Why Democrats Need an Outrage Machine

Julie Hotard
10 min readApr 23, 2017

The Right Wing outrage machine influences us all constantly. The day to day influence is a result of mainstream media’s fear of the Right Wing raging and accusing media of Left Wing bias. In reaction to this, mainstream media veer Rightwards. This usually ends up with supposedly Left Wing media actually having a Right Wing bias.

The more shocking and unusual effects of the Right Wing outrage machine include the swaying of elections for Republicans, right before the 2016 election took place. For example, James Comey may have swayed the election for Trump, by releasing the news that Clinton was under investigation, right before the election.

The Right Wing outrage machine is always with us, and it still often determines the actions of media and government officials, and the outcomes of elections. That’s why we need to be aware of what problems it has caused, so we can prevent them from happening again in the future.

Here’s another instance of the Right Wing outrage machine influencing public officials, all the way up to the president. President Obama failed to alert the public to Russian interference in the 2016 election campaign, because McConnell threatened him with the outrage machine. In this case, McConnell threatened to paint the disclosure, if it happened, as a partisan move. Like everyone else, Obama backed down and gave the GOP its way, because it threatened to start up its outrage machine.

There are big problems with this. The Right Wing Outrage Machine is like a big troll. If you feed it by giving in to its demands, then it grows ever larger. When Obama and others give in, the GOP keeps on testing the limits. If no one ever says No to them, those who operate the machine see there are no limits to what the machine can get away with doing.

We need to have a Democratic Outrage Machine. Or at the very least, a Democratic Express Disapproval Strongly Enough to Have Some Impact Machine. We don’t need to lie or be unreasonable, like the Right Wing. But we do need to stand up for ourselves.

Some people have pointed out to me that Democrats do have an “outrage machine”, in the sense that some Democrats do get publicly outraged and gather publicity, fame and fortune from doing this. This is not what I am suggesting Democrats do here. What is needed is a politically impactful outrage machine, not a “fame and fortune through outrage” machine.

Many media and government officials live in terror of offending the Right Wing. The lack of an effective Democratic machine compounds the problem. Because of that, even the mislabeled “Left Wing media” feel perfectly comfortable in bashing Democratic officials or candidates nonstop, or otherwise treating Democrats unfairly.

The presence of a Right Wing outrage machine, and the absence of a politically effective Democratic one, is a big factor in the mainstream media’s going further and further to the Right over time. Media make it a priority to appease the Right Wing outrage machine, feeling fully confident that the Left will tolerate whatever media do.

Getting back to the history of how this issue played out with Comey, here is a New York Times article about Comey:

However, I think this article explains his behavior better, and makes it clear why Comey — and perhaps Obama — thought differently about exposing Hillary Clinton’s investigation vs. Donald Trump’s.

Political scientist Norm Ornstein has written about how the Right Wing outrage machine demonizes government, Democrats and anyone by whom the Right Wing feels threatened. This has often often worked for winning elections, by pushing media further and further to the Right. However, it also destroys our government and other institutions.

Comey probably expected that if Hillary Clinton got elected, she wouldn’t fire him or harm the credibility of his agency, as revenge for his having nearly lost her the election. No one expected that Trump would fire Comey, after he handed Trump the election on a silver platter.

That’s unfortunate. Democrats need to learn to get tougher and braver, if we want to survive the current political atmosphere. Media organizations also need to become tougher, more aggressive and better at resisting pressure.

If Comey hadn’t said that Hillary Clinton was under investigation, OR if Comey and/or Obama had admitted that Donald Trump’s campaign staff was under investigation, the Right Wing outrage machine would probably have burned Comey badly. People fear the Right Wing but know that the Left will tolerate being mistreated without comment.

Republican politicians and media would have likely shouted incessantly about how Comey was unfair and was playing politics with his agency. In that alternate universe where Hillary Clinton wins the election, the GOP outrage machine probably pressures President Hillary Clinton to fire Comey, and she probably does. This did work on Obama with Shirley Sherrod, who got fired due to the Right Wing outrage machine, without there being any reality-based cause for firing her.

Comey and Obama are just like everyone else in having these fears. The media’s fear of the outrage machine probably played a large role in the outcome of the election. New York Times and Washington Post easily gave in to the Right Wing, by publishing excerpts from a Hillary Clinton hit job book called Clinton Cash, published by bannon and the Mercer family of Cambridge Analytica fame.

Superior Use of Science and Technology Won the 2016 Election

The mainstream media constantly yield to pressure to “show both sides”, even if one side is lies, rumor, innuendo and speculation. In fact, the unreasonable rage of the GOP outrage machine becomes one of the “sides” that mainstream media feel compelled to cover. Media continue to do this now. For example, the New York Times just hired a climate science denier.

