The phrase cancel culture has grown by leaps and bounds in meaning and scope over the past few years. It's now being wielded by folks on the right to chastise liberals who wish to socially ostracize and punish people and organizations that deviate from their values.
It's also a clever rhetorical way to diminish the words of your detractors.
Now, there is good reason to be wary of Twitter mobs and purity police that aggressively prowl social media to silence and punish those for falling short of progressive ideals.
There's the story of the University of Southern California professor who was put on leave for saying a Chinese word that sounded like the N-word. There have been numerous instances of students on college campuses shouting down speakers with whom they disagree, suppressing their right to share their views.
There was also a watershed moment in 2020 when a fight between the younger, progressive generation of reporters at The New York Times fought hard against its senior, classically liberal editorial staff about whether to publish an op-ed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton.
The progressives were against giving Cotton, a right-wing extremist, a platform to share his views. Thus, canceling him. Whereas the older staff thought it was editorially ethical to share the voice of an elected official, regardless of how repugnant his views.
The excesses of cancel culture have worked to have a chilling effect on public discourse. Comedians are scared to make jokes for fear of being taken seriously and public figures have to prepare for a backlash if they say anything that violates progressive orthodoxy.
Cancel culture has brought up an important debate over how we weigh and challenge ideas in a new world where everyone has a microphone. That debate is far from settled.
However, conservatives who lament the rise of cancel culture should be careful not to confuse it with being held responsible for their words and deeds.
A case in point is MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell.
Lindell is a self-made man who overcame crack cocaine addiction to create a company that brings in over $300 million a year. He's become a household name for creating what he calls "The Most Comfortable Pillow You'll Ever Own" and starring in commercials featuring his trademark thick mustache, obvious die-job, and oversized crucifix.
The pillow magnate has also made himself one of the more visible members of Trumplandia, something that would come around to bite his business on the bottom line this week.
Recently, he co-chaired the president's reelection camping in Minnesota and has helped fund Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood. After Trump lost the election in November, they peddled the false theory that he was the victim of voter fraud.
This conspiracy theory was a catalyst for the hundreds of insurgents who swarmed the Capitol building on January 6, resulting in the deaths of five people.
Lindell has claimed that the insurrectionists were Antifa activists, not Trump supporters.
This was filmed next to the capital by a family member! Antifa is responsible for the attacks... they already have… https://t.co/BCGq5P9fog— Mike Lindell (@Mike Lindell)1609991620.0
Last Friday, he took a meeting with Trump where he was photographed holding some papers with intriguing notes.
The notes seemed to suggest the president should invoke "martial law if necessary" and the "Insurrection Act," which mobilizes the military and national guard.
This meeting was the last straw for many of Lindell's business ties.
@MyPillowUSA CEO Michael Lindell shows off his notes before going into the West Wing at the White House on Friday,… https://t.co/zSFxpnRVbI— Jabin Botsford (@Jabin Botsford)1610744426.0
Over the past few days, Wayfair, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl's, and H-E-B have all dropped MyPillow products, leading Lendell to claim he's the victim of cancel culture.
"They've attacked my company," right-wing media channel Right Side Broadcasting. "They've attacked companies that I've worked with. ... They're trying to cancel me out."
"I just got off the phone with Bed Bath & Beyond ... They're dropping MyPillow," Lindell added.
MyPillow CEO says activists pressuring stores to drop product are trying to "cancel me" https://t.co/wjiHzlCsCj https://t.co/796c06Km0x— The Hill (@The Hill)1611073142.0
His sentiments echo that of the president's son, Eric, who claims that the countless companies that have cut ties with his father after the insurrection are simply participating in cancel culture.
"We live in the age of cancel culture, but this isn't something that started this week. It is something that they have been doing to us and others for years," Eric Trump told The Associated Press. "If you disagree with them, if they don't like you, they try and cancel you."
Sorry, Mike and Eric, it's not cancel culture, it's a good old-fashioned boycott.
Lindell should only blame himself for his business woes. He publicly aligned himself with a historically unpopular political figure and remained by his side after he incited an insurrection at the Capitol building.
He had to know he was putting his business in jeopardy by publicly supporting a man who is one of the most disliked in the country.
Lindell isn't the victim of a woke mob, he's a perfect example of what happens in a properly functioning capitalist system.
Republicans love the free-market. So, Lindell shouldn't have a problem accepting what happens when you make your band toxic after associating it with violent, right-wing extremists.
One of the freedoms of the capitalist system is getting to vote with your wallet. Companies and consumers don't want to support a brand that's fronted by a guy who supported an attempt to overthrow the U.S government. They'd rather give their hard-earned pillow money to someone else.
Historically, Republicans have always claimed to be champions of personal responsibility. Blaming cancel culture for your failures may be an easy way to placate a base of culture warriors. But in the end, it doesn't stop you from having to face the real-world consequences for your actions.