United States Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has an online obsession with other people’s pedophilia jokes–and it’s really clouding his judgment.
As a result, Texas’ half-Canadian junior senator is lashing out in ways that belie his claim to the mantle of constitutional conservatism. That is, Cruz seems to have a very tortured understanding of how the First Amendment–Freedom of Speech in particular–actually works.
A brief bit of backstory: Troma Entertainment alum and Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was recently fired by Disney over renewed controversy surrounding a series of very old and very bad jokes. Specifically, Pizzagate conspiracy theorists trawled through Gunn’s old tweets and found, then publicized, several sexually explicit jokes referencing rape and pedophilia. Because Gunn is an unabashed critic of President Donald Trump, his callous attempts at humor made him an easy target.
Gunn apologized for those jokes on Twitter and then began a nuanced discussion about the kind of person he used to be and who he is now–while noting that he doesn’t blame his past self for making those bad and offensive jokes. This isn’t exactly the sort of discussion the perpetually-and-pretend outrage brigade is wont to cotton to. But it was quite obvious to most everyone that Gunn’s bad and offensive jokes were exactly that: bad and offensive jokes. Full stop.
So, Gunn was punished by a private entity with a penchant for retaining its wholesome and family-friendly image. Perhaps an overreaction–at least one of his Guardians stars thinks so–but wholly commensurate with how Americans as a country deal with sex and violence. Most rapes and sexual assaults go unpunished; jokes about the subject tend to end careers.
Enter Senator Ted Cruz. Instead of leaving Gunn’s fate to the market and the marketplace of ideas, Cruz says he wants the heavy hand of the state to deal with the celebrated director’s unfortunate former self. In a series of tweets, Cruz made his bewildered preference all but crystalline. He wrote:
Wow. These #JamesGunn tweets are just horrible. Child rape is no laughing matter. As Texas SG, I handled far too many child sexual assaults. Truly evil. I’m glad Disney fired him, but if these tweets are true, he needs to be prosecuted.
The fact is “those tweets” were very obviously jokes. And there’s no plausible way for such jokes to “true.” That’s because, in general, jokes are understood–if they’re understood at all–as a riff on reality. Here, specifically, as noted by Mediaite’s Aidan McLaughlin, one of Gunn’s jokes was about a cartoon tree performing oral sex. And, despite Ted Cruz’s very well-functioning brain, this is simply a physical impossibility.
There wasn’t any real mystery about what Ted Cruz was attempting to do. But journalists are funny about credulously engaging obvious trolls like Cruz. So, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski took the bait. This offered Cruz another opportunity to make his case:
Andrew, how do you know they’re jokes? Several tweets refer directly to his having had sex w/ kids. If someone tweets confessing to a crime (repeatedly), it should be investigated. If he’s telling the truth—if he has in fact molested young children—then he should be prosecuted.
Again, any and everyone being honest about this controversy understands that Gunn wasn’t confessing to crimes but rather that he made several bad jokes when he thought of himself as an extremely edgy bomb-thrower. Everyone except those nostalgic for another round of the ’80s Satanic Panic–and therein lies the rub.
Ted Cruz knows full and well about the political project of the conspiracy theorists who went after Gunn. He wants their support. Ted Cruz also knows how such evidence-free assertions can travel like wildfire. It happened in several American communities during the ’80s and ’90s: ruining lives of several accused defendants with the full blessing of the state.
It happened in conservative Bakersfield, California; it happened in liberal Los Angeles County; and it happened in West Memphis, Arkansas–to name just a few instances and places. Now, Ted Cruz has offered the imprimatur of a sitting United States Senator in order to reignite this same false debate. And this is not purely academic–Cruz is actually suggesting an investigation into a man because he made bad and offensive jokes.
That’s state action which doesn’t fall neatly under Supreme Court jurisprudence on the First Amendment. Sure. But it’s dangerous nonetheless. The broader issue here is Cruz’s willingness to cast away America’s first and most basic right in favor of scoring cheap-and-dirty political points. The logical progression of this cynical nonsense is a predictable dismissal-cum-evisceration of due process and even further rights.
Maybe Senator Cruz’s judgment is being clouded because he’s in a statistical tie with his 2018 challenger Beto O’Rourke. Regardless of what exactly has Ted Cruz so flustered and reckless, his understanding of and commitment to the U.S. Constitution is now an open question.
[image via Michael Reynolds – Pool/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.