I Think I’ve Finally Figured Out Why I Write About Politics Here Rather Less Than I Used To

John Scalzi

I mean, besides the reason I’ve already noted several times, which is that there are only so many times you can say “The political right in the United States is unambiguously all-in on bigoted authoritarianism and white supremacy and has no interest in helping any American, just in punishing some of them” before it gets tiring, both to say and to hear. That remains accurate!

And also, the other thing is that so much political messaging these days, particularly on the right, is so performative that engaging with it is also performative, and a furtherance in distributing the original performative messaging. The political right in the United States understands that, inasmuch as it currently lacks a coherent political strategy other than will to power, it must keep its followers forever afraid, and its opponents forever on the defensive — spending their energy responding rather than doing anything else. So: outrage at trans people and black people and librarians and candies and anything else that will keep the outrage cycle going on for another 24 hours.

And, you know, I… just don’t want to. I’d like to say that it’s because I don’t have time, but I have the time, as much as I ever have with regard to this site. I just don’t have the inclination. So much of it is fucking trivial, for one — the individual incidents, to clarify, not the overall intent to strip everyone but white dudes of their rights — and all of it is “I said or did something shitty, now you have to respond, so I can play my next card.” Engaging in that level of rhetorical dishonesty for anything more than the length of a tweet feels icky, and even engaging in it for that long is fast losing its appeal.

Likewise saying much about any of the “personalities” of the right, including the several congresspeople who have been making obtuse screaming their brand. Yes, I’ve seen your trick. What else do you have? The answer: Not much. And that’s fine, I suppose, if there is something else to talk about. But there is nothing else: No policy, no strategy, nothing other than whatever you are for we are against. That’s it, plus the white supremacy mentioned above. Again: How many ways are there to approach that before it just gets stale? And why would I want to write it? I’m not getting paid to.

(This is another aspect of it: There are lots of people getting paid to write about these topics, and I think the need to put fresh spins on the simple fact that US right has nothing but bigotry and rage going for it these days is one reason we’re getting some fundamentally nonsensical commentary out of otherwise sensible writers. Dear political writers in the US: I know you know better. Please do better. As for me, I’m glad I’m not getting paid to write on politics, otherwise I’d be in the same boat.)

I don’t think this means that I won’t ever write on politics again until the right in the US gets smarter and less addicted to fomenting outrage. One, that’s not going to happen: not being smart, and fomenting outrage, has worked well enough for the right, so why would they change that. Two, even if the right in the US did want to do that, it would be a multi-decade project. It does mean that when and if I write about politics, I want it not to be reactive, or if it is reactive, not in the way that those instigating the messaging want it to be. And, again, for something longer than a tweet, that takes time and effort. I don’t have it in me to be silent about politics, but more than ever I’m aware that I, no less than anyone else, am susceptible to the prodding and poking of others to run their play when it comes to messaging.

(Also: I have less interest in being snarky about politics these days, which cuts down the amount I write about it here, too. It used to be easy to be snarky about politics! But then we had an attempted coup and the right leaned really hard into actually taking away the rights of American citizens. I don’t know, I feel less inclined to make funny quips about all of that. You can think of it as a personal failure if you like.)

So: Writing less about politics here, but I hope that when I do, I actually have something useful to say, rather than banging out “I’m writing to write about the thing everyone else is writing about” response text. And if I can’t make it useful, I think it’s fine not to write it up at all. It’s not as if people will lack things to read on the outrage du jour. That is, after all, the whole point of the outrage du jour.

— JS

49 Comments on “I Think I’ve Finally Figured Out Why I Write About Politics Here Rather Less Than I Used To”

  1. In addition, I try to remember that for most Republicans that their view is less government, lower taxes, a border so tight a flea can’t get through it, and more Defense will fix everything. Expecting anything else, is, IMHO, the classic colloquial definition of insanity.

  2. Yeah, I may write some stuff that isn’t fiction. But for now, as someone who has the degree in political science, plus 20-some years of activist experience, I’m just trying to distill that background into writing something approximating accurate representation of politics. Therefore, the current Kindle Vella project, which is political space opera.

