It happened just 18 months ago, but it seems more like a lifetime, in a far different version of America – as a new poll indicates.
Back then, former President Barack Obama, speaking at a summit of on youth activism hosted by his own foundation, denounced Cancel Culture.
“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff,” said Obama, according to The New York Times, “you should get over that quickly.”
“The world is messy; there are ambiguities,” he added. “People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and share certain things with you.”
Obama continued, saying young people, driven by social media, seem to believe that change only results from being “as judgmental as possible about other people.”
“That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change,” Obama argued. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”
Those comments drew applause from many, even from the right. For example, conservative pundit Ann Coulter, who dishes snark with the best of them, tweeted, “Good for Obama. (Not sarcastic!)”
But Obama’s words now seem like an airliner’s contrails: distant, smoky, and both forgotten and disappearing almost upon being seen.
And we’ve gotten worse, as indicated by a new Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey reported exclusively in The Hill.
When Obama spoke, Cancel Culture was still too vague to be defined. Now, however, according to the poll, that 64 percent of people said Cancel Culture is “growing” and a threat to their freedom, while 36 percent rejected that notion.
In addition, The Hill noted, 68 percent of Americans described Cancel Culture as a “big” or “moderate” problem, while 20 percent characterized it as “small,” and 13 percent said it is no problem at all.
The poll further found that 54 percent said they were “concerned” that if they expressed their opinions online that they would be banned or fired, while 46 percent were not concerned.
Mark Penn, a former Clinton adviser and now the director of the Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey, told The Hill, “It is a chilling finding that most people in the country now are afraid they would be fired if they expressed their real views on social media.”
“The public generally gives negative ratings to social media companies and sees the movement as more about censorship rather than trying to correct wrongs” – just as Obama suggested.
Added Penn, “It is growing as a national issue.”
This, of course, was detailed by another poll taken last summer by the libertarian Cato Institute.
Cato learned that from its respondents that 62 percent of people were afraid to speak out on politics because “others might find them offensive.” That was up four points from 2017.
And, not surprisingly, the woke that Obama criticized were one who felt freest to unload their thoughts.
Cato reported, ”Majorities of Democrats (52%), independents (59%) and Republicans (77%) all agree they have political opinions they are afraid to share. Strong liberals stand out, however, as the only political group who feel they can express themselves: 58% of staunch liberals feel they can say what they believe.”
The Hill pointed out that more specifics of the Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll would be released later this week. It would not be surprising, in contrast to Obama and as we watch more careers shattered, that it replicates Cato’s findings that only the woke can go for broke when talking about politics.