“Don’t Complain” Is Not A Winning Political Message

So, a thing happens where, if you complain about your chosen political leader/party, eventually someone comes out and says you shouldn’t do that, you’re depressing voter turnout, you’re encouraging people not to vote, you’re a bad democracy-hating monkey who is fueling fascism and blah blah blah.

Counterpoint: that’s bullshit.

Complaining about the Democrats and Biden is entirely fair game. It is, in fact, part and parcel of our democracy, to be able to complain about them, to demand that they do better — not just better, but the very best they can do. That’s literally the whole point. It is, in fact, one of the things you buy with your vote — the ability to say, “I voted for you because you said you were going to do XYZ, so get to it.” Consider that, when they’re not doing the best job, if you don’t complain — loudly! angrily! visibly! this is called protest! — then they have not received the message that they need to do different and do better. Why would you think anything would change if you don’t push them to change?

That’s not to say we can’t recognize the nuance of all situations or see the difficulties ahead, but also, y’know what? We don’t have to. It’s not required. There’s no law that says we can’t just be like HEY FUCK THAT GUY, I’M KINDA MAD. Or HEY WHAT THE SHIT, THAT IS A BAD IDEA, I HATE IT A LOT. You don’t have to have an answer, or a solution, or anything. You can just be upset. Because as it turns out, there is a whole lot to be upset about — and though nearly all of this was born from Republicans, it is happening on the watch of Democrats, and so far they are having a very hard time meeting this moment and these challenges, despite being the ones who promised that they could. Sorry you got stuck holding the hot potato, but you knew it was coming, so maybe do something?

Like, you get that this is for the whole enchilada, right? We’re at one of those moments in history. It is existential. People are going to get hurt and die — hell, people are already hurting and dying. From botched abortions, from rampant gun violence, from pollution, from climate change, from suicide. It’s already been happening and is going to get a whole lot worse.

“Don’t complain” is not a winning political strategy, nor is it a good political argument. Complaints like these are the bread and butter of our democracy, part of the conversation. Some people treat the complaints as if the complaints are the problem, as if the complainers are depressing voter turnout — they’re not. It’s the politicians depressing voter turnout. Our one angry Facebook post or tweet isn’t the thing that’s dismantling democracy or driving people from feeling engaged. That one angry Facebook post, that one pissed-off tweet, is reflecting the attitude, not creating it. Yes, we need to be aware of disinformation and misinformation that feeds that furnace, absolutely. But the anger at obvious, true things… is not only okay, is not only justified, but I dare say, encouraged.

And believe it or not, it’s actually a good thing. We’ve seen multiple times that the Democrats are actually responsive to approval ratings and anger — demand better from them, and turns out, they seem motivated by it. But they won’t be motivated by people saying, “Hey, guys, no, stop, they’re doing their best, it’s okay, we forgive them.” What the fuck. Fuck that. The boat is sinking, don’t let the captain tell you, “Not much more I can do here, folks, good luck.” That motherfucker needs to walk you to the lifeboats, or patch the holes, or do something. That’s how this all works! This isn’t fandom, this isn’t, “Wow, jeez, let people like things, I thought Obi-Wan was a good show.” This is rising sea levels, this is the loss of bodily autonomy, this isn’t about a Marvel movie.

Long as someone doesn’t say, “Don’t vote,” then most anything else is fair game. I mean, JFC, FFS, how are you not angry? Consider the privilege it takes to not be angry at all of this.


We need to go back to treating our politicians like Philadelphia sports fans treat their teams. When you’re winning for us, we will deafen God with our cheers. When you’re losing, we’re gonna whip batteries and ice chunks at your head.

33 responses to ““Don’t Complain” Is Not A Winning Political Message”

  1. And by the way, let me own that I have definitely been the person who is like, NO WAIT DON’T SAY ANYTHING MEAN ABOUT THEM, THAT’S NOT PRODUCTIVE. I’ll cop to that, and I think there is admittedly a short time before an election where you gotta pick up some pom-poms once all your Only Choices Are In, but that time cannot be All The Fucking Time.

