Liberal Schadenfreude Is Out of Control
Why gloating after the election is nastier than ever.
When George Bush won re-election in 2004, I felt like the world was going to end. I called my parents that night, crying about how devastating this was for the country. The next day, my dear friend and I were driving outside campus, nearly hysterical over the results. She ran a stop sign on the side of a school bus sign neither of us saw through our tears and got a $200 traffic ticket. I had just turned 21. My vote for Kerry was the first I’d ever cast, and boy did losing hurt. But there was no one to around to rub my face in my own misery. In order to do that, someone would have had to call or email me or come up to my red-rimmed eyes and laugh in my face. Given that my immediate family is liberal, modern social media was in its infancy, and I went to a strongly left-leaning college, nothing like this happened. My friends and I consoled each other and moved on, and I never had the experience of anyone reveling in my despair.
Eight years later, how the world has changed. When the TV networks declared that Obama won his second term, I whooped with glee, did a little dance and posted a few social media updates including, “Proud to be an American tonight. 4 MORE YEARS.” I was so incredibly happy.
As the recaps and analyses rolled in, I was not above enjoying articles about Karl Rove’s Fox News on-air meltdowns and Donald Trump’s over-the-top Twitter feed.
But I began to notice, both in media coverage and in social media networks, that Obama supporters were not just thrilled that our guy won—folks were insanely, morbidly happy that all Republicans were miserable. And they weren’t just picking on easy and legitimate punching bags like Karl Rove and Donald Trump. Lindy West of Jezebel wrote a blog post entitled “My Ten Favorite Kinds of Right Wing Temper Tantrums” in which she proudly declared, “I am just 99 percent completely fucking delighted by every single weepy right-wing temper tantrum. I can't stop hate-reading. I can't stop.” A blogger for The Daily Kos wrote, “So please know, my fervid conservative friends, that I am temporarily suspending the empathic sensibility that generally informs most of us on the left. I am not laughing with you, in other words, since you seem capable of neither doubt nor self-deprecation. I am laughing at you. You are welcome to join me.” Someone created a Tumblr called White People Mourning Romney. It isn’t particularly interesting or clever, unless you just like photos of your fellow Americans crying or looking disappointed, but people sent in dozens of submissions. Judging by the number of delighted notes on each post, these photos fill many liberal hearts with glee. Mary Elizabeth Williams from Salon concludes it’s OK to meanly gloat because we New Yorkers need a reason to be happy after having such a tough time with Sandy.
Twitter and Facebook have become cesspools of schadenfreude. I’d like to think that most people wouldn’t dare say to a friend, colleague, or relative the mean-spirited gloating hatefulness that has become common in the last few days. A sampling:
If there is one thing in this whole country that liberals and conservatives can agree on, it’s that we live in a deeply polarized, angry, divided nation. Social media seems to encourage blasting our basest feelings to everyone we know, and it’s caused some of us to totally mute our human sense of empathy. If I had logged into 2012-style Facebook and Twitter at the depths of my own political despair in 2004, I can only imagine how painful it would have been to be see strangers and friends alike basking in my pain. Frankly, I think it would have made it even harder for me to let go of my political wounds and move on. It would have just made me that much angrier.
There’s plenty I disagree with Republicans about, but they are (slightly less than) half the country. Liberals need to pipe down. Ruthlessly delighting in Republican sadness will not help bring anyone together to make the most of Obama’s second term. There’s plenty to celebrate, like this, this and this, without putting anyone down.
Katherine Goldstein is the Innovations Editor at Slate, involved in site-wide innovations related to social media, traffic, and new editorial technology.