Texas Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw was against "cancel culture" before he was for it. The congressman has spent the last few years crusading against progressive censoriousness. "It's time to cancel Cancel Culture," he tweeted last year, after a statue of former President Ulysses S. Grant was torn down in San Francisco. In April, he went on Fox News to accuse Democrats of trying to impose "progressive fascism" via wokeness, decrying the "forced suppression of your opposition" after Major League Baseball moved the All-Star Game out of Atlanta over concerns about Georgia's new GOP-imposed voting restrictions.
Then Gwen Berry came along.
Berry is the Olympic hammer thrower who on Saturday turned away from the American flag while the national anthem was being played at the U.S. Olympic Trials. "The anthem doesn't speak for me," she said. "It never has." Now Crenshaw wants her canceled — tossed off the Olympic team.
"We don't need any more activist athletes," he told Fox News on Monday. Conservative outlets like National Review and the Washington Examiner added their support. "This has nothing to do with freedom of speech or the right to protest," the Examiner opined, and added: "The Olympics are different."
It's always different, isn't it? My ideas and the right to express them should be fully protected, but your ideas — which I don't like — often fall under some critically important exception to the ideal of free expression. Republican attempts to block pro-Palestinian boycotts of Israel also follow this logic. This isn't exclusively or even primarily a conservative phenomenon, but conservatives like Crenshaw have lately been the loudest critics of cancelation, so their hypocrisy is especially glaring.
Here is how you know when somebody is a sincere defender of free expression: When they defend the rights of people who disagree with them. It's that easy. That doesn't mean silence, of course. Crenshaw should be able to criticize Berry all he wants, and lots of Americans will no doubt agree with him. At its heart, the ideal of free expression is a belief we can and should argue with each other. If Crenshaw really wants to cancel cancel culture, he should start with himself.