There’s so much malignant idiocy abroad in the land we don’t usually bother to stop and smell the stench. But the travesty of insensate Tom Cotton channeling his inner Joe McCarthy during a Senate hearing ostensibly about children’s online safety—in order to mindlessly badger Tik Tok’s Singaporean CEO on his alleged ties to Chinese Communists because all Asians look kinda the same and are probably Communist spies, right?—was Just Too Much. Have you no sense of decency, sir? Clearly, not.
Cotton’s deeply stupid, even more deeply racist hissy-fit came during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled “Big Tech and the Online Child Sexual Exploitation Crisis,” during which lawmakers grilled five tech big-wigs—including TikTok’s Shou Zi Chew, X’s Linda Yaccarino, and a craven Mark Zuckerberg—about protections for young people on their platforms.
The hearing comes in the wake of last year’s report by the Tech Oversight Project finding that Google, YouTube, Twitch, Apple et al are rife with multiple offenses, from violating children’s privacy to sexual harassment to complicity in pornography and drug sales even as Congress has repeatedly failed to pass laws that would actually protect kids online. Because Republicans love grandstanding and commie-baiting—and hate Tik Tok for being based in China and popular with generally liberal young people—several zeroed in on Chew.
But none came close to the bullying Sen. Cotton of Arkansas, who sees Marxists everywhere and whose wee little brain seemed to struggle with the fact that Chew could be Asian but not Chinese. Ominously noting it was “a hell of a coincidence” Chew was appointed CEO of Tik Tok shortly after the Chinese Communist Party bought a stake in the site’s parent company ByteDance, Cotton went in for the idiotic kill. Noting that, “You often say you live in Singapore”—a small, independent, Asian nation that is not and never has been part of China—Cotton asked, “Of what nation are you a citizen?” Chew, matter-of-fact: “Singapore.” “Are you a citizen of any other nation?” “No, Senator.” After determining that, yes, Chew has a passport from Singapore, and no, he doesn’t have any other passports, Cotton wildly, repeatedly pivoted to the ever-lurking-in-his-wee-little brain “Chinese Communist Party.”
Had he ever been a member of the Chinese Communist Party? Chew, getting exasperated, “No, I’m Singaporean.” Had he ever been “associated or affiliated with” the Chinese Communist Party? Chew, more exasperated, “No, Senator, again, I’m Singaporean.” Etc etc. After a while, Cotton made several other crackpot pivots: To the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square—where Chew likely had something to do with it even though he was 6 or maybe nothing to do with it but wasn’t it terrible?—and to the Chinese genocide of the Uyghur people and does Chew agree yes or no it’s genocide yes or no. Chew (Harvard Business School 2010) is stunned by the stupid and ugly. We are in the Red Scare of the 1950s, and special counsel Joseph Welch, likewise stunned, is lashing out at Joe McCarthy for his senseless, power-mad malevolence: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” Still, not.
One final pivot: Amidst such toxic goings-on, we mark the 130th birthday of iconic director, Maine native, New Dealer, sometime reactionary, four-time Oscar winner and resolute crank John Ford, whose politics, like his now-classic movies, veered all over the place. He fought the blacklist—the FBI dubbed him a “fellow traveler”—but joined a right-wing film alliance, called himself “a liberal Democrat and rebel” but voted for Goldwater, made jingoist westerns but also the pro-IRA The Informer, the pro-union How Green Was My Valley, the “apology Western” Sergeant Rutledge, the Trail of Tears Cheyenne Autumn, albeit with Latino actors.
He wrote his nephew, fighting with the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War, praising him for sharing the family’s “peculiar passion for justice,” and he made The Grapes of Wrath, honoring empathy, community, “the one big soul that belongs to everybody.” Except Tom Cotton, and his loathsome ilk.
Tom Cotton: "Have you ever been a member of the Chinese Communist Party?"
TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew: "Senator, I'm Singaporean. No!"
Cotton: "Have you ever been associated or affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party?"
Chew: "No, Senator. Again, I'm Singaporean!" pic.twitter.com/5Wa72aJIr9
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) January 31, 2024
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