Online chatter is frequently inhospitable, but ever since the presidential election, it has been especially egregious.
Lately, checking trending political topics on Twitter has been a test of one’s mettle or, perhaps more aptly, a measure of one’s masochism. Democrats sniping at Republicans. Republicans sniping at Democrats. Donald Trump is deranged! The election is rigged! Depending on who you listen to, we either need to save the integrity of America’s elections from collapse—but only in the states where Trump lost—or we need to save the integrity of America’s elections from collapse—not by running better candidates, but pointing reflexively to RUSSIA! RUSSIA! DID YOU HEAR ABOUT RUSSIA?!?
For leftists, this would at least appear to be an advantageous situation. The election is over and Joe Biden won, so they can’t be blamed for the Democrat losing this time, right? And because leftists don’t particularly like Biden, that means they should be cool with the right, or at least not nearly the subject of the ire that Democratic loyalists are, right? Let the “vote blue no matter who” and MAGA crowds fight among themselves and focus on the issues that matter. Easy peasy.
Not exactly. Liberals, freshly emboldened by a Biden win, are feeling free to chide naysaying progressives for anything they may have done—real or imagined—to cost Joe a bigger victory or to hurt congressional candidates vis-à-vis the losses incurred in the House and the failure to secure a firm majority in the Senate. They’re the ones at the top of the heap—and the “far left” would be wise to get in line. Stop killing our post-election buzz, man.
Trump’s faithful, meanwhile, in their feelings about an election that they don’t feel they lost—rather, they believe it was stolen from them—blindly are lashing out at anyone who doesn’t support Trump in his ludicrous bid to overturn the will of the American people. As far as they are probably concerned, those who accept the results as legitimate are no better than the Biden and Harris stans who unapologetically are wagging their tongues at the losing side. And this is before we even get to the matter of the Proud Boys tearing down BLM banners, shouting “F**k Antifa,” and claiming ownership of city streets while toting assault rifles. They certainly are not taking the results of the election lying down.
Simply put, if partisan rancor was bad before, it has only intensified since the election has come and gone. Things haven’t settled down. Moreover, in the face of increasingly dire need from everyday Americans and at a time when progressives, a group most attuned to this need, should be well positioned to cut through the discord, they have their own demons and divisions to sort through.
The kerfuffle of the moment for leftists is whether or not progressives in the House should use whatever leverage they have to force a vote on Medicare for All legislation. With a narrow Democratic majority, members of the Progressive Caucus could refuse to vote for Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House. Such a stance is not without its immediate risk; if Pelosi does not secure the speakership, that puts GOP minority leader Kevin McCarthy, a climate change denier, a staunch Trump defender, someone who has threatened “action” against Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for their criticism of Israel, an opponent of legal status for DREAMers, and an all-around shithead, atop the House pecking order.
What this debate essentially boils down to is a matter of strategy and how forceful progressives should be on compelling the vote on a bill (H.R. 1384, proposed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal) that is presumably dead on arrival in the Senate. On one side of the discussion, there are people like comedian and political commentator Jimmy Dore who insist that Democrats need to be held accountable, esp. if they insist people should not have access to health care in a pandemic. The merits here would exist with respect to putting pressure on elected officials to elaborate on why they don’t support a position popular with Americans across the political spectrum, and in doing so, flex their might.
On the other side of the discussion, you have people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who insist the votes are not there for M4A to even make it past the House, let alone the Senate, and to instead put energy behind other progressive priorities, such as pushing for a $15 minimum wage and putting progressives in leadership positions within the Democratic Party. According to this view, all the demands made for a vote on H.R. 1384 which goes nowhere won’t speak to progressive power—and could make progressives look even weaker than some might suggest they already are.
To say that some participants in this debate have taken a contentious tack would be an understatement. Dore made waves when, on his show, he told AOC to—how should I put this in a more family-friendly context?—take a long walk off a short pier. From what some observed, this diatribe was less about politics and more about wanting to destroy Ocasio-Cortez for her perceived treachery. On top of the apparent ill will, there was also the matter of Dore’s factual inaccuracy: Jimmy insisted Ocasio-Cortez had voted in favor of the CARES Act, when it was reported that the representative from the state of New York had not.
