Do You Want to Feel Good or Do You Want to Win?
Staying on target in our emotional politics
“It’s no good, I can’t maneuver!”
“Stay on target.”
“We’re too close!”
“Stay on target.”
Readers of a certain age will recognize the dialogue above as part of the final battle scene in the first Star Wars movie released in 1977. Rebel fighters are streaking down a trench on the Death Star’s surface trying to hit a vulnerable exhaust port and destroy the Empire’s doomsday weapon. They are under attack by imperial fighters which will distract them from their task unless they…you guessed it,
“Stay on target.”
I was reminded of this scene due to two recent news stories. Firstly, with the leak of the draft Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, protestors have gathered outside the homes of Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh.
The protests are peaceful, but given our fractious times, concerns over violence spiked. So much so, that the Senate unanimously and hastily approved extending security to the families of members of the Court. The right-wing media machine is, predictably, pushing the angle of left-wing radicals threatening the Court members, regardless of the non-violent nature of the protest.
The second story is the news that Twitter’s new CEO in waiting, Elon Musk, reportedly said that he would reinstate former President Donald Trump’s account. Trump was banned permanently in the days immediately after the January 6th insurrection for inciting violence.
Not surprisingly, some are critical of Musk’s remarks as the former president reveled in lying and spreading inflammatory rhetoric on that platform. Being banned from Twitter was arguably a worse punishment for him than if he had been convicted in his last impeachment trial. There’s no doubt his use of that outlet coarsened the political discourse in our country, perhaps irrevocably.
While the reactions above — protests at the Justices’ homes and anger over Trump’s possible reinstatement on Twitter — are understandable, many don’t appear to be accounting for the political implications. As is already happening, the Right will try to scare voters with accusations of the “mob rule” in the former case and, in the latter, Trump’s return to Twitter may actually help Democrats as his unhinged ranting will turn off moderate voters. Especially after they’ve enjoyed a year and a half hiatus from his Twitter effluent.
With the midterm election only six months away, and with control of Congress affecting not only abortion rights but several others, all Democrats, Independents, and non-MAGA Republicans concerned about a GOP takeover, must behave with that election in mind and do what they can to promote Democrats maintaining control. That is the “target.”
Keeping this focus is not easy. Venting our frustration when bad things happen feels good. However, our feelings can often lead us astray. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that a good portion of Trump and MAGA GOP strategy is to bait their opponents into emotional responses. The fact that they want you to respond emotionally suggests that it may not be the best idea politically. You have to decide what’s important to you and act accordingly. As I noted on Twitter recently:
There is a caveat to this approach. If an emotional response is also politically smart, that’s when you can go there. Trump’s possible return to Twitter may be where the emotionally satisfying and the politically smart coincide. People do make decisions based on emotion. The job of democracy-loving citizens everywhere is to make sure the emotion they are feeling between now and November is disgust with Trump and the GOP that enables him. As conservative political activist and Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson explains:
If Trump comes back on Twitter it will likely lead to a tsunami of craziness. Can you imagine the pent-up demand to spew nonsense in that big orange head after a year and a half in Twitter jail?
I’ve written extensively on the need for civility in our political discussion. And I’m not suggesting above that you get into flame wars with Trump or his supporters. If he comes back on Twitter, an emotionally satisfying and politically smart response to Trump’s inevitable verbal diarrhea is to simply share it with a simple question: “Are people who think this is OK, the kind of people you want in our government?” No personal attacks, embellishment, or outrage is needed. You’re simply reminding people of the choice we face in November.
As far as protests at the homes of Supreme Court Justices are concerned, people of good faith can disagree on the wisdom of this tactic. I think it’s unlikely to affect the opinion of the Justices targeted and could have the opposite effect. What’s certain is that it is being used to amplify the idea that Democrats support violent protests. Ironic, given that Democrats weren’t the ones smashing windows and beating Capitol police officers on January 6th, 2021. An event that many Republicans act as if it never happened.
There will be many things that seize our attention and emotions between now and election day in November.
Stay on target.