Is 2024 The Year Cancel Culture Dies?
On Shane Gillis's triumphant return
The news that comedian Shane Gillis is walking back into 30 Rock to host Saturday Night Live this month isn’t just a great moment for comedy or a testament to how much America loves a comeback story. It’s also a definitive moment in the history of cancel culture — a live representation on national television of how much the media’s power to achieve personal destruction has diminished.
Gillis was by no means a famous comedian when he was chosen for the SNL cast five years ago, but the media (aided by some jealous comics) did successfully make him infamous within the space of a week. The story is familiar to everyone by now, but rather than hang his head and walk away from comedy, Gillis battled back by being really, really outrageously funny. He filmed two seasons of a sketch show, Gilly and Keeves, dropped two stand-up specials — a virally popular set on YouTube from Austin and more recently a hugely popular Netflix special — and went on what seems like every podcast known to man while producing the number-one show on Patreon.
When Gillis was initially introduced, the media treated him like some dumb hick designed to appeal to red America in the Donald Trump era. Instead, he proved his comedy has broader appeal — and the false allegations that his hot-button humor was endorsing racism as opposed to mocking the stupidity of it was obvious to fans.
If you want to judge how ineffective the cancelers are, witness the collective shrugs greeting TMZ’s “resurfaced” clips from podcasts whose listenership dwarfs TMZ’s.
The obvious comparison for Gillis’s experience will be Norm Macdonald’s return as a host after his unconscionable firing for telling too many jokes at O.J. Simpson’s expense. But if Macdonald’s sin was to offend one very powerful NBC executive, Gillis’s return is about the ability of comedians to offend and move on — and as such, is actually a bigger cultural development, a marker of how much people are tired of silencing funny and talented people over the worst interpretation of something they said.
The cancel culture trendline was already in reverse in many ways, with more people attuned to its many varied forms and failings. As I’ve previously noted, the over-broad application of the term “cancel culture,” along the lines of “woke” and the alphabet soup of CRT, DEI and SEL, has led to a reduction in its usefulness as a term:
Cancel culture is really not what many people claim it is. It ought to be properly understood as unfairly canceling normal people from their jobs for saying things that are at worst an apology level offense — such as a bad joke, a sexist comment, a racial epithet or something similar.
The point is that for most of the history of American life, you could apologize for these things and move on. Consider the OG cancel culture story of the internet age, Justine Sacco. It’s the equivalent of: “I’m sorry Karen overheard me quoting that Jimmy Carr joke, I won’t tell it again.” Instead, you lose everything.
There is just one wrinkle. In summarizing his status as “Who’s Back of the Week,” Barstool Sports’s Dan Katz noted that Gillis does have to navigate around the uncomfortable fact of promising in 2019 that if he ever got to host the show, he’d pull a Budd Dwyer in his monologue.
But that’d deny us all the running awkwardness of the hour to follow, and surely he can’t do that to all of us desperate for SNL to be funny again, even just once. If we truly are in a post-cancellation era, maybe there can be hope for more laughs from them, too.
The End of the Old GOP?
What we witnessed over the last few days within the Senate GOP Conference can accurately be described as the final countdown for the “Old Republican Party.”
→ Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed for the inclusion of U.S. aid for Ukraine in a September spending bill until the last minute when his conference overruled him. Several weeks later, McConnell changed tack and embraced his conference’s demand for border security as a condition for Ukraine funding.
→ Four months later — and within 24 hours of the legislative text finally being released — that entire construct collapsed. McConnell and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) had the rug pulled out from under them in the face of overwhelming opposition from his colleagues — and former President Donald Trump.
This internal struggle was, in many ways, the death knell of the old Republican Party once personified by the Senate GOP Conference and its longtime leader, McConnell. Even during Trump’s presidency, there was still some independence to be found in that conference. Not anymore.
A defiant McConnell on Tuesday pushed back on the criticism that he was misreading his colleagues.
“I followed the instructions of my conference, who were insisting that we tackle this in October. I mean, it’s actually our side that wanted to tackle the border issue. We started it,” McConnell said, adding that “things have changed over the last four months.”
Years in the making: The structures and standards that have come to define the GOP have been breaking down since the Tea Party movement began in 2009. They were further eroded when Trump won the White House in 2016. But in recent months, the last holdout of the old Republican Party — the Senate GOP Conference — has all but abandoned many of its generational positions on foreign policy and governance.
The new GOP is against funding for Ukraine, eschewing the muscular foreign policy that defined the Republican Party in the post-WWII era. Those who subscribe to this new view are no longer an irrelevant minority in the GOP Conference.
“Frankly, a lot of the leadership in the Republican Conference has spoken to their own members like children,” Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), one of Trump’s staunchest allies on the Hill, told us. “And I think they’re seeing that the children have developed some thoughts of their own.”
