Last week more than a dozen attorneys general gathered in New York. You might think they were there to discuss how to combat crime, the heroin epidemic… maybe even terrorism. They weren’t. Instead they were conferring on how to use the law to punish scientists and researchers who question climate change orthodoxy.
That’s right—if your scientific research bucks the party line on global warming, you could face government-inspired lawsuits. The ringmaster of this legal circus, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, was not at all subtle about what he was trying to achieve. He vowed “collectively, collaboratively and aggressively” to investigate whether fossil-fuel companies have misled shareholders about the risks of climate change. And it’s not just state officials who are itching to prosecute dissident scientists.
A couple of weeks earlier, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch had told a congressional hearing that she had asked the FBI to look into this question of climate “fraud.”
This is perfectly Orwellian. Put aside what you may think about climate change. Should government lawyers be threatening to punish scientists and researchers who may, for example, merely question why the results of some computer models don’t match up with real world events? Should the iron hand of the law be employed to enforce conformity in science, supposedly in the name of a “scientific consensus,” when in fact there is nothing approaching consensus as to whether human activity has us headed for global-warming catastrophe? And if money is such a corrupter of science, as Schneiderman and others argue, why are not the billions of dollars funneled into pro-climate change research, often through government subsidies, fair game for accusations of “fraud”? After all, there are documented instances of pro-climate change scientists misrepresenting evidence in the now infamous “climategate” case at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.
You might think such nonsense is isolated, but it’s not. A new breed of intolerance is sweeping all across the land, and to the surprise of many it’s not coming from the right, but the left. Judges, prosecutors, government officials, politicians and activists are increasingly using public shaming rituals and the force of the law to impose their views on people with whom they disagree.
Corporate leaders are forced to resign if they don’t toe the line of a particular political agenda. Religious people are punished with fines for their personal beliefs, while a city government (New York City) threatens to fine employers up to $250,000 for “misgendering” bathrooms (i.e., not allowing transgender people to choose which ones to use).
Courts routinely overturn laws and referenda over policy differences—a practice that is patently anti-democratic and in many cases unconstitutional. Colleges and universities across America have abandoned free speech and open debate in favor of “speech codes” and “safe spaces” where students need never hear a viewpoint they don’t already embrace. “Due process,” too, is in short supply on campus, where administrators send students accused of sexual assault to kangaroo courts.
Not even our local governments are immune from the new spirit of intolerance. A seventh grader, for example, was recently expelled from school for sharing an inhaler with a girl suffering an asthma attack, even though doing so likely saved the girl’s life.
There’s a pattern here: All of these abuses are being done in the name of progressive liberalism. No matter what the cause, progressives are increasingly willing to use any means necessary—the law, public shaming and in some cases even a threat of violence (“no justice no peace”) to get their way.
It’s not even correct to call progressivism liberal anymore. It has, in fact, become its opposite, an illiberal code of coercion and intolerance—and a movement intent on shaming all those who disagree. It is fast becoming a political force hostile to freedom, democracy and even equality. It champions intolerance in the name of tolerance, closed-mindedness in the name of open-mindedness, and hatred in the name of compassion. It’s the master of double-think—to pretend things other than they really are.
Whatever progressivism is, it is not the liberalism of yesteryear. It’s become something much more radical—and mendacious. And it’s threatening the constitutional order, not to mention the civil peace, of the country.
Kim R. Holmes is a Distinguished Fellow at The Heritage Foundation. A former Assistant Secretary of State, he’s the author of the new book, "The Closing of the Liberal Mind: How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left" (Encounter Books, April 12, 2016).