How we obsolete Madison Cawthorn politics — Sen. Jeff Jackson
I don’t make a habit of talking about Rep. Madison Cawthorn, but this week he showed us a perfect example of what our campaign is trying to obsolete.
He generated dozens of headlines by saying, “[I]f our election systems continue to be rigged and continue to be stolen, then it’s going to lead to one place — and it’s bloodshed,” before adding that “there is nothing that I would dread doing more than having to pick up arms against a fellow American.”
The reaction from the mainstream press has been overwhelmingly negative, showing that there are still powerful incentives to not say terrible things.
But Rep. Cawthorn is listening to a different set of incentives that he feels are even more powerful.
To see what’s really going on, we have to move the spotlight away from him and onto his supporters.
What are they after? Why do they show up to listen to him?
We know it’s not about policy. He’s not giving them that.
It’s about outrage. Outrage feels good. It comes with a sense of superiority and camaraderie. If you’re short on those two things, a dose of outrage gives you a rush of both.
That rush is addictive. That’s why it’s always been a feature of politics; it’s always been part of the show.
But now, for a lot of people, politics equals outrage.
For them, doing politics means being angry, and doing politics professionally means getting paid to make people angry.
The thing about outrage is — like any addiction — you need fresh hits. The same dose stops working after a while. So Mr. Potato Head had his moment, and then it was Dr. Seuss, and in between it’s classics like immigration or the last election.
At one of our town halls last week, a woman yelled at me about the southern border, sex education, and mask mandates all at once. It was because this was her shot to talk politics with a Senate candidate and her understanding of what that meant was simply to recite back as many outrages as she could quickly recall.
That’s an example of how outrage politics can push someone to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do, but in this case it was relatively harmless.
January 6th would be another example, but people died.
Rep. Cawthorn is following his incentives to provide a new hit of outrage. He’s just doing so in a particularly heinous way by implying that he would reluctantly — but dutifully — consider killing Americans who sided against his conspiracy theories about the election.
So we have a widespread addiction to outrage within which certain politicians of particularly weak character — like Cawthorn — are fully caving to their incentives to feed that addiction and, in so doing, are making themselves tragic figures.
The type of politics that leads us out of this isn’t the type that finds new and more clever insults to hurl at those tragic figures.
Instead, progress on this front looks like finding ways to detox us from our addiction to outrage.
What would that look like in the context of a political campaign?
It would look like delivering a shock of good faith to the system.
Showing up in every county. Inviting everyone. Taking any question. Treating everyone with respect. Admitting when you don’t know things. Learning from other people. Disagreeing, when necessary, honestly and with civility. Focusing on real problems affecting people’s daily lives. Letting people yell at you, if that’s what they need to do, and then responding in a way that shows you heard them and you consider them a serious person.
And then doing it again. And again.
It’s a tough slog, but if you can win with an approach like that — one that’s rooted in good faith — it won’t just affect one election. Winning not through outrage but by raising people’s expectations for public service would be shining a light onto a path that others will take, and widen, and protect.
That is what this campaign is about, and that’s how we’re going to meet this moment.