Don’t say “partisan” “polarized,” or “Washington”

Posted on January 13, 2021

Recently, the Washington Post’s media critic, Margaret Sullivan, published a column entitled “We must stop calling Trump’s enablers ‘conservative.’ They are the radical right.” Her point is that it’s untruthful to call insurrectionists and conspiracy theorists “conservative.” She quotes another author that “There is nothing conservative about subverting democracy.”

But Trump, McConnell and the rest have not acted as “conservatives” for years. Real conservatives oppose major budget deficits, while Trump and McConnell brought about the biggest deficits in American history, by far. Real conservatives support national defense, while the Trump Administration has pulled back from our allies, embraced enemies, failed to support our troops (e.g. Russian bounties!) and ripped apart our military leadership. And real conservatives stand with the medical establishment, like CDC, public health authorities, hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry, while these nincompoops continuously ignored and disputed the medical establishment on COVID-19, and even stoked the anti-vaxxer cause.

It is long past time for business, academia, the media and everyone associated with politics to stop calling them “conservatives.” But that’s just one symptom of a much wider problem.

It is now a fundamental falsehood to compare Democrats to Republicans or progressives to Trumpists. We need to stop the both-siderism and false equivalency which acts to normalize what Trump and his allies have done to America. We need to halt the use of words that say “both sides do it.” For example:

Partisan or Partisanship

The Hill published “Partisan echo chambers resulted in Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol.” That’s absurd. It was right-wing communications that caused the violence. Democratic and left-leaning entities had no responsibility.

Market Watch published “Why partisanship will increase in the post-Trump era.” This was an article explaining that “the Republican Party will keep blocking the economic policies that the majority of voters wants.” Using the word “partisanship” instead of “Republican intransigence” is clearly wrong.

Scientific American published “New Activism by Scientists Can Lead to Partisan Backlash.” It will lead to right-wing backlash. Democrats and left-leading groups welcome scientists to any debate. This particular both-siderism is crazy.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights published “Congress Must Reject Partisan Efforts to Subvert Democracy.” This is a messaging mistake.


The Washington Post published “Ideological warriors push Ocasio-Cortez, Noem to challenge Senate stalwarts.” The media just loves to assert a false equivalency between crazy right-wingers and AOC. This Post headline is ridiculous. While Rep. Ocasio-Cortez is left of center, she is not radical. There is nothing extremist about wanting to require a fair wage, stop climate change or provide Americans protections in the style of Scandinavian democracies—which is her position. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, on the other hand, is a tinfoil-hat kook, whose refusal to accept the dangers of COVID-19 has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans. Their ideologies or the ideologies of their supporters cannot be truthfully compared. (Does Noem even have an ideology, that is, a set of consistent beliefs on a variety of issues? No.)


Maine Public Radio posted “Polarized Nation: Why Are Americans So Divided & Can We Unite?” Do they have their eyes closed? Only one party has raced to the pole, going off the deep end into sedition, blatant lying about the election, ignoring common sense and decency about COVID-19, and the rest. Democrats are not very different than they’ve been for the past 20 years. One might argue that Republicans are polarized among themselves but that’s not really true either.

The Stanford Social Innovation Review published “SSIR Guide to Overcoming Polarization” as a response to the right-wing riot at the Capitol! Wrong word, obviously.


CNN published “Congress approves long-awaited $900 billion Covid rescue package, overcoming months of gridlock.” Like partisan and polarized, the word “gridlock” suggests that both sides are at fault. But the Democrats were in favor of such legislation from the very beginning. The delay in agreement was on the Republican side with an additional delay caused by Trump’s hands-off attitude followed by his advocacy for $2,000 payments which his own party blocked.

Bickering or Squabbling

NPR published “After Months of Partisan Squabbling, Lawmakers Reach COVID-19 Relief Deal.” The media loves to demean disputes in Congress or state legislatures as “bickering” or “squabbling.” But in fact, the GOP has become so extreme on policy that there are very few minor issues that hold up legislation. They are nearly always very major policy differences, which cannot possibly be called “bickering” or “squabbling.”

Washington or Congress

It is very common to blame any kind of problem on “Washington” or “Congress” without pointing out which individual or party is actually in charge. In truth, the problem is never “Washington” or “Congress.”

This is serious business. Both-siderism feeds public cynicism. It asserts that politics is inherently bad and that our national institutions don’t work. That’s how you get Americans to back authoritarianism.