  3. It is just best to stop acknowledging or giving voice to the crazies on the far-left and the far-right. They spend too much time in their social media created echo chambers and are disconnected from reality.

  4. Thanks for today’s piece. It’s nice when there is an articulate grown-up in the room. Lately I have been limiting my exposure to snark, performative politics, and alarmism from both the right and the left. As a result I sleep much better and I believe my blood pressure has taken a nose dive. Amazingly I am still informed about the events of the day without all the static. Plus the time I used to spend on “news” is now spent watching ‘Love, Death, and Robots”,

  5. There’s also the problem that politics is BORING. It’s a set of dances. We all know the steps, so we can see what’s coming.
    It’s monotonous.

  6. Part of what’s going on reflects a cool new word I learned from The Dawn of Everything (which is a cool book on the evolution of human societies): schismogenesis.

    It’s the situation where two communities (generally “adjacent” to each other, at least in a communication/ability to interact sense) define themselves not by what they >>are<>not<<. "We're not like those bastards across the river because we wear colorful hats, like God intended, not those heathenish dull, gray hats."

    It sounds comical when described that way (and it is, to a certain extent). But it can have significant and serious knock-on effects, because it can tend to overwhelm other community organizing principles, leading the communities to be hollowed out and subject to splinter/collapse/disintegration/overthrow.

    We (in the US) are going through a pretty severe bout of this right now. Which is why I only give the national polity about a 40% chance of surviving in its current form beyond about 2050. That's not to say I expect another civil war (although that's possible). I think it's more likely the nation will just splinter into a number of competing entities. Which would be a shame, IMHO.

  7. A sincere thank you for this. Stepping out of the echo chamber helps restore a bit more clarity and a side of sanity.

  8. Makes perfect sense. But I would like your take on how this might rage itself out in a while and what we can do to hasten the day. Also I’m not sure how afraid to be of DeSantis, so there’s that on the horizon. OMG.

  9. Can’t blame you. It looks like a shitshow even from a comfortable ocean’s distance, can’t imagine what it’d be like living it…

    For those (like me) who do sort of want to keep up with US politics without allllll the drama of trying to read the individual news articles, I can recommend “Letters From An American”. History prof does a daily newsletter, well researched and referenced, with historical context and everything.

  10. I figured that since the Orange Abomination was out of office that politics seemed somewhat less urgent. Things ain’t great but at least every day doesn’t feel like an existential crisis.

  11. As a public figure who is not directly involved in politics, you have every right to make this calculation, which makes imminent sense. As somebody whose writing often involves political satire, I make a different calculation: the junk rhetoric of the political right must be resisted with whatever tools we have at hand.

    What happens if it is not? Decades of the right telling its followers that the reason their lives are worse than they used to be is * IMMIGRANTS TAKING YOUR JOBS * (as opposed to, say, right wing politicians cutting social programs to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy), largely with the silent complicity of major voices on the left, have brought us to where we are today. If the left had forcefully opposed this narrative from the beginning, we would be in a different, arguably better place today.

    To be sure, voices on the left are fighting a rearguard action these days. But using rhetorical persuasion (including satire) to slowly peal away support for the far right from the near right might help the US return to living the ideals it proclaims to believe in.

  12. I’ve been a motorcycle enthusiast for my entire adult life and I was sharing a story with a friend recently about my favorite bike, a 1967 BMW R27 single cylinder with Earles fork front suspension.

    I’t wasn’t my favorite because it was fast (it was anything but) or easy to handle (but with the Earles is wasn’t bad) or because it was easy to start (it was very temperamental in these regards) but because it was so damned cool looking.

    Even hardcore Harley guys loved the bike but it wasn’t until the election of TFG that I realized those guys were closet Nazis then and he’s since let them out.

  13. @Andrew Shermer & @Sue McCormack:

    Please stop perpetuating the notion that the left has some sort of equivalent to the mess on the right – and certainly not the “far right.” You’re only making it worse and making yourselves appear to be out of touch with reality.

