Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Democrats have a failure to communicate

Democrats have a failure to communicate


It’s only a matter of weeks until the presidential election year of 2024 begins, and many Democrats across the country are starting to panic as more than a few public opinion surveys have shown that President Joe Biden trails the criminal ex-president Donald Trump. Even more concerningly, there have been polls showing that even though Trump sent armed militia members to invade the Capitol and attempt to kill then-vice president Mike Pence, many Americans think that Democrats are more extreme than Republicans.

Many of the more centrist or conservative Democrats are telling Biden to stop supporting transgender rights or to explicitly disown racial justice advocates in the hopes that doing so will make Americans think he is acceptably moderate. Other people are telling Biden to use public opinion surveys to come up with the “perfect message” that will somehow be able to resonate with everyone.

One thing that pretty much all of them miss is that in the social media age, quantity matters more than quality. You can have a perfect message, but if it’s shouted down by right-wing lies and bluster, it won’t matter because no one will ever hear it.

In this episode, Matthew is joined by Parker Molloy to discuss. She’s the creator of the blog The Present Age, and is a former editor-at-large for Media Matters of America.

The video of the conversation is available. The transcript of the edited audio follows.

Membership Benefits

This is a free episode of Theory of Change. But in order to keep the show sustainable, the full audio, video, and transcript for some episodes are available to subscribers only. The deep conversations we bring you about politics, religion, technology, and media take great time and care to produce. Your subscriptions make Theory of Change possible and we’re very grateful for your help.

Please join today to get full access with Patreon or Substack.

If you would like to support the show but don’t want to subscribe, you can also send one-time donations via PayPal.

If you're not able to support financially, please help us by subscribing and/or leaving a nice review on Apple Podcasts. Doing this helps other people find Theory of Change and our great guests. You can also subscribe to the show on YouTube.

About the Show

Theory of Change is hosted by Matthew Sheffield about larger trends and intersections of politics, religion, media, and technology. It's part of the Flux network, a new content community of podcasters and writers. Please visit us at flux.community to learn more and to tell us about what you're doing. We're constantly growing and learning from the great people we meet.

Theory of Change on Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheoryChange

Matthew Sheffield on Social Media

Mastodon: https://mastodon.social/@mattsheffield

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mattsheffield

Bluesky: https://bsky.app/profile/matthew.flux.community

Threads: https://www.threads.net/@realmattsheffield

Guest Info




Audio Transcript

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Joining me today to talk about this scenario is the first-ever repeat guest on Theory of Change, Parker Malloy. She is the proprietor and author behind The Present Age, which is a blog you should definitely subscribe to. Thanks for being here.

PARKER MOLLOY: Thanks so much for having me. It’s good to be the first repeat guest.

SHEFFIELD: All right. Well, so the Democratic Party, right now, it’s in a bit of a crisis as the polling has been not so great for Joe Biden relative to Donald Trump. And I wanted to talk about it in that context. Lately we’ve been hearing from a bunch of people saying that the public thinks that the Democratic Party is extreme on, especially on social issues. Whether that be something like racial injustice or trans rights or teaching about alternative family structures in schools and things like that.

And I have to say it’s kind of baffling to hear. Because [00:04:00] it’s not supported by the data at all, especially given the 2023 elections where so many of these far-right Christian supremacist people went down hard. I guess it’s not a surprise to you though. You’ve been around the block a few times.

MOLLOY: Right. One thing about this, that the reason behind that in my opinion, is that on social issues, on these sorts of culture war issues — like trans issues especially I think part of the issue is that Republicans go on offense on that a lot, where they, go out there and they say: ‘Look at the Democrats who have this this crazy over the top view. Here’s what the Democrats believe. They want to put boys in your bathrooms. They want men to win women’s sports.’

They say all of these things, and they tell you what Democrats believe, even though that is not at all how Democrats would frame their [00:05:00] beliefs or talk about their beliefs. But because (Democrats) are so afraid of sounding extreme, they just kind of cede the ground to Republicans to set the public opinion themselves.

So in a lot of cases, Democrats seem to think that they can just not talk about trans issues. Or that they can not talk about abortion and that will be good enough. Because it will get, people will focus on the important things or the financial issues, the kitchen table issues, but these are all important things.

These are all important policies. And when you don’t go on offense, which, with the exception of the 2022 election, Democrats tend to not go on offense when it comes to abortion. When you won’t go on offense, you let them set the terms of the debate.

So Republicans will go out there. And they will say Democrats want you to be able to murder babies up until 30 days after they’re born. Democrats want these partial birth [00:06:00] abortions and all of these things, over and over.

