Saturday, December 5, 2020

Why was Shikha Dalmia 'cancelled'?

by George J. Dance

Reason Foundation senior analyst, and well-known magazine columnist, Shikha Dalmia has been let go by Reason. As yesterday's Daily Beast headline has it: "Anti-‘Cancel Culture’ Reason Magazine Accused of Canceling Columnist for Being Too Anti-Trump." Let the Beast tell the story: 

"After 15 years, the curtains came down for me at Reason today. My views, I was told, had become too out-of-step with those of the organization," Shikha Dalmia announced Tuesday evening in a Facebook post.... The Reason veteran further suggested that her demise came as a result of complaints from the Reason Foundation’s donors — many of whom are also big donors to Republicans and conservative think tanks.... 

Reason editor-in-chief Katherine Mangu-Ward publicly commented on Dalmia’s post, replying, "I disagree with your characterization of our parting, but certainly won’t get into it here on your page." And in an internal memo sent to staffers, obtained and reviewed by The Daily Beast, Mangu-Ward announced Dalmia’s departure on Tuesday evening: “Today is Shikha’s last day, after 15 years at Reason. It has been an honor to work with a person of such tremendous journalistic talent and deep libertarian conviction. Her contributions to Reason have been enormous, especially in the area of immigration policy. This change has been in the works for a while, and I wish her great luck in her next phase.

Mangu-Ward refuses to discuss personnel issues with the media. Which leaves us only Dalmia's interpretation, which is: "I had a staunch and uncompromising anti-Trump voice calling out his authoritarian tendencies unambiguously. That this made many libertarians uncomfortable raises all kinds of interesting questions about the state of the liberty movement." Furthermore, "Defending my work to donors and stakeholders had evidently made me too much of a liability."

I am sure that is how Dalmia sees it; but she is hardly an impartial witness. Even the Beast writer had some trouble with her explanation, pointing out that 'Reason has excoriated the president’s trade wars, scorned his calls to crack down on social-media outlets because they 'censor' his fact-free missives, and called out his nativist immigration policies including family separations.... It is unclear how Dalmia’s expressly anti-Trump views would have fallen outside Reason’s 'big-tent understanding' of libertarianism." Dalmia's viewpoint, as the Reason Foundation's immigration expert, was an integral part of the magazine's messaging. 

Nor does Reason reflect any general pro-Trump bias. In this year's poll of "How Will Reason Staffers Vote?", 11 writers chose Jo Jorgensen, 6 chose not to vote, 4 chose Biden, 1 was still undecided, and 1 chose Trump as the 'lesser evil'. (That last was Bob Poole, who runs the Reason Foundation – he and Dalmia may have exchanged words on Trump. But that is his belief, not what anonymous 'donors' tell him to say.) And that list does not include other Reason associates, like Ilya Somin of the prestigious Volokh Society legal blog hosted on Reason's website, who this year went full Bidenista

Full what? I made up the term to be provocative; in fact, Bidenistas do not care a fig for Joe Biden. They are the voters, of all parties, who decided the most important thing this election was to vote Democrat to remove Trump from office – basically, people who bought into Trump's narcissistic narrative that U.S. politics is all about him (when in fact he is no more consequential than, say, Biden). Note that Trump is a narcissist, but not "selfish" - it is not his actual self that he cares about, but his public personality, his reputation or image. He made himself a star with that image on The Apprentice, and used that program's ratings to make himself the star of the 2016 Republican TV debates. That's how he got to be President. Enough about him. 

There are millions of Republicans (mainly new blood) who idolize that image. There are also millions who loathe it as the symbol of all that is evil. The former I've called "Trumptards"; the latter are the "Bidenistas". Both groups wrongly believe Trump's line that his image is the most important thing in American politics. For no other reason than their Trump fixation, both groups have spent this election campaigning against Jo Jorgensen and the Libertarian Party (LP). 

Dalmia herself went full Bidenista during the campaign, writing in The Week that "civic duty as a libertarian requires me to help defeat President Trump by casting my ballot for the only candidate who can defeat him: Joe Biden." (The column, which did not appear in Reason, may have been submitted there and rejected.) In the Washington Post she wrote

But even a lifelong Libertarian like me realizes that this time around, voting for my party’s ticket could only diminish my vote against Trump. In the face of Trump’s xenophobic demagoguery and the Democratic base flirting with socialism, Libertarian Party delegates complacently put forth a ticket of ideologically rigid unknowns who are selling theories of libertarianism, as if this campaign were unfolding in a vacuum — or a college dorm.

After the election, she hectored Libertarian voters too stupid or gullible to grasp their identical duty – "What’s been disappointing is how many libertarians actually didn’t see through Trump's authoritarianism, how much they allowed him to tarnish Biden as a socialist, ignoring how aggressively economically interventionist he himself was" – in an interview headlined, "Republicans aren’t the only party to be changed by Trump, says libertarian writer.' Sure, that's just one expression of opinion, but consider: Had Trump won, all the Bidenistas would still be screaming it.

No, Ms Dalmia: the Libertarian Party has not been changed by Trump. Jo Jorgensen's presidential campaign, with its obvious similarity to Harry Browne's 1990s campaigns, is enough to show that. Nor has Reason been changed; the party has consistently judged all presidential candidates regardless of party not by donors' whims but by the standard of big-tent libertarianism, and that continues to be its standard. What has been changed by Trump is you. Donald Trump turned you into a Bidenista and an anti-Libertarian. 

If anyone connected with Reason was "uncomfortable" with the anti-Libertarian Bidenista message, that was more likely to have been (1) Libertarian supporters and (2) believers in 'big-tent libertarianism' regardless of party. Since the LP's founding, some libertarians, from Sam Konkin to Murray Rothbard (initially) to 2016's Liberty Herald, have tried to build a 'libertarian movement' from which the LP was excluded. Reason to its credit never had anything to do with that tendency to divide libertarians, which is one reason it has succeeded as the flagship magazine of the larger libertarian movement. Reason has a role to play in criticizing LP candidates and officers, but there should be no room in it for explicity anti-Libertarian writing. (Except, as with Mr. Solmin's Bidenista turn, as part of a debate.) 

I have appreciated Shakia Dalmia's work at the Reason Foundation and Reason magazine. I hope that another libertarian think tank offers her a position to continue that work. There is far more to the libertarian movement than the Libertarian Party or Reason, and no reason (pun intended) for them or for Dalmia to worry about each other. I wish her all the luck in the world. But I believe that her view of events should not pass unchallenged. 

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