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How ‘Stan’ Culture Infiltrated Politics – POLITICO

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It was a good week for schadenfreude. Or, depending on how you spent the past year and a half, just plain old shame: After New York Gov. Cuomo announced his resignation on Tuesday amid allegations about his sexual harassment of at least 11 women, a wave of nauseating remembrance swept the internet regarding the uncritical cult of personality that sprung up around the governor during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you were the proud owner of a “Cuomosexual” t-shirt, I’m not here to judge you. (There’s plenty of time for that on Twitter.) Over the past decade, a new form of deeply personalized, extremely-online devotion to various political figures has crawled out of the social media fever swamps and infiltrated the mainstream, leading to eccentric and parasocial devotions like those once sworn to Cuomo until his predictably rapid fall.

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If you’re a member of Vice President Kamala Harris’ “KHive,” you might have recently swarmed to the veep’s defense amid scrutiny of her perpetually disappointing favorability rating, or a modestly critical viral blog post. Andrew Yang’s “Yang Gang” still haunts America’s subreddits, albeit in dwindling numbers, after the gadfly candidate’s disappointing showing in the New York City mayoral race. Even decidedly analog politicians like 75-year-old Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey can earn an impassioned, meme-wielding youth following, provided they push the right button combination to simultaneously activate a certain subset’s policy and cultural preferences.

American politics has always been a personality game. Thomas Jefferson was the Democratic-Republicans’ avatar of agrarian nobility, contra John Adams’ Federalist, centralist elite. JFK was America’s dynamic future; Richard Nixon its dowdy cloth-coat past. George W. Bush’s aw-shucks Americanism was an implicit critique of John Kerry, despite their shared blue-blood lineage. But there’s something historically novel about modern-day personal politics — something that can be understood only through the lens of one of 21st-century pop culture’s great characters in his own right: Marshall Bruce Mathers III, a.k.a. Eminem, a.k.a. Slim Shady.

If you count yourself among any of the fan clubs mentioned above — the KHive, the Yang Gang, the Cuomosexuals — you just might be a “stan.” That term, enshrined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “an overzealous or obsessive fan, esp. of a particular celebrity,” is self-deprecatingly borrowed from Mathers’ Dido-interloping 2000 hit of the same name, a morbid tale about the titular Slim Shady fan whose obsession ends in tragic violence. “Stan culture,” a shorthand for the obsessive, hyper-passionate subcultures that spring up around various celebrities, has overtaken the realms of K-Pop, Marvel Comics and any number of cultural points between — and now it’s established itself in politics, a reflection of how social media and the strange passions it engenders are changing American life.

“Stans” aren’t just enthusiasts for the objects of their affection, they’re evangelists, even paladins, creating highlight reels, memes and harassment campaigns on behalf of their chosen idols. They cultivate cultural micro-universes, complete with their own historical rivalries, blood feuds and banks of Talmudic knowledge.

Crucially, “standom” is different from traditional “fandom,” insomuch as you might be a “fan” of the Milwaukee Bucks or “The Bachelorette.” It involves an intense, personal identification with one’s idol, where their preferences, beliefs and aesthetics are largely substituted for one’s own — and subsequently defended at any cost. In a post-monocultural era, a stan-friendly politician isn’t a mass-marketed product of the Nixon era, but a boutique offering who activates one’s niche cultural affinity instead of a hazily-defined American spirit.

Politics is now as much of a marketing battle as the Billboard Hot 100 or the box office; it was inevitable that “standom” would eventually reach it. But to understand how it shapes public discourse — and how it might, or might not, benefit the ambitious politicians who possess their own — it’s helpful to look at where the phenomenon has manifested before, and who’s been able to most successfully harness it.

If you’re a news consumer of a certain age, the first time you might have encountered the “stan” nomenclature was likely during one of 2020’s many hallucinatory, now-almost-forgotten events: former President Donald Trump’s ill-timed June campaign rally in Tulsa, which was supposedly derailed by anti-Trump TikTok users and K-pop stans. The narrative was almost too good to be true, too poetic in its generational conflict: Trump’s rally, seemingly flouting both public health recommendations in a pre-vaccine world and good taste amid ongoing racial justice protests, was depressed in its attendance by internet-savvy young people who registered for tickets with the express intent of not showing.

