Why the Right Keeps Their Followers in a Constant State of Outrage

7 mins read

I’ll start with how and why right-wing extremists outrage their own people. Keeping their own people outraged is a fascist strategy. Yale professor Timothy Snyder calls it sadopopulism. The formula works like this:

Modern fascists leaders need to hurt their own constituents. You can’t have a white grievance party if the constituents are not grieving. You can’t keep yourself at the top of the hierarchy if you allow people at the bottom the opportunity to rise up. You have to keep them down. So you tell them not to wear masks and you take away their health care. Keep them poor and in pain so you can keep them angry.

Governor Abbott of Texas lifted the mask mandate and then blamed the spread of the virus on immigrants. You cannot have a clearer example than that.

Right-wing extremists also enjoy stoking outrage on the left. If you need an example, look at Marjorie Taylor Greene. Yes, she’s doing it on purpose.

Enraging the left serves a few purposes. First, it keeps the right-wing base excited and engaged. They don’t think about the fact that they’re hurting. When they see that someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene incite panic and outrage in the left, they feel stoked. Also, when the opposition is spinning with outrage, they can’t think clearly. They can’t make a plan or look forward. Outrage keeps them in the moment.

It also baits the left into engaging in the same destructive tactics that the right wing uses. In fact, one person responded to my post yesterday about why the left should not engage in democracy-smashing behavior by telling me, “You can’t play nice when you’re fighting fascism.”

Well, that makes sense. If you’re dealing with someone like Hitler, you have to break the rules to beat him, right? But what happens if both sides in a democracy start breaking the rules? If both sides break rules, nobody is upholding institutions.

It’s instructive to point out the ways that the current Republican Party uses fascist tactics. It’s important to point out the things the Republican Party is doing to suppress the vote. It’s important to point out white supremacist attitudes. 

But stoking constant panic and outrage on the left also does harm. 

This brings me to leaders and influencers on the left who try to keep their own people in a state of constant outrage. Good leaders don’t do this. Biden doesn’t do this. Kamala Harris doesn’t do it. But a lot of social media influencers do.

In 2018, a person with a large Twitter account assured me that if we don’t remove Trump immediately “by any means necessary” he will destroy democracy and we are doomed. I told her that there is no legal means to remove Trump as long as the Republican-led Senate is shielding him. She called me a bad lawyer and blocked me.

I’m a lawyer who thinks the quickest way to destroy democracy is for both sides to start breaking rules.

I actually stopped following a journalist in 2020 because he often opened his reporting with a phrase like: “This is alarming.” Often it was alarming because he was making assumptions. I also noticed that when he kept uncovering “five-star alarms” many of which turned out not to be, his popularity grew rapidly. Fear keeps people hooked and everyone wants to be popular. Just look at Fox. They keep people hooked with fear. He (a left-leaning journalist) was doing the same. 

This creates a dilemma. When someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene says racist things, what do you do? You don’t want to normalize or ignore blatant racism. Ignoring it won’t make it go away. On the other hand, stoking too much outrage can create other problems. It might motivate people to step up and do the work to save democracy, but it can also wear people out and discourage them.

When left-leaning influencers stoke panic and rage on the left, it also, incidentally, keeps the right-wing base stoked, which keeps right-wing leaders happy because then their people are engaged. You don’t want to normalize democracy-bashing behavior but you don’t want to inadvertently encourage it, and you don’t want to raise the temperature and create more of that fighting. One of Trump’s strategies, recall, was to get the fighters fighting and keep them fighting. When politics dissolves into what Professor Jason Stanley calls the politics of Us v. Them, fascism sets in. A little less fighting wouldn’t hurt.

So what do we do? 

I think a calmer reaction is more appropriate, like this, “That’s not the kind of country we want to live in, so we’re going to spend the next two years doing everything we can to vote Marjorie Taylor Greene out. If her constituents are unreachable because they are immune to the truth, we will make sure she is in the minority.”

Panic never helps. It’s always better, even in an actual emergency, to keep a cool head so you can solve whatever problem is at hand. 

Biden has been trying to bring down the temperature. If we’re calm and well informed, we’re better able to do the work that needs to be done. 

Adding: My husband is amused that I advise the world to remain calm. In my personal life, I can be quite emotional.

Here is this post as a YouTube video:

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Teri has written novels, short stories, nonfiction for both young readers and adults, and lots of legal briefs. She is currently working on a book on disinformation to be published by Macmillan Publishers. Her political commentary has appeared on the NBC Think Blog and CNN.com. Her articles and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Slate Magazine, and Scope Magazine. Her short fiction has appeared in the American Literary View, The Iowa Review, and others. For twelve years she maintained a private appellate law practice limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings. She believes with the ACLU that when the rights of society's most vulnerable members are denied, everybody's rights are imperiled. She also believe with John Updike that the purpose of literature is to expand our sympathies. Teri lives with her family on the beautiful central coast in California.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Terry,
    You are the best, thank you!
    Possible blog page typo, perchance?
    “She also believe with John Updike…” ??

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