Former US President Barack Obama lashed out this week at “woke” progressives advising them to “get over that (call-out culture) quickly” because even “people who do really good stuff have flaws”. He criticised this social media culture as “that’s not activism”. Obama said that people who engage in this “are probably not going to get that far”.
ThePrint asks: Is Obama right to say ‘woke’ progressives & call-out culture hurt centrist liberal leaders?
More than being critical of call-out culture, it is the ‘cancel culture’ that we should be resisting
In principle, I do believe that the call-out culture often ends up being extremely self-limiting, myopic, and lacking even an iota of self-awareness. People make mistakes, but they also evolve. So, holding their past problematic positions against them for eternity — especially after they have acknowledged their mistake — isn’t only unfair but also tragically parochial. So more than being critical of the call-out culture on social media, it is the ‘cancel culture’ that we should be resisting.
Having said that, conflating Twitterati’s call-out culture with progressive politics is incorrect. Progressives have easily been the most radical and explosive disturbance to the politics of status-quoists like Barack Obama.
In India, for instance, true progressives are essential to keep the so-called ‘secular’ political parties like the Congress in check; to remind them to not take marginalised communities for granted.
Similarly, progressives will call out ‘centrist-liberals’ for their latent Islamophobia and casteism, which they ever so often have been found guilty of. This is because true progressives aren’t merely fighting against the big-bad Right-wing dominance, they are also fighting against an oppressive and ugly ideology that finds its presence across the political spectrum.
I agree that strategic essentialism and being tactful is often the need of the hour. But why must the most marginalised groups always bear the brunt of this? It is questions like these that the progressives ask — or must ask — even if it hurts the centrist liberal leaders.
Obama hurt the centrist liberal cause much more than ‘judgemental’ college kids on social media ever would
Senior Copy Editor, ThePrint
In his supposed takedown of ‘woke’ progressives and the call-out culture, Barack Obama called out social media folks who correct others’ grammar to feel good about themselves and somehow hurt the cause of centrist liberal leaders.
There most certainly isn’t a correlation between Obama’s comments. And there is no reason why the two scenarios — progressives’ chances of losing the fight to the far-Right and this being called out by a liberal leader who couldn’t do much himself — should co-exist either.
Obama didn’t end any war. He bombed countries in the Middle East at will, gave a new definition to military wars through drones and cyber weapons, deported millions of people, and did almost nothing to subvert the far-Right’s use of Islamophobia as a political tool.
Obama is now aware that the ‘woke’ gaze at some point turned on him. He realises people aren’t quite likely to sing paeans about his ‘liberal’ values. So, he aggrandises the silly engagements on social media as having significant consequences without so much as reflecting on how they pale in comparison to the systemic propaganda machinery of the far-Right.
And if that’s too obvious for him to state, then maybe he should call out failed leaders like himself who ultimately couldn’t do much to end the suffering of millions of people when they were in a position to. Obama hurt the centrist liberal cause much more than ‘judgemental’ college kids on social media ever would.
Woke millennials can enable the rise of a new-age Obama. That’s how France’s Emmanuel Macron rose to power
Contributing Editor, ThePrint
Today’s woke millennials and their cancel culture can get toxic, with its social media fuelled polarisation. And yes, it may hurt centrists. But we should not blame young people if they are disillusioned with the world at large, if they see the generation before theirs as having let them down and compromised on certain principles.
The woke progressives are a new-age avatar of the radical Left — no wonder, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorses Bernie Sanders. To blame them is to not see the wood for the trees. The real blame lies with the liberal centrists who are unable to bring hope and leadership to the political discourse.
In other words, what the US politics and liberal politics across the world are missing is the Barack Obama of 2007. It’s funny that he should blame woke millennials as if they are preventing the rise of a liberal centrist leader. They’re not. On the contrary, a smart liberal centrist leader could say that he or she’s not a radical Leftist and not compromised establishment like Hillary Clinton. In this way, woke millennials can actually enable the rise of a new-age Obama. That’s how Emmanuel Macron won a surprise election in France.
Obama’s views are spot on. Woke progressives end up mirroring the very conservatives they want to oust
Obama was spot on in calling out the woke culture and how it damages the centrist liberal politics. Financial Times’ Edward Luce makes a compelling argument in his book The Retreat of Western Liberalism.
Luce argues that in their quest for some fantastical liberal utopia, the progressives have almost become teleological. When they reach a particular conclusion or change their thinking about a previously held idea or norm, they want everyone to instantly accept it as the gospel truth. And if you don’t, you are basically a redundant loony living in the 19th century.
Luce states the example of gender-neutral toilets. When the American progressives decided to back the idea of gender-neutral toilets across the country, they wanted every American to do the same. Interestingly, back then Obama had refused to fall in line and decided to desert his progressive voter base.
From a political point of view, the issue with the woke culture is two-fold. First, the woke progressives end up mirroring the very conservatives they are trying to oust. These progressives end up developing their own identity politics – where if you don’t support gender-neutral toilets, then you are the ‘other’.
Second, and on a more fundamental level, the woke progressives don’t appreciate the fact that what’s made liberalism resilient is its evolution over almost three centuries. Social change requires patience, but if you put in the work and build broad-based coalitions, then it’s far more sustainable.
On a pragmatic-electoral level, liberal-progressives just split the liberal vote – paving the way for the conservatives to remain in power.
Obama wrong in saying call-out culture won’t bring change. It will, but at a cost
Opinion Editor, ThePrint
Barack Obama is right about how the woke quest for ‘purity’ and the call-out culture is not helping.
The progressives, emboldened by social media, have been calling out the inadequacies in the politics-as-usual model. The system is broken. It is because everybody — including the liberal and the conservative politicians — is complicit. This must be repaired, and omerta only makes politics dirtier.
The progressive Democrats in the US like Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar (often clubbed as ‘Justice Democrats’) raise issues of lobbying by pharmaceutical companies, corporate donations, and universal free healthcare. They are showing up establishment Democrats like Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Obama called this a ‘circular firing squad’.
In India, the woke progressives (of Left) routinely call out the dynasty, caste and privilege of the Congress leaders — as they should — slowly chipping away at their reputations. But who does this really help? Not the Leftists. Not the Centrists. It only helps the Right. In the shrill fight between the extreme Left and the extreme Right, the centre has collapsed.
Obama, however, is wrong in saying that the call-out culture won’t bring ‘change’. It will, but at a cost. As we wait for a thorough cleansing of politics, we will have to live with the Right.
By Taran Deol, journalist at ThePrint