MARCANO: The dangers of political labeling

Ray Marcano

Combined ShapeCaption
Ray Marcano

Combined ShapeCaption
Pew Research Center chart from 2019 survey on antipathy between Republicans and Democrats

Pew Research Center chart from 2019 survey on antipathy between Republicans and Democrats

Combined ShapeCaption
Pew Research Center chart from 2019 survey on antipathy between Republicans and Democrats

Seems when I write anything about Democrats, I get emails that lambast them as “radical left-wing socialists.”

And Lord forbid I write about Black Lives Matter. They’re “Marxist.”

When I get these emails, I write back and ask one simple question: How?

I never — and I mean never — get a cohesive answer based on fact. I get answers based on labels, which shows me how easy it is for people to buy into a false narrative.

Labels make it easy to brand something or someone and help us justify our opposition and rage. Let’s take BLM. It is true that Patrisse Cullors, who co-founded the organization and has since left the group, believes in Marxist values. But claiming that all of BLM has a Marxist ideology because of her beliefs is like saying all Republicans support Putin because a few misguided ones have praised him.

The Marxist rant also gives people uncomfortable with the racial reckoning — a movement BLM helped spawn — cover. No, they don’t dislike BLM because it’s a group of Black people (wink, wink). They dislike Marxism.

“Radical. left-wing socialist” remains my favorite because, if you take an objective look at policies, Republicans embrace socialist policies, too.

Here in Ohio, the GOP supports using $2 billion of your tax dollars annually so parents can send their children to charter schools. Nationally, Republicans have pressed for massive agricultural subsidies for farmers.

The base socialism definition says everyone works to make money that’s redistributed to everyone — a redistribution of wealth. What do you call redistributing tax dollars?

Democrats are guilty of socialism, too (tax the rich and help the poor, another wealth redistribution). But the GOP has done a much better job of controlling the narrative in a way that resonates with voters (and letter writers) who prefer to regurgitate a marketing message instead of contemplating what these labels really mean.

“[Labling] serves some function to rally a group around one set of people and demonizes and (delegitimizes) people who are being labeled negatively,” Vaughn Shannon, a professor of political science at Wright State University, said.

“When they belong to a group, they feel more loyal to them, but they also start to feel they can be meaner and crueler to those who are not part of the so-called ‘in-group,’” Shannon said.

In other words, our society has morphed into one giant high school, with all the variations of the in and out crowd.

“People who become group-ish, as it’s called, start to act in this very polarizing way,” he said. “Nice to the in-group, mean to the outgroup,” Shannon noted.

Categorizing people — radical, left-wing socialist, for example — goes far beyond just empty words.

“If you categorize, that can lead to stereotypes. Stereotypes can lead to prejudice. Prejudice can lead to discrimination. You can obviously hear this in a racial context,” Shannon said. “You can start to think they’re all the same, that they’re all negative in their label, and that opens the psychological doorway for prejudice and discrimination.”

We’re already seeing that in polling, with disturbing results. Republicans and Democrats just can’t stand each other, Pew Research shows. Republicans believe Democrats to be closed-minded, unpatriotic, and immoral when compared to other Americans. Democrats believe Republicans are close-minded and immoral. A significant number of both believe the other side to be lazy and stupid, too.

“It’s kind of scary,” Shannon said. “It maybe leads to more protests, violence, disrespect in our civic culture. If you never get another perspective, you don’t know these people personally, you might start falling for” the label.

Are there radical, left-wing socialists? Sure, just as the GOP went full-blown socialist during COVID. Republicans, for example, sponsored a $50 billion bailout of the airline industry. This is the same party that trashed the Obama administration for bailing out the auto industry — as a socialist bailout.

Labels stick, and as Shannon notes, that’s dangerous. So think before you label something just because it sounds good.

Ray Marcano is a long-time journalist whose column appears every Sunday on these pages. He can be reached at raymarcanoddn@gmail.com.