January 6, 2021 – Whose Benefit?

Over the course of the past year and more I have been writing a series of reflections on ‘social justice’ as the right order of human society. Nevertheless, in view of the events of historic importance that took place in Washington, D.C. on January 6, I will set aside that theoretical discussion to offer some reflections on what is actually taking place.

These reflections will be expressions of my own opinion, in the light of the word of God. They necessarily rely on a limited knowledge of facts – which is always the case with our knowledge of contemporary events. I offer them as a counter to the very powerful narrative that is being presented in the major news media.

I know very well that in this parish there are people have been strong supporters of President Trump, others who have been strong opponents, and others who have been very conflicted. Nevertheless, apart from the actual events we need to ask: Who is benefiting from all this?

This raises matters that should be of concern to everyone.

The official results of the 2020 election would normally not indicate a massive power shift on the national level. One party has gained both the presidency, with no more than 51.4% of the popular vote, has gained control of the Senate only by having the Vice-President as the tie breaker, and has had their majority in the House of Representatives reduced. Nevertheless, the events of January 6 have suddenly given that party a massive power advantage that it shows every sign of wanting to exploit to the maximum.

So, the first concern is this: whether someone is happy to see Trump go or not, with the Republican Party in disarray and the Democratic Party showing every sign of wanting to destroy their opponents, are we in danger of ending up with a one-party system? Would that be a good thing?

Not only has there been a massive shift of power to the Democratic Party, in disproportion to the actual election results, but also there has been a massive display of power by Big Tech (Facebook, Twitter, Google, Apple, and Amazon in particular) which while it favors the Democratic Party, should be a matter of concern in its own right.

Let us consider this sequence of events: Twitter and Facebook both suspended Trump’s personal account. All the traditional type news sources have become dependent on Twitter and Facebook to get their stories out to a large audience. Parler has presented itself as an alternative to Twitter and has refused to exercise the sort of censorship that Twitter and Facebook have engaged in. But now large audiences are reached by way of apps on cell phones and tablets. So, the next step was that both Google and Apple removed Parler from their platforms, thereby blocking Trump from using that route (and many others along with him). Still, Parler has a website. Nevertheless, the website needs to be hosted by servers. Parler’s website was hosted by Amazon servers. Amazon cancelled its contract with Parler, thereby taking down its website.

In other words, as I write these words, the big five of Big Tech have effectively silenced the man who is still the sitting President of the United States, as well as anyone who might still support him. Along the way they may have put a competitor out of business. That is huge. If they can silence the President in this fashion, they can silence anyone they want.

As diverse a group as Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), President of Mexico, Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, Alexei Navalny, Putin’s chief adversary in Russia, and the ACLU, have all expressed concern about Twitter’s action.

Americans are guaranteed freedom of speech in relation to the government, but the Big Tech companies are technically private entities and so have no obligation to guarantee free speech. Yet, they have just demonstrated that free speech is effectively impossible, unless they allow it. You might for the time be allowed to say what you want within a private circle, but if you try to reach a large audience, you must stay within the limits of what Big Tech will allow.

Right now, the Democratic Party seems to be fine with that since the power of Big Tech is being exercised on their behalf. Nevertheless, Big Tech has actually just demonstrated that it is more powerful than the most powerful government on the planet. Big Tech may be supporting the Democratic Party, but it is more powerful than the Democratic Party. That should be a concern to everyone. The government is theoretically accountable to the people; Big Tech is accountable to no one.

Now, previously I have argued that free speech does indeed need some limit, which also means that as a matter of principle, censorship is not necessarily bad. Some speech should be censored – pornography is a good example.

Nevertheless, in a pluralistic society, in which there is no consensus about the true, the good, and the beautiful, there will be no consensus about the principles that determine what should be censored and what should be tolerated. The only practical limitations on speech would be those worked out through the political and judicial processes. Big Tech has short-circuited that process and has become the unilateral arbiter of what speech is and is not allowed.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.