How the Vacuum of Leadership in Washington led to Rage Online

Last week Texas shook the world with a surprise law that circumvented Roe v. Wade through the civil courts. The left, especially online, to the suprise of no one, was apoplectic. Less than a week later, Biden upped the ante by signing an executive order mandating Covid vaccines for employees of companies with over 100 employees, which, not surprisingly, was decried as unconstitutional by conservatives.

I think both sides can agree that the culture wars have intensified in recent years, especially since 2014-2016 or so.

An April 2021 episode from the Joe Rogan Experience in which Mr. Rogan dissuaded young people from being vaccinated, I think encapsulates why the left has become so extreme, but more specifically, so nettlesome and overbearing. As Scott has repeatedly observed, decades ago the left seemed much more concerned about ‘big issues’ such as global warming, child labor, animal rights, or environmentalism, but now they have become hall monitors, seeking not to change the world or society but rather to micromanage it at the individual level. To borrow a cliched saying, the left has gone from ‘raging against the machine’ to raging for/with the machine.

So back to Joe Rogan, the clip went viral despite being behind Spotify’s paywall, and in response Dr. Fauci very sternly rebuked Mr. Rogan…and that was it. If this were China, the heath authorities (or the Chinese equivalent) could have just arrested him, but in America all the authorities could do was say ‘tsk-tsk you are wrong’. Ah, yes, the heath authorities, these paragons of competence and certitude that flipped-flopped on masks early on during the pandemic, and whose perceived fecklessness has open them to as much criticsm by the left for not doing enough, as crticism by the right for doing too much. The left does not want Rogan to be lectured to, they want him taken away, vanquished. And Rogan is smart enough to keep much, if not all, of his Covid/vaccine skepticism behind the safety of his paywall, so there is little the social media companies can do, and this makes the activist-left (not the wealthy/tech-left) mad.

I see all these NGOs , non-profits, the media (such as Vice), and academics as filling in a sort of role that the goverment is unable/unwilling to do, by trying to hold such companies and individuals accountable. Thousands of users on social media collectively act as a volunteer police department of sorts, to patrol online discourse for ‘Covid misinformation’, ‘hate speech’, or anything that calls into doubt the validity of the 2020 election. What the government does is quite limited despite how much it spends, and with the exception of egregious violations like blatant fraud or discrimination, tends to take a hands-off approach.

Short of a once-in-a century an pandemic, a once-in-a century financial crisis, or the-worst-terrorist-attack-on-US-soil-ever, the government ,for all its size, cannot be bothered to care all that much. And I think this inaction drives both sides mad becase of all the wasted potential and dithering (“we’re spending trillions of dollars and we cannot even decide if masks work or not!”), but especially the left. Hence, we see the left taking the matters into their own hands at the individual level, because the government has long since abdicated its role as a force of social change.

The article Why can’t we mandate anything? I think also describes the problem well: the US government is bigger than ever but also more impotent than ever too. A multi-generational power and leadership vacuum–with neither side laying claim to any authority–has lead to lowered overall national confidence in social institutions and diminished trust between individuals, hence people attacking and tattling on each other online as a way to channel their frustrations at a system seemingly impervious to change or progress. That’s how we get popular Reddit communities celebrating the deaths of vaccine-denying Covid patients, because stern warnings from ‘health officials’ or ‘Covid misinformation’ disclaimers on Facebook posts, does not quench that desire for retribution like seeing your political eneemies literally die.