Although the campaign’s direct impact is still somewhat unclear, the stan army at the very least succeeded in baiting Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale to crow about the massive RSVP numbers and book an outdoor overflow space — leading Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the beneficiary of her own fiercely devoted fanbase, to crow afterwards on Twitter that the Trump campaign got “ROCKED by teens on TikTok.” Those who organized it may not have been “stanning” on the behalf of any one politician, but their methods and tone were a perfect introduction for the political mainstream to how “stan culture” organizes and imposes itself on the broader media ecosystem: through virality, simplicity and a deep sense of grievance and indignation.

Nowhere in mainstream politics is that combination better reflected than with Kamala Harris’ online army, the aforementioned “KHive.” The self-bestowed pun nickname recalls Beyoncé’s “BeyHive,” infamous for its swift and relentless retribution against anyone who might besmirch (or even mildly criticize) the pop mogul. KHive stans—many of them former supporters of Hillary Clinton—view themselves as the frontline defenders of a trailblazing politician who has defied the obstacles that traditionally stymie Black women in politics only to face continued, unfair scrutiny after her triumph on the 2020 ticket.

Here, the substance of that complaint is less relevant than the form it takes. KHive members keep lists of their opponents, presumably as targets for relentless trolling. They generate strange kitsch art. Some rarely leave the house without some form of identifying pro-Kamala clothing or merchandise. The KHive comprise a political movement only insomuch as Kamala Harris is literally a politician; in reality, the group is closer to a fandom. And in that light, it’s only natural that it grew out of the 2020 Democratic primary, which featured a cast of characters almost as expansive and distinct as the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself.

That primary featured the KHive and the Yang Gang, but also the return of the Bernie Bros and the pro-Warren Liz Lads, as well as an organized fanbase for then-South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, albeit one lacking a similarly catchy nickname. (This author’s attempt to identify and activate a movement of “Bennet Bros” has been, as yet, unsuccessful.)

For the most intense devotees of the candidates, the 2020 primary was, literally, a personality contest, with the unique charm of their preferred candidate the only thing standing between American democracy and oblivion—“oblivion,” in this case, being American standom’s great success story: The political project of Donald J. Trump, whose most devoted fans have engaged in all of the behavior described above (and far more).

The vast empire of Trump’s fandom almost makes the KHive look like minor league ball—his re-election campaign spent more than $10 million on MAGA swag for its hungry audience, which picked up any remaining slack with bootleg merch of its own (not to mention a series of ostentatious boat parades, often-surreal social media tributes, and nigh-ubiquitous remixes of the American flag celebrating their idol). Just as Harris taps into something aspirational in her most devoted fans, so does Trump, albeit with about as different an ideological character as one could imagine.

The power and size of Trump’s fandom stems from both his decades of cultivated celebrity and his appeal to America’s large number of voters with racist beliefs, as shown repeatedly by studies from the Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group. His personality-based stranglehold on the Republican Party is a perfect case study in what can happen when a fandom grows so intense—and resonates so deeply with a subset of the American cultural psyche—that it can win a crowded major-party primary, force that party to at least re-evaluate, if not significantly alter, its core policy beliefs, and even decide it might be a good idea to subvert American democracy itself.

Trump’s success, contrasted with the lack thereof among his would-have-been presidential rivals with equally personalized followings, reveals a key difference between the two major parties. Within the demographically homogenous Republican Party, the power of one activated fandom can be enough to secure its nomination and all the baked-in partisan support that comes with it.

In the Democratic Party, which is much more demographically diverse and factional, coalition-building is far more essential. An intense personal fanbase is neither necessary or sufficient to win national power in a party so segmented across class, race and educational lines. Enter, then, perhaps the man with the biggest gulf in American history between his decades of electoral success and lack of relative standom: President Joe Biden.

Biden’s success in the 2020 primaries was built on an alliance of Black voters, suburbanites and skeptical moderates. He won by appealing to the one thing that Stan culture, with its endlessly insular, password-protected nature, seems to flout: the existence of a shared American monoculture. As much of a cult of personality as he enjoyed in his own right, Biden’s Democratic predecessor in Barack Obama played it down in favor of his own appeal to American unity, to massive electoral success.

A charismatic, yet ideologically niche, figure like AOC can win a primary in a safe blue district through grassroots energy and sheer force of personality; establishment figures like Markey or Cuomo can bolster their pet issues or (now-thwarted) ambitions, respectively, by cultivating a similar following. But at a national level, with its bumptious, often contradictory coalition, the Democratic Party can’t afford the level of insularity that stan culture tends to engender. The more homogeneous GOP almost needs it, to gin up the base.

