We think in language, and we think in stories, a fact that is appreciated most keenly not by writers or literary critics but by censors.
#ad#In the course of writing about the ongoing fraud in which a cabal of left-wing lawyers with connections to the administrations of Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo has attempted to extort many billions of dollars from Chevron, I had a memorable conversation with an executive at the energy giant. “We are the least sympathetic defendant there is,” he said. “We’re an oil company. You can say almost anything about an oil company. There are no stories in which the oil company is the good guy.” There is one: The one where you go to the 7-Eleven and fill up your miraculous machine with a miraculous energy source that would, within the recent history of the human species, have been indistinguishable from magic.
But the point stands. You can say anything you like, no matter how wild the claim, about an oil company or a financial firm, or, indeed, about any corporation, “corporation” now being the English word that means “a business that I hate.” The demonization of the word “corporation” has proceeded alongside the demonization of the concept. The word “corporation” already had slightly sinister overtones (it is naturally associated with the English word “corpse,” though that word is not in fact derived from the Latin “corpus”) which has been intensified by the immortal, galaxy-spanning corporations of science fiction; I have always thought (here I glance nervously over my shoulder at Kathryn Jean Lopez) that the writers of Star Trek missed an opportunity with the Borg, whose habitual promise that “you will be assimilated” would have been much better rendered “you will be incorporated,” since they, like a Portuguese man-o’-war, form a single colonial organism. Incorporation is a word that strikes terror into many hearts. (Particularly those beating in proximity to Houston.) I spent part of Friday night among Hillary Rodham Clinton supporters in New York, and one very nice young couple warned me darkly that Republicans would “do whatever the corporations tell them to.” The corporations: As if they were all part of the same team, and had meetings.
The American Left, which long ago abandoned its hereditary liberalism for totalitarianism, is very much interested in policing language. Writing this week in Time, which still exists, Katy Steinmetz complains about the use of the word “transgendered” to describe people who were until five minutes ago known as transsexuals, and five minutes before that weird guys in dresses. (The argument, in case you are wondering, is that the implicitly passive form “transgendered” suggests that something was done to these people, as though we could not distinguish between a tossed salad and a spotted owl.) She offers other sage advice: “If you meet a trans person — someone who identifies with a gender other than the sex they were assigned at birth — it’s generally a good idea to ask which pronouns (he or she, him or her) they prefer and to use whatever that is.” Other than establishing that she isn’t a reliable guide to pronouns, the merry assumption of absolute nonsense — “the sex they were assigned at birth” as opposed to the sex they are — isn’t just illiteracy. People instinctively resist the lie, which makes it necessary to make the truth almost literally unspeakable, even unthinkable. The lie isn’t quite sold yet, inasmuch as people still roll their eyes a little at the phrase “women with penises,” but it is getting there.
Progressive tut-tutting about that sort of thing may be the mild stuff, but it isn’t innocuous. Activists for the so-called transgendered have argued that my work on the issue should be not criticized but banned, as in suppressed by the force of state violence. The usual banalities — “hate speech” and all that — are invoked. So far, it isn’t a crime to get on the wrong side of the men-in-dresses activists. We aren’t, after all, Canadians.
Global warming, though, is a different matter. The attorney general of the U.S. Virgin Islands, Claude Earl Walker, has issued a subpoena to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank that has been critical of a great deal of global-warming scholarship. This is part of a coordinated campaign by Democratic attorneys general, including those in New York and California, to prosecute persons and institutions with nonconforming views on global warming, with special attention being given to Exxon and to groups that it may have supported financially. The subpoena against CEI is a pure fishing expedition, a search for anything that might be potentially embarrassing that can be used as part of the public-relations campaign rather than as part of a prosecution, the prosecution bit being tricky because there isn’t much of an argument that any laws have been broken.
New York’s attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, is taking a similar approach. He isn’t sure what law Exxon has broken, but he promises to find one, making different accusations and arguments as the venue demands. Barack Obama’s so-called Justice Department is considering filing a case of its own.
Despite the insistence of Democrats in positions of power, this is not a “fraud” investigation. There has been no credible case made — none whatsoever — that any fraud has been committed.
We should, while it is permitted, be as plain as possible about what is happening here: This is an act of obvious, gross, and indefensible political suppression, with two ends: One is riling up young, white, middle-income progressives before the 2016 election (in which California’s Democratic attorney general, Kamala Harris, is a Senate candidate), voters who care a great deal about global warming and not very much about freedom of speech; the second is financial, in that Exxon, the second most valuable firm on Earth by market capitalization, has a great deal of money, and may be bullied into a settlement that will fund a great deal of Democratic activism for years to come.
Prosecuting political institutions and businesses for political activism is brown-shirt business.
This is banana-republic stuff.
Kamala Harris, Eric Schneiderman, Claude Earl Walker, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch should not resign — they should be hounded from office, and from polite society. Prosecuting political institutions and businesses for political activism is brown-shirt business, plain and simply and ugly and heinous. If you believe that this will stop at prosecuting wicked, evil “corporations,” you are deluding yourself.
— Kevin D. Williamson is the roving correspondent at National Review.