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Ruben Navarrette: Cancel culture means more freedom, not less

Summary: Cancel culture is dead. Long live cancel culture!

Ruben Navarrette column
Ruben Navarrette commentary
Tribune graphic

SAN DIEGO — I've learned to stop worrying and love cancel culture.

That's because I've realized the real poison coursing through the veins of our society is not theatrics and tantrums. We will survive the tearing down of confederate statues by leftists who believe the monuments celebrate racism, and the burning of tennis shoes by conservatives upset over Nike's decision in 2019 to pull a sneaker honoring the American flag sewn by Betsy Ross.

Nor is the problem due to threatened boycotts of Disney, Amazon, CNN and Netflix by the right, or Hallmark, Chick-Fil-A, the Salvation Army or Goya Foods by the left. The leaders of these companies have the right to free expression. So do those who refuse to buy their products, and those who push back by vowing to buy twice as many products. Free speech all around.

The real threat to the glue that holds our country together is that Americans — parents, politicians, media, CEOs, the whole lot — are raising a generation of teenagers and 20-somethings to believe that they have the antibodies that make them immune to consequences.

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Look around. At both ends of the political spectrum, everyone is getting a free ride. Protesters riot, loot, burn buildings and threaten police officers; yet no one is arrested, and whole neighborhoods are surrendered to the radicals. Roger Stone — a political "fixer" and longtime confidant to President Donald Trump — is tried and convicted of witness tampering, obstruction of justice and lying to investigators; yet, days before Stone is to go to prison, Trump commutes his sentence. No accountability, no consequences.

From watching all this unfold, our children learn that blame is overrated, sanctions are unnecessary, and any type of punishment represents a failing on the part of the punisher and not the culpability of the punished.

What can save us? Only one thing: cancel culture. In fact, more people, places and things need to get canceled when they color outside the lines.

Companies are very protective of their brands, and they have the right to socially distance from celebrities, entertainers, athletes and thought leaders who besmirch their good name or otherwise reflect poorly on them.

Thomas Jefferson wrote of inalienable rights. But he surely did not have in mind the right to a cushy job or lucrative endorsements. We all have the right to speak our minds, but those who associate with us also have the right to request that we don't stand too close to them when we do it.

In 1997, professional golfer Fuzzy Zoeller lost his job as a spokesman with Kmart after he called Tiger Woods — a grown man who had just won the Masters — a "little boy" and joked that the new champion should refrain from requesting that the kitchen staff at the Augusta National Club serve "fried chicken … and collard greens" at a ceremonial dinner.

In 2017, comedienne Kathy Griffin had tour dates canceled, endorsement deals stripped, and a co-hosting gig on CNN terminated. All because she posed for a photo shoot holding a mask that was made up to look like Trump's severed and bloody head.

And more recently, Nick Cannon lost a working relationship with ViacomCBS that dated back to the 1990's and had a planned daytime talk show pushed back to next year. This after the musician and TV host made anti-Semitic remarks on his YouTube podcast, "Cannon's Class."

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It's all good. If you want to spout off in ways that some folks are going to find offensive, you have to pay the piper.

I know what you're thinking. Would I feel differently if this happened to me? No need to speculate. It has happened to me — on eight different occasions. That's how many times — in 30 years of navigating the choppy waters of media — I've been fired, laid off, pushed out, not had my contract renewed, or been escorted from the building.

To quote Winnie the Pooh, it all comes from liking journalism so much. Enough that I often get caught in the act of committing it.

Once, while working as a metro columnist at a large newspaper, I got my hands on some incriminating documents that did not reflect well on one of the top Hispanic leaders in the state. After interviewing the pooh-bah,who tried to convince me there was no story, I wrote a column. Turns out the bigwig played cards with the paper's publisher. I lost the column, and soon thereafter resigned. Everyone had their say that time.

Cancel culture is dead. Long live cancel culture!

Ruben Navarrette can be reached at ruben@wctrib.com.

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