Tom Slater

Josh Hawley and the new world of book cancellations

Josh Hawley and the new world of book cancellations
Sen. Josh Hawley (Photo: Getty)
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Book burning has not historically been considered an anti-fascist gesture. But in the wake of the storming of the Capitol Building in Washington DC by crazed Trump supporters, perhaps that’s set to change.

This is the news that Republican Senator Josh Hawley, who indulged Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election being ‘stolen’, has had his book deal with Simon & Schuster terminated. It might not be a book-burning per se, but it’s certainly the 21st-century, polite-society equivalent of it.

Simon & Schuster said it decided to pull Hawley’s forthcoming book, titled The Tyranny of Big Tech, in response to the ‘disturbing, deadly insurrection’ at the Capitol on Wednesday, and what it sees as Hawley’s role in this ‘dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom’.

Hawley was among a group of Republicans who opposed the certification of Joe Biden’s victory, under the guise of airing the ‘concerns’ of citizens about voter fraud. He was also seen raising a fist to the protesters earlier in the day, but condemned the violence soon after it occurred.

The man’s clearly an opportunist, who tried to align himself with Trump’s bluster about the ‘rigged election’ without getting his hands too dirty. But to imply he is responsible for the violence is absurd. And to suggest this ban is a one-off, sparked by a uniquely troubling event, is to ignore recent history.

Publishers have come under sustained pressure in recent years to drop controversial authors. In 2017, Simon & Schuster pulled its contract with right-wing troll Milo Yiannopoulos. Staff are currently in revolt at Penguin Random House over its publication of the new Jordan Peterson book.

Often the content of the books themselves are a side issue, and the author is the primary target. Last year, Hachette said it would no longer publish Woody Allen’s memoir following a backlash from staff. JK Rowling, if she wasn’t so bankable, probably would have faced the same fate.

This all marks an alarming shift within the publishing world, which once prided itself on publishing a wide range of authors and allowing readers to decide themselves – something Simon & Schuster gestured to in its statement, before announcing it had canned Hawley.

Once publishing houses had to contend with the protests of pearl-clutching religious conservatives. Now they are implementing their own purity tests, with mainstream platforms apparently reserved only for those deemed morally and politically unimpeachable.

Fascinatingly, there is even a debate raging in the publishing industry about whether any of the big firms should pick up Donald Trump’s memoir. Even a soon-to-be-former president, it seems, whose views are, if nothing else, of historical interest doesn’t necessarily meet the threshold.

During the Trump era it has become abundantly clear that there are two sections of America that really do not understand each other. That in the wake of his electoral defeat supposedly liberal institutions are setting about welding shut their echo chambers is really not a good sign.