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Best in the Big Tent: June 2022
Cancel culture kills progress, the far-left continues to lose steam in deep blue strongholds, and the Jan. 6th hearings reinforce the need for a big tent Democratic Party.
Happy 4th of July! 🇺🇸 We’re grateful to have you on this journey with us as we build a big tent Democratic Party that can preserve and strengthen our democracy.
The Secret is Out on The Groups — And the Toxicity of Cancel Culture to Progress
Ryan Grim’s dense exposé in The Intercept broke down how the progressive nonprofit world has been roiled by a debilitating wave of internal discord, distrust, and cancel culture.
One of the most important takeaways from Grim’s reporting is the uniquely militant role that a new generation of white activists have played in driving the turmoil that stymies progressive organizations:
“In the eyes of group leaders dealing with similar moments, staff were ignoring the mission and focusing only on themselves, using a moment of public awakening to smuggle through standard grievances cloaked in the language of social justice. Often, as was the case at Guttmacher, they played into the very dynamics they were fighting against, directing their complaints at leaders of color. Guttmacher was run at the time, and still is today, by an Afro Latina woman, Dr. Herminia Palacio. ‘The most zealous ones at my organization when it comes to race are white,’ said one Black executive director at a different organization, asking for anonymity so as not to provoke a response from that staff.”
This phenomenon isn’t surprising: as we wrote in NBC News last year, the far-left is richer, whiter, and more educated than everyone else — they can afford to blow things up because they’re generally more insulated from the consequences.
Learning what to do (and not do) from the far-left is important —and so is learning from the right. New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg does so in her Lessons From The Terrible Triumph of the Anti-Abortion Movement:
“The scene I keep revisiting features a Students for Life training session about ‘how you can change minds about abortion online,’ in which members of the group learned how to draw young pro-choice people into debate in comment threads. Hawkins said they’d had 105,000 conversations.
Cynthia Lowen, the director of ‘Battleground,’ told me she was struck by the activists’ ‘strategy to get into environments and places, online and offline, where young, typically pro-choice people are,’ and to try to create ‘doubts about their position.’
This is quite different from what I’ve seen in the pro-choice movement, where activists frequently act as if those who don’t agree with them on everything aren’t worth engaging with. (Last week, NARAL tweeted, ‘If your feminism doesn’t understand how anti-trans policies disproportionately impact BIPOC folks, particularly Black trans women and girls, it’s not feminism.’) In the aftermath of the anti-abortion movement’s catastrophic victory, it’s worth asking what we can learn from their tactics.”
Returning to Grim, just how bad is the cancel culture turmoil among progressive organizations (aka The Groups)? So bad that even Bernie Sanders’ campaign had to strike back forcefully against rising internal activism in an attempt to remain politically effective:
“During the 2020 presidential campaign, as entry-level staffers for Sanders repeatedly agitated over internal dynamics, despite having already formed a staff union, the senator issued a directive to his campaign leadership: ‘Stop hiring activists.’ Instead, Sanders implored, according to multiple campaign sources, the campaign should focus on bringing on people interested first and foremost in doing the job they’re hired to do.”
The good news is that the pendulum seems to be swinging back. Grim notes how “the pushback against callout culture, which might be surprising on a surface level, is bubbling up in Black movement spaces.” The weaponization of race and gender as tools of organizational distraction and derailment presents an obvious threat to those working in diligent pursuit of critical missions — and none are more concerned than longtime progressive leaders and activists.
Those stalwarts include the veteran civil rights activist and professor Loretta Ross, who penned a high-profile op-ed in the New York Times arguing that “there are better ways of doing social justice work” than aggressively calling out those we disagree with. She describes how the FBI used cancel culture tactics to deliberately sow discord and hobble progressive movements in the sixties:
“Fifty years ago, black activists didn’t have the internet, but rather gossip, stubbornness and youthful hubris. We believed we could change the world and that the most powerful people were afraid of us. Efforts like the F.B.I.’s COINTELPRO projects created a lot of discord. Often, the most effective activists were killed or imprisoned, but it nearly always started with discrediting them through a call-out attack.”
Ross wraps up her argument with a call for grace, citing a poignant exchange with a student:
“In 2017, as a college professor in Massachusetts, I accidentally misgendered a student of mine during a lecture. I froze in shame, expecting to be blasted. Instead, my student said, ‘That’s all right; I misgender myself sometimes.’ We need more of this kind of grace.”
The kind of empathy that Ross implores us to proceed with goes to the core of our work to build a big tent Democratic Party that can win and save democracy. Democrats have no choice but to heed Grim’s warning: in The Liberal Patriot, Ruy Teixeira notes how the organizational pathologies of the far-left have the potential not only to harm progressive groups but the Democratic Party itself:
“Progressive organizations—nonprofits and advocacy groups—which form a vital part of the Democrats’ supportive ecosystem have become massively dysfunctional due to internal meltdowns, mission creep and maximalist goal-setting.”
