Most of what is said on Twitter isn’t worth repeating. Yet every now and then, something rises to the top. In this case, it’s a single tweet by the newly elected state Rep. Elisabeth Epps:

“Walked in to the office to 60 missed calls,” Epps posted, adding, “Admittedly, the vitriol and violence take a toll on both my spirit and my capacity for constituent services. I just stop listening. Sorry neighbors. It’s a lot to start the day with words that would totally break most of my colleagues.”

Accompanying Epps’ demoralized mood was a photo of a message machine with 60 new missed calls dated March 16 at 8:09 a.m. 

Despite the passive-aggressive sentiment insinuating most of her colleagues are weaker, Epps’ experience is truly regrettable. Having personally dealt with the vitriol and violence she speaks of for years, I know that it is, indeed, a lot to start off your day with more animosity than caffeine. It’s why political long-timers muse that politics isn’t for the faint of heart and that a glass jaw will almost certainly be broken.

Yet Epps’ tweet is relevant beyond her frustration as it mostly speaks to a larger crack in the left’s foundation. 

To understand why, one must also appreciate that the angst Epps speaks of isn’t coming from her most obvious political opponents; it’s coming from inside her own circle. For those of us who have been watching closely, this isn’t a surprise.

Colorado’s far left was bound to break at some point. For years, conversations within the group have followed an eerily similar trajectory to its sibling on the far right. This is not to say the two opposing groups share ideology; obviously, they don’t. But scholars have long noted similarities between the so-called Bernie Bros and MAGA crowd with regard to the populist undertones they represent, as well as the threat to democracy that populism itself poses. 

Populism is a nuanced political term, but it generally describes a movement whereby anger is cultivated among ordinary people and levied toward another, typically more elite group. In these “in” groups, rhetoric frequently centers around an “us versus them” mentality, with a finger pointing blatantly outward at anyone who doesn’t pass the purity test. The finger-pointing serves as a stark reminder that if you aren’t with them, you’re against them.

As both the far right and the far left have employed the populist sentiment, otherwise reasonable disagreements — in this case, a standard municipal debate over affordable housing on the discontinued Park Hill golf course — serve not as a chance to build community understanding, but rather an opportunity to demonstrate whether or not you’re in the group. 

For many Denver progressives, this means nuance is out, and angry personal attacks are in. Can you call someone a NIMBY for disagreeing with you? Great, you pass. Can you call them a sexist or a racist? You’re in. After all, according to populist sentiment, if you’re not in, you’re out; and if you are out, you are no longer entitled to any respect. It should come as no surprise, then, that this mentality remains, even toward those like Epps who was formerly in the group.

Of course, truly democratic societies don’t work this way. Reasonable people and neighbors ought to be able to differ in viewpoints without being personally attacked. Alas, it’s time progressives accept that this is not the culture Colorado’s far left has cultivated.

It is this fact alone that makes Epps’ tweet worthy of discussion as it raises this question: How many of the far-left leaders who are now on the receiving end of toxic behavior helped to create it in the first place, and how many of those far-left leaders are still continuing the toxic approach in their own right? 

Just read Epps’ responses to commenters on Twitter. She often responds not with substance or inquiry, but with a similar combative, sarcastic populist attitude. One tweet she wrote includes the oh-so-representative-like phrase, “See the light? Your petulant entitled condescension reeks…” 

The commenter’s offense? Claiming to be an internal medicine physician and asking Epps to reconsider her position on Denver’s Ballot Measure 20, which would remove the conservation easement from Park Hill Golf Course, based on examples from other cities.

Another response by Epps reads, “Awww who tried and failed to teach you boys the proper application of ‘vibes’? … the fervor of your pouting intensifies.”

What warranted this odd series of exchanges from her @RepEpps account? Someone who claims to be associated with the University of Colorado Boulder and a future elementary school teacher offered links to data on housing.

Whether or not you agree with Epps on the ballot measure here is not the point. What’s relevant is that whether or not you agree with her earns you either her praise or criticism accordingly. This is exactly the populist mentality that got Denver progressives where they are today, and it’s a big part of what is leading Epps to receive hateful calls from people who used to support her — they are well practiced.

Of course, Epps is hardly the only far-left leader fielding anger for her NO stance on Ballot Measure 20, although she is one of the most vocal. There is also certainly some sexism and racism in the responses that no one should be subjected to. 

But the negative tone and populist attacks exhibited by Epps and others remain problematic, and if Denver’s latest election is any indication, the populist fury is coming back to bite them. Politics full circle, I suppose.

The Daily Sun-Up podcast | More episodes

In a wise world, the experience of progressive leaders being bullied and demonized by their own might spur such leaders to help dismantle the toxic approach they helped create. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I don’t have high hopes.

In this case, if egos continue to serve, progressives may follow the way of the far-right crowd. That is to say, that purity test infighting will only serve to dismantle any semblance of overall power among progressives, just as similar toxic tactics on the far right have only served to push conservatives who might otherwise agree with them toward the center. In some ways, this could be good.

There’s no doubt that Epps and others have been unfairly targeted, albeit with much of the same political vitriol and violence they in part helped to create. In which case, all I can offer to these leaders is an invitation: Welcome to hell, and remember that how long we stay here is now largely up to how well you lead us out.

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio

Trish Zornio

The Colorado Sun is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not reflect the opinions of the newsroom. Read our ethics policy for more on The Sun’s opinion policy and submit columns, suggested writers and more to (Learn more about how to submit a column.)

Follow Colorado Sun Opinion on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Trish Zornio is a scientist, lecturer and writer who has worked at some of the nation’s top universities and hospitals. She’s an avid rock climber and was a 2020 candidate for the U.S. Senate in Colorado. Trish can be found on Twitter @trish_zornio