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John Kass: What happened to an America where you could freely speak your mind?

John Kass: What happened to an America where you could freely speak your mind?

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John Kass

John Kass

The angry left-handed broom of America’s cultural revolution uses fear to sweep through the our civic, corporate and personal life.

It brings with it attempted intimidation, shame and the usual demands for ceremonies of public groveling.

It is happening in newsrooms in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angeles. And now it’s coming for me, in an attempt to shame me into silence.

Here’s what happened:

Last week, with violence increasing around the country, I wrote a column on the growing sense of lawlessness in America’s urban areas.

In response, the Tribune newspaper union, the Chicago Tribune Guild, which I have repeatedly and politely declined to join, wrote an open letter to management defaming me, by falsely accusing me of religious bigotry and fomenting conspiracy theories.

Newspaper management has decided not to engage publicly with the union. So I will.

For right now, let’s deal with facts. My column was titled “Something grows in the big cities run by Democrats: An overwhelming sense of lawlessness.”

It explored the connections between soft-on-crime prosecutors and increases in violence along with the political donations of left-wing billionaire George Soros, who in several states has funded liberal candidates for prosecutor, including Cook County (Illinois) State’s Attorney Kim Foxx.

Soros’ influence on these races is undeniable and has been widely reported. But in that column, I did not mention Soros’ ethnicity or religion.

You’d think that before wildly accusing someone of fomenting bigoted conspiracy theories, journalists on the union’s executive board would at least take the time to Google the words “Soros,” “funding” and “local prosecutors.”

As recently as February, the Chicago Sun Times pointed out roughly $2 million in Soros money flowing to Foxx in her primary election effort against more law-and-order candidates.

In August 2016, Politico outlined Soros’ money supporting local DA races and included the view from opponents and skeptics that if successful, these candidates would make communities “less safe.”

From the Wall Street Journal in November 2016: “Mr. Soros, a major backer of liberal causes, has contributed at least $3.8 million to political action committees supporting candidates for district attorney in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin, according to campaign filings.”

The Huffington Post in May 2018 wrote about contributions from Soros and Super PACs to local prosecutor candidates who were less law-and-order than their opponents.

So, it seems that the general attitude in journalism is that super PACs and dark money are bad, unless of course, they’re operated by wealthy billionaires of the left. Then they’re praised and courted.

All of this is against the backdrop of an America divided into camps, between those who think they can freely speak their minds and those who know they can’t.

Most people subjected to cancel culture don’t have a voice. They’re afraid. They have no platform. When they’re shouted down, they’re expected to grovel. After the groveling, comes social isolation. Then they are swept away.

But I have a newspaper column.

As a columnist and political reporter, I have given some 35 years of my life to the Chicago Tribune, even more if you count my time as an eager Tribune copy boy. And over this time, readers know that I have shown respect to my profession, to colleagues and to my newspaper.

Agree with me or not — and isn’t that the point of a newspaper column? — I owe readers a clear statement of what I will do and not do:

I will not apologize for writing about Soros.

I will not bow to those who’ve wrongly defamed me.

I will continue writing my column.

The left doesn’t like my politics. I get that. I don’t like theirs much, either. But those who follow me on social media know that I do not personally criticize my colleagues for their politics. I try to elevate their fine work. And I tell disgruntled readers who don’t like my colleagues’ politics that “it takes a village.”

Here’s what I’ve learned over my life in and around Chicago, what my immigrant family taught us in our two-flats on South Peoria Street:

We come into this world alone and we leave alone. And the most important thing we leave behind isn’t money.

The most important thing we leave is our name.

We leave that to our children.

And I will not soil my name by groveling to anyone in this or any other newsroom.

The larger question is not about me, or the political left that hopes to silence people like me, but about America and its young. Those of us targeted by cancel culture are not only victims. We are examples, as French revolutionaries once said, in order to encourage the others.

Human beings do not wish to see themselves as cowards. They want to see themselves as heroes.

And, as they are shaped and taught to fear even the slightest accusation of thought crime, they will not view themselves as weak for falling in line. Instead they will view themselves as virtuous. And that is the sin of it.

Those who do not behave will be marginalized. But those who self-censor will be praised.

Yet what of our American tradition of freely speaking our minds?

That too, is swept away.

Kass writes for The Chicago Tribune: jskass@chicagotribune.com and @john_kass.

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