Editor’s Note: David Masciotra is the author of “I Am Somebody: Why Jesse Jackson Matters” and “Mellencamp: American Troubadour.” He has written for many publications on politics, music and literature, including Salon, No Depression, the Progressive, CounterPunch and the Los Angeles Review of Books. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.
One of the most obvious realities of American politics is that the Republican Party, members of which have pushed increasingly hateful rhetoric, is blocking President Joe Biden’s reform efforts to improve people’s lives. What is much less recognized is that a significant faction of the left also damages any hope for improvement in a country wrestling with unprecedented assaults on democracy, escalating hate crimes and gun violence, global warming and extreme income inequality.
Commentators offer different theories to explain Biden’s low approval ratings, but many miss the importance of partisan loyalty. Gallup polls show that Biden’s support among Democrats declined from 95% at the start of his presidency to 85% by early 2022. Trump, on the other hand, had lost only 1% of Republicans over a similar time period during his presidency, going from 87% to 86% in approval. What could likely account for Biden’s comparatively worse losses among members of his own party is the insidious influence of what I call the “fan fiction left.”
Increasingly dominant on the internet — particularly social media and the podcast sphere — the fan fiction left imagines an alternative universe where the Republican Party, with its embrace of Trump and his authoritarian tendencies, is not the main problem of American politics. Instead, in this view, the only hindrance to the enactment of just and beneficial public policy is lack of will within the Democratic Party.
Far worse than teenagers writing an extension of their favorite anime series or video game, the fan fiction left encourages its audience, which depending on the writer or podcast often rivals those of mainstream publications and programs, to act in accordance with its weird delusions. Hallucination is central to their magical world of make-believe. Enter that world, and you will learn the following:
- Bernie Sanders would have won the 2016 and 2020 DNC primaries if not for intraparty rigging. He also would have easily won both presidential elections. The fact that in both races he earned millions of fewer votes than his respective opponents is insignificant to the fan fiction left, who have cultivated their own big lie.
- Even though powerful Republicans believe in the neo-Nazi “great replacement theory,” voter suppression and racist gerrymandering are prevalent, and many states are passing legislative assaults on women’s rights and LGBTQ rights, concerns about racism, sexism, and homophobia are only bourgeois “identity politics.”
- Trump supporters, regardless of how hateful, irrational and violent they become, are merely misled members of the proletariat class. Even if evidence demonstrates that his supporters are not poor, that Biden won more votes among Americans making below $50,000, and those making below $100,000 for that matter and that the real motivations of the Trump cult are racism, nativism and Christian fundamentalism, the fan fiction left would have its subscribers believe that most Trump supporters are modern day incarnations of Tom Joad, the protagonist of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” With only a few speeches, Sanders would have converted them to democratic socialism. Similarly, warnings about the dangers of Trump are signs of “liberal hysteria.”
- “Russiagate” was a “hoax,” just as Trump himself falsely claims. The investigations and even the leak of Kremlin documents demonstrating exactly how Russian President Vladimir Putin influenced the 2016 election through a sophisticated disinformation campaign are meaningless.
- The US should not provide aid to the Ukrainian struggle for freedom and self-determination, and is only doing so to enrich the military-industrial complex. Support for Ukraine is unjust, because US-NATO aggression provoked Putin into invasion.
- Republican extremism and obstructionism are irrelevant, as are the structural and procedural laws of the federal government. The only reason that President Biden and the Democratic Congress have failed to pass major reforms, like the Green New Deal or tuition-free community college, is that the Democrats have sold out to corporate interests, and refuse to make a genuine effort.
It’s likely these ideas play a role in the divergence in party loyalty that lowers Biden’s approval rating to Trump levels, but more importantly, it illustrates the venomous effect that the left has on potential Democratic voters.
Considering that its fabulists so consistently and aggressively ridicule Democrats, they are operationally right wing. The impact of the fan fiction left, irrespective of intention, is to dampen voter enthusiasm for the Democratic Party. As a consequence, it helps Republicans capture and hold power. Judging by popular social media accounts, millions of young progressives believe that, if he only wanted, Biden could cast a spell, and by wizard’s fiat, transform the United States into Finland.
An emblematic example arose recently when several leading left pundits declared they were “done with Democrats” in reaction to the news that the Supreme Court is preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade.
It is incoherent to blame the Democratic Party, given that it is Democratic governors, like Jay Pritzker of Illinois, Gavin Newsom of California and Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who have vowed to protect women’s reproductive rights in their states, and it is Republican governors like Brian Kemp in Georgia and Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma and the Supreme Court appointments of Republican presidents who are poised to eliminate women’s autonomy.
Observable reality is irrelevant to this faction of the left. The only thing that matters is that President Barack Obama and the Democrats did not codify Roe v. Wade as federal law when they controlled Congress from 2009 to 2011. But this argument ignores that Obama and Democrat lawmakers spent those two years pushing through a massive stimulus package in the middle of financial collapse and then passing the most consequential expansion of the welfare state since the 1960s, the Affordable Care Act, which enabled more than 20 million Americans to receive health care for the first time.
Obama also appointed Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, both of whom are committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose. He also nominated Merrick Garland, now the Attorney General, to the Supreme Court and was met with a dishonest blockade from GOP senators. Based on Garland’s opposition to an anti-abortion law in Texas, it is likely he would have voted in favor of Roe.
Last month, the US Senate attempted to codify Roe. All but one Democrat – West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin – voted in favor. Every Republican voted against.
Of course, the women’s rights crisis wouldn’t exist if Hillary Clinton won the presidential election of 2016 and appointed three Supreme Court justices instead of Trump. But many prominent left wing leaders gleefully called for people not to vote for Clinton.
The fan fiction left is not without precedent. George Orwell, a socialist, came to believe that the left of his era had no real desire in holding power and for them political thought was nothing more than a “masturbation fantasy in which the world of facts hardly matters.” Ernst Thälmann, the leader of the Communist Party of Germany from 1925 to 1933, believed that the center left presented a greater danger than Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. Needless to say, that analysis didn’t turn out so well.
The Democrats certainly have flaws. They are rhetorically passive, disorganized and seem to base their strategy on how not to lose rather than how to win, which usually guarantees failure. The party is also worthy of harsh criticism for taking a bashful approach to punishing Trump and his allies for insurrection. Despite sizable weaknesses, they do have the advantage of not being racists, sexists, homophobes or hostile to the foundation of democracy. Residents of the real world should vote accordingly.