Owning the libs

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A "fuck your feelings" sign at a pro-Trump campaign rally in 2019

"Owning the libs" is a political strategy used by some conservatives in the United States that focuses on upsetting political liberals. Users of the strategy emphasize and expand upon culture war issues intended to be divisive to provoke a reaction in others.[1]

Terminology[edit]

Variant phrases such as "triggering the libs"[2] and "melting snowflakes"[1] are also used to refer to the strategy.

The phrase "own the libs" comes from a slang usage of the word own, meaning "to dominate", "to defeat" or "to humiliate".[3] The phrase was coined and popularized by critics of the strategy, including politician Nikki Haley, who increased the prominence of the phrase in a 2018 speech in which she criticized the strategy as unpersuasive.[4] It is also used by some who practice the strategy, such as Dan Bongino.[5] The phrase dates back to at least 2015.[2]

The "trigger" variants of the phrase come from the idea of trauma triggers and "trigger warnings" intended to avoid them.[6] In his 2019 book Triggered, Donald Trump Jr. says that the purpose of triggering liberals is to oppose political correctness.[7]

The strategy is associated with confrontational political slogans such as "fuck your feelings"[8] and "make liberals cry again".[9]

History[edit]

Conservative student activist groups like Turning Point USA and remixes of campus speakers like Ben Shapiro played a key role in developing the strategy during the 2000s and 2010s.[4] The 2008 vice-presidential campaign of Sarah Palin was a precursor to the owning the libs method, according to former Republican strategist and Lincoln Project co-founder Rick Wilson.[10] Palin marked a merger between politics and entertainment, causing an anxiety among educated elites that her voters found thrilling.[11] Wilson says that owning the libs assuages insecurities of people on the American political right, and has become central to the Republican Party because of its success at this.[2] More recently, the strategy is associated with Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr.[2][4][12] This method was adopted by the alt-right and alt-lite as a form of trolling and antagonism in the mid/late 2010s.[13]

Goals[edit]

Online troll Jacob Wohl has stated that the goal in owning the libs is to evoke in people "the type of unhinged emotional response that you would expect out of somebody who is suffering a serious mental episode."[4] The strategy uses trolling to attempt to portray political opponents as weak, biased, or overtly emotional, and to portray oneself as superior because of a lack of emotion.[14] Users of the strategy sometimes seek to be deplatformed — for example, to have their own speaking engagements canceled — in order to gain notoriety.[1]

Shared enjoyment of owning the libs maintains group cohesion among a conservative voting bloc, according to Nicole Hemmer of Columbia University. Hemmer views the strategy as substitute for the cohesive conservative ideology that existed during the Cold War.[15]

The phrase "the cruelty is the point" was coined from the title of Adam Serwer's 2018 article in The Atlantic about Trump supporters building community together by delighting in the suffering of those they consider outsiders.[16] The phrase and the observation about shared joy in cruelty have been written about in the media as the purpose of owning the libs.[17][18]

Rutgers University media scholar Khadijah White says that the strategy serves to excuse corruption from one's political allies by portraying one's opponents as equally corrupt.[15]

Criticism[edit]

The strategy of owning the libs has been criticized by both liberal and conservative observers as an unsuccessful strategy, or as leading only to counterproductive Pyrrhic victory.

At a 2018 Turning Point USA event, Republican Nikki Haley remarked:[4]

Raise your hand if you've ever posted anything online to quote-unquote own the libs. I know that it's fun and that it can feel good, but step back and think about what you're accomplishing when you do this — are you persuading anyone? Who are you persuading? We've all been guilty of it at some point or another, but this kind of speech isn't leadership — it's the exact opposite.

In her book Troll Nation, Amanda Marcotte argues that owning the libs is so central to the political right that any effort to show care and concern for the well-being of others, or even for oneself, is viewed as suspiciously liberal. She gives the example of "rolling coal" — modifying a pickup truck to produce clouds of black smoke. Exhaust from rolling coal is sometimes directed at drivers of fuel efficient cars and cyclists, in order to offend their presumed liberal environmentalist values. Marcotte argues that rolling coal has no value outside of trolling liberals, yet it costs the coal-roller money, and also increases fuel consumption, can void the warranty, and may violate air-pollution laws. Hence, Marcotte argues, rolling coal is an expensive and counterproductive way to misconstrue environmentalism as an identity marker instead of a policy matter.[19]

In 2020, Paul Waldman wrote that "hatred of liberals is all that's left of conservatism." He argues that owning the libs has pushed aside all policy goals previously central to Republicans, such as small government and lower taxes, and also Republican commitment to democracy and patriotism. Waldman gives the example of the Texas v. Pennsylvania lawsuit and the physical violence threatened against Republicans who refused to join the suit.[20]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Coppins, McKay (May 28, 2018). "Trump's Right-Hand Troll". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Peyser, Eve (July 26, 2018). "The Summer's Hottest Trend Is Owning the Libs". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
  3. ^ "owned". The Jargon File, version 4.4.8. Eric S. Raymond. October 1, 2004.
  4. ^ a b c d e Perticone, Joe (July 28, 2018). "How 'owning the libs' became the ethos of the right". Business Insider. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
  5. ^ Fabbri, Thomas (November 2, 2020). "US election 2020: The people behind the political memes you share". BBC News. Retrieved November 14, 2020.
  6. ^ "What's All This About Trigger Warnings?". National Coalition Against Censorship. December 2015. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  7. ^ Trump Jr., Donald (2019). Triggered: How the Left Thrives on Hate and Wants to Silence Us. Center Street. ISBN 9781546086024.
  8. ^ Waldman, Paul (June 24, 2018). "Should Trump Staffers Be Shamed and Protested Wherever They Go?". The American Prospect. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  9. ^ Berkowitz, Joe (November 7, 2020). "Donald Trump is a loser". Fast Company. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  10. ^ Wilson, Rick (March 18, 2022). "Opinion: The GOP is about to come after Biden on Ukraine". Washington Post. Retrieved July 17, 2022.
  11. ^ Welch, Matt (August 27, 2018). "Is the GOP Worth Saving? Rick Wilson's Not Sure, But He's Staying Anyway". Reason. Retrieved November 12, 2020.
  12. ^ Smith, David (October 21, 2020). "'Owning the libs': how Donald Trump Jr became the unlikely political heir apparent". The Guardian. Retrieved November 1, 2020.
  13. ^ Neiwert, David (September 19, 2018). "Is that an OK sign? A white power symbol? Or just a right-wing troll?". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved November 27, 2020.
  14. ^ Lieback, Hedwig (May 2019). "Truth-Telling and Trolls: Trolling, Political Rhetoric in the Twenty-First Century, and the Objectivity Norm". AsPeers (12): 9–36. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  15. ^ a b Peters, Jeremy W. (August 3, 2020). "These Conservatives Have a Laser Focus: 'Owning the Libs'". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Serwer, Adam (October 3, 2018). "The Cruelty Is the Point". The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly Group. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  17. ^ Bunch, Will (January 2, 2020). "Trump's looming cruel war on homeless people is America's next big human-rights crisis". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  18. ^ Magary, Drew (June 21, 2019). "Is All This Misery Worth It?". GQ. Condé Nast. Retrieved November 20, 2020.
  19. ^ Marcotte, Amanda (2018). Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself. Hot Books Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-1510737457.
  20. ^ Waldman, Paul (December 11, 2020). "Hatred of liberals is all that's left of conservatism". The Washington Post.

Further reading[edit]