Stop Blaming Progressives for Right Wing Extremism

Part 0: Context For Future Alien Historians

Yesterday, April 13, 2020, former democratic presidential nominee and prominent progressive Bernie Sanders endorsed Joe Biden to win the nomination.

The internet promptly exploded with folks of varying ideologies telling progressive Sanders supporters how to react. I was one of those supporters.

Part I: To Progressives

You beautiful human. Unless you voted for Trump, his presidency is not your fault. 

Progressives, your commitment to human rights is not to blame for the rise of authoritarianism. Do you not hear how ridiculous that sounds? All you want to give those poor souls is quality public education. 

You are a loving, kind spirit. You just wanted nice things for your fellow humanity. You are allowed to grieve Bernie. You absolutely do not have to endorse Biden. You do not have to vote for Biden. Don’t worry about any of that — it’s fucking April.

Everyone saying you have to do anything is being a coercive dickweed. Everyone acting like it’s their business is being a nosy asswipe. Fuck the haters.

angry cat
Progressives: even when angry and sad, you are as perfect as a fluffy kitten

Part II: To Centrists

I cannot believe this needs to be said: progressives will not be the reason Trump wins. This blog post will certainly not be the reason Trump wins. California hippies voting Green Party will not be the reason Trump wins. The jaded college student commenting “suck it” on every blue-no-matter-who meme will not be the reason Trump wins. Trust, y’all wish we had that kind of power because you’d have fucking health care by now. Leave us alone. 

No, I am not saying anyone should or shouldn’t vote for Biden. I’m saying fuck people telling others who to vote for. That’s way more authoritarian than Cuba’s literacy program. 

I am, however, insinuating that your efforts to recruit progressives are out of touch and uninformed. And it’s not helping you gain support for your candidate.

For me, personally, I find the subtext than I am the uninformed, out-of-touch one to be most insulting.  I have been asked “Do you really want 4 more years of Trump?” more times than I can count. There’s something about the rhetorical question of it all that summons an urge to publicly tweet #neverbiden just for revenge. And I don’t even have twitter installed on my phone, nor do I know if that’s a real hashtag.

Look, assholes. I was raised by a same-sex couple in the 90s. Like many other Americans, I have not known the privilege of escaping politics — not because my parents “indoctrinated” me, but because conservative Americans thought my childhood was their business. I wrote my high school admissions essay on the war in Iraq. I wrote my college admissions essay and undergraduate thesis on the marriage equality movement. I’ve taught middle school social studies. I once read the definitive demographic history of poor white people as a treat for my birthday. This is my favorite essay. I’m not a political expert by any means, but I am at least a dedicated nerd. So no, I’ve absolutely not forgotten about the rabid stubbed toe that occupies the white house, nor would I do anything that would help him get re-elected. I’ve thought my shit through. Have you?

Did you know? This vital organ can help you cast an informed vote!

My political nerdiness is exactly why I know blaming progressives/third parties/anyone but themselves for the failings of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is hardly a fresh move. And I haven’t fallen for it ever, motherfuckers. I am actually a bit of a child prodigy when it comes to “political hyperactivity” — as an asshole who is now a speech writer for Mitch McConell* once accused me of — and suffered my first liberal snowflake meltdown at just 10 years old.  The year was 2000, and the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Bush v. Gore had gifted George W. Bush the White House with a questionable Electoral College victory, and a clear popular vote defeat. Much to the confusion of the adults in my life, I was shook to my core. 

Seriously. Bush’s victory was much more shocking to me than September 11th. I knew the US was a military powerhouse and therefore had enemies. I knew “evil men” were trying to attack us. I had seen enough action movies to know violence existed.

On the other hand, I had believed my teachers when they taught me that America was a democracy, and that our citizenry valued freedom for all. I did not know the majority of Americans opposed gay (my family’s) rights. I did not know so many Americans wanted a leader who valued faith over science. I did not know a candidate could lose the popular vote and win the White House. And I did not understand why adults were so passive about such scary threats to functional government — threats that were already beating them in battle.

Let me be clear: the rise of evangelicalism in politics, and the boost their votes get from the electoral college, is what has led us to Trump. The real threats of 2000, if addressed, could have stopped Trump and encouraged thousands, if not millions, to lean into the party. But you — centrists, the adults I was trusting to build the world I would inherit — rolled over and gave Bush a 90% approval rating while he was lying through his teeth

Back in 2000, I still believed there could be concrete explanations for my country’s hypocrisy. Reasons that, even though the Founding Fathers won and the people had the power, we voted for the cartoon villain. Again, I am talking about 2000. When I finally asked for an explanation, I learned of another man who ran for president in 2000: Ralph Nader. 

Even today, if you google Nader’s name, the top results after the standard Wikipedia page are thinkpieces blaming him for Dubya. 

Nader can get it: change my view

I unfortunately cannot find the article I read in high school that helped me put words to what frustrated me about the media narrative that blamed Nader. It feels like plagiarism to say more about this moment in my intellectual development without referring to said article. Let’s just say, the following ideas are hardly original, just like all three of Biden’s presidential campaigns. 

First and foremost, the article reminded me that campaigns are called campaigns for a reason. The candidate bears the responsibility of earning votes — that’s what they’re supposedly doing when they stop showing up to Congress. Any argument that assumes candidates are entitled to someone’s vote is based on a false premise that completely misunderstands how a healthy democracy functions. Through the process of campaigning, the candidate learns how best to serve the people. Using Trump as a bogey-man just scares us into submission so Biden — or whoever ends up securing the Democratic nomination — doesn’t have to actually do their fucking job.