And the same kind of stuff happens with trans issues. And because Democrats aren’t out there saying what they believe in and making a proactive case, which in on both abortion and LGBT issues, it comes down to the same exact thing where people should be able to make their own decisions about their own lives. Whether it’s their healthcare, whether it’s who they want to get married to, whether it’s who they are. People need to have the freedom to choose the right path for them and to take whatever action they believe they need to take.

And that’s a reasonable point of view. But if instead of doing that, you let Republicans frame it as look at these baby killers and they want LeBron to dominate the WNBA. It makes no sense to allow your views, which are reasonable and [00:07:00] actually fairly conservative in a small government kind of way, if you do that. Like, why would you allow them to set the terms there?

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and the other thing about this approach is that they suppose that the right wing will ease off if you just stop talking about this stuff.

Like you look at the ideas about reforming police systems or training like that. So that was branded by a handful of far left people as "defund the police." Completely eliminate police departments and reconstitute them. That was never a policy that was embraced by the Democratic Party.

And in fact, they explicitly, Joe Biden in speeches, explicitly said he wants to fund the police. And so, here you have a scenario where the party itself from the top explicitly went in the strategy that they’re saying they want to do with regard to trans people or [00:08:00] race or abortion and it didn’t work.

The right is still saying that every Democrat wants to defund the police. So it’s not about how you frame stuff. And I guess maybe this is something that people who have always been on the left, it’s harder for them to understand. So maybe you can tell me, but as somebody who was on the right, what I realize is that there’s a fixation in the establishment Democratic party to find the perfect message. And if we can just make a thousand polls, we’ll come up with just the right phrasing and issues. And it’s like, that doesn’t actually matter. The message matters less than how often people hear it. Quantity matters more than quality. And they don’t understand that I feel like.

MOLLOY: Yeah, I mean, obviously, you want to have something that sounds good, that sounds uncontroversial, but, yeah, you have a great point. I mean, the advantage the right [00:09:00] has is in its approach to media generally.

I mean, Fox News can —

SHEFFIELD: And advocacy, yeah.

MOLLOY: Yeah, media and advocacy. Back when I worked at Media Matters, it was right after the Green New Deal was announced, right after it was introduced. It was just a seven-page promise to take climate change seriously. It was non-binding. There was nothing really to it, but Republicans and specifically Republicans on Fox News were talking about how, oh, if this passes, it would ban train travel. There, there would need to be trains that go to Hawaii and it would ban airplanes. And cows would, you would be forced to become a vegetarian and eat bugs. And all of this stuff where it was just so much nonsense.

It’s hard to beat, but months later, polling on the Green New Deal was horrible, especially for people who got their news from Fox or Breitbart or other right wing out outlets.

And [00:10:00] there’s just nothing on the left that can really compete with that. And I think that there are a lot of people in denial about the importance of being able to compete in the media world. Fox is there. There is no left wing Fox. Mehdi Hassan just got his show canceled on NBC. And Michael Steele, the former Republican party chair, he’s going to host his show now. He’s getting his own, like he and three other people are now going to host a round table type show. There is no left wing Fox News, as much as people like to pretend that there is.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, not only is there no left wing Fox, but there’s also like five other right wing networks on top of Fox. So you’ve got Newsmax, you’ve got News Nation, you’ve got OAN, you’ve got Real America’s Voice, and apparently there’s some new one that started up whose name I don’t recall right now. But yeah, they just keep coming because they understand that you have [00:11:00] to get the message out, and you have to talk to people where they are.

There is something to polling analysis about how the Democratic party has to some degree become sort of out of touch with maybe, less educated or nonpolitical obsessives. I think there is something to that, but it’s more about how do they understand how to talk about things, not about what their ideas are.

So like if you look at Joe Biden’s actual policy programs, he has, he literally has been, check the box on almost every economically progressive idea short of, universal healthcare. He expanded Obamacare, he had, for a long time until Joe Manchin made him get rid of it, expanded the child tax credit, he forgave lots of student loan debt, he pushed forward an immense amount of infrastructure spending and environmental, boosting electric cars and things like that.

Like from an economic standpoint, he did everything that they told him to [00:12:00] do. And it hasn’t worked. And they don’t want to accept that and realize that that impact has happened.

MOLLOY: Yeah. And I think that part of that has to do with not wanting to accept that people aren’t as plugged in to politics as, as people who are super plugged into politics seem to think everyone is as plugged in.

Because most people don’t keep up with the individual things that pass, that get implemented, the small policies here and there, most people don’t know that stuff.

Every once in a while, I’ll see some interview where someone will say — there was a woman I think was interviewed by the New York Times recently, who said that she was thinking of voting for Trump because she supports abortion. And it was something where the interviewer had to be like, well, Trump’s actually on the opposite side of this, but her take was that Roe was overturned and Biden was president. That’s what she knew. That’s what people know.

