Republicans and conservatives are whining about being 'silenced,' but these complaints are completely detached from reality

  • Conservatives have complained about being "silenced" in the wake of Trump's boot from Twitter and the Parler ban.
  • But Fox News, the highest rated news channel, is conservative and GOP officials and conservative pundits have a variety of outlets to air their grievances.
  • Instead of complaining about being "silenced," conservatives should address the reasons why their rhetoric is seen as toxic: the violence and far-right elements of their party.
  • Michael Gordon is a longtime Democratic strategist, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, and the principal for the strategic-communications firm Group Gordon.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Conservatives love to whine about the mainstream media and how unfair it is. Yet their cable channel – Fox News – beat both CNN and MSNBC in 2020 as the most-watched cable news channel in history. But it's still a good talking point to keep their viewers riveted.

They also love to whimper about Silicon Valley being the "thought police" for conservative ideas. But Twitter let President Donald Trump violate the platform's policies day after day, year after year, until the violent riots on January 6. 

So it's clear that all of the conservative claims of being "silenced," are not good faith arguments for free speech but rather a way to stoke anger, gain attention, and raise money.

Late but not little

As soon as Twitter announced that it was permanently banning Trump due to his incitement of the Capitol riots and possibly more, the majority of America – which is pro-unity, anti-bully –  breathed a sigh of relief.  

But among right wingers, the decision triggered a wave of teeth gnashing. Their focus was not on the carnage at the Capitol – but on the fact that Trump's middle finger had been removed by Silicon Valley. Pundits and GOP lawmakers were sobbing as they said that it was California vs the conservatives, that their free speech was being violated, that the crackdown on QAnon and spam accounts cost them followers.

But the issue is not left vs right. It's right vs wrong. After years violating Twitter policy and posting dangerous rhetoric, Trump was finally stopped because the danger became too clear: Americans died because of his words. It's not conservative principles that caused social media to take a stand. It's violence, sedition, incitement.

So unless the Republican party claims to be synonymous with the riot on the Hill, then there is a huge bright line between conservative speech that should be debated and violent action that should be destroyed.

Parler is not shut down because it's right wing. It's shut down because it became the place to plan more violent attacks. This is not about free speech. Twitter and its ilk remain platforms for vigorous – and then some – debate.

If Republicans really don't want to be banned from social media, they need to stop associating with the alt-right, the fringe, the militia extremists. Those groups are the energy of the Republican party, but they're focused on mob violence, not conservative principles.

Through the looking glass

In addition to complaining about social media, conservatives are now busy cautioning Democrats against pursuing impeachment because it will "inspire more violence." Republicans of course are pretending shamelessly that their rhetoric and complicity didn't incite the violence at the Capitol. Instead of grappling with the poison their party spewed to rile up their supporters in the first place, they're using muscle memory to blame the other side. 

If Republicans are serious about turning down the temperature of our national debate, they should put their house in order. That starts with real consequences for the members of their party most responsible for what happened, including Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz as well as the dozens of House lawmakers like Mo Brooks, who objected to the Electoral College count and helped foment the riot. At the top of the list of people to purge sits the president. Not holding people to account for their actions is basically giving them a free pass to do it again.

Far from cautioning impeachment, if they value our country and the Constitution as much as they say they do, they should be endorsing it – as 10 GOP House members did on Wednesday in the most bipartisan impeachment vote in history.

All media is local

Conservatives' other favorite talking point is criticizing the mainstream media and how they're not heard.  Fox is regularly the dominant cable station – not just cable news but all of cable. Fox' politics is definitely out of the mainstream, but its influence is right in the bullseye.

Possibly more important, the conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group has eaten up local TV stations at bargain prices and is using its big footprint to promote a right wing agenda. Sinclair-owned stations feature anchors forced to read the same scripts filled with Republican talking points and stories sourced from QAnon conspiracy theories. While they failed in their latest acquisition bid – to take over Tribune Media, which would have put them in 73% of US households – they remain incredibly influential and are not likely to give up on expanding that influence.

Over the past 20 years, the right wing has been the dominating influential force of our airwaves, and the center and left of center have been playing catch up. It's affected our politics and our policy, and we saw the extreme taken to the extreme this month.

Conservatives will continue to cry about these issues because it's a successful ploy to keep their audience engaged and enraged in our profitable culture of division. But let's not let them fool us any more. We've paid that price already.

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