Mobilize your outrage the Tea Party way
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There was no shortage of regrettable catchphrases and memes during the bitterly divisive presidential campaign in the United States. One of these—the “basket of deplorables” comment Hillary Clinton made about half of Trump supporters—has taken on a life of its own. Right-wing activists have reclaimed the “deplorable” label as a badge of honor, from the “Deplorables Unite” anthem to the DeploraBall feting Trump’s inauguration.
Most recent is the latest culture-war screed from Fox News commentator/columnist Todd Starnes. The Deplorables’ Guide to Making America Great Again, published February 7, is a guide to consolidating an extreme conservative agenda. Starnes is hostile toward many people: liberals, yes, but more specifically vegetarians, social justice warriors, feminists, atheists, gender-variant folks and public school teachers.
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Most of all, though, he’s opposed to secularists, and urges his readers to push back against the cultural and political forces attempting to keep Christianity out of the public sphere. This is otherwise known as separation of church and state, of course, but Starnes sees it as “the Great Unraveling,” which has brought America to a crisis period unmatched since the days of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II. Yup, apparently it’s that serious.
This is perhaps the polar opposite of The Indivisible Guide, a progressive activists’ handbook produced by former congressional staffers. These authors witnessed firsthand the organizing power of the Tea Party movement, and have borrowed from the Tea Party playbook when it comes to mobilizing leftists in the post-Obama era.
Like the Tea Party, the anti-secularist movement Starnes has helped to stir up offers some lessons for progressive activists. Specifically:
A key tenet of the Indivisible movement (and the Tea Party movement) has been that activists are most effective within their own communities. Cultivating relationships, not only with local politicians, but also with local journalists and advocates, is a good use of energy. Linda Bessin is one of the organizers of the Indivisible branch in California’s 30th Congressional District. She tells GOOD that the power of local numbers, for instance, in the airport protests following Trump’s travel ban, “leads to greater focus and organization. It also allows people to react instantly and with impact to events as they happen.”
Specifically, don’t assume that the version of Christianity we might be most familiar with is the one activating many Trump supporters politically. Starnes says outright that do-gooding is not the main responsibility of American Christians: “The social gospel is a dilution, dare I say even a bastardization, of the actual gospel … Being kind and generous and self-sacrificing is nice, but it’s not the heart of the Christian gospel.”
Starnes writes, “Small but persistent irritations can wear down bad policy if you’re determined to do it.” Similarly, advice on “getting your voice heard,” which has been making the rounds on Facebook, encourages activists to make six phone calls a day, and to be loud and vocal in person. Repeated contact—getting elected representatives to be familiar with you, even tired of you—helps.
Start a group
Create and affiliate yourself with political groups, even if it’s only a group of two. As Starnes notes, advocacy “is even more effective if you can say you represent such-and-such group, which advocates locally for such-and-such issue. Even if that group includes five other people, give yourselves a name. Citizens for Accuracy in Textbooks. Patriots for Improved Public Morality. Dub yourself the president, and enter the conversation. You will be noticed.”
Use humor, but …
Use it without trivializing important issues. This is important given the widespread belief among the right wing that liberals are thin-skinned and hypersensitive to the point of intolerance. Starnes, despite living in Brooklyn, peppers his writing with folksy nuggets like “the cheese has done slid off the cracker.” And he claims, “The Left, as humorless a bunch as ever walked God’s green earth, cannot stand to be mocked. So go for it.” The same could be said about Trump apologists. Politically infused comedy has a number of uses—embracing these will help to craft memorable messages.
Tell the stories of ordinary people
One thing that makes works like The Deplorables’ Guide so effective at mobilizing outrage is their litany of personal stories from grandmothers, students, and others. Starnes beats his readers over the head with the idea that these are ordinary heroes, victims of liberal bullies due to their belief that, say, same-sex marriage is a perversion. After all, celebrity endorsements don’t change people’s minds and contribute to the impression of an out-of-touch liberal elite.
Bessin comments, “The amazing movement going on in the country right now, and especially the Indivisible movement, has no connection to celebrities…This is completely grassroots, completely from the ground up. Celebrities can make statements, but the real work is being done by citizens.”
As Starnes concludes, “We voted. Now comes the other 99 percent of the work.” If Trump supporters are resisting complacency, Trump opponents will need to do even more.