The inexplicable division on the left

The party is eating itself alive


(Courtesy of Senator Chuck Schumer Facebook Page)

By Edridge D’Souza, Collegian Columnist

I’ve often been accused of being a leftist. While I consider myself closer to the center-right side of neoliberal, appearing further left is unavoidable when half the news cycle is dominated by a particularly disastrous right-wing presidency. However, while there’s truly no shortage of examples for how this administration blunders its most basic tasks and exposes itself to unnecessary scandal, one thing that has consistently baffled me throughout the Trump era is the left’s complete unpreparedness to respond effectively to any of it.

Generally, many people on the left and center view Trump and his administration as dangerous, whether to the environment, to our international alliances or even to the basic notion of democracy. In the face of such sentiment, one would expect the opposition party to focus its message more. Now there is a common target that could unite the far-left, progressives, liberals, moderates, centrists and even disillusioned conservatives. A more competent version of the Democrats would have a unified message in what should have been an extremely easy presidency to oppose.

Yet, just like in 2016, we see that people on the left are more interested in fighting amongst themselves than in unifying a message. For instance, shortly after Trump’s inauguration, the widespread Women’s Marches gained popularity on social media and appealed to the millennial demographic. Yet, as these protests spread, so did some outright divisive ideas. A viral photo of a Black woman holding a sign reading “Don’t forget: white women voted for Trump” made its way around social media, and as I saw the photo shared across Facebook, commenters from the “woke” crowd brought up generalized grievances toward white women. These people directed their frustrations at “Becky,” the Platonic ideal of a white woman deemed not-sufficiently-woke.

I’m not going to address the statistical fallacies that it takes to make the claim that white women supported Trump in 2016 and are somehow culpable for his presidency. I won’t address the idea that the word “Becky” has started to be used as a sort of racial epithet that somehow allows the user to turn nakedly misogynistic statements into progressive-approved ones. I also won’t address the fact that such rhetoric reflects a collective mentality that reduces people to their social and ethnic groups, removing the capacity to judge people’s behavior as individuals. What I will say is that, even from a value-neutral perspective, pointlessly divisive rhetoric like this is the reason Democrats keep losing elections.

Yes, the idea of intersectionality means that different marginalized groups may be affected in different and complex ways depending on their circumstances. That idea is widely accepted among academicians. And in an academic context, these nuances can be fully explored to the level of seriousness they deserve.

Social media is not academia though. On social media, political messages are spread by people who have a vested interest in the outcome. The spread of the viral Women’s March photo indicates that people sharing it were more concerned with signaling their progressive political status to their peers than they were with actually solving any issues; if they were, perhaps the image would have been accompanied with some concrete examples of policies to unify the movement, rather than some vague and miasmic notion that white women are not to be trusted, without any further explanation.

Knowing what we know now about social media campaigns, it would seem almost foolish to assume that this sort of internal division wasn’t also being pushed by outside forces that want to cause division. Russian bots have been found voicing extreme rhetoric on both sides of the aisle, with the intention of capitalizing on existing divides within the U.S. to sow civil discord. While there is no specific evidence linking Russian interference to that particular New York Times photo, it is not hard to conceive that the spread of such images can only benefit people who want to see America fail.

Once again, my criticisms here are not of substance but of branding. Perhaps one can believe that factors like systematic racism warrant a more in-depth exploration of how white people’s voices are represented among intersectional social movements. This is a valid concern. But even among the extremes of the left, it should be apparent that rhetoric that demonizes entire demographic groups will divide people more than it will unite them, and will also alienate potential supporters. It almost seems specifically engineered for the purpose of preventing an otherwise-unified voting bloc from having a concerted message.

Weak leadership from officials like Chuck Schumer have led to a Democratic branding strategy that essentially amounts to “sit back and just quietly take it.” The mainstream opposition party is under attack from the right by Republicans setting the narrative of the media cycle, as well as from the left by progressives who inexplicably seem more concerned with showing off their ideological purity than with unifying against a common adversary. Just like with the 2016 primaries (and later in the general election), people who agree with each other on the vast majority of issues will let perfect be the enemy of good.

The American left is unique in its ability to take a situation that seems straightforward and massively mishandle it. The Democrats lost the presidency to a historically unpopular candidate due to weak brand messaging as well as factional infighting, and it almost seems like they want it to happen again. When the president has never yet had above a 50 percent approval rate, a shrewder opposition party would have no issue at all defining a unified narrative and clear policy platform.

This lack of unity reflects that people on the left should focus on their commonalities if they ever want to win again. This strategy worked in the midterms when candidates tried to reconcile the divisions between factions of the big-tent party. The left wing is great at eating itself alive, but if it ever wants to survive, it needs to do absolutely anything else, at least for a few minutes at a time. While I can’t say I agree with the Trump-era GOP on many issues, I can give them credit where it’s due: at least they know how to win.

Edridge D’Souza is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]