And it’s really difficult to just hope that people notice that you’re doing good work, [00:13:00] especially when your opponents are going to be out there with a massive media and advocacy apparatus telling people that you’re evil and that every problem in the country is because of your policies.

They never specify, no one ever says why they think Biden’s policies cause gas to go up or inflation. It’s just Joe Biden is president, inflation is bad. You should punish him for that.

It’s not about policy. There’s no way to just magically fix the problem by changing his stance on anything. It’s never been about policy.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, and especially it isn’t for a lot of people because they just don’t understand what the policy is. And you constantly see Democrats on any available platform saying that: ‘Oh, people don’t give Joe Biden the credit for doing X, Y, or Z.’ And they don’t, because guess what? It is not the responsibility of the mainstream media to do that. Whose responsibility [00:14:00] is that? It’s the Democrats’ responsibility.


SHEFFIELD: It is the left wing’s responsibility. And until you understand that — they just keep getting frustrated over and over. It is what I call the myopia of intelligence.

Because you have mapped out something and the reason for something being, five or six levels deep, and this is why something happened and why, what in my response to it is this and that, and you’ve got it all mapped out. And then you ask somebody else, well, why did this thing happen? Oh, because I didn’t like it.

And that’s how politics works as well. People, they don’t operate at the same level, and you should stop assuming that they do. And this is a paradigm that repeats over and over, especially with Donald Trump, who really does understand this sort of more basic level of communication so much better than Democrats or even other Republicans do.

MOLLOY: Yeah, I mean, he’s, he’s able to connect with people who are receptive to his message. [00:15:00] I mean, I feel like he understands it and that it’s just kind of his natural, his natural place with that. But you know, people are really bad with cause and effect generally.

 Especially when we’re talking about things like gas prices or inflation. I mean do people know, oh, well the Fed raised interest rates and that affects like.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, or do they know about inflation in other countries and how it’s higher than here?

MOLLOY: Yeah, and that’s something that, I know that this gets talked about on social media, on Twitter a lot, oh, is the economy good? Is the economy bad? And really, it’s a question of is the economy good compared to other countries. It’s kind of good relative to the rest of the world because the pandemic was going to cause some chaos, going to wreak some havoc. And it did. And trying to recover from that is, is a challenge that every single country on the planet had to deal with and has to deal with.

And it seems like the U S is doing [00:16:00] relatively well compared to other countries when it comes to employment or inflation, but people just, people see prices go up on something, and they think ‘This is bad. I don’t like this. That’s too expensive. It shouldn’t be that expensive.’

And there’s no consideration about whether it’s worse than other countries or not, because it affects them personally. They don’t know about that. And they don’t know about it. And even if they did, you wouldn’t blame them for going: ‘So what, it’s still too expensive for me. This is still making me feel bad about how things are. This is limiting what I can purchase. You can tell me it’s a good economy, but it’s still costing me more to get less and that’s frustrating.’

And I can, I understand people who have that.

SHEFFIELD: And that’s the reality that they live in.

MOLLOY: Yeah. Right. And I understand people getting frustrated about that sort of messaging because really, it’s not a question of should Joe Biden be praised for inflation only being [00:17:00] whatever, and it’s less that and more.

SHEFFIELD: That’s a terrible message.

MOLLOY: Yeah. Do you think that there are policy changes that could be made that would have resulted in a better outcome? And that I don’t know that the answer is yes. I’m not there’s nothing obvious. It’s not like —

SHEFFIELD: Well, actually, I think there are a few things he could do, but it’s interesting that they refuse to even entertain it. So gas prices, fundamentally, are kind of the core vulnerability here that Biden is facing.

And it is true that they’ve been going down. But Biden could actually lower the federal gas tax. And that actually would drastically lower people’s costs if he did that. So that’s one thing he could do. And another thing that he could do also, but this is heresy.

It’s interesting what’s heresy to Democratic elites. Throwing trans people or black people under the bus, that’s okay. But saying, [00:18:00] hey, you know what, maybe we should have more American oil production in wells that already exist. It already exists instead of outsourcing our oil to Russia and Saudi Arabia, maybe we should have some more ethical oil in this country to take the pressure off of our foreign reliance.

No one even talks about that. And yet that would be something that would be a dramatic improvement for people if they had done that.

MOLLOY: Well, and also, I mean, energy production under Biden has been up, it’s just, those are the things that Democrats, when they do them, when they make those accomplishments, those are not typically the things they brag about, because when they do, you do have Democratic voters going, well, wait, why is more oil better? Why is more natural gas better than the alternative? So like, I think that there’s a real reluctance to hype up those sorts of [00:19:00] accomplishments. Because it can backfire with a certain portion of the base.

