President Joe Biden.
I remember when they got rid of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, otherwise known as INS. It happened in 2003 in the wake of 9/11. A new federal department was created, the Department of Homeland Security, and the office that used to process immigration issues was folded into it. The Secretary became a cabinet position, with Pennsylvania’s governor Tom Ridge tapped as the first person to fill the role.
I remember my first reaction to the name of the new department. “Homeland Security” conjured up images of old WWI posters with Uncle Sam pointing his finger directly at us in an intimidating way.
“Homeland” also made me think of Nazi Germany or other totalitarian states that made a cult out of devotion to what they also called the “Motherland.” It wasn’t a comfortable feeling, particularly when you understand the context: The Department of Homeland Security was created to defend the “homeland” against terrorists, foreigners who had attacked the heart of the nation and assassinated over 3,000 of our innocent fellow Americans. “Homeland” felt like a call to arms, and having immigration become a part of this department set an unfortunate tone that conflated immigrants with terrorists. I was fairly outspoken about it at the time, and still have a problem with anything that recalls authoritarianism, even rhetorically.
That’s why I reacted with shock and horror at the news that Joe Biden had created a sub office at DHS with the name “Disinformation Governance Board,” and had placed at its head a Bryn Mawr grad who also has a habit of filming herself singing Broadway show tunes (she poses no threat to Kristen Chenoweth, this is Karaoke-level stuff). Nina Jankowicz was the woman who infamously made fun of Hunter Biden’s laptop during the last presidential debate between Hunter’s daddy and Donald Trump, tweeting out “Back on the ‘laptop from hell’ apparently.” She also, this past week, spoke with NPR in regard to Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter and noted that “I shudder to think about [sic] if free speech absolutists were taking over more platforms, what that would look like for marginalized communities…which are already shouldering … disproportionate amounts of this abuse.” My first thought is that I sure hope Nina didn’t major in English at Bryn Mawr, because our professors would be hanging their heads in shame at her syntax. My second thought is that Biden’s new Minister of Disinformation has just equated “free speech” with “abuse” against “marginalized communities.” I suppose I also hope that Nina did not major in history, or political science, because her grasp of the Constitution is even worse that her grasp of her native language.
But Nina isn’t even really the worst part of this whole affair, even though her dismissive comments about the “laptop from hell” may come back to haunt her. The worst part is that our government has just carved out a nice little agency to police speech, one that would have fit in quite well in Oceania, the “fictional” country imagined by Orwell in his book “1984.” The quotation marks around fictional are my feeble attempts at humor, to stave off the tears.
Let’s take a moment to examine why Joe Biden decided that he needed to create a federal office devoted to the “truth.” It is ostensibly designed to dissuade immigrants from falling prey to human traffickers who use lies and “disinformation” to manipulate vulnerable populations into paying them large sums of money, with promises that they can cross the border. As someone who has firsthand experience with the victims of these traffickers, commonly known as “coyotes,” I actually find a great deal of value in the U.S. government putting out accurate information to prevent the exploitation of desperate people, usually women and children. I’ve been speaking out about the mixed messages that our government has been sending out since the Obama administration, when Biden’s boss presided over the largest wave of human cargo in the modern history of the U.S. Only the most feeble attempts were made to communicate the message that it was dangerous to cross the border. In fact, I have to give credit to Vice President Kamala Harris, who was one of the few in this administration to actually come out and say to Mexicans and Central Americans, “Stay home.” She wasn’t telling them not to seek asylum. She was, though, warning about the dangers of human trafficking. So from that perspective, this office has some legitimacy.
But Biden and his cronies went far beyond that limited purpose. They’ve said that the office is going to combat “Russian disinformation” (he’s beginning to sound like CNN) and also the type of untruths that get bandied about on social media. They are doing this, in their own words, to make sure that the upcoming mid term elections and free and fair. And in order to guarantee that there won’t be any “disinformation” or “bad speech” being put out there by the Russians, Elon Musk, the Babylon Bee and yours truly, the president has put a woman who has a problem with free speech at the head of the operation. This is actually less Orwellian and more like an “SNL” sketch from the years with Julia Louis Dreyfuss and Christopher Guest (the ones no one liked or remembers).
Biden’s supporters are doing what they usually do, going into attack dog mode whenever someone points out that perhaps their plans aren’t effective, or maybe even constitutional. One would not be wrong to suggest that a government agency that is actively and openly policing speech for obvious partisan purposes (mid-term elections, anyone?) might have a problem defending those actions in a court of law. But even if it does pass muster, you have to wonder why an American president has so little respect for his fellow citizens that he doesn’t think they are capable of determining for themselves what is true and what is false. This idea that we are babies who need Big Uncle Joe and Auntie Nina to protect us from ourselves is preposterous.
Anyone who is afraid of free speech deserves to be governed by the “Disinformation Board of Governance.” Just leave the rest of us, who are fine with the Constitution, alone.
Christine Flowers is an attorney. Her column appears Sunday and Thursday. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.