  14. I very much respect your right to engage with politics when and how you think is most effective. But I do want to point out that our opponents are not just trolls on the internet.

    We’ve got state boards and legislatures in Florida and Texas (and many more states) making sweeping rulings that restrict speech by certain marginalized groups, and ban health care for others. We have the most beloved fantasy author in the world, the former richest man in the world, the most popular comedian in the world, and the most popular podcast host in the world, promoting coded bigotries that even much of the left somehow finds reasonable.

    We have the entire UK ready to go into crisis because England wants to tell Scotland that their autonomy doesn’t include the right to do the right thing by trans people. We have the BBC, The Guardian (UK edition), The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Stranger, Netflix corporate, 60 Minutes, and others repeating outright falsehoods about these groups.

    We can’t fight that by going quiet and hoping it fades away+. Our opposition is not a minority. It’s so big, it can make its own maelstroms.

    +- I understand this is not what you plan to do. I’m trying to draw a distinction between “not feeding trolls” and “fighting power,” because I’m afraid of what happens to us if the left decides the wisest course of action is to clam up just as the boot comes down on those other people.

  15. I’ve moved away to blogging international politics, but I will probably stop this month. So ya, me too.

    I can dimly remember when socially it was almost OK to drink and drive, (legal penalties were small) and to smoke with children present. Sanity took decades.

    And hey, it took years to learn not to yell into the microphone of one’s cellular phone in public.

    I don’t think it is hopeless, I just think it may take decades for people to be suspicious of outraged politicians, “outrage media,” and to think before they forward.

  16. John,
    Reading this contribution immmediately brought to mind – so why not go back to writing about those other things like you did before 2016. I miss the more than occasional article about your latest photography discovery, or heck, just write about how your fur covered companions are acting – like you did when sugar and spice were kittens. I enjoyed reading those.
    You are doing a bunch of stuff with that building formerly known as a church – why not write more about some of the trials involved – you don’t have to give away the grand purpose for those, just anecdotes about the process.
    I know you contribute to other social media transports, but ‘whatever’ is the one I follow.
    Anyway, I enjoy reading whatever you share, but I do miss some of the style (and higher frequency) of your pre- 2016 social meltdown posts.
    Just my thoughts with a thank you for sharing what you do.
    – Mike0

  17. I have to say I’m with RJB on this – blaming the Left for ANY of this mess is disingenuous at best, and sounds more like Right Wing scapegoating than anything else. Unless you believe there are Communist Black Transsexual Antifa mobs running around picking fights with anybody with a Trump bumper sticker!

    I don’t look to you for political hot takes, Scalzi – I look to you for the broader issues that are only “political” because a bunch of bullying whiny manbabies who infest video games, SF and television have to Make it All About Them. Pieces like “Single White Male, the Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is”, the takedowns of “Vox Day” and the rest of the GamerGaters/Rabid Puppies, and “Fuck You – Pay Me” are what you do best, and don’t make you sound like one of Martin Luther King’s “White Moderates” (https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html )….

  18. There are many issues in politics that once you’ve addressed them, do not need to be rehashed. For example, years later I admire your essay ‘On Being Poor’. It would take something unique to make it a subject again.
    Keep writing!!

  19. I agree and support your decision. Years ago on my social media I commented a lot more on what was going on. But no one is going to change their mind reading my words. Plus, if it makes one stressed everyday, it’s not worth it.

    This does not mean I ignore the important topics. Sometimes one just has to say something. Because if we don’t, we fail as citizens. (We also need to vote, contribute time/money to the causes we support, and not fall silent if something really bad is going on.)

    When you come to the point that you need to write on a topic, I’ll definitely want to read what you have to say. I know it will be good. Till then, life has so much more to offer. Enjoy life, and thank you for sharing your joy with us!

  20. “The Right and the Left”!

    This is the false equivalency that will destroy us.

    There is absolutely no parallel on the Left with what’s going on with the Right.

