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Current Affairs - June 17, 2021

This story about American politics is short-sighted, delusional, and dangerous. It’s short-sighted because much of what is called “wokeness,” while limited in its transformational capacity and cynically manipulated at times, is still a critically important step toward achieving justice. It’s delusional because the Democratic Party, for all its flaws, hypocrisies, and capitalist inclinations, is still preferable to the racist and extremely capitalist Republican Party. And it’s dangerous because Republicans are going to try to use this story about liberal fascism in order to try to get back into power in 2022 and 2024, and people who short-sightedly use their large platforms to push a delusional right-wing narrative are actively helping the Republican Party achieve its incredibly destructive goals. 

Journalists Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi have a long track record of work that exposes the crimes of the powerful. Both were early intellectual heroes of mine; Taibbi was one of the first writers to see through Barack Obama’s hollow rhetoric, and his reporting around the financial crisis was unmatched. His book on the killing of Eric Garner by the NYPD, I Can’t Breathe, is a superbly-written indictment of modern policing. Greenwald’s exposes on the crimes of the Bush and Obama administrations were essential reading, carefully documenting both presidents’ abuses of basic civil liberties and debunking their lies. His reporting on the corruption of the Brazilian government has been personally brave and truly important. There is a good case to be made that for his role in freeing Lula da Silva from prison and exposing the reach of the U.S. surveillance state, Glenn Greenwald is one of the most consequential reporters in the world. He has also been personally supportive of my work in a way I have appreciated deeply.

I have long respected these two writers’ intelligence. I do not think they are sinister people. But something strange has happened with them both lately, and it’s worth looking at closely, because I think it shows (1) how bad right-wing arguments successfully pose as “common sense” and can easily persuade certain people, especially those who think of themselves as logical and reasonable, and (2) how excessive disgust for liberals can create deficiencies in one’s political analysis which in turn can give rise to a fuzzy understanding of the way the world works. (A bit more uncharitably, I might say it shows how Twitter turns smart people stupid.)

Let me start with a few quotes from these two journalists that I think show the places where they have begun to diverge sharply from what I consider sensible analysis:

  • “Fox [News] is one channel that no longer represents real institutional political influence in this country anymore. The financial/educational/political elite with all the power is on the other side, and I think they’re the people to be worrying about.” — Matt Taibbi
  • “The left always thinks everyone is against them. It’s a huge persecution complex. The vast majority of digital media and increasingly mainstream media is 100% on the side of the left on cultural issues like crime policy.” — Glenn Greenwald
  • “I would be on [Fox News] every day if I didn’t say no sometimes. I just got done taping a Fox show, I’ll probably do another one on Monday. Why is that happening? It’s bizarre. You look at any article on my work and it’s ‘far leftist Glenn Greenwald’ and now I’m the most frequent guest on Tucker Carlson’s show. How did that happen? I think the reason is so many people on the left and on the right… have so much more in common in terms of their political views and their common enemies than either want to recognize…Those old labels [left and right] don’t really tell us much anymore.” — Greenwald, to Glenn Beck
  • “The American left has lost its mind. It’s become a cowardly mob of upper-class social media addicts, Twitter Robespierres who move from discipline to discipline torching reputations and jobs with breathtaking casualness.” — Taibbi
  • Watch the cultural left try to cope with the fact that not only is their Woke Ideology no threat to any power centers anywhere, but the opposite is true: those power centers love it and embrace it because of how helpful it is to them.” — Greenwald
  • “It’s just not true that most media is pro-law-and-order. Republicans are. Democrats, increasingly, aren’t. The left most definitely isn’t, neither are liberals. Liberals and the left have a very powerful position in media, arguably the dominant one outside Fox. — Greenwald
  • “The political right and left in America have traded villainous cultural pathologies. Things we once despised about the right have been amplified a thousand-fold on the flip. Conservatives once tried to legislate what went on in your bedroom; now it’s the left that obsesses over sexual codicils, not just for the bedroom but everywhere.” — Taibbi, “The Left Is Now The Right”
  • “Woke leftists are capitalists. Jamie Dimon kneeling and Nancy Pelosi in a Kente cloth scarf are perfect symbols of the union.”— Matt Taibbi
  • “Real leftist groups—Sunrise Movement, Working Families Party, DSA, JD, Squad-adjacent stuff—are very attached to many of the worst attributes of identity politics and woke ideology. I wish it were confined to neoliberalism but it’s just not true.” — Greenwald
  • “The go-to response to any criticism of mainstream politics for years has been to accuse people of being in league with the right-wing—well, congratulations, you’ve made those alliances real.” — Taibbi
  • “The CIA and the Deep State operatives became heroes of the liberal left, the people who support the Democratic Party. They are now in a full union with the neocons and the Bush Cheney operatives, the CIA, Silicon Valley, and Wall Street. That is the union of power, along with mainstream media outlets, that are fully behind the Democratic Party which is likely to at least take over one branch of government, if not all of them, in the coming election and that’s a very alarming proposition, because they are authoritarian, they believe in censorship and suppression of information that exposes them in any kind of a critical light.” — Greenwald, to Tucker Carlson, before the 2020 election
  • “The cultural left (meaning the part of the left focused on cultural issues rather than imperialism or corporatism) has become increasingly censorious, moralizing, controlling, repressive, petulant, joyless, self-victimizing, trivial and status-quo-perpetuating.” — Greenwald

I put these two men’s thoughts together because they are articulating variations on a common argument, which goes, roughly: the “woke” left are such an authoritarian threat that it makes sense to make common cause with the “populist” right. “Left,” “left liberal,” and “Democrat” are used somewhat interchangeably here, but the thrust of the argument is that Donald Trump is essentially correct about Democrats destroying the country with “woke.” There is a “villainous cultural pathology” on the left that is repressive, tyrannical, and bordering on all-powerful. Ordinary, sensible people must band together to oppose this Establishment. ...
Read full report at Current Affairs