Apple’s threat to remove Twitter from its App store for the crime of being a slightly more open forum for free speech under Elon Musk has been met with a chorus of outrage and substantive threats of congressional action by Republican leaders.
Just kidding. Republicans have barely said anything about it, and establishment Republicans have said nothing at all. With the exception of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who offered his opinion on a matter outside his purview as a governor, Apple’s threat to crush Twitter has been met more or less with silence, even from members of the GOP who consider themselves conservative. (Sen. Mike Lee, to his credit, tossed out a tweet saying Apple’s threat makes the case for the Open Apps Markets Act. But he’s the exception to the rule.) And though Apple leaders apparently smoothed over the “misunderstanding” with Musk on Wednesday afternoon, we have all seen this pattern: Big Tech’s anti-speech aggression always turns out to be a “mistake” or “misunderstanding” as soon as enough people notice.
This is why I’ve argued that actual conservatives, those who want to save the country and restore republic self-government, should stop calling themselves conservatives. At this point, the label amounts to an admission of failure and defeat, and might as well be the official title of those who desire above all to be the controlled opposition for a permanent leftist regime.
The Apple situation perfectly illustrates why conservatives need to swap out their old labels for new ones even as they swap out old ways of thinking about government power for a candid recognition of new realities and new imperatives.
In this case, Apple and its CEO, Tim Cook, are squarely on the side of authoritarianism, here and abroad. They are certainly on the side of communist China, which right now is trying hard to suppress mass protests over the CCP’s draconian “zero Covid” policy. Chinese President Xi Jinping sent tanks into the eastern city of Xuzhou this week — not that you’ll read much coverage about it in the corporate press.
As it happens, China is working to quash protests and suppress free speech with Apple’s help. Earlier this month, news broke that the company eliminated the AirDrop wireless file-sharing on iPhones in China after the feature was used by protesters to coordinate and share information. For their part, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., wrote a letter to Cook, branding Apple’s operations in China “unconscionable” and calling on the CEO to work toward halting them; Florida’s Marco Rubio, who is a co-sponsor on the Open Apps Markets Act with Hawley, chimed in with an anodyne tweet; and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, echoed what’s been abundantly clear: “Apple is fully in bed with Communist China.”
Since Apple is an active collaborator with China’s police state, it’s no surprise that Apple is also on the side of an increasingly authoritarian Democrat Party and a Biden administration that seems eager to use Big Tech to suppress online speech. Consider White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre’s recent comment that the administration is “keeping a close eye” on Twitter and Musk, “monitoring” the social media giant to ensure it suppresses “misinformation” and “hate.” And you know what that means.
Given all this, it should be easy for Republican leaders like Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell to come out swinging against Apple and in defense of Twitter and Musk, to propose legislation that breaks up tech giants such as Apple and Google, treats them as common carriers, or at the very least requires Apple and Google to make it easier for app developers to connect with customers directly, as the Open Apps Markets bill would do.
But the old conservatism remains so in thrall to free market libertarianism and big business that it cannot even contemplate any of that, which means that it has effectively outlived its usefulness and we should be done with it. The only kind of Republicans we need now are those who recognize not just that the left has captured our institutions but that for at least the last half-century it has been building a tyranny machine in the form of an aggressive administrative state, which is now colluding with the most powerful tech companies in the world to suppress speech, rig elections, and support authoritarianism abroad.
This fusion of the administrative state with Big Tech threatens to replace republican self-government with an unaccountable federal bureaucracy. Indeed, that process is already well underway. Those on the right who repose some hope in the Supreme Court stopping it are being naïve. The court has proven itself unwilling to smash this tyranny machine — and even if it tried, the left has signaled its willingness to pack the court if it feels its revolutionary project is truly under threat.
The task at hand, then, is nothing less than the restoration of republican self-government and the revival of first principles in American civic life. To do that, we need a plan to revive the other two badly atrophied branches of government so they can dismantle the federal bureaucracy or, where necessary and possible, use it as an instrument of renewal.
McCarthy, or whoever ends up as the next Republican speaker of the House, will have such a slender GOP majority that it will be limited to investigating the administrative state and blocking the Biden administration’s legislative agenda. It would be a monumental mistake to pursue any kind of bipartisan cooperation with the Democratic Party on any issue. It would likewise be a mistake to ignore calls to investigate and impeach Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
Asked about these things recently, McCarthy betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem, saying, “I think the country wants to heal and … start to see the system that actually works.”
But the system cannot work as long as Garland can use the Justice Department as a political weapon, branding parents who speak out at school board meetings as “domestic terrorists” and sending the FBI to raid the homes of anti-abortion activists. The system cannot work when the DOJ is allowed to deploy a geofence dragnet warrant to intercept the communications and location data for thousands of peaceful protesters on Jan. 6, making a mockery of the Fourth Amendment. It cannot work as long as Mayorkas is free to ignore federal immigration law and maintain a de facto open border. And it cannot work if Apple and the White House are allowed to attack Twitter because Elon Musk decided to make it marginally more open to free speech.
There is a war underway for America’s future, and right now only one political party is fighting it. The political and cultural project of the left constitutes a cancer that’s killing our republic and must be cut out. It’s time for Republicans to start talking and acting like they understand that, or step aside and take their place in the ranks of a failed conservative movement.
John Daniel Davidson is a senior editor at The Federalist. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Claremont Review of Books, The New York Post, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter, @johnddavidson.