Ta-Nehisi Coates has an outstanding column about how the real objection to “cancel culture” is that the punching is supposed to be down:
We are being told of the evils of “cancel culture,” a new scourge that enforces purity, banishes dissent and squelches sober and reasoned debate. But cancel culture is not new. A brief accounting of the illustrious and venerable ranks of blocked and dragged Americans encompasses Sarah Good, Elijah Lovejoy, Ida B. Wells, Dalton Trumbo, Paul Robeson and the Dixie Chicks. What was the Compromise of 1877, which ended Reconstruction, but the cancellation of the black South? What were the detention camps during World War II but the racist muting of Japanese-Americans and their basic rights?
Thus any sober assessment of this history must conclude that the present objections to cancel culture are not so much concerned with the weapon, as the kind of people who now seek to wield it.
Until recently, cancellation flowed exclusively downward, from the powerful to the powerless. But now, in this era of fallen gatekeepers, where anyone with a Twitter handle or Facebook account can be a publisher, banishment has been ostensibly democratized. This development has occasioned much consternation. Scarcely a day goes by without America’s college students being reproached for rejecting poorly rendered sushi or spurning the defenders of statutory rape.
Speaking as one who has felt the hot wrath of Twitter, I am not without sympathy for the morally panicked who fear that the kids are not all right. But it is good to remember that while every generation believes that it invented sex, every preceding generation forgets that it once believed the same thing.
Besides, all cancellations are not created equal. Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Brett Kavanaugh at his Supreme Court confirmation hearings of sexual assault, was inundated with death threats, forced from her home and driven into hiding. Dave Chappelle, accused of transphobia, collected millions from Netflix for a series of stand-up specials and got his feelings hurt.
And yet it seems Mr. Kaepernick’s sin — refusing to stand for the national anthem — offends the N.F.L.’s suddenly delicate sensibilities. And while the influence of hashtags should not be underestimated, the N.F.L. has a different power at its fingertips: the power of monopoly. Effectively, Mr. Kaepernick’s cancellation bars him from making a living at a skill he has been honing since childhood.
This also explains why (frequently apocryphal) CAMPUS PC IS OUT OF CONTROL tales receive such a radically disproportionate amount of attention. Not to mention how the First Amendment is now more likely to be invoked protect the powerful than the marginalized.