SHEFFIELD: That is why they do that, but it is interesting what they choose to not do so. And Biden, to his credit, has not done what a lot of these people have told him to do with regard to social controversies by the right wing. Not by and large, but it’s interesting that there isn’t anybody out there saying: ‘Look, when you look at polls, the gas prices are what people care about. And that they drive inflation and so therefore you should do this.’

Like this is something that would directly impact his vulnerability. And the right wing is not going to shut up about racial justice advocates. They’re not going to shut up about trans people. They’re not going to shut up about any of these things regardless of what you say about them. ‘You’re a communist, radical Marxist trying to make everyone into a lesbian, transgender person.’ That’s [00:20:00] what they’re going to say, regardless of what you do.

So you should take advantage of something that people could see themselves and actually that you had done it. They would know that you did.

MOLLOY: Oh yeah. Well, absolutely. And one benefit that, or one huge advantage that Republicans have on this sort of stuff is the ability to, as you mentioned with defund the police where it’s like, make that the Democrats’ view on everything, to take the words of a few individuals, a few activists, a small handful of people, and to say, ‘this is what Democrats believe,’ even though they were all saying, I do not believe this.

Democrats still got labeled as the defund the police party, and that happens so often, where Republicans are able to successfully weaponize the voices of, they’ll find someone saying something ridiculous and they’ll make that, they’ll point to that person and say, that is the [00:21:00] left, that is the left. And that is what they all believe. And you should let that, that, that taint how you view them from here on out.

And that is, it’s frustrating because there’s not something similar on the left when it comes to the right. And there’s not the kind of overflow of, if someone on the right.

If somebody has an event at a school canceled because of protests, they’re going to get on Fox and Friends the next day. And then they’re going to get invited back for Hannity. And then they’re going to become a big figure in right wing media.

That is just something that happens. If someone on the left has a speech of theirs canceled, has an event of theirs shut down, they’re not getting invited on Morning Joe the next day.

And even if they were somehow, there wouldn’t be the same kind of: ‘Oh, you poor victim’ kind of approach to it.

There’s just no springboard into this broader [00:22:00] public consciousness that the left can use the way the right does. And I think that it’s really helpful for them.

Because people judge Democrats for things that activists say. People seem not to judge Republicans for the things that elected Republicans themselves say. There’s this perception that there was an activist who said, "defund the police" and therefore that’s the Democratic Party’s view. But then you have a bunch of Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene saying all sorts of wild nonsense, and no one goes, well, that’s what all Republicans believe.

It’s just not, it just doesn’t happen that way. And it’s got to be frustrating.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and it is, I have to say it is, as somebody who moved from the right to the left, it is astonishing to me how little that people in the left have learned from the explosion of right wing media.

There are a few halting attempts at creating advocacy [00:23:00] center left media, but the donors seem to think: ‘Well, we only want to have one of each of these things, one. And everybody will read that one website.’

And it’s like, no, they will not number one. And they have this idea, with regard to pushing some interesting talking point or message or something, they’ll say, oh, well, I got a, an op-ed in the New York Times, so my job’s done. Or I helped inject messages into an Atlantic cover story, the job’s done.

 Most people, even people who read those publications, most of them didn’t see that story. The readers of those publications did not see that story, let alone everybody else. And it is incredible to me that they don’t understand that. The paradox is that the right and the left seem to have about the same amount of money. It’s just that the right spends it so much more efficiently and so [00:24:00] much more in a sustainable way. They’ve created an ecosystem that is self-perpetuating from top to bottom.

In software development, we call it this idea of the "full stack" that you’re building an application one upon another upon another, and they all function together as a really complex system that doesn’t really exist on the left.

So like on the right, they’ve got talent development and student outreach organizations like Turning Point USA and Leadership Institute and a whole bunch of these things. Then they’ve got organizations dedicated solely to being jobs, banks and career development organizations where you can go to them and say, hey, I need a job and I know how to do these things. Can you help me? And they say, yes, let me send your resume out to people and help you get a job.

And then on top of that, they’ve got multiple PR firms that are constantly trolling the organic right wing media ecosystem [00:25:00] for stories and people and personalities and pulling them up from obscurity, like Joe the Plumber. I mean, just a variety of these people that are just random individuals and they have been elevated by this structure that deliberately seeks to do that.

Candace Owens was just a random YouTuber who was posting racist videos of people at construction sites. That’s what she was doing. And she was plucked from obscurity by somebody who said: ‘Hey, this is somebody who has potential as an advocate for us.’

And then on top of that, they’ve got multiple layers of advocacy media who all interact with each other and are constantly stealing stories from each other.

And then on top of that, they’ve got the pollsters and the consultants who are always listening through this full stack to what are messages that people like and how can we get our base excited about stuff.

