Cuomo: Countering ideas more effective than censoring them

(NewsNation) — Good news: We are having a moment. The pendulum is swinging back, and the fringe is being pushed back where it belongs. But this is about more than the midterms. It is about what we want the dialogue to be about, and I will highlight this in several dynamics we are living through.

First, the midterms. No question there was a wave — just not for the GOP. Independent voters are the story. You are the “why” behind the lack of a red wave (and lack of more movement by Democrats). The numbers don’t lie. Nationally, almost one in three voters were non-party driven. Let’s go state by state in key races.

In Pennsylvania, independents favored John Fetterman by 18 points, and he was on track to win by 4.5. In Georgia, free agents favored Sen. Raphael Warnock by 28 points, and he topped Herschel Walker by 0.9% heading into the runoff. In Arizona, independents backed Mark Kelly by more than 30 points, and he at last count was beating Blake Masters by 5.3 points overall.

No question, free agents were change-makers. You are the fastest growing part of electorate. The polling missed priorities and some race outcomes because they oversampled partisans. Independents — free agents — are the reality. This country is not extreme. We are a center-left group on social issues and center-right on fiscal issues.

But to the extent the players insist on making midterms about the parties, here is the deal: The fringe parts of the GOP complaining how the lack of wave means something was off are right. They say the elections were rigged, that there was deception, lies and cheating. But they are the ones who rigged it! The election deniers and the lies about counting procedures and the pushing fear and division was all an effort to rig the races. In Republican strongholds, it worked. More than 160 won.

But more than 100 playing that game were punished. In competitive races — those which were not conservative strongholds — election deniers lost the overwhelming majority of the contests, according to a Washington Post analysis. They also lost all races they were not favored to win. No upsets. That’s at every level, from the House to the Senate, governor and secretary of state. Losers.

History was on their side, too. First-term incumbent presidents lose seats in almost every midterm, and economic concerns, especially inflation, was a key issue on their side. But they were also clearly exaggerating their case and thinking everyone is stupid and that you don’t remember the spending under GOP rule. The deficits, tax cuts that did not pay for themselves and gas prices and inflation are not as simple as “Biden is bad.”

Now, we do the Democrats. I know the news is filled with Democrats saying the midterms was proof they are seen as better. I give that a “yes, but.”

Yes, but you have a rough economy that your relative inaction and extra relief checks during the pandemic, and a failure to evolve on pandemic restrictions, made it worse. Yes, but losing less seats than expected is not a great bar for success. Yes, but how was this such a close battle with a GOP contaminated by fringe extremism? How did you not overwhelm? How did the Democrats not prove the exception to rule of losing seats given how extreme a group they are up against?

The answer is not because both parties are equally toxic. Not right now they aren’t. Defund the police and Black Lives Matter, Antifa (whatever that is) and AOC types don’t come close to the radicalism and rampant lies on the right. Also, you can’t complain about Democratic congressional investigations when Republicans are promising to do the same thing if they get the chance.

Now, we need to see the final balance of power to figure out what if anything can get done, because in the game of two-party play, opposition is a legitimate position. So, this change may just further freeze any real chance at legislative solutions.

That takes us to the meaning of this moment beyond the midterms, to our national conversation. Ye, Kyrie Irving and now Dave Chappelle. Their discussions of ugly and ignorant ideas about Jews are an extension of the culture wars, and we see an adjustment here, as well.

One quick fact check. Jewish people are or were concentrated in the entertainment business dating back to the Nickelodeon days; not the cartoons, but the cheap movies, simply because they were allowed to be there. Jewish people were boxed out of many businesses. They helped make Hollywood what it is. That’s why they are a presence. Same with the practice of law: they were blocked at many schools and firms, so they formed their own.

Same thing in finance. These were fields where you did not need political or corporate sponsorship. A simple Google search will remind you that Jewish people were also over-represented in the civil rights wars of the 1950s and 1960s. When it comes to white people who were in favor of the Black cause, Jewish people were at the top of the list. That remains true today in the fight for progress.

That is the way you combat antisemitism. Facts. Expose why the ideas that are ugly are wrong. Let the best idea win. Let the haters see they are a distinct minority who will be exposed and opposed. But what we see happening is something decidedly different.

The left seems to promote the no-platform approach. They advocate for suppressing controversial speech on college campuses, or call to censor publication of a book, despite its author being a Supreme Court justice, because they don’t like the author’s ruling on Roe v. Wade.

They have the right to make these moves, but is it the right move? It seems out of step with American mainstream values.

Now, is there a risk to allowing ugly ideas? Yes. Could it provoke violence? Yes. However, history suggests that what you ignore or bury, you may empower, as well. Some very ugly acts have come from what was festering just off the radar.

This suppression creates strength online. You hear it on the far right often: what they don’t want you to know about, Hunter Biden’s laptop, Hillary Clinton’s whatever. Even the QAnon kooks benefitted from not being blown up on the big stage soon enough. Look at the Fox News fury and the digital demagogues as proof of the power of being silenced by the mainstream media. I think Democrats make a mistake when they choose to cancel what they don’t like.

