The term “cancel culture” has come to refer to the process of ostracism, penalization, and censorship that’s imposed by American cultural institutions on those who publicly espouse viewpoints hateful and offensive to the political left. In this respect, “cancel culture” is an artifact of the domestic culture wars. On issues from COVID-19 to election fraud to climate change, many Americans—notably patriots, Christians, and conservatives—have been silenced, fired, or publicly shamed for deviating from the left’s narrow party line.
But now, it seems, cancel culture has expanded its tentacles to target, well, the entire nation of Russia and all things Russian. This by itself is a surprise. During the Cold War, and even in its aftermath, America was able to confine domestic disputes among political factions to its own boundaries. Foreign policy, however, was an entirely different matter, pursued through the normal techniques of negotiation, diplomatic isolation, proxy wars, trade sanctions, and in some cases an Olympic boycott.
It’s worth noting that sanctions and boycotts have a reciprocal effect. When President Jimmy Carter boycotted the 1980 Olympics, in protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the previous year, this meant that American athletes stayed away. The Olympics went on. In a sense, America cancelled itself. Trade sanctions, by definition, hurt both parties for the simple reason that trade reciprocally benefits both parties. In refusing to buy Russian oil, for example, America risks paying higher prices since it’s cutting off as a potential supplier the third largest oil-producing nation in the world.
The deployment of cancel culture toward Russia is, to my knowledge, the first case of exporting a domestic weapon of political subjugation into the domain of foreign policy. In effect, the Biden administration and the left are trying to do to Russia precisely what they’re attempting to do to political conservatives, namely, to bend them into conformity. Somehow the left thinks that it can punish Vladimir Putin, his allies, and pretty much anyone who doesn’t openly condemn his actions, with the same cudgel it has used on Alex Jones, Laura Loomer, and Nick Fuentes.
“The battle against Russia is a new frontier of American policymaking,” notes the editors of Revolver News, an online site. “It is the globalization of BLM tactics and cancel culture. It is George Floydism converted from domestic cudgel to foreign policy doctrine.” And since wokeism is no longer confined to the United States and has spread its suffocating tentacles throughout the West, other Western countries—the European nations, the Canadians, even the Australians—are all getting into the game of cancelling Russia.
There’s something a little comic about all this, because of the naivete of the underlying assumption. Is Putin really going to change his mind about defeating Ukraine because U.S. credit card companies won’t do business in Russia? (Putin has coolly switched to Chinese companies.) Or because U.S. banks are going to limit his international transfers? Or because Russian news outlets are deplatformed on social media?
The situation becomes even more absurd when one of the world’s great chess players, Sergei Karjakin, is banned from chess tournaments because he tweeted out that he supports the Russian president, the Russian people, and the Russian Army. This viewpoint is political boilerplate; if India invaded Pakistan tomorrow—whatever the justification, or with no justification at all—99 percent of Indians will affirm that they support the Indian prime minister, the Indian people, and the Indian Army.
A Russian singer is prevented from performing at the Met because she refuses to speak out against Putin. (Evidently even silence is not enough. Even cultural figures who want to stay away from politics are required, to avoid cancellation, to parrot the Biden administration’s position.) In Italy, the University of Milano-Bicocca blocked a class on Dostoevsky because, well, you know. Later the school changed its mind, but on the condition that the class include “Ukrainian literature,” even though very few people outside Ukraine know what that is.
There’s more. An international cat federation has shut out the participation of Russian cats in the apparent belief that animals, too, must share in Putin’s ignominy. Taking this logic to its reductio ad absurdum, a global tree festival has excluded the entry of a Russian tree planted almost two centuries ago by the great Russian writer Ivan Turgenev.
While we can be sure that Putin is laughing—well, at least chuckling—over all this pathetic virtue signaling, at the same time it does impose unnecessary and unfair suffering on the Russian people. Cancel culture ends up hitting a target, but it’s the wrong target. It’s the Russian people who find that they can’t easily travel, they’re obstructed in doing ordinary banking transactions, they’re cut off in some cases from the employment of their abilities and talents, and they’re demonized for—well, for what exactly?
It’s one thing to say, as Osama bin Laden said, that in a democracy the people bear responsibility for the actions of their leaders. It’s true, because it’s the people who have put those leaders into positions of power, and the people have the power, if they wish, to remove them. But this doesn’t apply to Putin. He’s not a democratically elected leader, even though he uses the title (“president”) and some of the trappings of democracy. So why should the Russian people have to pay for Putin’s misdeeds? Quite obviously, they shouldn’t.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.