MINOT, N.D. -- In his book, the "The Gulag Archipelago," Nobel Prize-winning Russian author and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recounted a chillingly absurd incident at a conference in Soviet Russia.
The event's organizers thought it should be concluded with a standing ovation for Josef Stalin. The audience, which had been leaping to its feet throughout the event at every mention of Stalin's name, began clapping.
And clapping. And clapping.
Minute after minute, the applause continued while palms burned, and arms got sore, but this was the time of the Great Terror, and nobody wanted to be the first to stop applauding Comrade Stalin.
They were afraid their silence would be an indictment of their loyalty to the regime.
I was thinking about this anecdote recently when my not-quite-20-year-old daughter told me how her acquaintances on various social media platforms were reacting to the George Floyd protests. My daughter is a thoughtful but reserved young woman, not prone to public declarations, yet was told by her social circle that silence on the George Floyd situation was unacceptable.
Speak, they told her, or be part of the problem.
The history of the world is dotted with villains like Stalin, and we tend to focus on them as the root of the evil of their times.
While understandable, that focus obscures an ugly truth: None of history's monsters, from Stalin to Mao to Castro or the Kims, acted alone.
Each was surrounded by mobs of zealots willing to ruthlessly enforce their preferred ideologies on the masses.
In America, in 2020, nobody is being sent to a labor camp for wrongthink, but depending on your situation, dissenting from certain left-wing orthodoxies can hurt you.
A New York Times editor has resigned amid left-wing blowback for publishing a provocative op-ed penned by sitting U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton.
The head editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer has resigned for publishing, amid the Floyd protests, the headline, "Buildings Matter, Too." An admittedly dumb headline, but it advertised a reasonable argument, which is that rioting "will ultimately end up hurting the very people the protests are meant to uplift."
Quarterback Drew Brees was bullied into apologizing for believing people ought to stand for the national anthem.
HBO has canceled Gone With the Wind, a groundbreaking piece of cinema that resulted in the first Oscar awarded to a black actor, and edited old Warner Brothers cartoons to take the gun out of legendary wabbit hunter Elmer Fudd's hands.
The American business community -- from behemoths like Amazon to your local nail salon -- has taken to its social media platforms to preemptively genuflect lest they end up the victims of howling populist mobs.
All of this, we're told, is part of a new conversation about race and violence in America.
I welcome discussion, but this doesn't feel like a conversation.
It feels like everyone is afraid to stop clapping.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.