Borrok: There’s a problem with political fandoms

Ben Borrok, Op-Ed Contributor

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We live in a national nightmare.

Political discourse on social media is a virulent pool that perfectly captures the toxicity of the environment in which the people of this country live. Democrats and Republicans seem to live in completely different spheres from each other, with their own news corporations, boycotts and activists to boot.

It isn’t surprising that a country with a two-party system would result in this situation, in fact, it seems like a natural conclusion to teaching the general public to pick one side or the other.

Our politics have become so ingrained in our personality that we often view a contrasting opinion as a personal attack on us. This is the central cause of animosity in online debate. The transition from a simple discussion on important topics — such as healthcare — to ad hominem frenzy is rapid. Think of the archetypes that we have carved out for each party: One party is seen by many as bigoted and anti-immigration, wearing the ubiquitous red hats and advocating to make the country great again while the other, is seen as overly politically correct, hypersensitive, and reliant on handouts.

Now, how many people do you actually know that fit all of these descriptions? One, two at most? Despite this, we have come to convince ourselves that the world operates within these strictly defined teams, with each archetype being the flagbearer of political identity.

Worse, we have begun to see government officials as superstars, similar to how we see NBA players or musicians. Each presidential candidate, for example, seems to have a fan club of fervent supporters who will post and speak about them rather casually. These people love to create names for their groups, as if Democrat or Republican isn’t enough of a title. We have the Trump Train, #I’mWithHer, Bernie Bros, and others like Kamala stans and supporters of Mayor Pete.

More than likely, you are familiar with each of these groups and more. You have seen their memes, heard them speak on television or in-person, or you are one of these people.

As a society, we have normalized this behavior, but in reality, it is destroying our democracy and way of life.

Instead of holding government officials accountable for their actions, we have allowed for the system to be spun around. Fans will adjust their own views to be aligned with their favorites; they will attack those who express otherwise. President Donald Trump, despite having near-universal support from his party today, faced plenty of opposition from the Republican party during his candidacy.

Take someone like U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who for years would work along party lines and opposed Trump during the 2016 election. Today, he appears on Fox News on a weekly basis to defend the ramblings of our Commander-in-Chief. He has no shame despite appearing as a puppet for a man he once detested.

Political fans will also pick and choose the candidate’s policies and strategies in order to design their ideal politician. Hillary Clinton failed to campaign in Midwestern swing states and didn’t promote her agenda enough on national platforms, but a quick look at her supporter’s corner of the Internet would have you believe that there was no more perfect candidate in American history.

Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg are both running on relatively centrist platforms, so their popularity amongst certain young people would surprise you. However, when you find out that Beto has seemingly co-opted “punk” as his ideology and see Mayor Pete’s “trolling” of Trump, the support seems to make more sense.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has merchandise promoting her as some sort of hero standing up to Trump, but he’s still in office and she doesn’t seem very interested in changing that.

I fear that soon politics will no longer be about substance, but rather will rely purely on appearance. Instead of allowing for these politicians to pander to you, hold them accountable. Public office is meant to be a thankless job; stop letting these people tell you otherwise. You are not their fans, you are their critics. Even with the myriad of issues plaguing the current political and social landscape, this country remains an unequal labyrinth.

In a time where coherent political thought is desperately needed, we seem to be slipping into a reality where retweets control our decisions.

Ben Borrok is a Weinberg sophomore. They can be contacted at benjaminborrok2022@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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