The Case Against Impeaching Mayorkas
President Biden has created a disaster at our southern border. In his first 100 days in office, Mr. Biden halted border-wall construction, ended President Trump’s successful Remain in Mexico policy, and implemented a catch-and-release regime. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is faithfully implementing the president’s ruinous policies, which are contributing to immense human suffering, placing a massive financial burden on states and cities, and threatening our national security. His performance has been a disgrace.
But I disagree with my Republican colleagues who voted on Tuesday to impeach Mr. Mayorkas. Impeachment not only would fail to resolve Mr. Biden’s border crisis but would also set a dangerous new precedent that would be used against future Republican administrations.
The first article of impeachment lays out in grueling detail Mr. Mayorkas’s manifest incompetence. But incompetence doesn’t rise to the level of high crimes or misdemeanors. Proponents of impeachment concede the framers rejected the idea that policy disputes or “maladministration” constitute grounds for impeachment. They argue instead that Mr. Mayorkas’s underenforcement goes beyond maladministration, even though it doesn’t reach the level of a criminal offense.
Their primary evidence is a 2021 memo signed by Mr. Mayorkas ordering immigration officials to consider more than illegal aliens’ criminal history when determining which ones should be detained and removed. They cite district and circuit court decisions that the order contained in this memo was against the law, even though the Supreme Court reversed those rulings in U.S. v. Texas (2023). They cite Justice Samuel Alito’s dissent in that case to claim Mr. Mayorkas broke the law.
But overturned and dissenting decisions have no legal force. Further, the majority in Texas affirms the longstanding precedent that the president and homeland security secretary have great discretion in enforcing border laws. And if we are to make underenforcement of the law, even egregious underenforcement, impeachable, almost every cabinet secretary would be subject to impeachment. The Treasury and State departments’ nonenforcement of sanctions against Iran has emboldened a regime that is killing Americans in the Middle East. The defense secretary is clearly violating the Hyde Amendment by allowing defense travel funds to be used to facilitate abortions. These decisions—however reprehensible—aren’t high crimes or misdemeanors but would be impeachable under the new standard.
Perhaps this is why we have never impeached a cabinet secretary except for criminal behavior. The person chiefly responsible for the chaos and devastation that has unfolded at the border is Mr. Biden, not Mr. Mayorkas. If Mr. Mayorkas were removed, his replacement would also implement Mr. Biden’s disastrous border policies. If anything, impeaching Mr. Mayorkas would absolve Mr. Biden of blame for his own policies.
The New Shanahan Offense
The Shanahan offense.
If you’ve watched football in the past five or six seasons, you’ve heard the phrase—you’ve likely heard it a thousand times. When Mike Shanahan was the head coach in Washington in the early 2010s, he handed the keys to the offense to his son, Kyle, and suddenly, fourth-round quarterback Kirk Cousins was a viable starter. A few years later, with Kyle in Atlanta, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was an MVP. Shanahan (Kyle, that is) got the 49ers head-coaching job in 2017. The rest is history.
Sean McVay, Matt LaFleur, Mike McDaniel, and Bobby Slowik were all on that Washington staff with Shanahan—they’ve sowed the seeds of the Shanahan offense far and wide. From their coaching trees have come … (takes a very deep breath) … Kevin O’Connell, Zac Taylor, Dave Canales, who are all NFL head coaches; Shane Waldron, Luke Getsy, Zac Robinson, Liam Coen, Nathaniel Hackett, Klint Kubiak, who are all offensive coordinators. Almost half of the league has a branch of the Shanahan tree on their offensive staff.
And those are just the true descendants. The success of the Shanahan system hasn’t just proliferated through coaching trees; it has also spread through imitation, as unassociated coaches have grafted Shanahan’s principles into their offenses. Ben Johnson in Detroit is running a Shanahan-style offense for Jared Goff; Kevin Stefanski in Cleveland did it for a while, before moving away this year; Drew Petzing, the Cardinals offensive coordinator who learned under Stefanski, has adopted Shanahanian characteristics as well.
But what are those characteristics? What constitutes a Shanahan offense—whether coached by an originator, by an offshoot, or by an imitator? With prolific multiplication comes evolution—each “Shanahan offense” looks a little different from the others. Intuitively, the further the offense gets away from the source, the more it should change and grow. It’s like family resemblance: The son may look just like the father, but by the great-grandson, you may see the similarity only in the eyes.
But the evolution isn’t coming only from the fringes—it is also coming from the core. Shanahan himself isn’t running “the Shanahan offense” anymore, in that “the Shanahan offense” is a static reference point, a fossilized idea, a particular scheme deployed at a particular moment. The offense that once took the league by storm, that is still taking the league by storm … the creator himself has moved beyond it.
“The Shanahan offense” is old hat. The Shanahan offense—the one that Kyle and the 2023-24 San Francisco 49ers are putting on the field every Sunday—is something new.
Items of Interest
“Through this liberalism, the government took a kind of benevolent dominion over the fate of minorities and the poor, not to genuinely help them (which would require asking from them the hard work and sacrifice that real development requires), but to achieve immunity for the government from the taint of the past.”
— Shelby Steele