Good grief, Charlie Brown!
At some point, I’m sure, someone higher up than me at the Claremont Institute will issue an official statement on the events of January 6 and the fallout that continues to occur. Be it known that this is not that statement. This is just me, Spencer, responding in real time to a rather staggeringly consequential week.
I understand this moment as Big Tech’s political coming of age. Since the days when Milo Yiannopoulos and Alex Jones were banned from Twitter and Youtube, respectively, conservatives en masse have gotten not just concerned but seriously antsy about what social media means for the First Amendment. Some with greater foresight than I have been worried for much longer than that. But everyone with eyes to see knew we had reached a watershed when the New York Post was suspended from Twitter in the lead-up to last year’s election for the crime of *checks notes* breaking a story that threatened the Democratic candidate’s chances.
What we are up against here is a threat to our freedom of speech which, like digital technology itself, is not quite like anything we’ve seen before. On the one hand, digital media has furnished us with wholly new ways of relating to one another and engaging with the world. On the other, a small cadre of despotic tycoons has now achieved a wholly new kind of stranglehold on public discourse. It is a novel form of attack upon the American way of life, and it will require a novel form of response.
The monopoly that people like Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos now possess is not actually a financial monopoly. As such, the concern about it is not fundamentally an anti-trust concern, though anti-trust law may be relevant to breaking some of their control. In essence, what Big Tech has achieved is a monopoly on American attention and communications channels. As such it is a threat not merely to “muh free market” but, much more urgently, to the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, which is at risk of being rendered moot by the fact that a few men have unprecedented power to decide what we know, and when.
At what other time in American history has it been the case that, if the president of the United States wishes to communicate with the American people through the most efficacious and modern channels available, there exist two or three people who can simply tell him, “no”? In the era of newspapers, any editor who refused to run messages from the president would suffer in terms of audience relative to others who did print them. Ditto in the age of television for any news network that wasn’t showing the president’s speeches. Now Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram can axe the president entirely, nuke his communications channels, make it impossible for him to get his message out effectively, and expect to enjoy continued success.
I say that Big Tech has now come of age politically because, with the riot in the Capitol on January 6 as an excuse, Jack and the rest finally came down publicly on a side they had been gradually leaning toward for a long time. As others have noted, the real clincher was when Amazon kicked Parler, the alternative social media app, off of its web servers. It then became clearer than ever that this is not a free-market issue: you cannot simply “build your own app.” It will be zapped from the screens. Big Tech has made its choice and fessed up to what it has become: a para-government organization with unaccountable power that its owners intend to use in a manner favorable to their own interests and those of their political allies, rather than to the constitutional regime of the United States.
Needless to say, we are going to have to put a stop to this. Eventually, Big Tech’s power over American attention and communications will need to be broken at the federal level. But—and here we are tempted to despair—we no longer hold any federal power except maybe, slimly, in the courts. So for now, we are going to have to find other ways to fight.
It is my opinion that those ways do exist, and that more will present themselves as, God willing, we apply ourselves to finding them. This we have not yet done in an organized and sustained way because we have been addicted to sweeping, federal-level solutions while it seemed we might accomplish them. Now it is clear we will not, so we are forced to buckle down and diligently, locally at first, create resilient tech and media of our own.
Parler is currently taking a week to work around the server problems caused for it by Amazon and others. If it succeeds, it will be a major win for us, and an indication of the way forward. The name for what must now happen is “forced innovation”: backed into a corner as we have been, we must abandon the hope that our enemies in Big Tech will simply keep us as pets. They will not. They aim to destroy us. We must build infrastructure of our own.
It is not fair that we have to do so. It is not right or just. But those facts are, in a sense, irrelevant: we must do it all the same. What we do not have is political power at the national level. What we do have is people—the best people. Everyone says so. Over the past five years there has emerged a new coalition of worthies who are smarter, scrappier, and more resourceful than the arrogant tycoons whom we oppose. That is the coalition which has come to be called the New Right.
And the New Right, too, has come of age—though at present we are not acting like it. There’s no getting around the fact that outbursts of violence and lawlessness are childish, counterproductive stuff. However much I empathize with the desperation of those who have had their jobs stolen from them, whose concerns about election integrity have been disdainfully shouted down, and whose supposed leaders have abandoned them entirely, still: it does no good to translate that energy into a display of impotent force which will hurt our friends and leave our foes dining out for days. Doesn’t matter that the Left riots at will and with impunity. For now, them’s the facts on the ground. We have to fight the fight we’re in and account for the realities of the world, unfair as they are. And we have to fight smart, ideally without losing our souls in the process.
A tall order, I know, but I repeat: we have the best people. The New Right is of age, and must start acting like it. All the pieces are in place, and the mandate is there. The MAGA moms, the based Latinos, the old-school centrists radicalized out of their slumber by the venomous illiberalism of the Left, the tech bros and the gym rats and all the rest: we are united now by a common enemy and a worthy cause: make the First Amendment work again.
It’ll take tech skills that I don’t have—that’s okay, there are coders on the New Right. It’ll take daily work on local politics, and probably it’ll take primarying a lot of GOP candidates—that’s okay, the New Right has energy and ground game, just like the Left. It is a team effort, and it needs to start yesterday—festina lente, as Augustus said. Hurry slowly. Work daily. Remember that you were not promised ease or success but a broken, messed-up world and riches in the hereafter if you fight your way through as best you can.
In that sense, we are where we have always been: things suck, but God is good. Or, in the words of the great poet Kanye, “God is king, we the soldiers.” Victory is not assured in our day, but it is assured. And who knows but that unto this very hour you were born.