  2. I agree with this, we need to pressure the Dems to do whatever it takes to reverse this mess.They need to step the hell up! AND we must resist false equivalence (“dems are just as bad as GOP, so we shouldn’t vote for either”) because unless Dems unite at the ballot box and turn out as strongly as the GOP always does, this GOP terrorism never ends.

  3. Great post. It’s hard to vote when you believe in no one. How’s that saying go?: the only good politician is the person that doesn’t actually want to be a politician…something like that

  4. Thank you for this! In my mind it goes all the way back to the idiots who said “Love it or leave it!” Hell no- love it but fix it! Fix it because you live it and see how it’s broken. You’ve motivated me to become more active- to go beyond voting, and signing petitions, and writing the little checks that I can manage.
    Okay and here’s another thing-Biden is going to “suspend the filibuster” what the hell? That’s a thing? Why aren’t we doing that for everything if they’re unwilling to do away with it entirely.

  5. I agree with just about all your sentiments.
    I believe, however, that kvetching without proffering at least one solution is just whining. It doesn’t have to be the best chosen solution. The goal is to engage with focus and purpose, not just throw ketchup at the wall.

    • Left-leaning politicians, journalists, scholars, and pundits have been proffering solutions for years, since the Democrats won with the blue wave in 2018. Elizabeth Warren, AOC, Bernie Sanders, and other Progressives have been all over the news the last two weeks offering solutions, along with several prominent news commentators, who have written entire books on our current scenario.

      The Democratic leadership have picked up the ball and run with… [checks notes] NONE of them. I mean, just yesterday Biden said he didn’t want to resort to “radical measures” because it might upset swing voters. This is it, the last days of democracy in America, and he doesn’t want to really fight because it might anger some folks who up until now have been all in on literal Nazism? C’mon.

      They don’t want solutions. They want people buying into reasons why we can’t. Why we have to just play nice and let the christofascist white supremacists run the show, even from a minority position in Washington. It’s ludicrous, and I’m losing the plot with this complicity day after day.

  6. From a lifetime of political engagement going back to before you were a gleam in anyone’s eye, including ten years “in the ring,” what you say is true.

    And at the same time, the other side of the argument has some points in its favor right now. All the “disappointment” anyone can express is not going to change anything. Forget the math, do the damn arithmetic, you can even do it on your fingers if necessary: In a 50-50 senate, where the other side is all-50 committed to absolute opposition, while 2 people on your side haven’t got the brains god gave a hammer, you’re not going to get very far on the “accomplishments”, no matter the screaming and wailing and tearing of garments.

    Unfortunately, H.L. Mencken was right back in 1924, when he observed that “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people,” as was Churchill when he noted that “The best argument against democracy is a five minute conversation with the average voter.”

    Right now, because they’re “disappointed” that they didn’t get their ponies and rainbows, a lot of Democratic lefties are going to sit home – as they did in 2010 when they let the Democrats lose, and gave the Republicans the power they have used since to tilt the playing field as they did with redistricting and all the gerrymandering. In the 2010 elections, Democrats went from having 27 state s to 16 while Republicans went up to 28. That wasn’t them “winning,” that was Democrats losing because all their delicate fee-fee’s were upset because Obama didn’t make the sun rise in the west.

    As a friend of mine says, “If you want a better government, be better citizens.” Unfortunately, the overwhelming majority of Americans are so fucking stupid they need to be told to breathe in, then breathe out, and half of them are dumber than that because they never show up.

    And now they’re going to give the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party power because they don’t like $6/gal gasoline.

    Sometimes I think this country isn’t worth saving.

    But you better make sure every person you know in Pennsylvania votes, because if that lunatic running for governor or that con artist running for senator win, America. Will. Be. Fucked.

    Democrats not voting and saying “the supreme court isn’t that important,” and failing to understand that elections are more often than once in four years for offices beyond that of president is how the last two weeks of supreme court decisions came along with The Enemy declaring the 21st century unconstitutional.

    I’ll repeat, since most complainers never hear anything the first time: If you want a better country, be better citizens.