Trump did this by leveraging the fracturing of the American monoculture to wild success, from his first 2016 primary win all the way to the White House. A standom is a signifier that a given politician has tapped into something that resonates elementally with their followers— whether that’s racial justice as defined by Harris, Ed Markey’s environment-first populism, or the yearning for “revolution” among Bernie Sanders’ followers.

But as Biden’s numerous defeated foes from 2020 would attest, such a following is no guarantor of victory, or even mass electoral appeal. As long as boring old horse-trading and coalition-building remain essential parts of the democratic process, mere cultural resonance won’t be enough, even on the Republican side of the aisle absent a sui generis political talent such as Trump.

Stan culture is now endemic to American politics, but might ultimately be more sideshow than main event. Yet as the sobriquet’s inventor understood all too well, the Stans have a funny way of grabbing attention above their weight class, even—maybe especially—when they’re on the sidelines.

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Uyghur refugee vote by Canada MPs angers China

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OTTAWA –

The Chinese government says a motion MPs passed Wednesday to provide asylum to persecuted Uyghurs amounts to political manipulation by Canada.

MPs including Prime Mister Justin Trudeau unanimously called on Ottawa to design a program that would bring 10,000 people of Turkic origin, including Uyghurs, to Canada from countries other than China.

They passed a motion that acknowledges reports that Uyghurs outside China have been sent back to their country of birth, where they have faced arrest as part of Beijing’s crackdown on Muslim groups.

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Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in Beijing that people in the Xinjiang region live in peaceful harmony, contradicting widespread reports of forced labour and sexual violence.

An English translation by the ministry said Canada should “stop politically manipulating Xinjiang-related issues for ulterior motives,” and Ottawa is “spreading disinformation and misleading the public.”

The non-binding motion said the government should come up with the outline of a resettlement program by May 12 that would begin in 2024 and meet its target within two years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.

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Republicans push to remove Ilhan Omar from foreign affairs panel

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Washington, DC – In one of his first moves since becoming speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is leading an effort to block Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from serving on the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee over her past criticism of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House advanced a resolution to remove Omar from the panel. Democrats opposed the move, accusing McCarthy of bigotry for targeting the politician – a former refugee of Somali descent who is one of only two Muslim women serving in the US Congress.

A few Republicans initially opposed McCarthy’s effort, casting doubt over his ability to pass the resolution against Omar, given the GOP’s narrow majority.

But on Wednesday, all 218 House Republicans present voted to move forward with the measure, as Democrats remained united in support of Omar with 209 votes. A final vote is expected on Thursday as progressives rally around Omar.

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The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) defended Omar, calling her an “esteemed and invaluable” legislator.

“You cannot remove a Member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views. This is both ludicrous and dangerous,” CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement on Monday.

The resolution

The resolution aimed at Omar, introduced by Ohio Republican Max Miller on Tuesday, cites numerous controversies involving the congresswoman’s criticism of Israel and US foreign policy.

“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Miller said in a statement.

Omar retorted by saying there was nothing “objectively true” about the resolution, adding that “if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees”.

While the Republican resolution accuses Omar of anti-Semitism, it only invokes remarks relating to Israel, not the Jewish people.

For example, the measure calls out the congresswoman for describing Israel as an “apartheid state”, although leading human rights groups – including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have also accused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.

Early in her congressional career in 2019, Omar faced a firestorm of criticism when she suggested that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups – including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – drive support for Israel in Washington.

Omar later apologised for that remark but Palestinian rights advocates say accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s critics aim to stifle the debate around Israeli government policies.

In the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights, including Michigan’s Andy Levin, a left-leaning, Jewish former House member.

‘Different standards’

Although the Democratic Party is standing behind Omar now, the Republican resolution prominently features previous criticism against the congresswoman by top Democrats.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, an advocacy and research group, said Republicans are trying to validate their talking points against Omar by using the statements and actions of Democrats.

“They own this,” she said of Democrats who previously attacked Omar. “They made a decision in the last few years to jump on board and score political points at Ilhan’s expense … And that decision is now the basis for the resolution that is being used to throw her off the committee.”

Friedman added that Omar and her fellow Muslim-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib are held to “different standards” when it comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both legislators were the subject of racist attacks by former President Donald Trump who in 2019 tweeted that they, along with other progressive congresswomen of colour, “should go back to the broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.

Omar in particular became a frequent target of Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. At one rally in 2019, Trump failed to intervene as his supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Omar.

Friedman said attacks on Omar appeal to the Republican base and play well for the party politically.

