Stop Saying, “When They Go Low, We Go High”


By Kaivan Shroff

I love Michelle Obama. I loved when the room went silent at Clinton headquarters as we all listened to her now famous speech. With her usual charm, Mrs. Obama managed to condemn the crude rhetoric and questionable tactics of certain actors, while imploring progressives to continue to slow work of advocacy and civic engagement.

To educate, not name call. To go to the polls, not hate rallies. To stick to the truth, not tweet lies.

Yes, who among the educated elite could disagree? Obama had set America on an imperfect, but impressively progressive, track. Hillary was going to be president. There was work to do, but we would get it done – the classy way, with our heads held high.  We would persist in passing liberal legislation, invest in education, ensure equal rights for all Americans, and work to keep undocumented Americans safe. We played the game by the rules – and we we’re supposed to win.

The problem with Michelle Obama’s call, “when they go low, we go high” is that Hillary lost. Not only did the other side not play by the rules during the election, they now have the power to write them. If their nominee for a stolen Supreme Court seat can’t get the requisite 60 Senate votes for confirmation, the Trump and the Republicans use the nuclear option, destroying precedent and undermining our democracy. If Kellyanne Conway violated federal law on national TV by plugging Ivanka merchandise on Fox News, the administration says ethics rules don’t apply to her. When Trump spends millions of dollars in taxpayer funds EVERY WEEK to go golfing, nobody in power bats an eye.

The problem with the “take the high road” attitude so proudly touted by progressives is that the high road still has to lead to your destination. In 2017, we can’t promise that focusing on education, information-rich messaging and local organizing is what works and we also can’t afford to keep losing.

What if calling Trump an “orange-buffoon,” as many of my twitter friends call him, is the most effective way to get Trump supporters to turn on him?

Political Science research (Sniderman, et al.) on public opinion tells us that while high-sophistication voters are more ideological and principled in shaping their political views, low-sophistication voters rely much more simple likeability. In other words, we don’t yet know how and why each different type of voter votes. What we do know, is that progressives MUST win big in 2018.

It’s uncomfortable, but this may require some new strategies, perhaps even co-opted from the Trump movement. For example, liberal leaders not using twitter right now are FAILING their constituency. Progressives need to stop telling one another how to resist and instead we need to use every tool and strategy available, not just the pretty, sophisticated, ones. If a progressive congressperson can plug a policy on Reality TV, like Rep. Frederica Wilson does in The Real Housewives of Atlanta, that’s not beneath us – that’s a huge win where millions of viewers received an important message in an accessible way. In terms of policy, Democrats, should be exploiting every legal opportunity and anti-Trump message that they can. Don’t hold back.

There is no moral high ground when we don’t have the House, the Senate, or the Presidency. If we continue to lose, real people will continue to suffer extreme inhumanity on a daily basis.

Once we win, then we can go back to “when they go low, we go high.”

4 thoughts on “Stop Saying, “When They Go Low, We Go High”

    • I wholeheartedly disagree with you! We lose because we don’t play dirty. We play nice and get our teeth kicked in every time. We don’t have to cheat, but we don’t have to play fair either. Cheating and playing dirty are two different things. If you are in a fight and your opponent is kick boxing, you don’t box by Marcus of Queensbury rules, you pick up a folding chairs and you block his kick with it. Makes him think twice about cheating. And you score one for the good guys.

      Our country is on the line and expeditions aren’t cutting it anymore. Town halls and phone calls aren’t either. If they want to steal more of our country, we need a burger alarm and a baseball bat. Or better yet a gun. If they are gonna cheat I’m gonna fight dirty.


  1. I’ve always resisted getting down and dirty with the opposition. I don’t want to become the thing I despise. Yet, your argument is compelling. How can we win playing by gentlemen’s rules when the other side are oafs? If we always act like we have in the past, Democrats are going to keep getting the same results. I’m tired of losing. Pay attention to @georgelakoff Professor Lakoff knows brain science. He has insights on how to reach folks on the right. Once we learn to use language that resonates with them, we can perhaps start winning again.

    Liked by 1 person

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