Of course, the arguments scapegoating third parties often operate on the assumption that the DNC would magically receive all third party votes if they were cast elsewhere. How arrogant is that? At least it explains why they don’t think they have to campaign. In truth, those who voted for Nader may not have otherwise voted, or might have voted for Bush if Nader wasn’t a choice (yes, they existed, especially in weird old Florida). No political party will ever achieve perfect loyalty — every year, some registered Democrats vote Republican, and vice versa! Not to mention, citizens of unclear political persuasion sometimes vote in the Democratic primary, but end up voting for the Republican nominee. If progressive voters bear responsibility for a right-wing extremist presidency, shouldn’t we also discuss those who voted for the actual winner? 

Nah, those hoes didn’t blame Nader because it was actually his fault. They blamed Nader because it was easy. It was an explanation that didn’t require any action or change in response — at least not from the DNC, nor from Gore’s supporters. They blamed Nader because they’re not any less prone to intellectual laziness than Republicans. In fact, when it comes to political strategy, they’d have to at least try something before they would even qualify as lazy. 

The big takeaway from 2000, if there were any logic in this godforsaken country, would have been that the Electoral College needs to go, fucking yesterday. Really, we’d be in a better position if we had learned just one lesson about the Electoral College. It amazes me that in 2020, people who voted in the 2000 election are acting as though the electoral college is as new as Covid-19. Honey. The Electoral College has been around since Mississippi realized leaving the presidency to the popular vote would force them to give up slavery. Yes, the Electoral College is cheating for racists. Its continued existence means slave-owners are winning from the grave. And yet. 

Cool Founding Fathers: letting slave-owners win is not very cash money of you

In the absence of a movement to abolish the Electoral College, one would hope a major political party — especially one marketing itself as the “smart people” party — would adopt a strategy that acknowledged the existence of the Electoral College. But what have we been hearing? Phrases like “we just need to get all the democrats out to vote blue no matter who” sound like someone still running in a popularity contest. It’s about recruiting quality, not quantity. 

In this same vein, I question the efficacy of messaging that glamorizes the mere act of showing up to vote. Unlike most people, I actually think you should stay the fuck home on election day if you haven’t done your homework. Well, I think we should actively work against the anti-intellectual cultural mindset that has accompanied the rise of the evangelical far right, which starts by infusing intellectual curiosity back into your own voting process. Again, I am not advocating for any particular outcome; I am asking you to put more conscious, mindful effort into arriving at an outcome. 

I developed this opinion following the passage of California’s Prop 8 in 2008, which banned same-sex marriages in the state. While most states passed similar initiatives in the 2000s, California’s stung particularly hard because it invalidated existing marriages, legally breaking up real families with real lives. Some voters had simply assumed that voting “yes” meant pro-gay, and ended up voting for the ban despite intending to vote against it. I heard my friends’ (that’s a plural apostrophe) parents say they had voted “yes,” because their church/favorite radio pundit/the GOP had told them to, and apparently that’s how they make their decisions. These parents clearly did not realize they were speaking to the daughter of two lesbians, nor did they see a problem modeling the elimination of critical thinking from their personal voting process to the children. 

But voting isn’t just a pat on the back, Insragram likes, and a cute sticker. Thousands of queer people died because of Reagan’s trash response to the HIV epidemic. My family and thousands of others were denied basic rights because of Prop 8 and similar ballot measures. And that’s just what directly impacted this middle class white girl.

This is America, and voting effects people’s lives. If it doesn’t effect your life: fuck you, you moron. Live in a country with a pandemic? Drive on roads? Have kids in school? Enjoy other people’s kids going to school and not running these streets? Voting effects your life. Have some respect for yourself and your fellow man, and read the damn fine print before you vote on anyone’s life. 

So you see, it’s not just Biden that I find abhorrent. It’s the message that I must fall in line. Right now. Behind anyone. It’s that I have to pledge that kind of loyalty before you’ll even listen to my concerns. And often, you’re straight up talking down to me about issues I’ve thought deeply and passionately about.

If Democrats — both leaders and its members — want to be the party of “responsible adults,” they need to take responsibility for their own movement. They need to treat their voters like autonomous adults who can think for themselves. They need to commit to the necessity of having a complex political strategy. They need to campaign on a platform that motivates the electorate. They need to pull out every stop they have, swallow their pride, and ask for help finding more stops to pull. Then, and only then, does anyone get to blame one second of Trump on progressive voters.  


For those curious, my personal opinion on what should be done now that Bernie has dropped out is not that complicated. Progressives need to keep the democratic nominee’s centrist ass begging for every crumb of support until that platform is something we’d be proud to vote for, and thus I am not pledging my vote to him just yet.

This stance is not antithetical to party unity unless party leadership makes it so. At present, the domineering culture of “blue no matter who” simply exacerbates progressives’ fear that the DNC is just setting us up to be the scapegoat if they fail to defeat Trump. Bernie’s endorsement only came with the concession that Biden’s campaign work with him to develop a platform more palatable to the party’s left wing. Let’s see if Biden follows through before we call it a day. 

And yes, I obviously wish folks would really pause and sit with the long-term ramifications of Biden’s nomination. The one thing we all seem to agree on is that he is not a strong candidate, and that this election is too important to leave to chance. Let’s face the scary reality that he might not be able to get it done while there is still time to pick someone else.

*Yes, I know I spelled Mitch’s name wrong. Don’t respect him enough to fix it.

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