"Stuff That Can Actually Work"
Oliver Willis explains how to navigate the next two years of political nonsense—and be ready to win in 2024
We’re now just two years away from America’s next—possibly final—peaceful transition of power. The next 24 months will bring with them a deluge of stupidity, distraction, lies, misinformation, disinformation and attacks against America.
What should fact-based, liberal-minded people do to save America and the world from the forces of fascism?
How do we stay sane while giving our time and attention to stuff that can make a meaningful difference to the future?
For answers, I turned to Oliver Willis, who recently said on Twitter: “increasingly realize that a lot of my message is about telling liberals to give up on stuff that wont work and focus on stuff that can actually work. for instance, fixing the msm or convincing conservative voters to leave the cult are both dead ends doomed to fail.”
As his bio on Substack states, Willis was one of the first political bloggers in the world, launching OliverWillis.com around 2000 and was part of the first group of bloggers to interview a president, Barack Obama, in 2010. He was part of the team that launched Media Matters for America, where he spent 13 years reporting on conservative misinformation in the media. He is now a senior writer for the American Independent, a progressive news outlet.
Q&A with Oliver Willis
You recently wrote that Elon Musk is dumb. But how dangerous is he? What harm can his ownership of Twitter do to the US and the world?
A dumb person can be extremely dangerous—we just lived through 4 years of Donald Trump’s leadership proving that. My description of Musk is more about dispelling endless attempts to figure out his “secret plan” for whatever he is doing with Twitter, than to say he can’t be harmful. His attitude in favor of allowing racists and misogynists, literal Nazis in some cases, back on to Twitter has the extreme potential for danger and harm. We know for a fact that terrorists and people like the January 6 attackers have used social media to plan their activities, coordinate attacks, and to single out individuals or groups for harassment. That’s a big part of the reason these people were banned from Twitter in the first place. Letting them back on Twitter, while also doing harm to the company’s infrastructure and inhibiting the ability to respond to crises, should be of concern to people all over the world.
Many on the left applaud people like Pete Buttigieg for going on Fox News and “destroying” their talking points. Why do you think that’s a bad strategy?
I understand the visceral pleasure that comes from a viral clip of watching someone like Buttigieg or former White House press secretary Jen Psaki “dunk” on Fox News. But that momentary enjoyment undermines the fact that an appearance from major Democratic figures helps to legitimize the rest of Fox’s content. While the network is more openly partisan than when it launched, it still needs to hold on to some sort of fiction that claims that they are practicing journalism. But they aren’t. Fox News is the communications arm of the Republican Party and has been since it was first conceived as that by the network’s founder, former Nixon aide Roger Ailes. It doesn't make any sort of sense for Democrats to help a network that not only is designed to attack Democrats but has also spent decades smearing minority groups, women, and the LGBTQ community. Fox News does considerable harm to our culture and encourages violence and terrorism. When Democrats show up on Fox they help to normalize it—Fox is now able to say, “See? The president calls on us, we’re legitimate,” and this empowers more attacks. Better to freeze them out.
You recently wrote that “Nothing the Right Freaks Out About Is Real,” a point that has been proven time and time again. What’s the best way to fight back against the BS?
As liberals our natural inclination is to factually rebut conservative misinformation. It’s still useful to do this but what should really be done is forceful advocacy of reality, not just picking apart a conservative lie. Progressives, liberals, Democrats should push the truth about themselves and their agenda as loudly as the right spreads lies. For every claim about Democrats purportedly attacking one American institution or another, the left should be yelling ten times about how the social safety net has saved millions of lives, how liberal foreign policy has rescued the world from disaster after disaster, how left-centered economics has created multiple economic booms, and so on and so forth. Out yell the right at every opportunity instead of being stuck as their fact checkers.
What advice do you have for people over the next two years? What are the best ways to stay informed, involved—and effective? The best uses of our time and energy?
First of all, people should stop watching cable news. Cable news is easily the worst way to be informed about important issues. To keep on top of the day’s news it is far more useful and effective to set up news feeds through something like a Twitter list to check in on the top, reliable sources of news (even when they are problematic). A quick survey of the major political news sources, along with the wires, will inform you about what is going on in 1/100th the time as hours of cable news (and I mean all cable news is a problem, not just Fox). One of the best ways for the average person to be involved is to simply help to spread information. Never assume “everybody” has already seen a bit of information that crosses your desk, because the odds are they haven’t seen it, even if they are keen news watchers. Share it to your network of people online, even if it’s only a few people. Every bit helps. Approach the news every day with the mindset that people need to see important information—be it a news article, a clip of video, an infographic, whatever, and just share it and share more. Doing this kind of thing helps to keep people engaged, it puts important topics at the top of their minds and gets them motivated to vote or otherwise connect with leaders.
How damaging is MAGA/Fox News stupidity to America’s national security? Is there any long-term hope for convincing brainwashed right-wingers and Trump cultists that they are being lied to—just not by liberals?
I would argue that all of conservatism is dangerous to American national security. Foreign policy disasters like the Iraq War occurred long before “MAGA” was really a thing and before Fox News was very potent. The major difference with the MAGA brand is that it doesn't care much about the stupidity that was always there on the right, hiding behind a veneer of respectability. The vast majority of their stances on national security/foreign policy can easily and quickly be dismissed as absurd non-starters, because history has shown us that it doesn’t work and endangers us and our allies. We have a special role as the world’s major superpower to approach every issue with rationality and logic, which are the opposite of what we get from the right. We can’t have this kind of reckless mindset have any influence over our extremely large and powerful military and larger national security apparatus.
I am not much of a believer in convincing those on the right to “snap out of it.” They have shown us for decades now—since the rise of the modern conservative movement with Barry Goldwater in 1964—that this is a large cult. If you look at any other cult in history, it is difficult to get the vast majority of people to believe, because they are true believers. It sounds harsh but death, usually by their own deranged actions, is what tends to end these things. I think liberals need to focus more on our own rather than looking to pull a minority of the population (and conservative diehards are in a distinct minority) off the ledge. On most issues, the public agrees with center-left policy solutions but we aren’t strong enough advocates for them. We should focus on firing up the liberal base and appealing to a majority of voters that has been proven to agree with us. The Democratic Party has won the popular vote in every election but one since 1992. That isn’t a fringe movement, but it too often acts like its ideas are way out in the wilderness while conservatism is closer to the heart of most people. This is nonsense.
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I have been kicked off of my Next-door account again for simply saying the truth. Norman, a smaller University town in Oklahoma has been taken over by the GQP far right leaning "Unite Norman " group that has done nothing but divide us. Our town was once a very liberal town, and still has it's more Democratic leaning aspects. But this power hungry, Trumpian cult has taken over. It used it's police force that shared information on our Mayor that almost got her killed. I am no longer on Next-door because they control whatever is said on that site.
Thanks for this. I was already following him on Twitter (guess he wrote a good tweet I saw once) but don't know Oliver's work at all.