My grandmother was already wrapped up in the world of Fox news during the Bush era. An immigrant herself, she was targeted over the last five years with Pro-Trump Spanish language content around the clock on Facebook and Whatsapp. New research by MIT and others has recorded how conservative activists are pushing this content to reach Latino voters across the United States. These networks traffic in red scare, racist, and extreme religious content, often tied to popular conspiracy theories like QAnon. This was not just happening during the election, but consistently, amplified by not just the Trump campaign itself, but by international actors and the much wider right-wing world.
This presents another critical fight, the Forever War. The Forever War is the ongoing campaign to cultivate political consciousness and shift the Overton Window. Until recently this was a war the Republicans and Right were waging effectively unopposed. A war that began in 1987 with the revocation of the Fairness Doctrine allowing for a rapid proliferation of conservative radio, birthing the careers of the likes of Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. The 90s saw the rise of conservative bloggers, websites, and the launch of Fox News. In the last decade, we’ve seen just how dominant across social media conservative content has become and how vital to their organising it is. We have also seen through the likes of Cambridge Analytica how frighteningly easy and cost effective shifting public opinion can be over time if you have the technical capabilities.
In contrast to the communications cutting edge of the Right, we are seeing initial reports that some Democratic candidates didn’t even bother to spend on digital campaigning at all in the final week of the election. The digital gap is not unique to the Democrats- far too many Left and Centre-Left parties around the world campaign like it is 1999. There is a clear and noticeable digital gap, and conservatives are capitalising on this to electoral and demographic gain.
Some might ask, “why is this so important, didn’t some campaigns who didn’t spend or focus much on digital win?”. Well, because the Democrats are dependent on overperforming to win. It is now common knowledge that Black turnout is vital to Democratic victories across the nation. Not just majority turnout; achieving over 90% of the Black vote is often a prerequisite to victory, in addition to needing a voter turnout rate higher than any other ethnic group. This means the Democrats are incredibly vulnerable to any reduction of turnout and any reduction of support. When Republicans gain anywhere, Democrats have to fill that gap- overwhelmingly that falls on the Black community to achieve both in actuality, and in the media narratives that surround our democratic processes. As we are seeing in the initial election reporting on demographic shifts, it appears that not only did Trump advance with Latinas like my Grandmother, but also with nearly every ethnic group.
Does this mean that Trumpism has wider appeal? Sure, maybe, but that isn’t the important takeaway. It is much more simple: when you market to people for a long enough time that marketing has an effect. Skepticism about the government is deep in the American psyche, and all you need to do is feed it by pointing to how messed up the country is. In an era that many already find complex and confusing, people are searching for answers and Trumpism provides them. People will not stop searching for those answers now that Trump isn’t president and Trumpism’s answers- and their appeal- did not evaporate on election night.
Democrats and Progressives must convert their campaign infrastructure into a persistent digital and physical effort to fight fake news, provide public education, and provide the support and infrastructure for activists to self-organise, educate and operate. This effort cannot be just one organisation, but it must include many and develop even more from it. This includes investment in local independent media and content creators. Training, promoting and supporting the next generation of journalists, organisers, experts and leaders. Producing vast amounts of factual and entertaining content to inform people of current events, politics and spread democratic values. Using the same tools and techniques pioneered by the Trump campaign for good. Using targeted ads to reach people we’ve ignored and empower them, not to fill them with fear or stoke nationalism.
70 million Americans cannot be abandoned to Trumpism, nor can Trumpism’s digital expansion be ignored. The soul of America cannot be healed without the tools to communicate, educate and listen. And the policy dreams of many cannot be achieved unless we not only win the Senate, but continue to win majorities and victories across the nation. For progressives our job is clear: we need to continue raising class consciousness, winning elections, running the best 21st century campaigns, and expanding our caucus. We need to do this while also convincing liberals and moderates that we are a serious and sensible movement ready to govern. 2021 has state elections in both New Jersey and Virginia, so the next opportunity for progress is right around the corner.
Believe in democracy, for it is a powerful thing. While delicate it has a mighty fury that can shatter tyranny, but it must be constantly defended and grown. The first decade of the 20th century saw democratic withdrawal around the world, now let us use this breathing space to return to the offensive. Let us banish the ghost of the past, and its politics. The work is hard, but possible, more so now, than ever before. Why you ask? Because we live in no other time than the present.