Two days after the 2020 election, a defiant Kathy Griffin retweeted the notorious picture of her holding a prop that looked like the bloody head of a decapitated Donald Trump. Earlier last year, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, tweeted out a call to his followers to destroy Israel. Both tweets passed the censorship rules of Twitter’s 20-something judges in San Francisco.
In contrast, Mr. Trump has been banned for life from Twitter and barred indefinitely from Facebook. Twitter said in a statement it excluded Mr. Trump “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.”
The president had called for thousands of his followers to assemble at a massive Washington, D.C., rally protesting the results of the election. Splinter groups broke off from the massed protesters. Some stormed into the halls of Congress, Social media platforms canceled Mr. Trump after he urged his followers, albeit “peacefully and patriotically,” to go protest at the U.S. Capitol, where the mayhem followed.
After the assault — and after Democrats won the presidency, kept the House, took the Senate and threatened to pack the U.S. Supreme Court — furor broke out against Mr. Trump. The outrage included the banning of Mr. Trump and some of his supporters from social media.
Thousands of scared social media users then retreated to the more conservative site Parler. But in near-unison, Google, Apple and Amazon removed Parler from their platforms.
Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri had his upcoming book — a call to clamp down on Big Tech monopolies — abruptly canceled by publisher Simon & Schuster. Mr. Hawley’s crime was apparently his quixotic persistence in questioning the authenticity of the 2020 election.
What are the new standards that now get a book or a social media account canceled?
After all, the Vicki Osterweil book “In Defense of Looting,” a justification for theft and property destruction, came out last summer amid the Antifa and Black Lives Matter unrest. The author was even featured on National Public Radio in a largely sympathetic interview.
Is Madonna banned from social media? Shortly after the 2017 inauguration, she voiced a desire to blow up the White House with the Trump family in it.
Is AK-47-toting rapper Raz Simone banned from social media? He took over a swath of downtown Seattle last June and declared it an autonomous zone. For weeks, his armed guards reigned supreme without worry of police. There were at least four shootings and two deaths in or around Raz Simone’s kingdom. He was neither prosecuted nor deplatformed from social media. The lyrics of his song “Shoot at Everyone” are full of allusions to violence, racial slurs and stereotypes. The song is posted on YouTube, and Raz Simone still enjoys a large social media presence.
So, why did Big Tech, the media, the publishing industry, a host of corporations and a growing number of campuses double down on censoring some free speech? Why now blacklist, censor and cancel thousands of people?
True, Mr. Trump gave them an opening when some rogue supporters vandalized the Capitol. But the real reason is that the left has long been eager to curtail the speech of those it opposes. Last week simply offered members of the left the sort of perfect crisis that they determined should never go to waste.
With an unpopular Trump on the way out, and with control over the levers of government, members of the left abruptly settled all their old scores. Their aim was not just to humiliate opponents but to curtail opponents’ ability to organize against them.
Democrats applauded the censorship. And why not? In a few weeks they will likely seek to end the Senate filibuster. In revolutionary fashion, they may try to admit new states, pack the Supreme Court and end the Electoral College — moves designed to emasculate their conservative opposition.
Over a century ago, the oil, railroad, telegraph and power industries created huge monopolies. They set up vertically integrated cartels. And they used their enormous profits to lavish gifts on politicians, control information and destroy competition.
Some people likened these huge trusts to octopuses whose tentacles strangled freedom. In reaction, angry workers and farmers, muckraking journalists and novelists, and crusading populist and progressive politicians passed antitrust laws.
And so they broke up the monopolies.
Today, however, progressive politicians, Wall Street, the media, academia, Hollywood and professional sports are all on the side of the mega-rich tech cartels. Partnering with Big Tech is both politically useful and financially lucrative.
So the values of the 19th-century rail and oil monopolies are back. But now they are married to the 20th-century leftist totalitarianism of George Orwell’s “1984.” And they are further powered by the 21st-century instant reach of the Internet.
This time around there will be no progressive trustbusters or muckrakers. They are in league with, or bought off by, the new electronic octopus.
And its tentacles are strangling the thoughts and speech of an increasingly unfree America.
• Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, is the author, most recently, of “The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.” You can reach him by e-mailing authorvictorhanson.com.