The stereotypes and “aesthetic” associated with leftist activists—especially liberal men—are annoying, low-hanging fruit, but are not entirely out of touch with reality: Cucks. Snowflakes. Betas. The list goes on.
It is incredibly hard to be articulate and precise on this issue, but you know what I mean. The left has a perception problem that it’s not willing to admit.
Although this topic seems ridiculous, it’s undeniable that these representations—whether or not we may exercise significant control of them—turn off many moderates and uninvolved political participants from the left. Our insistence on politicking to signal virtue and the manner by which we self-righteously—and often hypocritically—conduct ourselves shape these representations and certainly hold us back.
Although one can take the moral high ground and want to believe that “we don’t want those votes anyways,” the reality of the situation is that the status quo is a hellscape for vulnerable populations and Democrats need to come into 2020 swinging. That means establishing themselves as confident, assertive, yet uncompromisingly progressive. We desperately need a makeover in 2020, but I’m not exactly sure what that process looks like and whether it can ever be an ethical prescription.
But I do know that I’m tired of supporting a movement that unequivocally defends the belief that “when they go low, we go high.” I’m tired of insisting upon the “innocence” of corrupted institutions when the current state of affairs empowers deceit, outrage and spectacle in politics. We restrain ourselves, attempt to understand the other and ultimately forgive instead of seriously confronting them on Twitter or cable news and hardly attempt to change the rules of engagement entirely.
Democrats need to play to win because anything else condemns us to the status quo: a pitiful, whiny existence that always seems to place us on the losing side of political scandal. I’m not arguing that we should collude with foreign governments to improve our representations, but simply to critically think about perception and to refuse to be a group of pushovers. People are counting on the left in 2020 and I’m ready to engage in some McConnell-level tactical maneuvering and scheming if that’s what it takes to deliver.
45 was “rewarded with the presidency” for his vulgarity. I don’t think that the left or even the country as a whole wants to see us fix that by showing compassion. I’m tired of a liberal politics obsessed with being virtuous and ultimately boring in the name of not offending those with disagreements.
The current political sphere is anything but business as usual and it’s entirely unconvincing to respond by suppressing our natural human emotions. For instance, Beto’s raw speech about Trump’s comments on the El Paso shooting was a huge turn-on for voters and is probably the only thing keeping him alive at this point; dropping f-bombs won’t necessarily win us seats, but I think it’s safe to say voters minimally want their politicians to be authentic—and thus outraged.
Moreover, the right has successfully branded itself as the party of sexy big-businesses and independent thinkers fixated on telling the truth when blue-pilled liberals can’t step outside of their fantasy land. Internet trolls and conservative influencers poke fun at the “liberal” participation trophy culture, safe spaces from outside criticism, and our obsession with losing often, but at least ethically. And quite honestly, these strategies work really well.
I feel a strong, internal embarrassment, for instance, when thinking about Democratic candidates pandering to people of color, Portland Antifa dressing up as bananas, and Hillary desperately pleading for us to “Pokemon Go to the polls.” Voters can easily sense who’s being real and who’s trying way too hard to take the moral high ground by being woke. It’s hard to point to specific examples, but the method by which so many on the left self-righteously conduct themselves, particularly on the internet to appeal to young voters, is blatantly cringe-worthy.
However, this issue with the left’s representations doesn’t stem from its core values of compassion or empathy. The basic tenet of empathy is not mutually exclusive with being inspiring and assertive. The fight for emancipatory politics can and should be made “sexy” through a deliberate refocusing from issues like political correctness to energizing struggles against unjust authority and political elites.
Groups like Black Lives Matter and policies like Medicare for All or the Green New Deal, for instance, are certainly controversial but definitely not cringy. In fact, the right often plays to romanticized and nostalgic narratives about police officers, veterans, blue-collar workers and natural disaster survivors to garner sympathy and compassion just as often. The relevant difference is certainly an issue of our energy and framing.
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On the internet, the logic of cancel culture, the focus on microaggressions, and the Ellen & Bush debacle are all excellent examples of how liberals empower an unconscious system of desire that ultimately restrains leftist politics and empowers Donald Trump. The right finds immense pleasure in name-calling because it ruptures and trolls the social authority that out-of-touch liberals have mandated. In this sense, there exists a “masochistic structure of enjoyment.” Knowing that Trump is bad for people is not enough to lessen the enjoyment of his regime and realizing oneself as problematic is irrelevant when the right offers a more appealing method of living; for many, it almost seems impossible to imagine liberals having fun without constantly talking about how ethical they are. Liberals will argue that they are nevertheless on the right side of the issue and that they claim a “truer vision of politics” but such concerns are at best merely tangential for those not already sold on the left.
We can’t control what the right calls us, but we can certainly alter the behaviors that enable such stereotypes. My vision is not a shift away from our current policy stances, but rather a refusal to solely rely on seeming trendy and virtuous. Those tangibly affected by the enactment of progressive policies don’t care about our perceived moral high ground, or at least not enough to choose being ethical over a leftism that is fed up and willing to do what it takes to win back the White House and Senate.
David Min is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "milk before cereal," runs on alternate Thursdays.