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Long live the Cynthia effect

Despite the hopes and dreams of some of us, renowned actress and gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon conceded to her two-term incumbent, Governor Andrew Cuomo. Yet, rather than frustration and dismay, following the elections, many of Nixon’s supporters seem to exhibit gratitude and hope, claiming that her campaign and presence on the political stage have brought numerous civil rights issues to the limelight, and etched them in the mainstream political discussion both in New York State and across the country.

It was clear from day one that Nixon’s aspiration to unseat a well-funded establishment politician such as Cuomo was ambitious and perhaps unlikely, given that despite her impressive record of activism work, she truly had no experience in navigating the political machine. Furthermore, Nixon’s campaign has made several rookie mistakes along the way and occasionally failed to back up an idealistic agenda with practical solutions in order to give people the sense that Nixon was more than a well-intentioned celebrity, but actually had the capability of sitting at the helm and undertaking the highly complex task of governing a state.

It isn’t unreasonable to argue that Nixon should have opted for a lower position as her starting point, such as Congress or State Senate, and climb her way up from there. At the same time, it’s important to recognise that her campaign wasn’t just about winning the governor’s seat, for the ‘Cynthia effect’ has transcended the office and even the candidate herself. Nixon’s campaign has in fact echoed the outcry of segments of the population who have to date been largely ignored by the state and federal governments; she gave a voice and a presence to marginalised groups, such as working class families, racial minorities, and LGBTQ people, who have had little to no representation in the political sphere.

Indeed, despite having a much heftier campaign budget and a broader support network, Gov. Cuomo got on the defence as soon as Nixon announced her candidacy. Nixon did not only further expose Cuomo’s corruption and made it a national talking point, but also urged him to incorporate civil and environmental issues into his platform. Anxious to win over Nixon’s voters and appear as benevolent and socially-conscious as she, Cuomo has shifted his attention to areas he systematically neglected over the years. For instance, he announced his intention to funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to fix the ‘emergency state’ of NYC public housing, take action to restore the voting rights of felons on parole, and levy a fee on plastic bags. All of these issues were initially advocated for by Nixon. Nixon’s platform has also affirmed the socio-political nature of issues such as marijuana and the New York City subway system, with marijuana arrests disproportionately affecting racial minorities and the Subway’s decrepit condition under Cuomo debilitating the mobility of working and lower income classes. Cuomo has recently rescinded his longtime objection to legalising marijuana and has made fixing the Subway a priority.

It remains to be seen whether Gov. Cuomo will go through with his recent pledges to civil rights, working class, and environmental issues and whether his Nixon-induced social awareness will survive the test of time. Regardless, Nixon has planted seeds of hope in the hearts of millions of New Yorkers who too often feel neglected by and invisible to the political establishment.

Evoking the power of her celebrity, and remaining loyal to her core principles and values, Nixon has drawn national attention to social and civil issues that are gradually becoming part of the national political discourse. She gave a significant boost to a new breed of socio-political activism in the country, which sets its sights on truly empowering individuals, as opposed to viewing them as a mere constituent.

This article was originally published by FAIRPLANET and is part of an ongoing content partnership.

#WalkAway movement leading an exodus from liberal Democrats to radical Republicans

“Once upon a time, I was a liberal,” says Brandon Straka, a former hair stylist, in a six-minute video in which he delivers a dramatic monologue explaining why he left the Democratic party and became a conservative. Straka, who voted for Clinton in the 2016 elections, claims he went through a series of ‘eye-opening’ events which eventually compelled him to switch sides and find a new home among Republicans. In a social media campaign titled #WalkAway, Straka seeks to shine the spotlight on what he observes to be a massive exodus of ‘disillusioned’ liberals from the Democratic party in search of a more honest and morally sound political movement.

Alas, it seems that when he embarked on the road to enlightenment, Straka stumbled, bonked his head, and fell into yet another trap: conservative propaganda.

