Why We Can’t “Just Ignore” The Worst Of The Right

Just ignore them. Don’t give them any oxygen, any attention. Just ignore them. Don’t cover them, don’t give them the spotlight they so obviously crave. Without the spotlight, they’ll just wither away and become ineffective.

“Just ignore them.”

That’s what I heard a lot from liberals during my years working at Media Matters for America when we would document the latest racist, misogynistic, or just outright stupid thing from the right. I see it a lot nowadays in response to coverage of serial know-nothings in Congress like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert and Madison Cawthorn.

The thinking goes that without coverage these serial provocateurs will be starved of oxygen and denied any political power and influence.

This thinking is wrong.

It might have been true when the world of mass communication was three or four major national TV networks, one or two national newspapers, and a few radio networks with national reach. But that world, with limited slots for coverage and exposure, has not been the real world for decades.

The world we live in is one with a seemingly endless array of media outlets, both on broadcast and especially online. It is a world where there is always some kind of audience for anything, no matter how stupid or counterfactual it happens to be.

It is a world where right-wing extremism will always live and thrive.

And if anything, even in the idealized past, when right-wing extremists did not have the same access to a mass audience that they have today, it still thrived. In his failed campaign against President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, which was a legitimate landslide, Sen. Barry Goldwater still received 38% of the vote on his explicitly pro-extremism message.

The right’s messages of hate and ignorance have an audience. These messages motivate voters and those voters have been responsible for enshrining horrific legislation and extremist members of the judiciary.

For a long time the left embraced the idea of ignoring it all and focusing on their own world and the world of the mainstream. What that effectively did was leave the left wide open to attack.

Right-wing world, left to its own devices, created an alternate history of the world, a real-time mythology to demagogue the left as agents of communism and socialism and even witchcraft. As the left looked inward, the right grew.

I would argue that this well-intentioned but stupid strategy was key to the eventual successes of right-wing demagogues like George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Liberals were asleep at the wheel and completely unprepared for the attacks that came their way. The result was incompetent and malicious leadership that killed thousands both at home and abroad.

The mainstream press is addicted to right-wing performance art and does not put the stunts of the right in context, acting like their illogical arguments and bad faith critiques are merely one “side” in a perfectly balanced “debate.”

But pretending that all these people are not having an effect, not whipping up outrage and anger, not getting votes out for their cause, is denying reality.

We should be extremely aware of what the right is plotting and saying, not out of any kind of notion that we can collectively dissuade those who have dunked their heads deep into the vats of toxic Kool-Aid, but simply out of an abundance of caution.

There is an ideological war for America that has been underway for decades. In a war, the winning side understands and studies its enemy to know what tactics are best to counteract them on the field of battle. In America, that battlefield is the ballot box, and the right is continually gunning for it.

If we ignore them, dismiss them from our minds and just hope that it goes away, we’re engaging in magical thinking. Without being counteracted, they grow in power. Away from the spotlight, they are still reaching out to a receptive audience and priming them for political action.

We would be idiots to “just ignore” such a looming threat. Be aware.

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