The crux of the matter here is not so much what one side believes—you probably have your own opinion on the #ForceTheVote question—or whether the vote would garner the positive attention advocates for forcing the vote are hoping in the first place—some like Ryan Grim of The Intercept are pessimistic on this front, while others, like Briahna Joy Gray, the national press secretary for the 2020 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, think “the Squad’s” ability to generate interest is understated—but how they express their beliefs.
For some, this is yet additional evidence that AOC is a sellout or traitor or shill for Nancy Pelosi and that anyone who defends her now is a neoliberal bootlicker/hack. For others, Dore and likeminded #ForceTheVoters are crybabies who don’t understand political realities. Over a matter of political tactics on a theoretical vote, contingents within the broadly-stated Left are ready to go scorched earth on present and future alliances. For a mainstream media landscape eager to paint leftists as a fractured bunch, this feeds the narrative all too easily.
Beyond the optics aimed at a general audience, however, the significance of individuals perceived as leading voices of the progressive movement butting heads in an acrimonious way (Gray herself became embroiled in a bit of controversy when fellow progressive podcaster Benjamin Dixon came for her publicly for her stance on forcing an M4A vote) shouldn’t be understated. What amounts to mere performative antics for some can be taken seriously by those devotees within earshot of that soapbox—and the resulting bile spilled jeopardizes the engagement of those for whom politics is an acquired taste or whose natural inclination is to tune out at the earliest sign of contentiousness. In other words, it’s difficult to have a unified front when your forces can’t agree on a target—or lose the will to fight altogether.
In the 24-hour news cycle and amid the real and present concerns of Americans just trying to meet their basic needs—and for some, the global pandemic didn’t create their situation, but has only exacerbated it—this debate over playing hardball with House Democratic leadership and the Speaker’s seat over Medicare for All is a relative blip on the radar. Who cares about an M4A vote when they have no job and they’re facing eviction or they have loved ones sick and dying? What does it matter to me if Jimmy Dore said some bad words to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? The Lincoln Project crowd, for one, would be more apt to turn the lens on Donald Trump and all he hasn’t done for the country during a time of hardship for millions. Trump bad. Bad, bad man.
As minor as this episode which is still ongoing may be, that it is illustrative of a larger trend in political discourse gives scrutiny of it value. On an anecdotal note, I’ve observed numerous instances of paid pundits and armchair critics alike ready to cancel AOC for her take on bringing H.R. 1384 to a floor vote. One commenter I saw even opined that they thought Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is the most disappointing politician they’ve witnessed in the last several decades. The woman hasn’t even completed her first full term in the House of Representatives after a surprise primary win against a 10-time incumbent and she’s already a major disappointment? The notion would be infuriating if it weren’t so laughably absurd.
Of course, not every “hot take” we read on social media is going to be well considered. (Frequently, they are very poorly considered.) Still, the people uttering these lines are likely prospective voters in 2022 and beyond. Maybe it’s fatigue after a long and hard year and an even longer presidential campaign. Maybe progressives are starting to become impatient after two failed presidential campaigns for Bernie Sanders and a seemingly endless barrage of attacks from the right and center-right.
Whatever the case, that some leftists would be so apt to throw AOC, one of the most sympathetic figures to their cause in Congress, under the proverbial bus seems wrong-headed. As it stands, the pickings are slim with respect to congressional allies on core progressive issues. Besides, it’s not as if she, while remaining skeptical about forcing a vote on M4A, is devoid of ideas on how else to apply political pressure on the people who need to be pressed on universal health care. We might not agree with her stance completely, but at least there’s the possibility of negotiation. This is not Joe “I Beat the Socialist” Biden we’re talking about here.
I’ve never been super active on social media, but of late, I’ve largely distanced myself from it completely, especially as intersects with the political and social issues spheres. Do I feel less informed? Sometimes, yeah. But do I miss the drama that accompanies a lot of the day’s political discourse? No, not at all. The title of this piece is intended to be ironic, but only to an extent. The insistence of moderates on civility toward people who actively do and wish harm on others is certainly problematic in its presumption that the center is always best, but perhaps a balance should be struck when dealing with individuals who are outspoken defenders of progressive values. It could get lonely on the left otherwise.