The secret is out: cancel culture kills progress. It’s time for Democrats to overcome their cancel culture problem and save democracy.
Tweet of the Month
Mainstreaming the Mainstream
Below are highlights from the past month in essential big tent outlets.
But first, here are the best of the rest:
“Democrats should invite independents and democracy-loving Republicans to vote against election deniers, particularly those who would administer elections.” Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post: We need a plan to deny the election deniers victory
“Working with a razor-thin majority, House Democrats have recorded the highest level of party unity in floor votes that either party has reached in at least 50 years, according to the authoritative statistics kept by Congressional Quarterly and Roll Call.” Ronald Brownstein in CNN: The House reached a stunning new milestone this year
“The left’s response to these reversals has been to portray voters as the victims of brainwashing by conservative media.” Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine: Boudin and the Debacle of Urban Left-wing Politics
“Democracy is very much on the line right now. And we should try new things. We should try everything we can.” Sue Halpern with Sarah Longwell in The New Yorker: Are Crossover Efforts to Defeat Extreme Republicans Gaining Ground?
Best of The Liberal Patriot…
Democrats are betting on liberal, highly-educated voters in the suburbs to help deliver them victories this fall — but it’s unlikely to save them. Ruy Teixeira on how Democrats Misunderstand the Suburban Vote.
New polling demonstrates that Americans are unique in viewing their political leaders as ideological extremists. John Halpin on how The Center Lane is Wide Open.
Nonwhite, working class voters in deep blue cities from San Francisco to New York are striking back at the far-left on the issue of crime. Ruy Teixeira argues that it’s Time for the Democrats’ Chesa Boudin Moment.
As Republicans succumb to extremism, Democrats remain politically rudderless and divided. Brian Katulis on The Death of Patriotism and Liberalism in the GOP — and what it means for Democrats.
The progressive left is working very hard to avoid having to do anything to actually persuade voters. Ruy Teixeira on how Turnout Myths Are the Democrats' Drug of Choice.
A New Baltimore Banner poll shows that local residents maintain hope for their great city, but they want something done on violent crime and other social ills. John Halpin argues It’s Not Complicated — City Voters Want Crime Down and Quality of Life Up.
The secret is out on The Groups — and the harm they’re doing to their own causes and to the cause of the Democratic Party at large. Ruy Teixeira on The Democrats’ Progressive Organization Problem.
Hispanic working class voters are leaving the Democratic Party at a fast and concerning rate. Ruy Teixeira breaks down What’s Going on With Hispanic Working Class Voters.
Best of Slow Boring…
Progressive organizations were once quite effective, but they’ve fallen prey to death by intersectionality. Matt Yglesias with his own take on why progressive organizations have become so vulnerable to staff meltdowns.
There’s plenty of work to be done by ordinary, concerned citizens and political practitioners alike in the post-Roe era. Matt Yglesias offers some practical advice for making a difference in the new abortion fight.
In order to win, Democrats must meet voters where they are: the middle. Milan Singh on how most Americans are moderates.
Best of The Bulwark…
The heart of the matter is that Donald Trump was the head of a criminal conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election. Period. Bill Kristol on The Forest and the Trees.
In 2022, Democrats seeking to win marginal or GOP-leaning districts will probably need to flip voters who would otherwise be predisposed to vote Republican. Lakshya Jain and Kraz Greinetz break down How Big the Red Wave is Going to Be.
Is Biden Too Old for a Second Term? Mona Charen with Matt Bennett and Bill Galston on the Beg to Differ Podcast.
The recall of Chesa Boudin in San Francisco highlights the stark divide between what voters want and what activists want. Tim Miller on Why Progressive Democrats Keep Getting Crushed.
Trumpism will outlast Trump — and possibly for a very long time. Bill Kristol on The New MAGA Establishment.
Finally, the best of The Welcome Party…
Converting political outrage into profit is a big business that allocates our scarce resources without regard for what it takes to win. Let's stop rewarding “attention politicians” with clicks and cash. Let’s Interrupt the Rage Cycle.
Time for better election ratings, more focus on volatility, and Revenge of the Normals. Welcome to the Centrist Insurgency (Of Sorts).
Someone needs to tell Gavin Newsom that there's no such thing as “The Democratic Party” when it comes to messaging and organizing — just individuals and groups with a responsibility to actually do it. It’s Time for Democrats to Stand Up for “The Democrats”.
Democrats must understand voters in the middle — and call them into a big tent to avoid losing. Let’s have Empathy for the Middle.