Ajit Pai is under attack. The Federal Communications Commission chairman has been the target of online vitriol since the FCC voted to reverse the net-neutrality regulations that were instituted under the Obama administration. The attacks against him have frequently been racist: Pai, an Indian American, was told on Twitter that he is “THE UNCLE TOM OF THE INDIAN PEOPLE.” The criticisms have been personal: Outside his house, Pai was greeted with signs reading “Is this really the world you want [your children] to inherit?” and “Dad murdered democracy in cold blood.” And they’ve veered toward the credibly violent: Pai has now has received his second death threat. The first forced him to briefly postpone the net-neutrality vote, and the latest was disturbing enough for him to withdraw from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a major conference in the tech world.
Despite it all, defenses of Pai are few and far between. The media have lambasted his decision to reverse the net-neutrality regulations but remains conspicuously silent in the matter of the attacks against him. Maybe there would be a different level of concern if Pai supported the Obama-era regulations and was being threatened by net-neutrality foes, but social-justice ministers pick their spots.
Such criticism has come from not only writers but also celebrities — Mark Ruffalo called Pai a “rogue player,” and Chance the Rapper predicted on Twitter that Pai “will go to prison.” Aside from the scarce outlier (such as April Glaser’s “Racist, Threatening Attacks on FCC Chair Ajit Pai Won’t Save Net Neutrality,” at Slate), the media- and culture- industry playbook on Pai is to shrilly criticize his actions but ignore the bigoted attacks and threats of violence against him.
Those attacks and threats make for a story worth thinking about, one that in another context might interest the same people who are studiously ignoring it. Pai, after all, is the first Indian American to serve as FCC chairman: The son of immigrants, he has an impressive résumé in business and government, yet he is being targeted by the mostly white and male digerati class. No writer seems willing to touch the racial angle, but one can easily conjure visions of a story about computer-addicted white men in dark basements coming after a high-achieving Asian American. Pai is a successful, visible member of a successful and increasingly visible community within the American ethnic patchwork, one whose rise has come in the face of racial discrimination — and in some cases provoked even more.
Even if net neutrality is your guiding passion, Pai is not your enemy. Congress is.
Not so with Pai, and the obvious reason is that he’s on the wrong team. Pai’s critics say that his FCC has made a decision that is beyond the pale and that undermines democracy. But there are reasonable arguments on both sides of the issue; Pai’s acting on one of them is hardly a moral failing. And putting the merits of his decision aside, the policy reversal was anything but undemocratic: The Obama-era rules in question were implemented without input from the democratically elected legislators who are supposed to be our policymakers, so the FCC’s action to get rid of them was a procedural corrective to Obama’s executive overreach. Even if net neutrality is your guiding passion, Pai is not your enemy. Congress is.
The Left and its evangelizers in the media and culture industries profess to be deeply disturbed by online racism, but they have greeted the vicious attacks against Pai with a notable silence rather than a spirited defense. Pai is a Republican implementing policies Republicans favor, so it follows that any opposition to him is a good thing — no matter how racist, personal, or threatening it becomes. The unlikely and unspoken alliance between progressives and Pai’s unhinged attackers is one of partisanship and convenience.
— Theodore Kupfer is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.