Why would the NYT do things like this, if they weren’t responding to the Republican outrage machine, that constantly shouts about the New York Times’ liberal bias? They don’t do it to get a lot of conservative subscribers. After decades of doing this, they still have only a small percentage of conservative subscribers. The paper’s views, on average, are to the Right of their subscribers’ views. That’s the case with other mainstream media too.

I regularly read the economist Paul Krugman’s blog in the New York Times. I’ve often been shocked to find that when Krugman wants to critique an economist or writer who tells bold-faced lies about economics, he doesn’t need to send his readers to the Fox News site or to Breitbart. He just links to an article right there in the New York Times. With mainstream media like this, who needs Right Wing news?

Of course, the New York Times is the standard bearer — a giant newspaper with many talented journalists, that has amazing breadth of coverage and some great investigative journalism. Yet even the standard bearer makes the same mistakes that other mainstream media make. They “show both sides” even if one side is lies. They also publish all the “news” — and that includes anything “new” that the mouthpieces on the Right reveal, such as the almost perpetual releases of new Hillary Clinton emails during the lead up to the 2016 election, and the Right Wing’s misinterpretations and speculations about the meanings of those emails.

Note this graph of how negative Hillary Clinton’s news coverage was, in various mainstream media outlets during the election season. Ask yourself: Did she really deserve that degree of negative coverage? Note that the the New York Times looks less bad than many other media outlets on this score, although the coverage is still 61% negative. But it’s no wonder so many potential Clinton voters stayed home on election day, after having read about this candidate who supposedly had significantly more flaws than good points, no matter where you read about her.

I disagree with part of Peter Daou’s remark there. The media did help get us here. But I’m not giving up on them all yet. Some of them may be capable of change. A lot of us are going to need to change in the current political atmosphere. Many of us have. Many of us are becoming more politically active than we have been in years. We could push media along by protesting outside their offices with signs demanding fair coverage.

Not just media — but other institutions, companies, organizations, and individuals — fear the Right Wing outrage machine. And, like Comey, they know that if they come under its wrath, no one will have their back. That’s the way it’s been. It’s gotten worse, now that so many people and institutions are afraid of Trump’s tweets. This problem cries out to be solved.

The way it’s been so far is that usually no one is there to help when the outrage machine is turned on some person or organization unjustly. Often, other people, including Democrats, have bent to the will of the outrage machine. This has to stop, unless we as a society want to cede permanent and total control over our media, our economic, social and political institutions and our government, to the Right Wing — even during periods when the electorate has voted the Right Wing out of power.

I don’t want to blame Comey as an individual. These are systemic problems — not the fault of a single individual — or even of one institution. It’s no use pretending Comey is the only one whose actions are influenced by a fierce political outrage machine that would end or ruin his career if he doesn’t give in to their demands. Most people fear to act in defiance of such an organization.

The problem with blaming a single individual for a systemic problem is that you never fix the problem. You fool yourself into thinking that the problem is just in one individual. Maybe you fire someone. But the conditions, pressures, and circumstances — all the factors that caused the individual to do what they did — remain. Everyone else keeps doing the same behavior, because the system keeps creating that behavior. Different people dig themselves further into the very same hole. Nothing improves.

How do you change a systemic problem like this? It takes a lot of action from a lot of people. Would you like to join in? You can start by considering whether you want your TV station or newspaper to “cover both sides” even if one side is lies, rumor, innuendo, unsubstantiated accusations, and unreasonable rage.

If you don’t want that, then you can write or call the newspaper editor or TV station manager or Internet news site manager, and let them know what you want. Do you want them to cover what’s true, what’s important, and what could make the U.S. or the world a better place? Do you want coverage to be fair rather than deceptive or slanted? Do you want high quality investigative journalism? Let them know that.

Many news organizations don’t listen to the public much though. So the best alternative then may be to protest with signs demanding fair coverage, outside of media offices, when media screw up badly.

The public, the representatives of the Democratic party, and everyone in government also need to be aware of the Right Wing outrage machine, so that when it goes into action against an individual, that individual will have others standing up for them — pointing out that the outrage machine is attacking them, offering them assistance and support, and taking the power of government and institutions back for the people.

What I am talking about here, as a Democratic outrage machine, is a force that directs righteous anger toward institutions that treat Democrats or the Left unfairly. I am not advising being rude or angry toward other citizens who might join us in our cause one day. Citizens each have our rights to our own political opinions. As for Trump supporters, I generally stay away from most of them, with a few exceptions. I would suggest that others do the same, unless you can be calm around them and you find that the interactions are doing more good than harm.

For an analysis of systemic problems with media and other institutions, that became particularly noticeable during this recent election season, see these other two essays of mine on Medium.com.

Here are a couple of other articles I wrote on why Democrats need to get tougher.

Who’s Your Daddy? Time for Democrats and Mainstream Media to Get Smart about How to Play the Game of Power Politics

Power Politics for Democrats