When you watch Trump surrogates or key Brexiteers on TV – and I have, painfully, for hours – some common tactics immediately emerge. One is dedication. The populist right has no qualms over hogging airtime, talking continuously and batting off attempted interruptions and just relentlessly, repeatedly hammering the case on and on until their political opponent is exhausted and overwhelmed and gives up trying. To nice progressives, this approach seems rude – it feels aggressive. This will be 10 times truer for women, who are already battling all kinds of biases and who, however little they speak, will often be viewed as monopolising airtime.
But there is something to be said for taking up more space – politely, while making clear that your point deserves and commands attention.
Watch populist right advocates on TV and see how optimistic it all is – assuming, that is, that you are OK with the ethno-nationalism driving all the cheeriness. There is confidence and belief in (a defined group of) people – something that the left, with its gloomy facts, can fail to convey. Not for nothing, this is what the far-right excels at: presenting odious views as “common sense” and what everyone is already thinking, with a simple and available solution.
Progressive commentators urgently need more heart and fewer stats. This isn’t about abandoning facts in favour of distortions. But we have ceded too much ground already, somehow allowing as self-evident the idea that the populist right knows what people really want. That’s partly how the community-crushing, welfare-state-dismantling, corporate-tax-slashing, fear- and division-spreading populist right has managed to signal that it is for the people.
Now, left and liberal commentators alike need to proactively and vigorously contest this ground, take pride in and repeatedly bring our common values back onto the table. These are, after all, supposed to be values that appeal to a different set of emotions than fear and hate.
Despondent lefties should take tips from the right-wing media on how to turn it around after Trump – it’s our only hope