The Politics of Condemnation

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Now that voters can follow lawmakers on Twitter with the press of a button, members of Congress are expected to comment on everything that happens. Gone are the days when politicians could eschew discussing sensitive or difficult issues by dishing a mere “no comment” to probing reporters. Now, politicians are expected to take to Twitter to issue sweeping condemnations of just about every bad thing that happens.  

Twitter condemnations have allowed the Democratic Party to cement itself as the party that stands up most directly to injustice. You’ll find far more tweets endorsing #MeToo (and thus condemning sexual assaulters) on the pages of Democrats than those of Republicans. And while Democratic Twitter pages were buzzing with strongly-worded denouncements last summer while the Trump administration was separating families at the border, most Republican Twitter pages were silent.

Because lawmakers are expected to have active social media pages, remaining silent can be just as telling as tweeting a condemnation. Thus, for Republicans, the relative silence on Twitter on family separation and the travel ban were tacit nods of approval to these Trump administration policies. And recently, while Democrats rushed to Twitter to write emotional condemnations of the supposed hate crime against Jussie Smollett, Republicans were silent—but not because they were skeptical of Smollett’s story and wanted more facts. Instead, for Republicans, condemning a hate crime—staged or not—would give credence to the (true) claim that hate crimes are on the rise in the United States and that Trump may be an instigator for them.

“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)

Both parties have used Twitter condemnations to criticize members of their own party, and thus, stave off accusations of hypocrisy. For example, when #MeToo stories about Al Franken and John Conyers surfaced, Democrats could do nothing but call for both of them to resign. If they didn’t, their attacks on other sexual harassers—like Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein—would seem meaningless. Republicans, likewise, used Twitter to condemn Steve King, a Representative from Iowa, when he couldn’t find what was offensive about the term “white supremacist.” If they didn’t, they would no longer be able to credibly accuse non-pro-Israel Democrats of being anti-semitic.

On its face, the burgeoning trend of using Twitter to issue condemnations seems innocent, if not healthy for our democracy. It forces politicians to comment on issues that they may have otherwise ignored, and it allows voters to see how particular representatives react to major events. But the pressure to issue sweeping condemnations—and to do so quickly—has gotten some politicians (mostly Democrats) into trouble. No one could have guessed that Jussie Smollett spent thousands of dollars to stage a hate crime against himself, so it’s hard to blame Democrats for dashing to his defense. Regardless, in the Trump era, Democrats have increasingly resorted to knee-jerk reactions (often facilitated through Twitter condemnations) to tout their #resistance cred. The Jussie Smollett incident has exposed this trend.

Furthermore, Twitter condemnations give politicians a screen to hide behind—and potentially, an excuse to not write legislation. Instead of drafting actual policy to address the things they condemn, they can point to a 240-character summary of their opinion. And because voters are often oblivious to what actually happens on Capitol Hill, they may begin to view their reps through the lens of what they say on Twitter, not what they do in Congress.

Featured Image via AP/Kamil Krzcaczynski

About the author

Matt Walsh is a VI Form day student from Southborough, Massachusetts. He leads Openly Secular, plays trumpet and French horn, and leads the young Democrats club. His academic interests include public policy, political science, and chemistry, and he plays baseball and runs cross country. In his free time, he curates Spotify playlists and pets his dog, Portia. Matt hopes that The Parkman Post can be a hub for intellectual thought, ideological diversity and meaningful debate.

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