Sandor Mecs was a child when his family lived in the town of Szentendre, Hungary. Today, it is a picturesque town 20 miles north of Budapest that is lined with winding cobblestone streets, colorful centuries-old homes, cottages and churches. It is a tourism center with its flourishing museums, charm and proximity to the capital.
While the picturesque footprint was the same for Mecs and his family and thousands of other Hungarians 60 years ago, life in post-World War II Hungary was anything but ideal if you were a free thinker.
“At that time, we had become a Stalinized state of the Soviet Union, and Matyas Rakosi ruled the country for over seven years as a dictator who demanded no one strayed from the collective approved government thought,” he said.
If you did, you disappeared.
“Everything in government was militarized, and everything in our culture, the arts, the media, where you shopped, was all part of the government,” he explained.
There was no freedom of thought. You believed what the government and, by default, culture and new organizations told you to believe.
The government force was so oppressive that it established a secret police called the AVH, or the Allamvedelmi Hatosag, to make sure everyone thought the same and that no one dissented from whatever the government believed. Mecs explained, “My parents and family members lived in fear of people overhearing a conversation that might deviate from accepted thought.”
He said his father understood that after the doomed Hungarian Revolution of 1956 failed, it was time to flee the family’s home country.
“You have to understand when you leave, you leave everything behind, whether it is family members, belongings or the roof over your head,” he said. “A week after the revolution, my dad realized we’ve got to get out of here, and we literally snuck across the border with Austria in the dead of night.”
Back then, there were people who, for money, would get you safely across the border. “They were taking groups of maybe 20 people at a time and getting them past the barbed wire. One of the border guards actually caught the group that we were in when a very familiar face caught his eye,” he said.
It was the guard’s sister. “So he let us go,” he said.
Within a short period, over 200,000 men, women and children escaped their homeland, much like the Mecs family did. It was an exodus and scattered much of the educated and intellectual class. The only people who could afford to leave managed to spread globally, with many of them going to the United States and the United Kingdom.
Many intellectuals in the U.S. frequently toss around the word “dictatorship” or “dictator” about political parties they don’t like, and with such abandon, it is now deemed normal in some circles to use the terms without irony, primarily when referring to the Republican Party.
In their zeal to dismantle conservatism, they miss the true dictator in our country. They are our cultural curators. The corporations, much of the media, the entertainment industry, major league sports organizations, academia and Silicon Valley all demand that we fall in line with how they think. They want to approve of how we speak, what books we read, what movies we watch, what words we use, who we support politically, how we educate our children and what parts of history are acceptable to teach.
Many of these entities have gone from trying to appeal to a wide range of customers based on the products they sell or services they offer to social justice organizations, far removed from their core missions and their consumers.
When one of them deems something unacceptable in its version of the world, many others follow suit, often crumbling to their younger employees’ demands. The latter has been given enough power in this age of corporate social justice to destroy the very place they work if that corporation does not bend to their demands.
The decision no longer to publish six Dr. Seuss books was made internally. So was Disney’s decision to prevent young viewers from watching Dumbo, Peter Pan, Swiss Family Robinson and The Aristocats.
Voice an opinion on social media about the practice of removing books and the result is usually ugly, even if you argue that offensive images should exist in the marketplace so that you can point out their offensiveness.
Last week, Winston Marshall, the banjo player for the band Mumford & Sons, tweeted his support for author Andy Ngo for his recent book “Unmasked: Inside Antifa’s Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy.” Within moments, his life changed, thanks to the culture curators. The next day, he announced that he’s “taking time away from the band” to examine his “blind spots.”
His career and life may have been destroyed because his thoughts were outside the norms of what our cultural curators deem socially acceptable, and why? You see, Ngo is conservative. Almost no one within our cultural curators is conservative, and if a person is, he or she remains silent.
One of the most significant reasons conservative populism began to rise in 2009 was that these people lacked a connection or commonality with our cultural curators. The people who run things in this country have little in common with the very people who use their products or watch their shows or attend their football or basketball games.
Part of that reason is the culture curator boardrooms have very little diversity — not only racial or by gender, but also in culture. Rarely does someone who attended a community college or state school have any input in how something is marketed. There is also a scarcity of gun owners or churchgoers in newsrooms getting dispatched to cover gun control, hunting, religious freedom or the anti-abortion movement.
When you have little commonality with those you are marketing to or covering, you will often be blind to how they view the tone in an ad, tweet or coverage.
But the more significant problem is that none of these cultural curators quite care if you don’t like the way they demand you think or if you are going to buy their product, because their people — the people who think the way they do — are the people who have the largest megaphone.
It isn’t cancel culture. It is a cultural dictatorship because the suppression of dissenting speech is an instrument that only the most brutal dictators have used throughout civilization.
Mecs said the right to free speech was one of the compelling reasons his family came here: “It is the very core of American exceptionalism and idealism, and it should be cherished and celebrated.”
In December 1860, Frederick Douglass declared in a speech in Boston that “liberty is meaningless where the right to utter one’s thoughts and opinions has ceased to exist.”
His words in that speech emerged because of an incident that happened the week before, when a meeting in which he was scheduled to speak at on abolishing slavery was invaded by a mob that sought to silence him.
Those powerful words in Douglass’ speech were not directed at the mob’s disruption. Instead, they were directed at the mayor of Boston, who canceled the event rather than defended Douglass’ right to speak.
Private companies, industries and organizations are not obligated to allow your viewpoints to be heard. Still, when they hold this much power in our culture and their sentiments are shared by the ruling party, we are heading down a road on which we may never be able to reverse course.
Salena Zito is a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner. She reaches the Everyman and Everywoman through shoe-leather journalism, traveling from Main Street to the beltway and all places in between. To find out more about Salena and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.