Since I've been feeding you a heavy dose of pessimism about America's general cultural slouch away from respecting free speech rights and dissenting views, I feel like I owe it to you to share hopeful glimmers when they appear. Our hyperdrive news cycle has already zoomed past Google's widely-discussed firing of an engineer for "perpetuating gender stereotypes" in a controversial (and often mischaracterized) internal memo, but let's take a moment to revisit that kerfuffle. Not only did the episode shine a cautionary spotlight on the perils of corporate America's intensifying private coercion problem vis-a-vis free expression, it raised serious questions about viewpoint discrimination and punishment in the workplace.
Google's decision precipitated a swift backlash, including calls for the CEO's resignation, robust defenses of James Damore's arguments, and the publication of a non-scientific poll of more than 400 employees at the tech giant (drawing from a population that uses a particular app), revealing that a majority disagreed with management's draconian course of action. A fresh national survey confirms that those Googlers who gave their leadership the thumbs-down on this question are representative of most Americans' instincts on the controversy. The newly-released Harris poll, commissioned by Harvard University, covers a lot of ground on this front and offers a great deal of solace to those of us who worry about the malign and expanding influence of intolerant silencing mobs. A few highlights from its findings:
(1) Overall, more than one-third of Americans say they at least "sometimes" feel as though they cannot discuss their "true political views with friends and family;" that number soars to a 55 percent majority in the workplace. The End of Discussion effect is real.
(2) An overwhelming majority (85 percent) say that American workers should be shielded from being fired over their political views, with seven-in-ten voicing support for "extending the first amendment to protect people from being fired or demoted at work for expressing their political views." That may be a constitutionally-unworkable solution, but it's a cultural shot across the bow of those anti-speech forces who insist that the First Amendment doesn't apply to the private sector. Private organizations and companies may have the right to follow Google's lead, but employing that argument to defend ideological purges clearly isn't persuading most Americans -- a large majority of whom say they'd like to see free speech safeguards expanded to cover the workplace.
(3) In a question that harkens back to 2014's Mozilla firestorm (in which that company's CEO was ousted for his 'wrong thinking' on gay rights) roughly eight-in-ten Americans say that firing an executive for opposing same-sex marriage isn't just wrong-headed, but should be illegal.
(4) Even in the case of someone "express[ing] racist views online or at a protest," 60 percent of respondents say that person's company should not be allowed to fire him or her as a result. And fully 85 percent of those polled believe dismissing a worker for holding pro-Trump opinions should be unlawful (with nearly identical margins applying the same consistent standard to supporters of the GOP, Socialism, and Black Lives Matter). Setting aside whether you're excited about the prospect of the government intruding further into the business decisions of private companies (I'm generally not), these dramatic numbers reveal the sweeping extent of public discontentment toward weaponized political correctness and punitive viewpoint discrimination.
(5) On the Google matter specifically, 71 percent of Americans say it should be illegal to fire someone who "perpetuated gender stereotypes." A follow-up question focuses more explicitly on the case of James Damore, and a majority (55 percent) oppose his termination, with a slightly larger majority agreeing that Google's decision "sets a bad precedent because people should not be afraid of expressing their honest views." Relatedly, a substantial minority of respondents (43 percent) think that large tech companies are biased against conservatives, with fewer than one-in-five saying the same of tech companies' posture toward liberals.
These striking results suggest to me that although the hard Left's anti-speech silencers are quite potent when it comes to whipping up fury, leveraging social media, and intimidating businesses, they're actively alienating most Americans with their marauding project of political scalp-collection and grievance mongering. In the new edition of our book, Mary Katharine Ham and I argue that these cultural bullies have systematically pushed untold numbers of Americans to the brink in recent years -- leading to the rise of Donald Trump, whom many voters viewed as a one-man wrecking ball against the creeping onset of stifling political correctness. The Harris-Harvard data appears to fortify our updated thesis.
Corporate executives should heed this information and think twice before crossing this silent majority (which we dub the "coalition to chill the hell out") in order to mollify the fleeting and insatiable ideological bloodlust of noisy partisans. Leaders in Silicon Valley should contemplate whether their insular, liberal cultures remotely reflect the beliefs or serve the needs of their customers; this is especially true of those companies who act as influential gatekeepers of vast amounts of information. And the 'End of Discussion' mob ought to be put on notice that their indignation-fueled, purge-happy tactics may be ruthlessly effective in some contexts, but they are having the opposite effect in the aggregate. I'll leave you with a clever, subversive manifestation of this backlash that popped up around California following Google's decision to fire Damore, via the Hollywood Reporter: