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.
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.
Politics Briefing: Annamie Paul exits as leader of the Green Party of Canada – The Globe and Mail
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Annamie Paul has announced her departure as leader of the Green Party of Canada, calling the experience of being at the helm of the party the worst one of her life.
Ms. Paul’s exit comes after a challenging election for the Greens. She placed fourth in the Toronto Centre riding she ran in and, nationally, the party saw their share of the popular vote fall from 6.55 per cent in 2019 to 2.3 per cent.
Although they won a seat in Ontario – Mike Morrice was the victor in Kitchener Centre – they lost the Vancouver Island riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith, one of two seats they held at dissolution.
Ms. Paul said she was not up to trying to keep her leadership role by securing at least 60 per cent support in a leadership review to be held within six months.
“I just don’t have the heart for it,” she said, citing conflict within the party – particularly with the federal council that governs it.
She noted that there were insufficient resources to compete in the campaign, including the absence of a national campaign manager, and that she realized the campaign would be a challenge.
Ms. Paul said she knew the Greens would likely not do well, and she would take the blame, but she decided to proceed because of candidates who had committed to run for the party, and the need to show that “someone like me could get as far as I could.” She is the first Jewish woman and Black person elected leader of a federal party.
“When I was elected, put in this role, I was breaking a glass ceiling. What I didn’t realize at the time is I was breaking a glass ceiling that was going to fall on my head and leave a lot of shards of glass that I was going to have to crawl over throughout my time as leader,” she said.
“For those Green Party members who have taken great pleasure in attacking me and calling for assaults against me and calling for organization against me and suggesting I am part of a conspiracy against the party, you may take small comfort but please know there are many more people like me than you and you will not succeed in the end.”
Without elaborating, Ms. Paul warned members of a continuing struggle for the soul of the party.
And she said she would look for other ways to serve and pursue her interest in public policy, “This was always about service and I have been outside of politics for most of my life so I know there are other ways to serve.”
Overall, she said, “It has been the worst period of my life in many respects.”
She then left without taking media questions.
Ms. Paul, a lawyer, was elected Green Party leader in October, 2020, succeeding interim leader Jo-Ann Roberts and Elizabeth May, the party’s leader from 2006 to 2019.
Fundraising challenges meant that while other party leaders travelled widely in Canada in search of votes, Ms. Paul rarely left Toronto Centre.
The limited campaign effort followed months of conflict between Ms. Paul and members of the party’s governing federal council, which sought at times to oust her.
Also, the Greens only nominated candidates in 252 ridings, not all 338.
Before the election, the Greens lost their only seat outside British Columbia. Jenica Atwin, who won the riding of Fredericton in 2019, defected to the Liberals in June. She held on to the seat in last week’s election.
THE TWO MICHAELS
WHAT NEXT? -The emotional return of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor to home soil after nearly three years of arbitrary detention was warmly embraced by Canadians this weekend, but their ordeal will have long-lasting implications on this country’s relationship with China.
CHINA’S CLAIMS ON THE RETURN OF THE TWO MICHAELS – Two Canadians detained in late 2019 who were allowed to return to Canada in a prisoner swap were released on bail for health reasons, China’s Foreign Ministry said Monday.
HUAWEI AND 5G – A long-delayed decision facing the federal government about whether to ban Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. from the build-out of Canada’s 5G wireless networks is back in the spotlight after the return of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
CHINESE STATE MEDIA ON CANADA-CHINA RELATIONSHIP – The release of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou is an opportunity for a reboot of bilateral relations with the United States and Canada but “toxic political rhetoric” could still “poison” the atmosphere,” Chinese state media said on Monday.
MICHAEL KOVRIG, IN HIS OWN WORDS – “I’m running on about two hours of sleep in the last 24 hours so I don’t have any exciting plans just yet,” Michael Kovrig, speaking, on Sunday to Global News’ The West Block in a brief interview available here.
KENNEY SPEAKS OUT – Premier Jason Kenney rejected calls for a “hard lockdown” during an appearance on a radio program Sunday, the same day his province’s former top doctor signed a letter calling for immediate “fire break” measures to deal with surging cases of COVID-19.
THE NEXT LIBERAL LEADER? – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s job as Liberal Party leader seems secure, but The National Post is ranking possible successors in case Mr. Trudeau exits. Ranking begins here.
NEW JOB FOR BAINS – CIBC has hired former Liberal cabinet minister Navdeep Bains as vice-chair, global investment banking. Mr. Bains stepped down as innovation minister in January and did not run in the recent federal election. Story here.
THE CASE FOR A FEMALE DEFENCE MINISTER – Canada’s only female defence minister was in 1993. Is it time for another? The Canadian Press assesses the issue here.
KEEP O’TOOLE AS TORY LEADER: BRAD WALL – “I don’t think the Conservatives should be changing their leader right now, but they really need to reach out and say, `We had a strong platform from Western Canada’ and maybe they ought to stop trying to win in Quebec because it just ain’t happening no matter what they do. That embarrassing bow to Bill 21 or endorsements from [Quebec Premie François] Legault didn’t help. Maybe it’s time to fashion a new strategy.” – Mr. Wall, the former Saskatchewan premier, on The Roy Green show – available here – over the weekend. Mr. Wall also talks about country music singer Colter Wall – his son.
THE MODERATOR OF THE ENGLISH-LANGUAGE LEADERS’ DEBATE SPEAKS OUT ON `THE QUESTION.’
Shachi Kurl (president of the Angus Reid Institute, and moderator of the 2021 English-language leaders’ debate) on the debate question, during the leaders’ debate, that caused a storm in Quebec: “So here was the question: “You deny that Quebec has problems with racism. Yet you defend legislation such as Bills 96 and 21, which marginalize religious minorities, anglophones, and allophones. For those outside the province, please help them understand why your party also supports these discriminatory laws.” To those asking me to take it all back: I stand by the question. Unequivocally. I stand by it because the question gave Mr. Blanchet the opportunity to talk to people outside Quebec, about secularism, about laïcité. He could have shared the Quebec perspective with the rest of Canada. He chose not to.”
PRIME MINISTER’S DAY
“Private meetings,” according to an advisory from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves François Blanchet addresses members of caucus during a meeting in Shawinigan, and takes media questions.
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul, in Toronto, announced her resignation as leader of the party, but did not take media questions.
No schedules released for other party leaders.
The Editorial Board of The Globe and Mail on the Conservative need for big-city seats: “Canada is mostly urban and suburban, and becoming more so every day. In fact, the map of Parliament will be redrawn over the next couple of years, in light of the 2021 census. Since the last census, Metro Vancouver gained more than 400,000 people. Calgary gained more than 300,000, Ottawa a quarter-million, Montreal more than half a million, and the GTA roughly one million people. All those places will be getting more seats before the next election. That’s the Conservative Party’s future.”
Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on the hard lesson of the the situation with the two Michaels: “Politically and economically, a lot of damage has been done to Canada-China relations. Now there will be a rush to try to undo that damage, particularly in the business community. But not so fast. There remains an unavoidable need to work with China in some areas, but Beijing’s long-standing call of “win-win” relations has to be distrusted more now, because when push comes to shove, China reserves the right to decide what is a win for each party. We know that because push did come to shove.”
Ann Dickie, Sanjay Ruparelia (Policy Options) on the need for additional research into why the expansion of special voting arrangements didn’t stop a worrisome decline in turnout in recent provincial elections: “Many democracies have confronted a key challenge since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020: how to balance public safety and electoral participation. However, many of the changes introduced to meet this imperative were already in existence, at least in part, before the pandemic arrived, and their ramifications will extend beyond our current election cycle. As the world becomes more digitally oriented, electoral modernization via special voting arrangements (SVAs) – from early and postal voting to proxy voting – is vital for all countries and constituencies seeking to combat apathy, disaffection and exclusion.”
Send along your political questions and we will look at getting answers to run in this newsletter. It’s not possible to answer each one personally. Questions and answers will be edited for length and clarity.