Did we even see this at play in the election? Maybe. Democrats often complain their candidates don’t fight as well and their messaging stinks. Maybe that is because they choose to dismiss arguments as unworthy of being addressed, rather than engaging and winning. It’s the idea that “the other side lies so we won’t engage.” Is that a mistake? Shouldn’t lies be countered and exposed, and used to your advantage?

Same with ugly ideas. Did canceling Ye make anything better? People have the right to condemn him just as he had the right to say things that are not right. But if the goal is to have the truth reinforced, is canceling him the best way?

And at what point does the remedy do more harm than the wrong? Does Irving, who isn’t like Ye, still not playing make things better, or does it promote a sense that the left dominates society? Does it feed the fringe’s victim mentality against the oppressive state?

On Saturday, Dave Chappelle hosted “Saturday Night Live” and said he is not sure about whether it is safe to do standup anymore. He didn’t touch his transgender drama, despite staffers on SNL not wanting to be in sketches with him. He didn’t touch it in any real way. He was playing safe, and that is scary.

Now, what he did say also warrants attention. He seemed to echo ideas that Ye put out there. He did not go as far and he made some of it funny, but yes, he made suggestions that Jewish people have outsized influence. It absolutely feeds animus even if it were true because it misses the context of why they work in a field and what that means about how influence is used.

Chapelle even said it’s not crazy to believe the “delusion” that Jewish people run show business, but also said it’s crazy to say it out loud. If it is a delusion as Chappelle says, that means it’s false belief that flies in the face of the evidence. So if it is a delusion, it is a crazy thing to think. So if it is not a crazy thing to think, as Chappelle suggested, then there must be a legitimate reason to believe it, and there isn’t.

That said, he’s not wrong about the second part: it is a crazy thing to say out loud. The key: why is it wrong to say it out loud? If that’s because you don’t think you should say things that are wrong and feed hate, and that’s not how you want to be seen because it’s offensive to what you want to be about as a person, then that’s a good choice.

But I’m not so sure that’s what Chappelle meant. I’m not so sure that what he was saying wasn’t that the same people it is not crazy to think certain things about will come after you and destroy you if you speak about them that way. “Whoever they are” as Chappelle put it.

So, people absolutely can come at Chappelle, and they should. But what’s the goal? To stop people from spreading antisemitism? Censoring them is not as effective as countering them. I believe that and I have been watching the most dangerous conversations in our society and around the world for a quarter of a century.

Chappelle was even more impressive than Irving or Ye because comedy is a signature of why our society is coveted the world over. Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle all mess with norms. They make us uncomfortable. They make us laugh at what we are not supposed to. They offend us. We have often attacked them too hard also, but we usually figure out that it is better to let them say what we don’t like and talk about why rather not allow anyone to talk at all.

Free speech is not a free pass, clearly.  We get to judge it all, say what is and is not funny, watch or not watch, buy or not buy, support or not support, vote for or vote against. That’s freedom. It’s freedom that embraces the choice to decide, not have choice limited based on an agenda, no matter how well meaning.

We restrict nudity and profanity, yet America is the porn and vulgar content capital of the world. Restriction rarely works with ideas. You can’t silence in our digital reality, anyway. You should test and take down ideas with no good basis. That is how ideas die. Information. Argument. Showing why so many reject an ugly idea. Limiting debate to only what you want to hear creates more trouble.

We are in this phase of “because I said so” mentality. That is akin to that uncomfortable phase of parenting. But unlike the rules within our household — where the parent should rule without justification — you are not children. You should not be dictated to by one side of the aisle or the spectrum of influence or thought.

What does it mean that the law is moving over time to allow more speech, but society, especially as controlled by the left, is getting more restrictive?

That take us to the last aspect of this moment we are having: the fate of the thunderdome of this reckoning, Twitter. My take? Twitter must die.

Its current form is much more hurtful than helpful, unless you are a fringe political player looking for cash flow. Elon Musk didn’t start the fire but he’s a good accelerant so far. The place has to change to somewhere where decency has its place. It is a private business that can have rules, and it needs them.

We know these companies can do a lot better with their algorithms to catch things that aren’t true and that are decidedly hateful. We know that because they take what we say to direct us to outlets and opportunities to buy things all the time. We need their technology to work for us in ways that don’t just help them sell things. If Twitter won’t do it, I really hope somebody else is going to launch an alternative, and soon, because I can’t wait to join it.

It is no coincidence that while politics is debated almost exclusively with insults instead of insights on Twitter, on the floor of Congress, you are not allowed to direct comments that are negative to any elected representative. I hope everybody now sees why they have that rule and have for a very long time. If you allow people to be nasty, that’s what they’re going to be most often and it will all but silence any rational debate. That’s what the majority wants: extreme reasonableness.

That is the moment we are in. There is a political and cultural declaration of independents, and I am here for it and can’t wait to see where it goes.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and not of NewsNation.


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