Censorship in America has a new name â cancel culture, the public shaming of someone for expressing a view that does not conform to orthodoxy.
The mechanics of cancel culture is a display of dominance and submission. The person doing the canceling – the canceler – turns a complex problem about which reasonable people might disagree into a binding moral certainty. He or she is then in a position to express indignation, stage a public “show trial” and then drive the person being canceled from his or her job, social network or public office. Along the way, the canceler may demand a series of apologies from the canceled, but the apologies are a secondary goal; the real goal is power over other people.
Alas, cancel culture seems to have made its appearance in the Los Altos City Council. Its clearest expression is the campaign waged by three members led by Mayor Neysa Fligor against Councilmember Lynette Lee Eng. Fligor and councilmembers Jonathan Weinberg and Sally Meadows are pressuring Lee Eng to apologize for stating that she was concerned for her safety and that of her family after receiving a series of texts sent to her by a constituent during a city council meeting.
True to the mechanics of cancel culture, Fligor turned a complex problem into a binding moral certainty. It does not require a Ph.D. in psychology to know that different people will respond differently to a perceived aggressive act, and that the variance in those responses will be a function of differences in personal circumstances. Accordingly, it is Lee Eng’s perception of texts sent to her by a constituent that should matter, not Fligor’s perception of them. Nevertheless, in her statement at the April 27 council meeting, Fligor put herself in the position of judge and jury regarding the texts in question: “When I read the messages, my reaction was different because I did not see anything in the message that would make me believe that something would happen to Councilmember Lee Eng or her family.”
Fligor then went on to excoriate Lee Eng: “As a leader, Councilmember Lee Eng, we sometimes have to do things that we may not be comfortable doing, because, again, it’s in the best interest of our community.”
When Lee Eng refused to apologize for expressing concern for the safety of her family, Fligor then permitted a show trial that has now gone on for the past 10 city council meetings. The mayor has allowed some constituents to use “Public Comments on Items Not on the Agenda” as a forum for public denouncement of Lee Eng. That show trial was scheduled to enter into a new phase at the May 25 city council meeting, when the council was expected to vote on a resolution to condemn Lee Eng for “refusing to address the concerns of her constituents.”
We respectfully suggest that the council reject this resolution, and in so doing reject cancel culture. The world has seen show trials being used to stifle dissent before. They did not end well. Let us not hold them in our town.
Stephen Haber, Jim Jolly and Freddie Wheeler are members of the Los Altos Residents Steering Committee.