Political and Useless: The Age of Vapid Activism

By William Truban

Rejoice! America hath awoken! From sea to shining sea, a new wave of activism has emerged to challenge the tyranny of the Trump-era. Movie stars wear all black outfits and white roses to award ceremonies in protest of sexual assault and misconduct. Everyone everywhere tweets, posts, shares, and instas their resistance to the Trump administration and his alt-Right supporters. Marches have been arranged for every week and Hillary Clinton reads from Michael Wolff’s provocative book Fire and Fury at the Grammy’s.

Even the cast of the ever-loved “West Wing” is on the case, resisting an age of absurdity by reading All the President’s Men by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward to protest the State of the Union. Surely with all of this noise Trump must be catching hell.

These actions would all be so interesting if they were not also so useless. To all of these symbolic protests and acts of resistance, who cares? The cast of “West Wing” is not going to stop Trump’s policies by reading All the President’s Men. Hillary Clinton was electoral asbestos when she ran for president and is laughable as a so-called leader of “the Resistance.” White roses and black dresses will not topple the unbalanced power dynamics that underlie sexual predation. Social media posts have the same political effect as using a bull horn in an echo chamber. The marches are quite spectacular, but such orderly spectacle is not going to alter policy or throw people out of office.

These efforts are nothing more than the use of a highlighter on a page already saturated with previous highlights. We get it: these issues are quite serious and the underlying causes are terrible, but continuing to emphasize them is not going to make change occur any faster. As the excellent TV show “Bojack Horseman” made clear, “People don’t change because they want to. They change because they have to.”

For good or bad, the present activism is not forcing any kind of change whatsoever. Instead of a resistance, we have an amoeba of political anger that lacks coherency in its message and vision for its future.

This focus on symbolism and highlighting is not new. It is the logical result of identity politics readily adopted by both the left and the right. Whether one fights for “multiculturalism” or “traditional values,” it is expected that the cause is in defense of the individual’s ability to live their life, and invoking public shame will push detractors to change. However, a society that has such identitarian divisions is also a society that no longer feels shame invoked by other identities. The multicultural left has about as much ability to change the Tea Party as the Tea Party does to change the “woken.”

These exhibitions are vapid and self-serving, political pats on the back for a largely apathetic electorate to feel good. It is more comforting to be ambiguously angry than to agitate with precision. When in opposition to the political actors in the Trump administration, these symbolic protestors do not highlight the myriad of horrifying policies that have been implemented or the genuine threats to the rule of law and American international influence. Instead, the majority have focused on moral disgust and our politics has more to do with moral vindication over the latest outrage than action for public good. A political umbrella of just opposition is not going to be raised in the name of moral disgust, but can be raised under the standard of patriotic virtue.

While these symbolic efforts are exhilarating, they do nothing to alter present circumstances and conditions. It is necessary that we as individual citizens develop towards teleological actions. We know so many of these issues, like sexual assault, are reprehensible and require some sort of response, but it would seem we are unsure what should be done, both individually and as a nation.

If our republic is to recover from the myopic insanity that is taking place in our political system and society at large, then it is necessary that we shift from vapid activism to substantive political action. In our efforts, we should render the need to change undeniable.

Each of us must ask ourselves the hard questions in order to engage to the fullest extent of our citizenship. Ask yourself: How are you affecting our republic?

About William Truban 3 Articles
William Truban is a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy and focused on foreign policy. He is currently an administrative and research assistant at a local law firm in his hometown of Winchester, Virginia.