    • Stop. Just stop talking about 2016 and blaming the Progressives, who are the only real Democrats anymore, for this. This is just another propaganda talking point, that Lefties who don’t get perfect are the enemy of the good. Last I checked, the far left side of the party were the only ones offering any real solutions besides “Vote harder!” which is what we were forced to do and did in 2020.

      I’ve seen lists of what Biden could do to protect the right to abortion from Warren, AOC, Sanders, and many Progressive pundits. There are multiple other things he could do for the country that don’t need the approval of Congress, like vetting the people he appoints to the USPS board (which he didn’t do, and now we are stuck with DeJoy). Like giving kids at the border something more than foil blankets to sleep under. Like firing Trump’s FBI director Christopher Wray, who says no one could have seen J6 coming, even though they sold t-shirts for it online. Like telling Garland to get going or get lost. Like not dropping the ball on the pandemic and pretending it no longer exists.

      The time for politely trying to avoid looking partisan is long, long past. Biden is doing none of these things because he doesn’t want to. He finds more in common with his friends in the Republican party than he does with the people who put him in office, as do Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. He’s capitalizing on the learned helplessness that was fostered under Obama, and the Blueanons have picked up the “But we can’t!” cry as we march off the cliff of fascism.

      The left side of the Democratic party are always told we have to unite with the moderates, who are really just GOP-lite at this point. It never works the other way around, even though “radical” concepts like M4A, living wages, student loan relief, expanding the court, nuking the filibuster, adding DC and PR as states, and protecting voting rights are supported by the majority of Democrats polled.

      In most European countries, our “leadership” would be considered right wing. We’re sick of constantly being told to take a seat for yet another existential election. No one here is saying don’t vote. But if you think pandering to the right and telling the Democratic constituency to shut up and put up is going to keep working, you’re sadly mistaken. Rather than face elections where they have to once again choose the lesser of two evils foisted on them by the DNC, who get their money from the same places the GOP candidates do, Progressives are leaving the US.

      Pretending that your strategy is tenable is a mistake. Dem voters, in spite of their disappointment later, turned out in huge numbers and were galvanized by Obama because they thought he wanted change. If the current party leaders don’t wake up and realize the party is not the “big tent” of the center-right and mythical swing voters, they’re only harming themselves and accelerating a fascist takeover. Again, no one is saying “Don’t vote,” FFS. We’re trying to hold the party accountable because, for the next five minutes at least, we still have some fragments of democracy left.

      • Actually, I’m not talking about the Progressives in Congress, who have indeed shown up for the fight and have very definitely walked the extra nine and a half kilometers in revising their desires into what can pass, regardless of personal belief. They’re admirable. And the people out in the districts who understand that and keep supporting them are on the admirable list, too.

        Most of the people I’m complaining about are the “lefties” who embarrass me that morons that stupid claim to be on my side. Idiots like Susan Sarandon in 2016, saying the supreme court doesn’t matter and if voting Green denies Clinton a win it will “speed the revolution” (the German communists made the same argument in 1932, that they shouldn’t vote for the “Social Fascist” as they called the Social Democrats, and advocated a Nazi victory in 1933 because it would “speed the revolution.” I think we all know how that particular stupidity worked out. Since I live in a world where it’s possible to run across that dimbulb, which I did, I told her to her face what I just wrote here. She was “highly offended.” She and the Berners and the rest of them can go to hell. I had my fill of their Socialite Socialism and Bourgeois Bolshevism 50 years ago.

      • The cruel truth is that the One Weird Tricks the anti-Democrats put forward are false and often offensive. For one thing, the leaders of various Indian tribes aren’t happy with white DSA class reductionist Socialists and their ideological allies wanting to steal what little land they have left to plant abortion clinics on it just because Susan Sarandon refused to “vote with my vagina” in 2016. For another, the Hyde Amendment wouldn’t allow that anyway.

        The anti-Democrats are also lying about what Biden and the Democrats are or could be doing in a post-Roe world. As mentioned here, the Biden administration has been working on this for a long time: https://twitter.com/KMC4wauk/status/1542526943706419202?

