If the last four years of American political theatrics have taught us anything, it is that politicians and their kin are often made out to be celebrities, and their supporters are willing to defend their every move by mudslinging at opponents. The cult-like devotion of Trump supporters is likely to persist long into the future of the Republican party. Anyone remotely critical of their leader is immediately labeled communist or socialist, to the point that these words no longer seem to hold meaning. Ad hominem responses are rife in political discourse on social media, and the most die-hard Trump supporters deal almost exclusively in them. However, this is all well documented. Those on the receiving end of the abuse, however, do not receive nearly as much attention, when they probably should.
There are two main groups on the receiving end: progressives and liberals. To Trump supporters — quite likely today’s most dominant conservative wing — they’re both one and the same, but the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Progressive discourse is not perfect by any means and can certainly invoke ad hominems when on the defensive, but it is often centred around real-world issues. Talk is often focused on policy decisions like redistributing police budgets, raising the minimum wage, establishing universal healthcare or canceling student debt. Some might dismiss this as idealistic, but such conversations are perhaps more rooted in reality than others.
Liberals, on the other hand, find themselves countering offense with more offense. They too rely strongly on ad hominem rhetoric. While an offensive approach is understandable — people around the world have felt great disgust at the recent state of affairs in America — liberals can often appear out of touch in their positions of comfort. Despite this, they can always tout the fact that they’re opposing evil in order to establish the moral high ground. In fact, this helped a handful of Twitter accounts skyrocket to popularity, as onlookers cheered them on for tweeting out direct insults at Trump and driving discourse that way. A similar formula took hold of late night television as well, to the point that monologues from every major show sounded exactly the same, hitting the same talking points and attempting to be snarky.
The reality is that liberals can say a lot of objectionable things while on the offensive, the difference being that their perceived moral high ground protects them from the criticism levied at many Trump supporters. Perhaps their views aren’t necessarily as abrasive as white supremacists and their enablers, but when on the offensive, their mask of self-righteousness falls to the ground.
Take the discourse surrounding Melania Trump for instance. The former first lady faced the ire of liberals, as did pretty much all of Trump’s family. A lot of it could be justified too. Her history shows instances of tone deafness, like her choice to wear the “I don’t really care, do u?” jacket while visiting detained children at the U.S. border, or when she was accused of plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech. Such actions should rightly be criticized. However, the liberal offensive in the last four years — and even today — leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
Her modeling history and Slovenian background are often brought up to disparage her in a manner that is, quite frankly, misogynistic and unnecessary. By trying to propose what a first lady should and should not be like, self-proclaimed “feminists” are inadvertently furthering the repression they claim to stand against. Even Mark Hamill — a very active celebrity on liberal Twitter — made a rather distasteful tweet about elegance, now deleted, in response to a Breitbart tweet reshared by Donald Trump that called Melania the “most elegant first lady in American history,” which I found disappointing. Criticism of her actions is valid. Ad hominems of this nature, on the other hand, not so much.
Trump’s physique and mental aptitude have also been targets of abuse. Yes, Trump himself engaged in such attacks, questioning President Biden’s mental aptitude and mocking a disabled reporter, but again, the objective is to be better and not stoop to the same level. Besides, getting under Trump’s skin did not yield any change and only ignited further mudslinging. What ultimately made the difference in the 2020 election was grassroots campaigning and issue-based rhetoric that mobilized voters, not necessarily the bile churned out in the form of ad hominems.
If anything, liberals who relished hurling insults at Trump without any thought for the future presented an opportunity for Republicans who no longer backed Trump. In late 2019, the Lincoln Project was born. A super PAC run by former and current Republicans, its sole purpose was to ensure Trump — and other contesting Republicans — lost their races in the 2020 Election. The main move in the Lincoln Project’s playbook was to air targeted ads that would draw the ire of Trump and get under his skin in a way that liberals could only wish for. Such a prospect was clearly mouth-watering to liberal donors, as the PAC raised about $90 million since its inception.
However, the founders — all of them seasoned Republican veterans — might very well have taken advantage of the liberal donors. For starters, the super PAC has come under fire for funneling received donations to its advisory board, spending comparatively little — only about $27 million — on advertising. The group allegedly also engages in practices that make it difficult to trace the movement of their money. Internet content creators have also fallen prey to the group, with the Lincoln Project stealing content without crediting the creators in any way.
In recent days, there have also been allegations of inappropriate behavior against co-founder John Weaver, with 21 men accusing him of sending them sexually explicit messages. The raft of questions surrounding finances and John Weaver saw fellow co-founder Steve Schmidt step down from his position within the group.
While there’s no doubt that the Lincoln Project helped in some way to take down Trump, and it would be wrong to write them off entirely, it is important to note that the Lincoln Project simply is not the ally that liberals think they are. A simple glance at the history of its founding members and the aforementioned accusations tells us that much.
But when considering the brand of ad hominems adapted by liberals in their crusade against Trump, does this really matter to them? Is there really that much of a difference between the liberals and those on the right? I have seen remarks made by proud liberals aimed at people on food stamps, or at anyone and everyone living in red states, or simply when talented female musicians decide to express themselves by smashing a guitar like several male musicians in the past have. Misogyny and contempt for the poor are often blatant for those on the right, but far more subtle for the Lincoln Project types. It can be hard to notice, and with the moral high ground often called in favor of liberals, it is often ignored.
However, when the mask falls off, there really isn’t much difference at all.
Anupras is a senior Staff Writer and a sophomore studying Computer Science and journalism. Are ad hominems useful? Do you think the Lincoln Project can be trusted? Are liberals and conservatives more alike than typically thought of? Send all comments to email@example.com
Anupras Mohapatra is a former opinion editor for The Daily Cardinal and currently serves on the Editorial Board. He is a senior double majoring in Computer Science and Journalism.