“The intolerant left” is a common term used when looking at AntiFa, various violent anti-Trump protests, or your average social justice advocate. It generally holds true that a lot of hard-left groups render themselves closed to discussion regarding their core points of view. A good number all to eager to compare a right-wing counterpart with, what is to them, a controversial opinion, to a fascist/Nazi, or any group on the right that they would deem extreme. A single opinion that can even loosely be tied to a group such as the alt-right will have you branded a member of such a group by their most closed minded members. If you voted for or support UKIP, you might as well be Nick Griffin.
However, an omission of truth would be to only state that this happens within the political left. Crossing over to take a look at the right, we can find similar reactions. Holding a progressive stance can have you compared to a socialist, implying you disregard all that have suffered under such a system. Being critical of capitalism makes you a Marxist, or can even see you compared directly to Stalin. Disputes can be made as to which side is worse for this, but on principle, both sides of the compass are guilty. The problem is not which side it originated on, or which side is more frequent with these reactions, the problem is that it exists at all.
This is but one symptom of the unrelenting intolerance present within modern politics. Like all problems, we must attempt to find the source, if there is one. What we are essentially looking at is negative politics, attacking the opposition instead of building your own case. Defamation taking centre stage over policy in a debate.
Election campaigns have been steadily becoming more and more negative over the last decade. Several studies have been done to research the use of negative campaigning, especially attack ads, and their effect(s) on both voter turnout, and general opinion. The study separates ads into three categories. They are “positive”, “contrast”, and “negative”. With negative being an ad attacking the opposing candidate, and contrast being an ad that both promotes themselves whilst attacking their opponent at the same time. While showing a trend toward the use of both contrast and negative ads since 2000, it also shows that during the 2016 election, the victor, Donald Trump, did not air a single “positive” ad. A reason for this type of campaigning can be deduced from one simple factor, the media. Simply, “attack politics” creates conflict, which is music to the ears of your average news network looking to cash in on some high-level drama.
It is also worth keeping in mind that this is the digital era, the age of information. Today, most political debates between average people take place on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. And what better way to engage in politics, than to share an article attacking the party you oppose, or an article defending your preferred party from such an onslaught. The objective behind such actions, as well as extended media coverage, is defamation of character. The aim shifts from presenting yourself as better, to presenting the alternative as worse. It follows that if the majority of a campaign is spent attacking, defaming and discrediting the opposition, then the majority of dialogue between the supporters of each side will reflect that.
Thus, we can finally address the problem presented at the start of this article. The act of comparing someone, or being compared yourself, to an “extreme” group on either side of the political map, for the purpose of discredit or defamation. When broken down, this is nothing more than a case of presenting the opposition as worse, instead of presenting yourself as better. Given how prevalent negative politics has become over the last 15 years, it is easy to see that this is a symptom of our current toxic political climate.
This vicious frenzy of repeated character assassination does not come without its consequences however. It only seeks to fuel the narrative inside the mind of anyone who considers their own views right, and any opposing positions wrong. It has crippled both discussion and reconciliation from all sides of the political map. It has, agree or disagree with it, like it or hate it, but these tactics work.
It’s not the intolerant left, or by any means the intolerant right. It’s an intolerant compass. If the current mass trend towards it shows anything, it’s that this is only going to become much more prevalent in the years to come.