to is that public discourse must occur if American constitutional and representative democracy is going to survive. You cannot win an argument by walking away and slamming the door. You must be ready, willing, and able to debate.
I have had people, for example, approach me with heinous accusations or inflammatory rhetoric. When I respond with, “Okay, I hear what you’re saying and I disagree. Let’s sit down and talk about this and see if we can have a healthy conversation,” many people refuse. They will not debate because they simply do not know how. They cannot defend their ideas, because they’ve never been taught to. They can scream, stomp their feat, and repeat party lines about “intolerance” and “racism” and “bigotry,” but their reasoning is often circular – again, because they are not familiar with what it means to be challenged on their beliefs. Open, public debate and healthy discourse is not a weapon in their ideological arsenal. The concept of free speech actually frightens them, because it forces them to jump headfirst into totally uncharted waters.
This deficiency in the overall intellectual climate of young Americans today especially denigrates the broader level of intelligence in our country. Vivacious, lively, and healthy public discussions are imperative to maintaining freedom. Toddlers throw their toys against the wall and cry when their ideas are met with opposition. Many Americans today act the same way. This is not the path forward to restoring American dignity and ingenuity.
Elon Musk’s stated intent to further free speech by purchasing Twitter may be a signal that a tide is turning…that basic rights are making a comeback. That Americans have grown weary of the carefully curated flow of data trickling in from the multiple tributaries of the legacy media.
How far will this tide take us? That remains to be seen, but opening the floor for discussion is perhaps one of the most optimistic things that have happened in a long time, and we can, at the very least, be grateful to Elon Musk for being willing to take the heat for facilitating this opportunity.