And that’s why they so quickly, like this Moms for Liberty group just came out of f*****g nowhere and [00:26:00] became a massive multimillion dollar organization with tons of institutional support. Because they understand that you have to work together. And when you do, not only do you, are you able to get what you want, but you’re also able to grow the ecosystem.

So having multiple, propaganda channels for them is helpful. It’s not hurtful to them because all of these people get money from each other and share their audiences, cross pollinate. I mean, it’s just incredible what they’ve done, and how no one with money on the left has said: ‘Hey, maybe these people actually know some stuff. Maybe we should look at what they’ve done. They don’t.’

It’s incredible.

MOLLOY: Yeah. I mean, no argument from me on that.

SHEFFIELD: Okay. I guess I did go on at extended length there a bit.

MOLLOY: No, I mean, you made the point perfectly though. They really have all of these built-in advantages and [00:27:00] I wish I knew more of what the left could do, because obviously, I find the ideas pushed on the right horrible, especially when it’s stuff about trans people that affects me personally. So it is frustrating.

It’s very frustrating from the outside as someone who’s kind of worked on the periphery of this, a little bit when it comes to working at Media Matters, for instance.

When I was there, it’s like that is kind of a small little example of what could be if you had a bunch of organizations like that. If you had investments into these like the right has investments into. You’ve got Ben Shapiro’s show Ben Shapiro’s Daily Wire going out there and making full-on movies and cartoons now. And there’s no one on the left with that much money to play with and make their own content like that, that is just so nakedly propagandistic.

Because it’s not like the [00:28:00] Daily Wire made Lady Ballers as a genuine ‘let’s try to make a big profit’ kind of thing. No, they made it because it’s propaganda.

And most of the time when people make movies where it’s like: ‘Oh yeah, we’re making a joke out of a certain group of people,’ they’ll kind of be like, ‘well, I don’t mean it that way. It’s obviously it’s all in good fun.’

But no, after they announced that movie and after that movie came out, you had every Daily Wire person being like, yes, trans people are evil and shouldn’t exist, they’re like, that was the point of our movie to convince people of this, to make you think that they’re ridiculous.

And it’s the exact kind of stuff that they claim that Disney is doing. They claim that all these other places are doing, and that’s how they justify it too.

They go: ‘No, no, no, we’re not trying to indoctrinate people. We’re not trying to brainwash them. We’re just taking what the left is doing and we’re giving them a taste of their own medicine.’

But the whole idea that this is something that the left is already doing is nonsense. [00:29:00] And there’s also this idea that trans people on college campuses never get harassed or given a hard time. People are like, oh, you, people care more about getting the wrong, getting the pronouns of people right rather than making sure that some students can feel safe or whatever like that.

Like all these things come up. And no, the truth is that colleges and employers and institutions generally don’t care about anti trans discrimination. They’re more than happy to throw trans people under the bus whenever.

I mean, you had Dylan Mulvaney, a trans influencer, Bud Light sent her one can of beer with her face on it to do one ad on her Instagram channel to her own audience, not a wider audience, and conservatives still will yell about that and be like, Bud Light went woke because they decided to advertise to one influencer’s fans, existing fans, and it’s not [00:30:00] like she was

SHEFFIELD: Which they do with like a hundred other people.

MOLLOY: Yeah, exactly. It’s not like she was the only one. They do all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds with all sorts of followings. That’s the whole point of advertising. But no, they made it seem like, oh, well, Bud Light did a big national campaign, and they were putting her face on all the beer. And it became this big story.

And that really frustrates me is this idea that trans people have it super good right now. ‘Oh, trans people, we can’t even say anything about you. We have to tell you that you’re stunning and brave.’ Which stunning and brave is a line from South Park, the episode where they made fun of Caitlyn Jenner. And they’ve just been repeating it ever since.

And Caitlyn Jenner’s a terrible person, horrible person, total monster. But it’s so annoying that that gets brought up, where it’s like, no, trans people always get dumped on by society as a whole.

SHEFFIELD: And without repercussion either.

MOLLOY: Yeah. Well, exactly.

SHEFFIELD: Like Dave Chappelle. That seems to [00:31:00] be the centerpiece of his act now. And now he’s posing for pictures with Lauren Boebert.


SHEFFIELD: Like this guy is as far from canceled as you could possibly be.

MOLLOY: Yeah. Well, and that’s, what’s kind of been really shocking to watch happen. There are things that if you say them that they will get you more or less pushed out of public life.

Some of these things, absolutely, you can definitely see that, I mean, you had Kanye West going out there and praising Hitler. And people pretty fully were like, no, you have to go away now. You are not going to be part of everything happening here. And he tries to do his comeback and all that stuff.

I think it’s good that there are some things that if you say people will go: ‘That’s not cool. That’s not okay.’ And what Kanye did is a great example of it, [00:32:00] but there was that congressional hearing about antisemitism on college campuses. And it’s so bizarre to watch people who’ve spent the past decade making arguments against snowflakes and safe spaces and words are violence, like all of these things just nonstop ‘there should be open debate, there needs to be free speech and open debate’ and all of this stuff.

And then this hearing happens where they’re debating slogans and chants for students who are supporting Palestine against Israel. It’s weird to see the same people who justified anti trans bullying and white supremacist bullying of people of color just now being like, no, you can’t, people have a right to feel safe on campus, to not be bothered by others around them for their views, to be protected, to have a safe space [00:33:00] essentially.

The people pushing that most, lots of Republicans in Congress, they don’t care about this. And they don’t mean to extend all of this stuff wider.

When the president of the University of Pennsylvania responded to the backlash, she said something along the lines of how maybe the school needs to have a more restrictive speech culture, and the people who were mad at her for not categorically saying that calls of Intifada were genocidal, for not saying that the mentions of that would get someone banned from campus — just flip right back to, no, you, you can’t have a more restrictive part on campus. We just want you to treat, all instances of hate the same.

And the truth is that they have a very, very warped view of what actually happens on campus. They believe that trans people are [00:34:00] protected, that trans people never get bothered. They believe that black students never get harassed. That they don’t have to deal with racism. But the truth is that both of those things happen. Especially, I mean, at the University of Pennsylvania. You there’s a professor there who is notorious for saying super racist things who for years has been protected by the right as some free speech martyr. And she has not lost her job for that.

And it seemed odd watching the other day as people were mad that Harvard and Penn and MIT or whatever, that they didn’t do a complete 180 on that, on speech.

They’re doing what the right has been pushing them to do for years. And now the right is saying no, do the opposite. We would like safe spaces, just not for them, not for trans people, not for people of color, just for Republicans.

SHEFFIELD: It’s not even about stopping anti Semitism at large, [00:35:00] because you can see that. I mean, Elon Musk has made very clear like what his priorities are.

MOLLOY: Yeah. I mean, Elise Stefanik, she had promoted the "great replacement" conspiracy theory. But she’s the big champion against antisemitism? No, it’s hard to take people seriously where they’re constantly flip flopping on what they say in public.

And I found a lot of that — this is maybe just a tiny bit off subject — but I saw a lot of that in the way that people responded to the Grand Theft Auto 6 trailer coming out. You had people going — people who had for years been railing against censorship and complaining about not having free speech to say everything they want and to being shamed into self-censorship, criticizing any form of criticism as stifling their expression- then seeing the Grand Theft Auto VI trailer and going: ‘Oh, this needs to be banned. This needs to be banned.’

SHEFFIELD: For those who don’t [00:36:00] know about it yet. What was that?

MOLLOY: Oh yeah. So, Grand Theft Auto famously has violence and sex and in the early 2000s, efforts to ban and crack down on violent video games were, massive. There was a huge one.

And so the latest iteration of this game is going to come out in 2025 and the trailer for it dropped, and you can see in the trailer that it’s going to have a lot of the same, it’s going to have sexual content, it’s going to have violence. The game is marketed to adults. It’s rated M, which is their mature rating, meaning that they can only be sold to people over 18.

And so you’ve got that, but then the response from a weird number of people on social media was: ‘Oh, this needs to be banned.’

Elon Musk was jumping in there being like, I don’t like, I tried to play Grand Theft Auto V, and I didn’t like it because it made you shoot at the police. Now [00:37:00] he’s like, I had to shut it off.

And that’s the very first scene in that game that he’s describing.

And someone else was like, oh yeah, I don’t like committing crimes in games. And he’s talking, he’s like, no, I, oh, I don’t, violence, no but it’s so strange to watch people just flip back and forth on things.

Oh, things are too restrictive. Oh, things are, this, this goes too far, it needs to be restricted.

That sort of argument that goes back and forth and it plays out on college campuses, and it plays out on Twitter all the time. You get guys like Andrew Tate, for instance, who is a big influencer when it comes to influencing teenage boys and talking about getting all the women and treating women terrible and all that stuff.

But then he’ll post something that’s all very nationalist, the [00:38:00] traditional return kind of content, where it’s like: ‘Oh, you, should have a wife that is modest.’ All of that stuff. You see that happen all the time online and people just don’t seem to get that these things are kind of incompatible with each other, and it makes me believe a lot of people don’t believe anything at all.

SHEFFIELD: And you’re right about that because the core difficulty that I think the center left has in responding to the right is that there is a difference between conservatism and reactionism. They’re not the same thing.

And in American politics, for 50 years, reactionism has stolen the identity of conservatism. And people treat them as if they’re the same thing, but they’re not.

And reactionism is an ideology entirely of identity and power. It has no consistency. It has no long term goals. The only thing that it wants is the groups [00:39:00] that we like need to rule. And that’s it. Everything else is fungible.

So who the groups are is fungible. What type of political structure you can have, where they’re democratic or monarchical or anything in between is fungible. The specific politicians are fungible. Even the policy positions, like whether you’re pro-environment or you’re pro-choice or, or even, pro allowing non heteronormative sexual identities is also even fungible.

And like you see that especially with the early alt right, which was welcoming of homosexuality, and many of the leaders were gay or bisexual.

But it’s only about identity. And I think a lot of people on the left, they don’t quite understand that. And that’s why none of this makes sense. But then also, it is a politics of nihilism. It’s a politics in which nothing matters, and just doing what you want or [00:40:00] believing what you want, that’s all that really matters.

So if I believe that God created the earth in seven days, 6,000 years ago, then it’s true. Or if I believe that science shows that whatever racist belief I have is true, then it’s true. And it doesn’t matter.

And that’s the thing, to go back to the myopia of intelligence that a lot of people who have had a sound education or have a good epistemology on the world, they think everybody else does and they don’t get that that most people aren’t paying attention, number one. And so you have to actually talk to them a lot and repeat yourself a lot, even though it’s annoying, you still have to do it.

And then number two, you actually have to go to where they are. And to what you were saying about Andrew Tate and whatnot, the right wing completely dominates YouTube. And nobody on the left, there are people on the left that are on YouTube, but they all are kind of dog eat dog with each other. They [00:41:00] don’t help each other. They don’t support each other. They don’t respond to each other. None of that.

Whereas on the right, they’re constantly having each other on their shows. They’re constantly promoting each other. And maybe some of it is just simply that people on the left rightfully understand that the public agrees with them, and it makes them lazy.

I don’t know. What do you think?

MOLLOY: It could be. I think that’s a good point. They don’t feel a threat in other words. Yeah, there’s not a sense of urgency. There’s not a sense of needing to coordinate. And to understand the need to build out, I think there, on the right, you have, yes, the dominance of right wing figures on YouTube and you have the Joe Rogan podcast, and then people go on there, become big, then they have their own shows and then people go on those shows and get big, and they build up. That’s how you have Tim Pool gets gigantic. Rogan ties all into these guys.

But yeah, one thing that worries me about the idea that where it’s just like, yes, if I believe something it’s true, [00:42:00] there’s, a real risk, I think, with that.

Because these are things – matters of fact, not opinions. You’ll have things like who won the 2020 election. And almost everyone who started spreading the election conspiracy theories absolutely knew that Trump lost, but they kept pushing it, and they kept saying it and they kept insisting that there was something wrong with that election and more people start saying they believe it and more people probably do start to believe it.

Because that’s what they stand for and that’s what they believe in their identity. They’re being told by people who are part of their in-group to believe something. And so they do. And I kind of wonder how that’s going to play out when it comes to history books in the future, not just on the election, but just generally, because it doesn’t seem like we inhabit the same reality anymore.

There’s a group of people on the right [00:43:00] who know very well that they can contest literally the most basic facts about anything by just repeating it non-stop and insisting that it’s correct. They can’t be shamed into not being like that. Even after the Dominion lawsuit with Fox, people just — Fox didn’t change. Fox is still lying about things. Fox just isn’t defaming a company.

SHEFFIELD: One company, yeah.

MOLLOY: Yeah, exactly. And really, it’s worrying because I think that a lot of people of this mindset that ‘Oh, well, all that matters is the truth. If they believe Trump won, that doesn’t affect me.’ it absolutely does.

SHEFFIELD: It does, yeah.

MOLLOY: If you can convince, if you can convince people to believe in complete nonsense, which is the exact thing that they accuse trans people of doing, they’re like, oh, you want people to pretend to see you as — no, no.

The idea that trans people are out there like, ‘you must [00:44:00] say that you see me a certain way.’ No. Trans people understand, like, no one’s denying biological sex. No one’s doing any of these things that the right says. Trans people are just like: ‘Hey, here’s who I am. Here’s how I’d like you to refer to me if you can. And yeah, let’s have everyone go about their days,’ but instead the right paints the left as employing the same tactics they use when it comes to things like saying the election was stolen or saying that they were right about COVID all along.

Guys like Elon Musk have statements saying that COVID wasn’t going to be as big of a deal as it ended up being and those people who have said that will look back on the pandemic that has killed millions of people and insist that they were right and insist that the vaccines were actually dangerous and have killed people. We’re just living in a world of nonsense.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And what you’re saying about that it affects other people. It is a really important [00:45:00] point, because you can see how this works with regard to the economy and what people think about it.