        Whenever I see someone use the “vote harder” term the anti-Democrats invented to mock the one thing that would have prevented this, it makes me angry that they a) hate participatory democracy so much, and b) ignore the fact that Republicans have voted for half a century patiently working to overturn Roe.

    • Exactly. Biden does his best and is on the right side of most arguments, but can’t get much done with an uncooperative senate, that’s how checks and balances work. Every time a Democrat stands up and tells me Democrats suck, too, it pushes me a little closer into “fuck it, I won’t vote” territory. Then I remember my wits and remember not voting is what caused all this. Most people don’t think long enough to get to that last part.

    • It’s not about failing to recognize the uphill battle, but Democratic leadership isn’t really offering much to counter… well, anything that’s going on, not even in strategy, besides, “Hey, vote.” Biden won’t expand the courts. Nobody seems to want to impeach the judges. Awful news goes by and none of them even seem to be commenting much on it, much less joining protest or holding rallies (like, say, Shapiro here in PA, who was doing that very thing).

      This started with Republicans but it’s happening under Democrats, and that means it’s their problem to deal with. Even if they aren’t winning that fight, they still need to fight and not just kick the can to November.

      When people don’t show up to vote, it’s not caused by complainers on social media. It’s caused by a mix of things like, say, politicians not actually fulfilling any part of their promises, or at worst, the result of disinformation and misinformation. But someone’s angry tweet isn’t what’s setting democracy off its axis. The Republicans are. But the Democrats don’t seem interested in *acting like it.*

  7. Where are all of them like you, there? Please never go anywhere. Unless, you know, you and Stephen King, and Sandra Newman decide to run for something-something.

  8. Thank you! Whipping batteries & ice chunks is an excellent place to start if it gets them out of their stupor.

  9. You’re conflating “Don’t complain” with “Don’t tell Biden to do Congress’ job for them. Separation of powers and all that.”

    Executive Orders can only go so far, and the Alito-Thomas Supreme Court delights in shooting down Biden’s. That’s one reason why the “wave of his pen” student loan forgiveness BS from Elizabeth Warren and the DSA Squad is so poisonous: they insist that Biden can allocate or spend money that Congress hasn’t authorized first.

    Biden can direct a Federal agency to change how they spend its money that Congress has already approved for it as part of the yearly budget process (and he has already done so for many of the poorest student loan debtors), but he can’t spend money that Congress hasn’t already authorized to be spent. Congress holds the power of the purse, period. The Antideficiency Act codified that decades ago. It’s why we have government shutdowns every other year when Congressional Republicans have a hissy fit about something or other. (https://thecollegeinvestor.com/35892/is-student-loan-forgiveness-by-executive-order-legal/ )

    In addition, most student loan debt is incurred by people who are in graduate school and are a lot likelier to be wealthy, have wealthy parents, or be wealthy once they start the careers for which they entered college, so paying it all off would be a massive upwards wealth transfer: https://www.brookings.edu/research/student-loan-forgiveness-is-regressive-whether-measured-by-income-education-or-wealth/

    As for life in a post-Roe world, there’s no magic wand or pen Biden can wave that makes everything all better. The Hyde Amendment won’t allow abortion tents on Indian reservations or in national parks, and frankly it’s insulting to the Natives I know that a lot of the same Anti-Democratic-Party lefty people who hollered that they wouldn’t let normie Democrats “blackmail” them with the Supreme Court in 2016 are now telling Indian tribes they must extricate the leftists from the problem the leftists caused by enabling Trump to pick three SCOTUS justices.

    There are things Biden and Democrats can do right now to soften the post-Roe blow as much as possible, and they are doing them ( https://twitter.com/KMC4wauk/status/1542526943706419202). But the only real way out is to keep the Senate and House so that some progress, especially in judical and Supreme Court appointments, can occur. Both Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are in their 70s and Thomas is in bad health; Biden needs Democrats to hold the Senate and preferably add at least two seats so they can expand the Supreme Court to 13 seats, one for each circuit, so Biden can get more Ketanji Brown Jacksons to counter the Samuel Alitos. That won’t happen if people are disheartened out of voting because they were tricked by lefties (many of whom want Republicans to win on the Nader 2000 idea that they’ll be so awful that they’d cause the masses to turn Marxist and overthrow the government) into not voting with the consistency and frequency of Republicans and turning out this November.

