The dizzying speed with which conservatives reversed their views about the rights of employers tells you everything you need to know about the sincerity of their claim that lofty principles are at stake. But the framing has always been used as a shell to obscure the practical underpinning of their position. Today, Eich’s ouster is a symptom of a new fascism—but yesterday, conservatives were doing ritual dances to celebrate the firing of Shirley Sherrod, and the termination of the Dixie Chicks’ sponsorship contracts. Yesterday, freedom of speech didn’t mean you must get to say whatever you want and keep your status as a government bureaucrat or famous musician. Today it is imperiled if it means you can’t say whatever you want and remain CEO of a company or the star of a reality TV show about backwater millionaires.
What all of this reveals is that the animating issue for conservatives isn’t abstract principle, but the privileges they are losing, or sense that their tribesmen are losing. This also explains why the reaction on the right has been so whiny and hyperbolic. Eich’s supporters think it’s appropriate for there to be repercussions for engaging in speech they don’t like, but not for engaging in speech they do like. And, very suddenly, speech they like is becoming culturally disfavored.
Nobody seriously disputes that Mozilla’s board would’ve been acting appropriately if they’d fired a CEO for donating to a white supremacist group, because the white supremacist worldview is no longer a privileged one. Opposing gay marriage used to be privileged, but very quickly, and particularly in Silicon Valley, it no longer is. It’s that abrupt change in status that makes this episode so jarring to people who still oppose same-sex marriage or who align politically with same-sex marriage foes. People are finding that the views they hold, and which were recently dominant, are suddenly no longer dominant, and in many parts of the country anathema. And CEOs of big companies—particularly companies like Mozilla, which benefit from the largesse of progressive donors—can’t dabble in anathema unrepentantly, and expect their boards will just shrug it off.