getting past the coalition of the cool

Right now I just think there’s this fundamental problem where so many people who identify themselves as being part of the broad left define their coalition based on linguistic cues, cultural overlap, and social circles. The job of politics, at its most basic, is finding common cause with people who aren’t like you. But current incentives seem to point in the opposite direction — surveying the people who are just like you and trying to come up with ways in which that social connection is actually a political connection.

As usual, I blame the internet, which I’m more and more convinced is one of the worst things to ever happen to the left. It encourages people to collapse any distinction between their work life, their social life, and their political life. “Hey, that person who tweets about the TV shows I like also dislikes injustice,” which over time becomes “I can identify an ally by the TV shows they like.” The fact that you can mine a Rihanna video for political content becomes, in that vague internety way, the sense that people who don’t see political content in Rihanna’s music aren’t on your side. The fact that you are part of the tiny sliver of humanity that lives in very small geographical and social enclaves in a handful of coastal cities and can identify some such thing as the “litbro” doesn’t change the fact that 99.9% of the people who use the term “bro” would find the conflation of that term with a love for literature totally, utterly confusing. But since those enclaves are vastly overrepresented in digital media, so is the concept of the litbro, which then becomes another means through which potential allies are alienated by the obscurity and insiderism of left discourse. With no one particularly intending it to be so, left discourse becomes indistinguishable from a social discourse that is exclusive rather than inclusive.

There are over 315 million people in America. How many have heard of the BernieBro? 5,000? 10,000? How many words have been written about the phenomenon despite that fact?

Establishment power controls our institutions, and thus wins by not losing. The left needs to make active change, and it needs to do so in spite of inherent and structural disadvantages. The moneyed have money; the powerful have power. The left only has people power. And so our coalition can’t be subject to the artificial constraints that the emphasis on social culture and language create. You can’t take on inequality and injustice with a coalition of people who use the same slang, listen to the same music, and post the same emojis that you do. That will never be sufficient. And so we have to rebuild the distinction between solidarity and friendship. We have to stop acting like cultural consumption and the use of slang are meaningful indicators of political connection. We have to stop judging people for their social foibles and dressing it up as political critique. You have to be willing to sacrifice your carefully curated social performance and be willing to work with people who are not like you.