    • “But the only real way out is to keep the Senate and House so that some progress, especially in judical and Supreme Court appointments, can occur.”

      I agree with this.

      There are no “Republicans” and “Democrats” anymore. There are no “undecided” voters. There is only the party of white supremacy” (abbreviated to GOP), and “everyone else” (under the Democrat umbrella).

      Either you vote for “everyone else”, or white supremacy carries on, emboldened. We can fantasize until we’re blue in the face (see what I did there), but in a system meticulously crafted to give absurdly outsized voting power to slavers (and their ideological descendants), “voting harder” is the only realistic option left.

      • You’ve conned yourself with a false binary: vote red or vote blue, as if voting is the only answer. What’s the plan when red states, backed by SCOTUS, toss out election results they don’t like? You can’t just “vote harder” your way out of that.

        I’ll add that establishment Democrats are really just saying the quiet part out loud now and not bothering to cover up their Vichy tendencies (e.g., Biden’s judicial deal with McConnell). What happens when those two circles on the Venn diagram completely overlap, which is coming soon? You’re not going to make progress with more Senators, even if you could overcome vote nullification, because there will always be the Parliamentarian or some other bogeyman to blame.

        No one is actually buying time with these lesser-of-two-evils elections, other than the police and the military, who just become stronger, and the far right, who are putting more Boeberts and MTGs in Congress and cementing “legal” fascism through SCOTUS rulings. Violence is inevitable, and it would be better for people to rebel now than later, when it will be that much harder.

        They won’t because we have no leaders. I mean, my god, Nancy Pelosi is fundraising while on vacation in the Vatican, using her communion scandal to cover up the “Why Isn’t She Doing Anything?” stories in the media. We have an ongoing pandemic, which has become nothing short of eugenics for the White House, climate change, and a collapsing economy, where people can’t afford to strike or boycott.

        And of course there are still too many people “Ridin’ with Biden” who will be proudly wearing their KHive buttons as Kamala shoves them in a boxcar to head off to the work camps. I’m sorry, but if you think getting a few more seats in the Senate is going to fix this, I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t like it either, but it’s time the left faced reality.

        • So if that’s a false binary, what are your other options, other than suggesting that Biden needs to be impeached and that Kamala will put people in gulags?

          • Become un-fucking-governable. Have you never picked up a history book?

          • I want to add to my previous remark and say that at some point soon, the Democrats in government are going to have to encourage US citizens to simply not comply with laws the GOP are putting in place. Right now, it’s abortion. Contraception is next. What happens when they make it illegal to be LBGTQ, not only in red states but nationally? What happens when interracial marriage becomes illegal? Or being of a religion that’s not their twisted version of Christian? Or being black, poor, or registered as a Democrat?

            Think it can’t happen here? Everything the Nazis did was legal, and it worked because people went along with it. Are the Democrats going to sit back and say “Rules are rules” when the GOP starts in with national mandates for the plans they’ve already announced for the country? Probably, so the people are going to have to rise up against BOTH parties.

          • “Become un-fucking-governable. Have you never picked up a history book?”

            Americans are not willing to do that, tho. Definitely not in anything resembling significant numbers.

            10+ years’ worth of protests and riots, starting with Occupy Wall Street, have yielded exactly zero in terms of meaningful change. There’s nothing to indicate that the average USian is willing to go above and beyond that, and even less evidence of mass-movement potential. E.g. the highly publicized recent “trial by TikTok” of a celebrity wife-beater attracted more attention (by several scales of magnitude) than the conservatives’ Jim Crow V2.0 and illegitimate SCOTUS machinations combined.

            So I guess I don’t see how throwing hissy fits and resorting to magical thinking accomplishes more than voting.

  10. The Democrats will have to eventually stop running on the platform of “Well, at least we aren’t them!” I’m also sick of our corporatist media pushing the idea of the US being a “center right” country as they edge the needle ever farther to the right.

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