    The Right is not all performative – that’s just the dog and pony show they do to keep their voters happy. ”

    They are serious and intent about creating a Christianist state, erasing women, minorities, and anyone not heterosexual from society.

    They are serious and intent upon funneling more and more money to their donor class – still talking about cutting SocSec and Medicare even after Biden called them out on it, wanting to repeal the laws that are enabling a rebuilding of our infrastructure and middle class, and wanting to reduce or repeal the global minimum corporate income tax.

    They are serious and intent on preserving fossil fuels and the fossil fuel economy, and allowing polluters to ravage our land, air and sea.

    They are serious and intent on replacing public education with taxpayer-funded private schools that teach Christianity and erase the history of minorities and women.

    They are serious and intent on making sure there are no gun laws whatsoever, and turning every street in the country into a potential shooting gallery.

    There is no equivalence with the Left. None.

  21. Lately politics has been deja vue all over again for me too. There are only so many ways to proclaim your racism, and they have all been used a few times.

    The only thing that really bothers me is how many people still believe the trash being spewed. I hope they catch on soon.

  22. No you are not writing about politics because you’re bored and tired, it’s because you’ve thrown in with the rest of the civilization destroyers. You once used to criticize the political left but no longer because your audience is mostly older white liberal women who would stop buying your books. Well we shall see in a decade hence how well that worked out for everyone. I would like to say I told you so but I suspect it won’t be possible.

  23. I am predicting the death of the republican party, because my Dad cancelled his cable subscription and gave away his TV. He was a devoted FOX viewer for at least a decade, repeating stupid shit like “the vaccine is people control,” until my Mom died of COVID. Now, he’s disengaged from the cycle, and is focused on his woodworking and remaining family. He’s happier, healthier, and our relationship is closer than it’s been in decades. The GOP is driving away it’s base. Hallelujah.

  24. ‘performative’ – yes. And there is no debate. If you didn’t/don’t support Trump you’re a (liberal, communist, leftist woke blahblahblah) who stands against the US of A. Even bothering to deny it just allows them to perform yet another peckerwood soliloquy. There are better places to spend my energy.

  25. Jeez, John, of course it’s exhausting to write about politics if you’re responding to disingenuous outrage all the time! But why limit yourself? Write about the policy initiatives and candidates you support and why, rather than batting right-wing talking points around. Encourage people to take positive action in their community, and suggest how they may. Show folks what more than “whatever you are for we are against” looks like.

  26. “There’s also the problem that politics is BORING. It’s a set of dances. We all know the steps, so we can see what’s coming.”

    I saw this argument a lot in 2016 — at least Trump will be entertaining instead of those dull political drones we usually get! I even saw it after 2020 (journalists grumbling that they had so much fun reading Trump’s twitter feed, why couldn’t he be allowed back?).

    As Meghan points out, it’s not boring. The shit Republicans are pushing affects people’s lives for the worse, from calling for Social Security to require reapproval every five years to DeSantis making it possible for workers to sue if sexual harassment training hurts their fee-fees.

  27. While I admit that it might provide less range for snark, I regularly observe quite a few politicians out there doing (or trying to do) good, useful things, at multiple levels of government. Maybe you could try writing about those?

    Here in PA, for instance, there are State Senators trying to make our government less corrupt. It’s my understanding we’re considered the 5th most corrupt state in the union, so that seems like, you know, a good idea.

    Also one of our Commonwealth courts just found that the way public school districts are funded is so unfair it violates the state constitution!

    Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer’s ruling says changes don’t need to be “entirely financial,” adding, “The options for reform are virtually limitless.”


    I agree!

    What do you think?

  28. I don’t think it’s entirely performative. Yes, specific shticks like targeting drag shows and LGBTQ books in libraries are for show, but I don’t have the slightest doubt the hate is sincere. After thirty years of hate radio and hate TV it’s not surprising some of them are drinking their own snake oil.

    Plus the performance will never stop. If the right-wing audience wants gays in concentration camp, it’s a safe bet the Republican Party will do it if they ever get the power.

