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Are Conservatives Trustbusters Now?

How the James Damore case catalyzed a backlash against Google and Silicon Valley from the right

Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

Fox News is the last place you’d expect to see evidence of the growing push for antitrust enforcement. And yet Tucker Carlson this week devoted segments on two of his shows to arguing that Google has surpassed the federal government as the biggest threat to American liberty. In a spirited debate with Senator Mike Lee of Utah (who sits on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy and Consumer Rights), Carlson called for a return to trust-busting: “Here’s the bottom line from my perspective: No company has ever been as powerful in the history of the world as Google is … and it’s now become really clear that they’re misusing that power: They’re too powerful and they’re hurting people.”

What prompted Carlson’s tirade? A day earlier, he had James Damore on the show to discuss the lawsuit he had recently brought against Google. In 2017, Damore was fired for writing a lengthy memo that argued that women and minorities were not proportionately represented in Silicon Valley because they were inherently ill-suited for tech work. His suit claims that he was terminated out of prejudice—for being a white, conservative male. In his conversation with Damore, Carlson laid out his argument against Google: “The federal government is no longer the main threat to your privacy and to your freedoms, you’ve grown up thinking that, it’s no longer true. Big corporations are the main threat to your freedom and your privacy. The government doesn’t own your private emails—Google does.”

It’s a conclusion that many liberals might share. But in truth Carlson and Damore are using antitrust to open a new front in the culture wars. Google’s market power is secondary to their main point: that Silicon Valley is using that power to oppress conservatives. Similar to the way that the religious right has embraced free speech in cases like Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which critics say is an attempt to entrench anti-LGBT discrimination, antitrust is being used to argue that the real victims are white, conservative males.

Damore’s lawsuit against Google, brought on Monday, is designed to embarrass Google. Several conservative outlets have picked up the cause, with National Review claiming that Damore has exposed “Google’s culture of ignorant intolerance.” But Damore’s lawsuit is short on evidence of discrimination and long on nitpicks about the company “catering to employees with alternative lifestyles, including furries, polygamy, transgenderism, and plurality.” Posts from numerous Google employees are cited, including apologies for “whitesplaining,” cartoons about punching Nazis, and diatribes against Donald Trump. These are meant to display a corporate culture where conservative voices are silenced—never mind that most of the posts cited by Damore are reacting against intolerance.

In Damore’s depiction of a politically correct culture run amok, Google employees freely rant about Trump and his supporters, but Damore is fired for an unpopular opinion, namely that men dominate the company because they are biologically superior. Google tolerates someone who identifies as a “yellow-scale wingless dragonkin,” but can’t abide a plain old white conservative.

The overall argument here, picked up by National Review’s David French, appropriates another cherished liberal principle, that of greater diversity:

For a generation the American public has been conditioned to think of Silicon Valley as a special place where American ingenuity is at its apex. Silicon Valley billionaires have enjoyed special status, and the men and women who work creating the apps and devices that have changed our nation are often seen as a breed apart, America’s best and brightest. They’re the lovable nerds who enrich all our lives.

Well, the emperor has no clothes. Googlers may have special coding skills or may fit seamlessly in the company’s Googley culture, but it’s now plain that much of their discourse represents a special kind of pettiness, stupidity, and intolerance. It’s often fact-free, insulting, and narrow-minded. In other words, a Silicon Valley monoculture produces exactly the kind of discourse produced by monocultures everywhere. While there are certainly kind, courteous, and civil progressives at Google, the existence of the monoculture also enables the worst sorts of behavior.

The thrust is that the U.S. government grants Google an enormous amount of power, and Google in turn uses that power to discriminate against people it doesn’t like. Tucker Carlson innovatively takes this a step further by adopting the language of antitrust. The heart of his argument may be right. Google really does have too much power, over vast sectors of the economy, over what we buy and read. This is troubling, regardless of one’s political identifications.

But Google’s monopoly-like behavior does not translate to the “monoculture” that Carlson and French are describing. Damore was not fired for his political beliefs. As Anna Weiner wrote in The New Yorker at the time, he was fired for “how he applied those beliefs.” Damore’s memo attacked his colleagues, suggesting that they were ill-suited for their jobs because of their race and sex. It’s difficult to see Damore being sacked for, say, advocating a flat tax. Google has a lot to answer for, but firing James Damore isn’t one of them.