Righteous Indignation. Let’s stop shouting

Over the past four years, liberals and progressives across the UK and the USA seem to have been trapped in a cycle of perpetual outrage. The attacks on liberties and cherished values, which have been won over lifetimes, are in a seeming state of never-ending assault. Since Trump and Brexit, hardly a day goes by without something so outrageous that we simply cannot let it go unchallenged. There is always something to shout about. So much to be furious about. So little time to defend the onslaught on our core beliefs. It always seems to get worse, not better.

The past four years have been exhausting. There has been no let-up!

For those not providing essential services, the upside to lockdown has been an abundance of enforced quality time; time to stop, reflect and to explore new perspectives. During this quiet time, it’s become apparent just how much time, money and emotional input we’ve invested doing absolutely everything we could do to stop Brexit and the rise of Johnson and the Jingoistic right. I am one of the countless thousands who spent a fortune getting to marches and rallies, who spent weekends at conferences and on street stalls, who bought t-shirts, flags etc. etc. Opposing Brexit was an almost full-time occupation. It has been emotionally and financially draining.

Now it has slowly sunk in that we progressive, pro-EU people have been manipulated on a colossal scale. We thought we were doing the right thing by shouting out for our values, standing up for our beliefs, but, we have done exactly what the right-wing wanted us to do. Progressives have fallen for ‘Righteous Indignation’ on an epic scale. Our collective sense of outrage has been an all-consuming enterprise which has left little space to pursue our positive vision for the future proactively. ‘Righteous Indignation’ is a monster of our own doing, and we need to stop feeding it. We will never be able to shout loudly enough outside parliament so we should leave opposition to the official Oppositions in Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

So what if we failed to rise to Farage and Cummings’ provocation? What if we stop sharing, liking, commenting on Facebook and Twitter? Will we have lost the argument?

On reflection, I think that a better way to deal with these manipulative sociopaths is to ignore them. We should use our time more constructively to set out our positive agenda. We should proactively project our vision of a happier, kinder society rather than always being reactive. By still reacting, we are perceived to be a negative force. We should take control of our positive agenda.

The past four years have been a tough learning curve, and I now believe that the only way for us to end the cycle of negativity in UK politics is to rise above it. As Michelle Obama said, “When they go low, we go high”. Let’s claim back the narrative. We can do that by consciously ignoring negatives and by focusing our energy on the positive, progressive vision we have to offer.

* Hilton Marlton is the Welsh Lib Dem rep on Federal People Development Committee

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9 Comments

  • Agreed.

    Protest can make a difference, but it usually doesn’t and it shouldn’t in principle be able to overturn a vote. Trump etc, loves liberal tears and we have all been too eager to feed the bully.

    And the rules of social media algorithms are that any interaction with hostile opinion raises the profile of that hostile opinion – quite apart from the fact that you may be promoting it to your own followers, a few of whom might be susceptible. This is partly what gives us hyper polarisation. People say things that provoke their opponents to respond and thereby promote, and this applies to the left as much as the right.

    Perhaps we might all try to find a reasonable opponent to engage constructively with and try to ignore all the trash talk.

  • Michael Bukola 1st Jul '20 - 10:28am

    The Party has to face up to the rude awakening of political reality and stop dealing with ideals.

  • Ultimately, the way to deal with the autocrats and conmen is through sheer bloody organisation. This seems to be the mood in America amongst Trump’s opponents. Coronavirus has provided us with plenty of thinking time and, while I am sure I have an ancient O-level in banner waving somewhere, we have to out-think and out-organise the charlatans running the country. Sometimes we can actually exploit their laziness!

  • Christopher Curtis 1st Jul '20 - 11:04am

    What is this nonsense?
    It’s absolutely right to consider the most effective way to communicate an important message and mass street protests or repeated angry social media messages might not be that effective, and there might be better ways of working, but the idea that we should be quiet or ignore those who have cynically corrupted our public discourse, and are intent on doing more of the same, is a recipe to hand them victory.
    If you don’t even register just how awful the things they are doing are, if you give up on your righteous anger and opposition, if you keep quiet when they commit outrage then you simply let them get away with it.
    Portraying the hundreds of thousands of people who marched, signed petitions or otherwise protested, and who are still doing so, as somehow mistaken and manipulated is to bolster the enemies of freedom.

  • James Fowler 1st Jul '20 - 12:04pm

    Agreed. We should also consider how liberal disdain for the importance of traditional identity – potentially a great strength – has come to be seen as deeply hypocritical and divisive. We bear a lot of the responsibility for creating the space into which Trump et al. have moved by first – correctly – rejecting identity (liberals should be interested in people are going to, not where they’ve come from) but then valorizing a few specific narratives and justifying our inconsistency in a pious and unctuous way. Trump, Boris etc. have really done little else other than scoop up the people that liberal economics marginalised and social liberalism wrote off curiously as being both ‘privileged’ and ‘backward’. Self-righteousness is a dreadful look at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. Let’s show a bit of humility to the groups of people we humiliated 1979-2016.

  • It has been noted that a lot of people have been quite happy at home in the virus period. The people have been of all social standing. Ask them whether they would be happy to stay at home with a UBI payment to do their own thing. It could be used for holiday or to open a business or just to live etc.By giving it to all you then do not isolate people as in the 1979- 2016 period.By being quiet about things we can ask the voter about the idea and treat everybody equal. Our indignation can take a different turn in the hope that people then do not switch off from us.

  • Julian Tisi 1st Jul '20 - 1:59pm

    You had me until “we should leave opposition to the official Oppositions in Westminster, Edinburgh and Cardiff” – no, I disagree. I think there is a happy medium somewhere between loud shouting and ignoring which challenging our opponents but in a different way. For example, when arguing about the EU we seldom talked about sovereignty (and how it was threatened by us leaving the EU); instead, we appeared to concede the point to our opponents. I agree about offering a positive vision but we can’t stop opposing, we just need to get better at it by rethinking what works.

  • Catherine Wilson 1st Jul '20 - 2:46pm

    Yes indeed Hilton. Positive messages cut through (look at b. Johnson), negative messages repel. The marches, protests and shared outrage perhaps served a valid purpose in bringing us together and connecting with those who agree with us, but we also need to reach out to others. We need to be clear among ourselves about our values and vision for the future, and come up with innovative strategies for communicating to the wider world (I am member, just haven’t bothered with whatever you have to do to get that shown here). We also need to be sure we practice the values we preach. There seems to be some difficulty about allowing free speech in this political party, for example.

  • Julian Tisi seems to hit the right balance.

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