  29. Never came here for the political commentary, though I have enjoyed the occasional pithy and direct summaries of where things stand.

    For political and economic analysis along with a bit of sf commentary and trade news there’s pluralistic.net. Covering, in particular, the Airborne Toxic Event in East Palestine, Ohio and its roots in policy.

  30. Politics is exhausting right now, in a way it wasn’t when I was younger. Is that politics or me changing? Don’t know…

    I agree with those saying that we (in general) at least have to continue calling out the bad-faith arguments, the straw men, misinformation and lies, and the rest of the anti-intellectual, anti-common sense spew of bullshit from the right. I’m also glad I’m a nobody; nobody cares about my opinions (other than the occasional passing interest of a troll). It takes the pressure off.

    My solution is simple: I have mostly just stopped reading the front page of the news, and try to meet trolling with science when some particular misinformation is in my wheelhouse (biological and ecological science).

  31. Bad stuff continues to happen whether we note it or not. For example, from electoral-vote.com {https://www.electoral-vote.com/evp2023/Items/Feb09-7.html}, we have

    “The [Ohio] Republican-controlled legislature has now passed a new voting law that is even more restrictive than the previous one. After all, the goal is winning, not democracy.

    “Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) signed the bill on Jan 6, 2023, exactly 2 years to the day after a demonstration that quite a few other Republicans also aren’t interested in democracy. The new law makes voting more difficult. This is a feature, not a bug. It is one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. It requires a photo ID to vote, and not just any old photo ID. The law specifies only four types of ID that can be used. Nothing else is allowed. The four allowed types are an Ohio driver’s license, an Ohio nondriver’s ID card, a U.S. passport, or a U.S. military ID. That’s it.

    “A voter who shows up to vote without any of these can cast a provisional ballot but then has to show up at the county board of elections within 4 days with one of the four allowed types of ID. Needless to say, it is impossible to apply for any of the four types and get one within 4 days.”

    There’s more.

  32. Much like you, I’ve disengaged from the Daily Outrage Machine. When my mom was alive I’d have to watch a few minutes of Fox News before I made the drive over to visit her to understand what she’d be ranting about; turned out it was whatever the Outrage Story of the Day they were pushing on their viewers. Became very tiresome.

    I cancelled my newspaper subscriptions (the local paper that had turned into the Enormous State University Big 10 Football Gazette, where high school kids who were prospective members of the team making a recruiting visit was front page news, along with the Washington Post for national news), deleted my apps and links to almost all news sites (as a retired military guy I did keep the Early Bird for defense news), and in turn subscribed to The Economist for a weekly summary of real news from around the world.

    I also became a member of my local library’s Board of Directors. In my area local public libraries are privately-owned non-profit organizations and not government entities, which somewhat insulates us from all of the Moms for Liberty and other right wing organizations demanding censorship of materials to accommodate their political and religious beliefs. (They have no more standing to demand action on our part than I do to demand changes to the theology their church preaches.) I’m more than ready to deal with the inevitable attempts on their part to control what materials our library holds, and was pleasantly surprised to find the other board members are as well. Helps that I have zero social media involvement, so I won’t even know the names they’re calling me when the time comes.

  33. Any idiot invoking “both sides” bullshit at this point can only be a closet nazi unwilling to acknowledge just how fucking fascist they are. Fuck all y’all.

    Republicans are trying to un-protect every minority group in the US. They have embraced racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and the all around violence that comes from being fascist. They attempted to overthrow the government on Jan 6. They have some insane pet conspiracy theory that takes every government function and turns it into baby eating alien lizard overlords with jewish space lasers. Anything they dont like is a false flag operation. Mass shooting victims are actors. Global warming is a hoax. The pandemic was a lie. They swear there is cat litter in schools because teachers want children to identify as cats. And republicans want to shove their christian-nationalism down everyones throat.

    Democrats see people as fundamemtally equal, follow the science, support education, want good representative governance, and are sick and fucking tired of innocent people getting shot by mass shooters and overzealous cops.

