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Constituent or Fan?
Americans are forgetting that holding your own side’s feet to the fire is just as important, if not more important, a political exercise as standing in opposition to your political foes.
In recent years, I’ve noticed something a little peculiar as I’ve spent time hunting, hiking, or fishing in the mountains. I watch trucks, ATVs, and side-by-sides driving along with various iterations of Trump flags attached to them. I’ve noticed the same thing driving through small Utah towns. Otherwise sleepy and peaceful towns whose clear skies are interrupted from time to time by political messaging, including more Trump flags, Let’s Go Brandon flags, and even a few Confederate flags from time to time.
This has faded somewhat since Trump lost his re-election bid in 2020, but as public hearings of the Jan. 6 Committee have ratcheted up, I’ve noticed this kind of thing tick back up a little bit. And it strikes me how such overt demonstration of patronage symbolizes a significant way politics changed during the Trump era.
And I’m not just talking about the Right. For how hyper-partisan our nation has become, there really is very little substance in our political dialogue. The great political battles of our time are fought largely over symbols, brands, talking points, and various flavors of demagogue.
Take Twitter trolls, for example. I’ll get retweets and likes from the Left and the left-of-center all day long when I take a solid stance against Trump and Trumpism. But as soon as I observe that Trump’s bombastic demagoguery shares many similarities with the likes of AOC, boy do I feel the ire. I’m told she’s on the people’s side, she’s speaking “truth to power,” I just “can’t handle a strong female,” I’m white, so how dare I comment on a minority’s position, etc.
For so many today, the first step of any analysis isn’t the actual behavior itself. It’s who the behavior is coming from. This informs the response and level of outrage. We see this on full display when it comes to political violence.
While Liz Cheney has done a lot to assure the Jan. 6th Committee didn’t devolve into a partisan infomercial, we nevertheless hear observations from Democratic politicians and biased media diatribes holding up the violence on Jan. 6 as symbolic of a full-throated attack on democracy from the entire Republican Party and representative of a singular disposition towards political violence on the Right.
Meanwhile, many of these same Democrats and media figures were silent, and even complicit, to months of violent rioting and chaos in the streets in 2020, and they are silent right now, and often egging on irresponsible rhetoric, even after a foiled assassination of a Supreme Court Justice.
But not to be outdone, many Republicans are doubling down on the stolen election narrative that inflamed people towards violence on Jan. 6. This, even as the Committee investigating that day has showcased witness after witness laying out a conclusive case that claims of massive fraud in 2020 were never credibly substantiated and Trump and his ilk raked in millions from duped supporters in support of an election integrity fund that never existed.
While properly pointing to hypocrisy on the Left when it comes to political violence and dishonest narratives, the Right continues to make excuses for violent and irresponsible factions of their own. Far too many Republicans and conservatives continue to push false narratives that, when taken seriously, obviously culminate in violence.
Once again, too many people aren’t considering the facts. They’re not looking at the realities or the consequences of various events. The first question for many is, “who did this, my side or their side?” If it’s “my side,” the response is to deflect and point to the reaction from the other side as the “real story.” If it’s “their side,” the response is the highest outrage and cries for immediate action against an “existential threat.”
This brings me to my question: Is this the behavior of constituents or fans?
As a college football fan, and a near-rabid supporter of BYU, I stick with my team through thick and thin. I might not like a given coach, certain starting players, the scheme, or past uniform choices, and I may have rolled my eyes when I couldn’t have a Coke with my Cougar Tail (it’s a long story). But no matter what, at the end of the day, I’ll always be, “Dyed in the wool, true blue, through and through,” BYU.
Likewise, even when I voice support for the University of Utah and admire and respect their success, there is always that part of me in my heart of hearts that secretly wants every season of theirs to crash and burn, no matter how much I try and suppress the urge. As my team’s rival, the Utes will never fully claim my approbation, no matter how good they play, because I want them to lose, and I want my team to win.
But hey, a little over-indulgent, semi-maniacal fandom makes sports fun. In politics, though, this kind of “my team no matter what and I hate those guys” attitude not only makes for bad policy and unhinged leadership but decays the body politic into little more than a bunch of cheering sections.
Once upon a time, political engagement was reading the local newspaper's political section and hawkishly checking for deviation from campaign promises. It wasn’t thumping chests and waving campaign flags as symbols of identity and declarations of undying loyalty.
Too often, lately, Americans are forgetting that holding your own side’s feet to the fire is just as important, if not more important, a political exercise as standing in opposition to your political foes. I would argue that the country could have avoided most of the excesses of both the political Left and Right in recent decades if reasonable factions on either side had summoned the intestinal fortitude to put their foot down when their own allies went beyond the pale.
Americans need to remember that we are citizens in a free republic. That means we should keep the circus pageantry and fanboy antics out of politics far more than we currently do. I’ve quoted Reagan’s 1980 RNC acceptance speech before, but it always bears repeating:
“My view of government places trust not in one person or one party, but in those values that transcend persons and parties. The trust is where it belongs, in the people. The responsibility to live up to that trust is where it belongs, in their elected leaders. That kind of relationship, between the people and their elected leaders, is a special kind of compact.”
If we are just fans stumping for a brand, if our political engagement has little more substance than competing Coke and Pepsi ads, and if uncritical excess in the name of a political tribe stamps out consistent adherence to values and principles, then we are not living up to the rights and freedoms we’ve inherited.
At that point, we have abandoned the sacred compact Reagan spoke of. When we flip the relationship between trust and responsibility and we become uncritical fans of political figures, organizations, or movements we are no longer free citizens engaged in the exercise of representative government. We are dupes and marks waiting for the next demagogue to lead us further into impotence and intellectual slavery.