So Republicans came up with this idea that people on the left are NPCs, non-playable characters. And that they don’t have any real authentic thoughts and whatnot — that in fact, they just believe whatever people tell them.

But in fact, that is actually how Republicans work. And you can see it when you look at polling about the state of the economy. When people ask them, when pollsters ask people, how do you think the economy is right now? Or for the future, how’s it going? And when Donald Trump became the president, Republicans went from extremely low confidence in the economy to extremely high confidence in the economy.

And then it kept at record 90 percent positivity in the economy for his entire administration. It dipped slightly to like 70 percent in the height of the worst part of the pandemic. 70 percent of Republicans said it was great. The economy was fantastic. And then when Biden became the [00:46:00] president, their sentiment went from 70 percent positive and Biden hadn’t done literally anything, passed a goddamn thing, it went down to like 10 percent or 5 percent in the state of the economy, and it has hovered there regardless of what’s happened.

 People can make fun of that, and it is absurd, but here’s the problem and why this is much more serious than that, is that when you have Republicans who are totally brainwashed NPCs about the state of the economy, their pessimism infects other people. So that people who don’t know much about stuff, they’re sort of apolitical or vaguely centrist or whatever they are, they’re not paying attention and their Republican friends and neighbors are like: ‘Oh my God, the economy’s horrible. We’re all going to die from the illegal immigrant transsexuals.’ They may not believe it entirely. But they believe some of it.

And so that’s why, despite the fact that we do have record low unemployment, [00:47:00] despite the fact that there are so many economic indicators that are positive, so many Americans, not just Republicans, they have been sort of brainwashed by osmosis, by right wing propaganda, and that is why this matters.

Even if you think Ben Shapiro is a ridiculous loser and Steven Crowder is a hypocritical in the closet gay guy, that’s all true. I’ll agree with you that that’s all true. But what they say still matters, even though they’re absurd.

MOLLOY: Yeah, God. I 100 percent agree.

SHEFFIELD: And I guess since we’re recording this in the middle of December, can we wrap on you, you recently revised or revisited one of your posts about the "War on Christmas," and that’s a good way to go out, and illustrative of — again that saying of Voltaire’s, ‘people who can make you believe absurdities can make you [00:48:00] commit atrocities.’

MOLLOY: Yes. Yes. I revisited my, my history of the "War on Christmas" piece that I wrote a couple of years back. I love reading through that sort of history because it does — there is such a clear line between the propaganda of the World War I, World War II era, kind of going straight through to today, when it comes to, when it comes to Fox. I mean, Fox or any number of other outlets on the right.

The War on Christmas, so it’s always been the same. You had Henry Ford’s newspaper back in the 1920s publishing things saying: ‘Well, I couldn’t find a Christmas card that said anything about baby Jesus’s birth last time I went to the store.’ And it’s the same complaints. It’s the same, ‘someone said happy holidays to me, and that made me feel sad because it didn’t recognize my personal religious holiday.’

That’s that sort of thing that just kind of pops up. And it’s all a distraction from [00:49:00] bigger real issues. Donald Trump promised during his campaign that if he became president in 2016, if he became president, that every store was going to be saying, Merry Christmas again. And that was a nonsense promise. Somehow for some reason, PolitiFact gave him a “promise kept” on that because he never personally said happy holidays. And it’s like, no, you’re supposed to be super literal here, PolitiFact.

But yeah, the war on Christmas piece is one of my favorites that I’ve done. And it’s because I love doing deep dives into old history. So I don’t have to feel like now is as terrible as it maybe is. I can look back and be like, ah, things have always been awful.

SHEFFIELD: But it’s also that, it’s important in the sense that this is a nonpartisan, non-policy issue — or issue, quote unquote, or controversy — and hopefully people are able to see that propaganda actually, it matters. And [00:50:00] it’s absurd and it’s stupid, but people believe it. And you need to act accordingly.

MOLLOY: Yes. Absolutely.


MOLLOY: Thanks so much.

SHEFFIELD: Alright, well we’ll leave it there. And so if people want to keep up with you, should they just go to your website or —

MOLLOY: Yeah, yeah. So go subscribe to my newsletter people, www.readtpa.com.

SHEFFIELD: All righty. Yes, please do that. All right.

MOLLOY: All right.

SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here, Parker.

MOLLOY: All right. Thank you. Bye.

SHEFFIELD: So that is the program for today. I appreciate everybody for joining us for the conversation, and you can always get more if you go to theoryofchange.show. You can get the archives with video, audio, and transcript of every episode, and if you’re a paid subscribing member, thank you very much for that.

Couldn’t do it without you and you have complete access to all the archives and all the episodes if you go there. And then you can go to the flux.community website. Theory of [00:51:00] Change is part of the Flux media network, and you can get more podcasts about politics, media, religion, and society and how they all intersect.

Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.