It doesn’t come as a shock that when conservative pundits and public figures came across Straka’s campaign they jumped on the opportunity and turned him into a “Gay conservative public figure”. Thus, in a matter of two months, Straka became a Fox News darling, making appearances on the network’s top shows in which he recounts his journey into the conservative ranks, bashes the Democratic party and ‘liberal’ media, and discusses the apparent success of his #WalkAway campaign.

The warm embrace of Straka by high-profile pundits like Tucker Carlson, Jeanine Pirro, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin, as well as endorsements and re-tweets by Republican stars, such as Sarah Palin and Donald J. Trump Jr., turned Straka’s campaign into a social-media sensation. His promo video went viral, and by now has garnered millions of views. He has tens of thousands of followers on his Twitter account and the Walk Away website is now replete with written and video testimonies of people who explain why they chose to leave the democratic and liberal camps and come out as conservatives.

Like any person’s, the journey of Straka is a unique one. His decision to switch from left to right surely resulted from a confluence of occurrences and internal processes, including his genuine frustration with the liberal left, fear of uncertainty, urge to belong, and the opportunity for nationwide recognition this out-of-work actor had craved. Yet, whatever the cause of his transformation, his case serves as a perfect example of what happens when recognising systemic and deep-rooted flaws in one’s ideology or ‘camp’ propels them to go in the other extreme.

Though not entirely invalid, Straka’s observations regarding the liberal movement and Democratic establishment are tainted by hyperbole and the very same narrow-mindedness he rages against in his campaign. “For years now, I have watched as the left has devolved into intolerant, inflexible, illogical, hateful, misguided, ill-informed, un-American, hypocritical, menacing, callous, ignorant, narrow-minded and, at times, blatantly fascistic behaviour and rhetoric,” says Straka in his promo video. In an interview with Tucker Carlson, Straka states that, “To be on the left now means that you basically have to be hostile towards white people. You have to be hostile towards men. You have to find heteronormativity to be erroneous in some way.”

Straka claims that what finally urged him to distrust the liberal media and Democratic party was a video sent to him by a friend that details how Trump clips were manipulatively edited and taken out of context by major news outlets associated with the left, such as CNN and MSNBC. As an example, Straka cites Trump’s comments that there were good people on both sides of the Charlottesville incident, which he argues was an acknowledgement of conservatives seeking to preserve historical monuments and not a nod to white supremacists as portrayed by the media. Straka also refers to footage of the president mocking a disabled reporter, claiming that the full, undoctored video reveals that he was mocking all reporters in the room using the same gestures, not just the disabled one (what a relief!).

Let us be clear—Straka does raise some valid criticism of liberal culture and the mainstream media. After sifting through his barrage of accusations and distortions, some legitimate observations about the lack of nuance and inclusivity in left-wing discourse could be seen. Straka even rightly casts doubt about the integrity of the Democratic establishment—which is driven by corporate interests and actively suppresses grassroots campaigns and initiatives.

That said, Straka de-legitimises his own criticism of the left by joining yet another agenda-driven, rigid, and tragically dishonest gang. Instead of working to improve reporting culture and promote a more transparent national socio-political discourse, Straka simply chose to immerse himself in the propaganda machine of the right. It is evident in the fact that his embracing of the Republican party is devoid of any criticism whatsoever of its cause and the conduct of its establishment. If he were truly as ‘enlightened’ as he claims to be, Straka would have portrayed a more balanced picture of his new conservative family.

Straka’s campaign isn’t likely to fade away any time soon, and he’s already gearing his base towards the 2020 race. Though he may be portraying a slightly hyped-up version of this alleged exodus from left to right, Straka undoubtedly managed to create a platform that mobilises and energises conservative sympathisers.

Whatever the future of Walk Away may be, Straka should be viewed as an important reminder of how crucial it is to maintain an open and balanced mind while engaging in criticism, and just how easy it is to fall down the shaft of sensationalist extremism on the road to ‘enlightenment’.