Journalist and TV pundit Kirsten Powers has a problem with her own people — liberals.
The liberal columnist for USA Today doesn't have a problem with all liberals, just the subset she defines as the "illiberal left." As political discourse has become more coarse, she sees growing danger.
In her recent book, The Silencing, she argues some on her side want no part of fair debate and are taking an axe to free speech.
The "illiberal left," she writes, "act in direct contradiction to the fundamental liberal values of free speech, debate and dissent" and "adopt tactics they claim to discern and detest in conservatives."
The illiberal left is a loud group that mastered social media, helps steer academia and runs what I call "alt-left" websites. Those are fountainheads of victimization where you can drown in slippery, socially-engineered terms such as mansplaining, trigger warnings, microaggressions, (fill in the blank) privilege, cisgender, rape culture, and more phobias than are locked in Freud's little closet of horrors.
Some conservatives also like to silence opposition, but are weak in the means.
Silencing the opposition is a totalitarian tactic that has blossomed in our bitterly partisan political era. Even before Donald Trump, the idea was to shame, intimidate, and shut down opposing views.
"Dissent from liberal orthodoxy is cast as racism, misogyny, bigotry, phobia," even violence, she writes. The illiberal left wants a world sanitized of information and ideas they find offensive, says Powers, 47, an Alaska native who began her political career as a staff assistant with the Clinton-Gore presidential transition team in 1992, followed by appointments in the Clinton administration.
Although conservatives are much less likely to be invited to be commencement speakers, they are targeted for removal at twice the rate of liberal speakers, 141 to 73 since 2000, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
"Liberals are supposed to believe in protecting minority views, even when they disapprove of those views," Powers writes. But the Left is relieved of that burden if they define the minority view as "hate." The accusation is enough. No proof is required.
As an example, what had been a traditional view of marriage for millennia — one man, one woman — within one generation became "hate." A 2015 boycott was called to punish Chick-Fil-A because restaurant chain owner Dan Cathy supports traditional marriage. That Chick-Fil-A never discriminated against gay customers or employees didn't matter.
Brendan Eich, the newly appointed CEO of Mozilla, was forced to resign in 2014 when it was learned he was opposed to gay marriage.
Cathay and Eich's "homophobic" views were identical to those of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the time, and identical to that of Pope Francis, the well-known "hater."
"When people's lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and [they are] fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be a sincere conviction, we have crossed a line," wrote gay journalist Andrew Sullivan. "This is McCarthyism applied by civil actions."
It also smacks of the Salem witch trials — repent, or else.
Stifling dissent is likely to grow worse in the years ahead, Powers suggests, pointing to a 2013 First Amendment Center annual survey showing that 47 percent of 18- to 30-year-olds believe the First Amendment goes too far. These are Millennials, who are supposed to be more liberal than their parents, but a near majority of them are uncomfortable with free speech.
In a notorious 2014 case, Powers reports with distaste, a feminist associate professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara was convicted of assaulting a 16-year-old girl handing out anti-abortion literature on campus. In her defense, Dr. Mireille Miller-Young said she felt personal harm from the literature.
An atheist who became an "orthodox Christian" late in life, Powers opines that in newsrooms, academia, Hollywood, and elsewhere, those with non-liberal views are often cowed into silence by the illiberal majority.
If you go against traditional leftist ideology you are likely to be hammered, Powers says.
Journalists such as Campbell Brown, Sharyl Attkisson, George Will, and others, Powers included, have been called names for violating liberal orthodoxy. Powers doesn't reveal much about attacks on herself and I couldn't reach her for an interview.
It was liberals, not conservative racists, who called Justice Clarence Thomas a self-loathing "Uncle Tom" and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "Aunt Jemima" — and worse. Liberal journalist Juan Williams gets torn apart because he is a commentator for Fox News Channel, as did Powers until she left for CNN last August. To many on the Left, Fox salaries come only in the form of 30 pieces of silver.
In Philadelphia, talk show host Buzz Bissinger, a respected author and journalist, committed the heresy of endorsing Mitt Romney for president. He promptly was dropped by some of his liberal friends, he said.
If they can't silence you or shame you, they renounce you.
Looking at Facebook, Pew Research found 44 percent of liberals unfriended someone over politics, contrasted with 31 percent of conservatives and 29 percent of all users.
Powers' book doesn't have an antidote to the Silencing. There may not be one, other than convincing traditional liberals that when they become illiberal they betray their own stated values.