If you are a progressive, you’ve likely had some variation of the following conversation:
“Global warming is real.”
“Oh, yeah? Then why was it so cold last Christmas?”
“Um, there’s a fundamental difference between climate and weather. Furthermore, your personal experience is—”
“Snow! There was lots of snow!”
“To hell with it. I’m just going to shoot both of us.”
Yes, all conservatives had to do to undermine the concept of global warming was to latch upon the word “warm,” and then demand that liberals explain how winter still existed. And in politics—as in business, love, and comedy—if you’re explaining, you’re losing.
We see this in other progressive concepts. We say, “white privilege,” and an irate white man launches into a diatribe about how he grew up poor and he never got a handout and who are you calling privileged anyway. So then the liberal stumbles around trying to explain what “privilege” means and how it exists even if you don’t see it and so on and so on until the angry white man stomps off, more pissed off than ever that some tree-hugger implied that he had it easy.
And of course, even mentioning Black Lives Matter unleashes a furious retort of “all lives matter!” Once again liberals respond by employing metaphors and memes to explain what should be a pretty basic fucking idea (i.e., it’s not good for a society to murder black people at will).
It’s in this spirit of pointing out the poor marketing decisions of the left that I bring up the latest disastrous political catchphrase:
Defund the police.
This is quite possibly the worst slogan for a good idea ever.
You see, when presenting proposals on how to reform law enforcement in this country, and end the militarization of our police departments, all while preserving the safety of our nation’s residents, it is not helpful to spend all our time saying, “No, don’t worry, someone will still respond if a man with a gun is breaking into your house.”
But that’s exactly what we are doing.
This should be a time for discussing new techniques, like that Scottish de-escalation method that’s catching on. Or we should be talking about the fundamental role of cops in America. Or we should be debating what public safety actually looks like. All of these ideas have public support.
Instead, right-wingers are sending out tweets and status updates that more or less consist of “Liberals want to allow criminals to run rampant.”
And then progressives get all defensive, like we always do, and explain that the phrase we’ve chosen does not actually mean what it appears to mean, like we always do.
And if you’re explaining, you’re losing.
Hey, I recently received an angry email from a reader who shrieked how terrifying it is that Minneapolis wants to abolish its police department. And indeed, it sounds scary—like our cities are going to descend into The Purge.
Or maybe it will be like that scene in RoboCop where the police abandon the city, and the bad guys start setting off rocket launchers (bonus points if you read that sentence and shouted, “I like it!” and made an explosion sound).
In any case, this guy did not want to even hear about defunding the police, let alone abolishing them. Much of this, of course, can be chalked up to willful ignorance or woeful stupidity. But there are many jittery moderates who can be persuaded by simplistic answers to complex issues. And there are determined reactionaries who know they can suck all the oxygen out of the room by forcing progressives to defend “crazy” ideas and explain nuances and tiptoe around details.
Speaking of conservatives, give them credit where it is due. This is a crowd that knows how to sell shit. For example, they convinced Americans that they wanted a war in Iraq but that they didn’t want health care. They persuade poor Americans, year after year, that objecting to wealth inequality is “class warfare.” And they have weaponized the most inoffensive, effective way to combat coronavirus—wearing a damn mask—and turned it into a battle for “freedom.”
Conservatives know the power of symbolism and straightforward mottos. For example, they have claimed both the American flag and the Christian cross, and all the powerful emotions that they invoke, while liberals have basically said, “Sure, go ahead and take them,” thereby guaranteeing that both “faith” and “patriotism” get turned into clear, concise virtues that only Republicans could possibly ever have.
Meanwhile, progressives are the “mob” and “snowflakes” and Antifa fanatics.
Those labels don’t track well, as the marketing experts would say.
What’s the solution? Well, if I knew anything about branding, I would have sold nine million books by now and be riding out this pandemic in my New Zealand compound. So I don’t know the answer. I do know, however, that progressives have a problem. And feeling proud of ourselves for shouting “Defund the police!” is not a smooth path forward.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go explain to some conservatives that taking a knee during the National Anthem is not insulting the flag per se, but an indictment of a racist system that… never mind, I’ve already lost them.