“All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.”
It’s not the most tasteful tweet, especially taken out of context. I’m not going to come out here and defend to the death professor George Ciccariello-Maher’s specific phrasing or wording; it was easily misinterpretable and somewhat inflammatory. It was also not, until recently, something that would have been worth addressing with an article.
For context: “White Genocide” here refers to a specific white supremacist term which generally encompasses things like affirmative action, interracial marriage, desegregation, anti-lynching laws, the Emancipation Proclamation, resistance to the Klan, resistance to neo-Nazi movements, basically anything which detracts from a vision of a pure Aryan master race dominating the globe or whatever it is they want. It doesn’t actually mean the professor wishes to go around having all the white people killed. It is emphatically not hate speech but could certainly be seen as such out of context. But I digress.
An article on Breitbart.com mentioned the tweet and also referenced a few of the professor’s other tweets, mentioning that he was an actual communist, disliked the president-elect, and, horror of horrors, a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement. Also mentioned: “As Thomas Lifson notes, this communist professor ‘teaches’ [scare quotes theirs] at a university that charges over $34,000 in tuition a year.”
Lifson himself wrote an article on AmericanThinker.com, which was picked up by Breitbart. His article follows a similar pattern: implying that Drexel students will be “triggered” by his statements, implying the professor is racist, insulting the professor’s’ research history, insulting his political alignments in light of his research history, insulting his facial hair, insulting his coffee order, etc.
While I agree with Lifson’s assessment that Drexel’s tuition is exorbitant, I don’t find a piece which is entirely a character assassination, as both of the articles referenced above are, to be very good journalism. It’s not “fake news” per se, it’s just intellectually lazy. (That goes without saying, of course; intellectually-thorough conservative discourse, if there ever was such a thing, died with William F. Buckley Jr.)
In response to Breitbart and the media firestorm, the University released a rather lame statement through its propaganda arm, DrexelNow, on Christmas Day:
“Drexel became aware today of associate professor George Ciccariello-Maher’s inflammatory tweet, which was posted on his personal Twitter account on Dec. 24, 2016. While the University recognizes the right of its faculty to freely express their thoughts and opinions in public debate, professor Ciccariello-Maher’s comments are utterly reprehensible, deeply disturbing, and do not in any way reflect the values of the University. The University is taking this situation very seriously. We contacted Ciccariello-Maher today to arrange a meeting to discuss this matter in detail.”
I’m sure that made Ciccariello-Maher’s Christmas extra-special.
Let’s lay out the facts of the case: Ciccariello-Maher expressed a political opinion, on his own time, representing himself and not the University. It was picked up by a fringe alt-right website, who ran a character assassination piece on him, which in turn was picked up by Breitbart.com, which ran another character assassination piece on him, prompting a media circus, a public rebuke from the University plus a nice phone call on Christmas Day and undoubtedly untold amounts of online harassment. This was all caused by two websites which no one would think to have called relevant or legitimate until the tragic events of 11/9/2016.
What is the lesson in all of this? Is it “don’t tweet dumb things?” If you think that, you’re wrong: the president-elect got where he is today by tweeting dumb things. Dumb tweets are the new diplomacy and anyone who thinks otherwise is a loser. Sad!
The lesson is this: the concerted attack on free speech is here, it is loud, it is effective, and worst of all, it is grassroots. Those who were expecting a blatantly unconstitutional edict from the congress declaring speech unfavorable to the president to be libelous and punishable by law will be disappointed — the attack is coming from below, from the true believers. Internet trolls can and will pick up your tweet, your Facebook status, your repost from Marxist Memes, and send them to alt-right blogs. They can in turn write character assassination articles, which can in turn be picked up by Breitbart.com and the likes, which in turn can result in undesirable publicity for you, and for your employer, resulting in discipline and even dismissal. If at this point I sound unreasonable, I am only repeating the series of events which happened to the professor.
It is wise to remember in the next four to eight years, or more, the definition of fascism frequently attributed to Benito Mussolini (though never actually ever said by him): “The merger of state and corporate power.” This is particularly relevant with the president-elect’s choice of ExxonMobil for secretary of state and Goldman Sachs for securities and exchange Commissioner, but in addition to the blatant and obvious corporate influence in the new administration, there are more subtle power dynamics at play. The Congress shall pass no law abridging freedom of speech, and you will probably never be hauled into prison for the mere act of disagreeing with, disparaging, or otherwise defaming the president or his policies in a public forum.
However, your livelihood, your housing, your healthcare, your security, your ability to live your life as you want it, does not derive from the state. It derives from your means of income, be it a salary or wage from your employer, profits from your business, income from your investments, what have you. Your employer or your customers have leverage over you. Your political speech will become a liability — it won’t land you in jail, but it can and will land you in the poorhouse. Your life can be turned upside-down, leaving you destitute from something your employer read in the news, whether that news be fake, misleading, or (heaven forbid) true. With employment protections likely being rolled back, even industry-wide blacklisting may return — ruining your chances at financial stability.
Is there a solution? We can’t legislate against anonymous internet trolls, certainly not in this political climate. We can’t, for our best efforts, effectively legislate against discrimination in hiring and firing even in a politically-favorable climate. We could start a popular revolution and bring about Full Communism Now, but it seems unlikely. The only solution is to resist any way we can. Post political statuses. Make political tweets. Do political actions. Join the Democratic Party. Join the Socialist Party. Let your views be known, and let them be known loud: they can’t drown out or fire all of us.
If, political speech, even if it is not strictly phrased in a politically correct or tasteful way (i.e. “White Genocide,” or, “eat the flesh of the capitalists,” or a headline reading “Bernie Sanders 2016, Full Communism Now, Hail Satan”) is now grounds for discipline or dismissal by your employer, than by all means blacklist me now so I can get it over with. I stand with professor George Ciccariello-Maher.
Justin Roczniak is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of The Triangle. He can be contacted at [email protected]