Robert Tracinski explains what the Patent Office cancelling the Washington Redskin’s trademark shows about the state of American democracy.
This name-bullying has become a kind of sport for self-aggrandizing political activists, because if you can force everyone to change the name of somethingâ€”a sports team, a city, an entire race of peopleâ€”it demonstrates your power. This is true even if it makes no sense and especially if it makes no sense. How much more powerful are you if you can force people to change a name for no reason other than because theyâ€™re afraid you will vilify them?
Given the equivocal history of the term â€œredskinsâ€ and the differing opinionsâ€”among Native Americans as well as everyone elseâ€”over whether it is offensive, this was a subjective judgment. (One observer suggests a list of other sports names that could just as plausibly be considered offensive.) When an issue is subjective, it would be wise for the government not to take a stand and let private persuasion and market pressure sort it out.
Ah, but thereâ€™s the rub, isnâ€™t it? This ruling happened precisely because the campaign against the Redskins has failed in the court of public opinion. The issue has become the hobby horse of a small group of lefty commentators and politicians in DC, while regular Washingtonians, the people who make up the teamâ€™s base of fans and customers, are largely indifferent. So the left resorted to one of its favorite fallbacks. If the people canâ€™t be persuaded, use the bureaucracyâ€”in this case, two political appointees on the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.
Thatâ€™s what is disturbing about this ruling. Our system of government depends on the impartial administration of the laws by the executive. In this case, executive officials declared that a private company doesnâ€™t deserve the protection of the law: if the ruling survives an appeal in the courts, the federal government will stop prosecuting violations of the teamâ€™s intellectual property rights, potentially costing it millions of dollars.
This ruling isnâ€™t a slippery slope. Itâ€™s a slope weâ€™ve already slid down: bureaucrats in Washington are now empowered to make subjective decrees about what is offensive and what will be tolerated, based on pressure from a small clique of Washington insiders. Anyone who runs afoul of these decrees, anyone branded as regressive and politically incorrect, is declared outside the protection of the federal government.
That this is happening, and that we have no idea where it will stop, is what should terrify usâ€”even if, like me, you donâ€™t particularly care one way or the other about the Washington Redskins.