    Any idiot who tries to “both sides” this shit show is a fucking moron who hit the dunning kruger jackpot, a political hipster who doesnt know shit about politics, but is adamant that political parties are for sheeple.

    Democracy is about the mainstream, you dumb fucks. And you idiotic “both sides” morons want to spoiler vote every election with your bespoke candidate. Fuck you.

  34. This performative aspect of politics has a school of thought: it’s the European New Right. Its provenance is from France, but it began to take root as a political force throughout democracies worldwide in the last decade.

    It was kind of developed in the shadow of the more famous and more influential postmodern movement that for good and ill brought us Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze et al. It was antagonistic to this postmodernism (the philosophers were largely disillusioned leftists), yet was a mirror image of this.

    ENR was largely a philosophical contemplation of fascism, as in what would’ve happened had World War II gone the other way and fascism had flourished instead of liberal capitalist democracy. Fascism was the political “immune system” of nations, and nations are cultures.

    ENR uses the phrase “metapolitics” as a synonym for the much older and well-understood Greek term “agon”, which is the object at the heart of conflict (it gives us the English word agony, which is how we feel about torment). The business of government is largely about economic distribution and the making of laws.

    ENR rejects the agons of law and economy and centers it around culture instead. The theory goes: Difference allows for the creation and reproduction of culture. Culture begets social construction (economies, governments and languages are socially constructed). Social constructions like economies and governments allow for negotiation and the resolution of differences.

    However, once differences are resolved, agreement slaughters difference. Without difference, cultures die. Without culture, social constructions die.

    Therefore, social constructions should be used to maintain and enforce differences (as opposed to maintain and enforce law or maintain and enforce class-based social relations).

    The ENR embraces performative politics because they see politics not as a problem-solver but as aesthetics and ritual — a secularized form of religion. This was one of the salient features of classical fascism — totemization of national symbols (flags, anthems, military marches); rituals as seen in religion are typically performances for the mortal world to communicate with the divine, and political rituals are performances to communicate with the ancestors of an idealized and mythologized history.

    There’s a Part II.

  35. Of course, every once in a while something blows through that upsets the boredom.

    Newsweek is saying Donald Trump caused the Ohio train crash.

    The reason is that Trump rescinded the order for trains carrying hazardous materials to be fitted with Electronically Controlled Pneumatic Brakes.

    He possibly rescinded it only because it was an Obama law.

  36. Continued from Part I.

    How does ENR pertain to American politics?

    If I refer to two particular congresspeople as Ku Klux Karen and Yosemite Samantha, you would immediately know who I am referring to.

    We know them because they make performance part of their brand. We know them because unlike their contemporaries and predecessors, they can’t be evaluated by the impact of their legislation, their mastery of procedure or party management — they are evaluated by their exhibitionism.

    They’ve brought the pro wrestling concept of kayfabe into the Capitol.

    Just like “Is pro wrestling fake?” the wrong question to ask because it doesn’t provide the answer you are looking for, asking whether the two are mentally ill or are sincere in the belief of their nonsense leads you to miss the point entirely.

    Think about this: One of them has the power to order NASA or the Department of Defense to investigate the existence of — or worse, physically construct — a Jewish Space Laser if for no other reason than to get the last laugh.

  37. I think it’s good to occasionally remind people that all people have the right to human dignity. That voting is a good thing and should be encouraged. That LGBTQ+ people are people and their choices and their marriages and lives aren’t hurting anyone just by being LGBTQ+. That science is real and there aren’t actually two sides to every issue, at least not two equally valid sides.

    I teach college in a red state and some of my students and at least one of my colleagues who think they are American and for freedom are getting more and more overtly fascist. They are loud voices and I don’t think we can be completely silent. I don’t know that we should directly react but also we maybe should go on our own offensive because the things we believe about not becoming Nazis sometimes do need a reminder for people.

    We can’t change the nazis but we can keep the vast majority of people who want to be good people reminded about what those values actually are. Because hateful rhetoric can be persuasive if you don’t stop to think about it.

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