What is the biggest political crisis of our age? Is it the rise of far-right reactionary politics, or “populism” to use the centrists’ blanket term? Is it polarization, partisanship, or tribalism? Not only could people spend hours debating that question, but they could just as easily debate whether there is a singular problem or a combination of some of the aforementioned tendencies. Whatever one thinks the answer to that question is, there’s one general tendency that seems to be on the rise and it may be more detrimental to political discourse than any rigid dogma or fanatical rhetoric.
Think back, for a moment, about all the times you’ve seen some story or tweet about some group being “triggered” by something. Most recently it was male Dr. Who fans (or people suddenly pretending to be in order to pander to an audience) who threw a fit when it was announced that the next incarnation of that sci-fi protagonist would be female. I don’t normally consume conservative media outside of Twitter, but I’m sure there are several things “libtards” or “SJWs” (Social Justice Warrior- a snarl word) are supposedly “triggered” by at the moment. Let’s break this down, shall we?
When someone is “triggered,” as they say on the internet these days, they are actually upset or otherwise expressing disapproval of something. The word triggered here makes no sense because triggered refers to a PTSD response. A person voicing disapproval, including loud and possibly hysterical disapproval, is not “triggered.” Someone who is actually triggered might not say anything at all. When someone is “triggered” on the internet, they are actually upset or angry.
It’s interesting how on the internet, being angry or upset is somehow a “loss” of sorts, and making people angry is admired and done with pride. Ordinary people don’t take pride in making people angry in real life. In real life there are consequences for that. Yet the internet gives people the ability to deliberately provoke others to anger and some people take a lot of pride in that trolling.
Of course I myself have to admit that I’m guilty of trolling, and if you’re being honest you probably did your share of trolling as well. In our weaker moments, we get amusement out of knowing we can provoke an angry response from dozens of more-or-less anonymous people, often simply by saying the exact opposite of whatever they passionately believe in. But some people recognize this for the distraction that it is, and some people confuse it for politics itself. I’m beginning to believe that the problem of 21st century politics might not be just the lack of lofty ideals and ideological discipline, but rather the degeneration of virtually all politics into what could best be called troll politics.
It’s easy to pin this mostly on the right, especially in America where it seems that your average conservative would happily castrate himself in public if you told him it would “trigger the libtards.” Indeed, it is on the far right where we see trolling and “memes” forming the basis for a political identity group, if not an ideology, loosely known as “Kekistan.” While many people have referred to these highly defective individuals as neo-Nazis, the reality is actually far more pathetic. They use Nazi symbolism not because they actually have National Socialist beliefs and the will to express them, but rather because they get a cheap thrill out of the idea that they’re making people angry by breaking what they see as a taboo. In a way that makes them worse than actual neo-Nazis, who at least believe they are advancing some kind of ideology they feel is morally justified. They have to put up with the consequences of expressing beliefs which most of the world rightfully finds morally reprehensible. The “Kekistanis” can just tap out “LOL U TRIGGERED, SJW FAG?!!” and then it’s back to jerking off to Japanese cartoon schoolgirls.
Though troll politics are extremely widespread on the right, a good swathe of the left has been guilty of foregoing real politics for troll politics. To be sure, many leftist are just reacting to the right’s moral panic about “political correctness” when they point out how the same people who scream about young people being over-sensitive “snowflakes” will scream about businesses using the term “Happy Holidays.” At first it was novel, but after a while it gets old. We get it- the people who call everyone a special snowflake are in fact the most sensitive and the most likely to get upset about trivial matters. It’s always been this way with “political correctness.” Those who complain the most about political correctness tend to be those who whine about their beliefs being criticized and who want society to tip-toe around their feelings so as not to offend them by challenging or criticizing them in anyway.
We can see the existence of trolling politics in the international arena as well. Oftentimes on Twitter I see people cheering about how some official Ukrainian account “trolled” the Russians over some controversy such as the recent “Anna of Kyiv” reference Putin made during his meeting with Emmanuel Macron in France. Sure, Ukraine’s official Twitter “trolled” Russia, but Russia has trolled Ukraine quite a bit since 2014. So if you were keeping score, Ukraine got in one sick burn against Russia, and Russia has killed about 10,000 citizens, displaced a couple million more, and annexed a large part of Ukrainian territory. It pains me to admit it, but I think Russia came out on top in this little trolling engagement.
The Ukrainian example demonstrates one major shortcoming of troll politics- they’re completely worthless if your opponent has a concrete advantage over you or is simply beating you. A similar case can be made about American liberal comedians and their so-called “eviscerations” of President Trump and the GOP. No matter how biting their tweet or rant might be, at the end of the day Trump is still president and the GOP wields enormous power in the US, not only at the federal level but in many states as well. You can make them mad- they can screw up your country. It’s no contest.
While people might call troll politics a symptom of polarization or otherwise trivialize it, I think if this trend continues unabated it might end up reaching the level of an existential crisis. Advocating things because you think they will get a rise out of your opponents is not a good methodology for finding good policies. On the contrary, it’s likely to lead to the absolute worst, and quickly too. Already there are people who gush with glee about the idea of eliminating environmental regulations, all because they think it will make some caricature of a hippie angry, we’re talking about a very dangerous line of thought.