Letter: Playing politics with the virus – Cowichan Valley Citizen
Playing politics with the virus
Have always been of the opinion that politicians worldwide chose to play politics with the COVID-19 virus instead of stopping it from spreading by closing their respective international borders. Either they learned nothing from the Spanish flu pandemic which spread worldwide via the soldiers returning from the First World War or they chose to ignore it?
It appears that these viruses have a definitive life cycle. The Spanish flu faded into oblivion after the forth wave. The P.H.O for B.C informed us that all pandemics have four waves. So if they knew how the COVID-19 virus would react, how many waves there would be etc. why did they not take steps to prevent it from arriving in Canada? Politics, is my opinion. How many elections have we had in Canada, called by political parties whose only ambition is extending their power base and time in office?
My cynicism and distrust of the motives for the handling of this virus were confirmed while reading the following.
Dame Sarah Gilbert, the lead scientist from Oxford University, and the brain behind the vaccine manufactured in India as Covishield, stated the following: “The virus cannot completely mutate because its spike protein has to interact with the ACE2 receptor on the surface of the human cell, in order to get inside it. If it changes its spike protein so much that it can’t interact with that receptor, then it’s not going to be able to get inside the cell. So, there aren’t many places for the virus to go to have something that will evade immunity but still remain infectious.”
Dr. Gilbert is reported as saying that the virus that causes COVID-19 will eventually become like the coronaviruses which circulate widely and cause the common cold.
She also stated, “What tends to happen over time is there’s just a slow drift, that’s what happens with flu viruses. You see small changes accumulating over a period of time and then we have the opportunity to react to that.”
“It has been pretty quiet since Delta emerged and it would be nice to think there won’t be any new variants of concern. If I was pushed to predict, I think there will be new variants emerging over time and I think there is still quite a lot of road to travel down with this virus,” she said.
So thanks to our political masters, we are going to have this virus around for some time. Wonder if they think the cost in financial and human terms was/is worth it?
Green Party chief Annamie Paul resigns, calling it ‘worst period’ of her life
Annamie Paul announced her resignation as head of Canada‘s Green Party on Monday after losing in her own district in last week’s parliamentary election, stepping aside just under a year after becoming the nation’s first Black leader of a mainstream national party.
Paul, 48, said she felt she was never truly allowed to lead the fractious environmentally focused party and was not interested in going through a fight to remain its chief. She called her time as party leader “the worst period in my life.”
“When I was elected and put in this role, I was breaking a glass ceiling,” Paul told reporters in Toronto. “What I didn’t realize at the time is that I was breaking a glass ceiling that was going to fall on my head.”
Paul came in fourth in her own Toronto constituency – won by the Liberals – and the Greens dropped 4 percentage points nationally in the Sept. 20 election compared with 2019. They won only two seats in the 338-seat House of Commons compared with three two years ago.
Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau won a third term, albeit with a minority of seats in parliament.
Paul, a Toronto lawyer, beat out seven other contenders to win the leadership of the party last October. But she has for months been in a battle with the party’s federal council, which tried to oust her before the election. The party did not provide funding for Paul to hire a campaign staff or a national campaign manager.
“I just don’t have the heart for it,” Paul said, referring to going through a leadership review invoked by the party immediately after the election.
Of the discord within the party, Paul said she had never been given the opportunity to lead and “I will not be given that opportunity.”
Jenica Atwin, one of the three Green parliamentarians, left the party in June and joined the Liberals. Atwin was elected as a Liberal last week.
Atwin has said her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Paul is Jewish. Atwin on Twitter criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. A senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament were anti-Semitic.
The Greens had appeared to be well-positioned going into this year’s election, as most Canadians indicated that fighting climate change was one of their priority issues. But Liberals and the left-leaning New Democrats promoted their own climate plans and capitalized on the sense of chaos within the party.
Paul said during the campaign that she had thought several times about quitting, but wanted to stay and fight for important causes. Paul was the second person of color to head a federal party in Canada after Jagmeet Singh took over the left-leaning New Democrats in 2017.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Will Dunham)
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