When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez entered Congress in 2019, she set a precedent for unapologetic activism. Some argue she has changed over the past few months, and those who once supported her are not thrilled.
This has raised the discussion of cancel culture in politics. Both major parties participate, and it’s a threat to civil discourse and democracy.
What Is Cancel Culture?
Cancel culture is defined as “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.”
Cancel culture mainly targets those who express opinions that are deemed “unpopular” or “problematic.”
This can apply to people who have done truly horrible things (like Harvey Weinstein), but cancel culture mainly targets those who express opinions that are deemed “unpopular” or “problematic.” Many times these comments are simply jokes. A perfect example is comedian Dave Chappelle (aka one of the funniest comedians of all time) for his edgy jokes, or Kevin Hart’s old homophobic tweets (that were clearly jokes). Cancel culture also applies to politicians who don’t fit the cookie-cutter ideas of their political parties.
AOC and Cancel Culture
In a recent Politico article, Ocasio-Cortez was criticized for her recent shift in strategy. She came into Washington ready to battle the status-quo but has taken a more moderate approach over the past few months: She called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “Mama Bear of the Democratic Party” on The View, she let go two of the most progressive members of her staff, and she endorsed only two of the six Justice Democrats (the movement that helped her get elected) who were running against incumbents in the 2020 election.
Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t pleased with the Politico. In a recent Instagram live video, she said, "If anything, I've only gotten more ardent in my positions, but I do think it's funny that all these folks that one day are like, 'keep your third eye open,' 'manufactured consent,' are the same ones who fall the fastest for these ploys to demoralize the left."
Despite her criticism of the article, some of her most prominent supporters think she has changed and isn’t really progressive. Cenk Uygur, host and founder of the popular progressive news show The Young Turks, argued that her motives may have changed, tweeting, “It's not fake news. @AOC has not endorsed most progressive challengers. If we're being honest, her political calculations now would lead her to not endorse someone exactly like herself. That bridge was awfully nice while you were crossing it. Apparently not so much anymore.”
In short, she went against the mainstream progressive narrative, which is enough for some to question which side she’s really on. Although it’s perfectly normal (and healthy for a democracy) for politicians within the factions of their political parties to disagree on some things, it’s a mortal sin when Ocasio-Cortez does it. This is a great example of cancel culture in the political field, but the right is just as guilty as the left on this.
Cancel Culture on the Right
The truth is that both political parties participate in cancel culture. During the Impeachment Trial of President Trump, Utah Senator Mitt Romney was the only Republican who voted to impeach the president.
Romney struggled with his decision but explained to The Atlantic why he ultimately chose impeachment. He said, “The president did in fact pressure a foreign government to corrupt our election process, and really, corrupting an election process in a democratic republic is about as abusive and egregious an act against the Constitution—and one's oath—that I can imagine. It's what autocrats do.”
Donald Trump Jr. called for Romney to be "expelled from the Republican party" for his vote to impeach the president.
Romney’s colleagues weren’t a fan of his decision, and it didn’t take long for right-wing pundits to attempt to “cancel” Romney. Donald Trump Jr. called for Romney to be "expelled from the Republican party" for his actions.
It’s not uncommon for members of the same political party to have disagreements, but it’s not common for the President’s son to want to kick a senator out of the party. The outrage over Romney’s vote is a perfect example of cancel culture in politics.
The Toxicity of Cancel Culture in Politics
Both political parties (and factions of political parties, like the progressive democrats and the moderate democrats) have their sets of beliefs, but many politicians differ on a couple. If we decide to “cancel” every politician who doesn’t follow the cookie-cutter lines for each party, there would be little diversity of thought on Capital Hill, and little to nothing would get done. Nobody will be willing to reach across the aisle or try to understand the other side. Nobody will have the freedom to change their minds. If we continue to “cancel” those who think differently, American politics will become even more divided and inflexible than it already is.
If we continue to “cancel” those who think differently, American politics will become even more divided and inflexible than it already is.
Cancel culture is rarely a good thing. It’s good for exposing criminal behavior and nothing more. Subjecting politicians to a purity test like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mitt Romney only threatens civil discourse, and the political divide between Americans will only grow if it doesn’t stop soon.