“It’s a really handy way to embarrass and corner Democrats because when Democrats vote against this tomorrow, the Republican argument is going to be: ‘I don’t get it. You said all these things [against Omar]. Why are you not holding her accountable?’ Politically, this is just fantastic for them.”

For her part, Omar has remained defiant, calling McCarthy’s effort to remove her from the committee, against initial opposition from his own caucus, “pathetic”.

Yasmine Taeb, legislative and political director at MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, praised Omar’s commitment to a “human rights-centered foreign policy”.

“Rep. Omar speaks truth to power – a rarity in Congress. And House Republican leadership would rather waste time by attacking a progressive Black Muslim woman and pushing a far-right agenda than working on addressing the needs of the American people,” Taeb told Al Jazeera in an email.

Omar has been a vocal proponent of human rights and diplomacy in Congress. While her comments about Israel often make headlines, she criticises other countries too – including those in the Middle East – for human rights violations.

Still, critics accuse her of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of Israel and even allies have described some of her comments as “sloppy”, if not malicious.

On Thursday, Win Without War, a group that promotes diplomacy in US foreign policy, decried the Republican push against Omar as an attempt to strip the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a “progressive champion and skilled legislator who challenges the political status quo”.

“Rep. Omar has helped raise the bar for progressive foreign policy in Congress. She has steadfastly advocated for cuts to the Pentagon budget, held US allies accountable for human rights abuses, and confronted the racism and Islamophobia present in US foreign policy,” Win Without War executive director Sara Haghdoosti said in a statement.

Committee wars

Congressional committees serve as specialised microcosms of Congress. The panels advance legislation, conduct oversight and hold immense power over the legislative process.

Usually, the party in power appoints the chairs and majority members of committees, while the opposition party names its own legislators to the panels.

But back in 2021, Democrats voted to remove Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees for past conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

That same year, the Democratic House majority also formally rebuked Paul Gosar, another far-right Republican, for sharing an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, Greene is an outspoken proponent of removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“No one should be on that committee with that stance towards Israel,” Greene said earlier this week. “In my opinion, I think it’s the wrong stance for any member of Congress of the United States – having that type of attitude towards our great ally, Israel.”

After Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, McCarthy had openly promised payback against the Democrats if they became the minority in the House, an event that came to pass in the 2022 midterm elections.

“You’ll regret this. And you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” McCarthy said at that time.

The newly elected speaker has also blocked Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee. Schiff was the former chair of the panel.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman George Santos, who is facing calls to step down for lying about his heritage and professional and personal history, “temporarily recused” himself from committee assignments as he is being investigated over his campaign conduct.

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Former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen steps down as MP

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Member of Parliament and former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen has resigned her seat in the House of Commons.

Bergen, 58, has represented the Manitoba riding of Portage—Lisgar since 2008. She served as interim leader of the Conservatives and leader of the Opposition from February to September 2022. Prior to that, she served as deputy leader of the Conservatives.

In a video posted to Twitter Wednesday, Bergen said she has submitted a letter of resignation, “ending an incredible and very fulfilling 14 years.”

Bergen thanked her constituents, family, volunteers, staff and political colleagues “on both sides of the aisle, regardless of your political stripe.”

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Bergen announced in September of last year that she would not seek reelection. Pierre Poilievre replaced her as Conservative leader that month.

Bergen did not give a specific reason for her resignation and did not mention any future plans.

“I’m choosing to leave now not because I’m tired or I’ve run out of steam. In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” she said in the video.

“I feel hopeful and re-energized. Hopeful for our strong and united Conservative Party, and our caucus, under the courageous and principled leadership of my friend, Pierre Poilievre.”

Bergen ended her goodbye message on a hopeful note.

“With God’s grace and God’s help, I believe that the best is yet to come. Thank you so much Portage—Lisgar, and thank you Canada.”

The Toronto Star was the first to report the story.

“On behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, thank you Candice for your leadership, your devotion to our Conservative movement and your service to the people of Portage—Lisgar, and all Canadians,” Poilievre said in a tweet Wednesday.

The news means there will be a byelection in Portage—Lisgar to replace Bergen.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen announced last week that he’d step down as an MLA to seek the federal Conservative nomination in the riding.

The death of MP Jim Carr late last year set up a byelection in another Manitoba riding — Winnipeg South Centre. The Alberta riding of Calgary Heritage and the Ontario riding of Oxford are also up for byelections later this year.

“I thank her for her many years of service,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of Bergen in a media scrum Wednesday.

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