Last week I poked the hornet’s nest. This week I’ll do it again.
But first, let’s rewind.
If you missed last week’s column, I opened the proverbial can of worms by highlighting my current concern about growing populist politics among Colorado’s far left. I discussed how members of the far left often approach politics in an unhealthy and unsustainable way by forgoing nuance and compassion in favor of purity tests and finger-pointing. I then used the example of unreasonable progressive backlash against the progressive state Rep. Elisabeth Epps for her NO stance on Denver’s ballot measure 2O.
I also empathized with Epps’ recent admission of how emotionally taxing vitriol and violence can be over time, pointing out the irony that Epps often responds to others with an unreasonable level of taxing, sarcastic vitriol herself. I provided multiple direct examples of Epps’ tweets to prove the point.
As you might expect, Colorado’s far left was not happy. And, as I predicted, the bee stings they attempted to inflict were in the form of hate, anger, name calling, threats and an overall finger-pointing that turned the blame toward anyone or anything but them.
But what was incredibly fascinating, and what I think these busy bees should know, is that theirs was not the loudest buzz. The surprising reaction came from an overwhelming number of thank yous from Colorado Democrats who expressed that they shared the deep concerns about the vitriol and violence they’ve come to expect from the far left, and were grateful that someone was finally calling it out.
The catch? The thanks were exclusively offered in secret.
In some ways this surprised me. While I’ve long heard private rumblings of unhappiness on the matter, I definitely hadn’t realized it was so widespread, or that so many Colorado Democrats were itching for a sacrificial lamb. Even more fascinating was that many of the Democrats who thanked me are not only openly progressive, they are part of multiple marginalized groups who said that they felt the concerning populist tactics I discussed were making matters worse for them.
I didn’t desire to put myself on the chopping block per se; I’d much rather someone else do it. But I strongly believe in speaking out when I think there could be a problem for the policies I want to see enacted. So if it takes me sacrificing some future political potential in the Democratic Party for the chance at positive change, then so be it.
Still, I implore those on the left who are angry with me to remember that the only reason I steeled myself for months to take on this issue is precisely because I care so passionately about so many progressive policies. I am deeply concerned that if we don’t learn the lessons of far right populism, that we will shoot ourselves in the foot in the long term. After all, if we continue to build enemies instead of friends, the policies we care so much about won’t be taken seriously.
In this sense, the unsolicited thank yous from other Democrats have only served to further my original point from last week: If progressives are serious about passing their policies into law, they need to know that populist tactics are definitely wearing thin, even for those of us who are already on the team.
It’s for this reason that despite the busy bees suggesting I might have an ax to grind toward the far left or toward Epps, I definitely don’t. As anyone paying attention should know, I actually support a large number of Epps’ policies and positions, and generally admire her relentless passion for advocacy — even if I loathe the way in which she typically goes about it.
And that is precisely the point: That I can’t agree with Epps in many ways but disagree with her approach for substantive reasons without an obscene finger-pointing at me is absurd. That’s not a healthy democracy. And any party that starts to rely so heavily on emotionally violent finger-pointing, and ultimately uses tactics that incites fear in those who are on their team from offering alternatives, the inevitable loss is already well under way. Just ask Colorado’s Republican Party.
Of course, the loss for Democrats might look different than it has for Republicans, at least for a while. Endless conspiracy theories and their own extremist populist tactics have turned the GOP into a joke. This has made the Democratic Party a Big Tent, a factor that only serves to increase the risk for enemy factions to develop from within.
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So Colorado Democrats, I again put the onus back on you — and especially on whoever will serve as the incoming Chair. We must create a party culture that invites healthy disagreement on issues, not fear within our ranks. Politics is ultimately about amassing healthy power to achieve goals that serve society, and I deeply care about how the party operates. Not because I’m a party loyalist — clearly I am not — but because I believe that right now a strong Democratic Party represents our best chance at passing the best laws for society. Don’t you?
So why jeopardize our momentum with toxic populist tactics that are likely to do us a disservice in the long run, when we can create a party culture of kindness, teamwork and inquiry instead? It’s not about tolerating sexism or racism. It’s about managing issues within the party more effectively so we are as strong as possible. As the former First Lady Michelle Obama always says, “When they go low, we go high.”
Let’s aim higher together.
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
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