It seems the electoral spectacle of 2016 is never going to fucking end. This interminable state of affairs has long been dragging this country even deeper into a reactionary abyss, but since the Washington Post reported the CIA claim that Russia hacked the DNC/John’s Podesta’s emails to help Trump spoil Clinton’s coronation, the liberal meltdown has really reached a fever pitch. This video of Sorkin caricature Keith Olbermann channeling all this reactionary outrage into one of the most absurd rants I’ve seen all year is a pretty perfect illustration of the liberal transition to an open embrace of their latent fascism:
Since the initial story broke, the Post also reported the FBI has signed onto this assessment as well and NBC reported Putin is personally responsible for all of it. Naturally no evidence has been presented for any of this (good analysis of that here), but the response has nonetheless been intense.
Regardless of the veracity of these claims, there’s clearly a multifaceted propaganda push (fake news, Aleppo etc) to make sure Americans see Russia as the Evil Empire once again. The reckless chauvinism dominating liberal discourse at the moment makes their repulsive apologia for Clinton during election season look almost reasonable by comparison. Now that they’ve lost to a candidate that wasn’t even really running, liberals are fully embracing their delusions of being the vanguard in an effort to protect the republic from a Russian-backed fascist coup, allying with other progressive forces like the CIA.
Crucially all this inflamed jingoism is being fanned and directed at an official enemy that happens to be a heavily armed nuclear power active in the proxy war the US and its allies are waging on Syria. And of course all this is emerging on a foundation of deep hostility towards Russia that was built up over generations during the cold war, the lasting impact of which has made this messaging very easy to deliver to people whose critical faculties have long since been eroded by the relentless propaganda assault otherwise known as “news” and “pop culture.” Things are so fucked right now that space has opened up for professional opinion havers to applaud the murder of the Russian ambassador to Turkey and for so-called anti-racists and Russia experts to tweet openly xenophobic shit like this:
But I think the award for most grotesque Russia comment of 2016 goes to CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush:
All this anti-Russian sentiment is being induced at the same time as the US makes policy decisions that increase the possibility of nuclear war. Liberals are obviously up in arms about Trump’s latest outrage calling for an expansion of the US nuclear capacity which he immediately doubled down on by welcoming the prospect of an arms race with other unnamed countries. But #TheResistance couldn’t be bothered to mention Obama’s decision “to rebuild the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal, including the warheads, and the missiles, planes and submarines that carry them” to the tune of approximately 1 trillion dollars over a thirty year period. Obama also signed a defense bill with contents likely to further escalate existing tensions:
President Obama has signed legislation that, by striking a single word from longstanding U.S. nuclear defense policy, could heighten tensions with Russia and China and launch the country on an expensive effort to build space-based defense systems.
The National Defense Authorization Act, a year-end policy bill encompassing virtually every aspect of the U.S. military, contained two provisions with potentially momentous consequences.
One struck the word “limited” from language describing the mission of the country’s homeland missile defense system. The system is designed to thwart a small-scale attack by a non-superpower such as North Korea or Iran.
A related provision calls for the Pentagon to start “research, development, test and evaluation” of space-based systems for missile defense.
Together, the provisions signal that the U.S. will seek to use advanced technology to defeat both small-scale and large-scale nuclear attacks. That could unsettle the decades-old balance of power among the major nuclear states.
Man am I going to miss that guy. As always, the liberal performative outrage has no real content other than a reflexive allegiance to power which will only work to facilitate whatever nightmares the ruling class has planned for whatever future we have left.
These developments and the mainstream response to them have been alarming, but as a radical focused on propaganda, I’m more interested in the way the imposed representatives of the margins some of us call the Celebrity Left are responding to all this. And I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find it’s not just the transparent charlatans like Olbermann who are wrapping themselves in the flag while issuing patriotic defenses of the republic. Jeremy Scahill and his colleague at The Intercept, Jon Schwartz, recently published this deeply chauvinistic plea to the state to release evidence of Russian interference in the election. The whole thing should be savored by any fellow haters of the adversarial crew, but here are some excerpts:
Here are two of political history’s great constants: first, countries meddling in the internal affairs of others (both enemies and “friends”); and, second, bogus charges from a faction in one country that foreigners are meddling in its internal affairs to help another faction.
Both are poison for any country that wishes to rule itself.
So if we’re serious about being a self-governing republic, we have to demand that President Obama declassify as much intelligence as possible that Russia may have intervened in the 2016 presidential election…
… In his Farewell Address of 1796, George Washington wrote, “Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow-citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government. But that jealousy to be useful must be impartial; else it becomes the instrument of the very influence to be avoided, instead of a defense against it.” That was good advice then, and it’s good advice now. We have to force our politicians to take it seriously.
And if it comes to pass that the U.S. government refuses to back up these serious claims with evidence, then perhaps a patriotic whistleblower will do the public an important service…
The politics expressed here should immediately disqualify anyone from maintaining a dissident reputation, much less a leadership role on “the left.” But since there are no fucking standards anymore, and “left” means whatever they say it does, this shit passes almost entirely without comment. I think the piece is interesting because it’s a window into the biases of this segment of the media class that generally works to obscure their power-serving politics in order to maintain their adversarial brands. These are clearly the words of a patriot trying to do his bit to save his country from itself or those insidious foreigners who would do it harm. For all its flaws, these people still believe in the American project. The fascist state is something to be appealed to and reformed, not abandoned or destroyed.
Scahill also argues that “our” (assume every following use of “our” quoted in the same way) elections are important and it would be a serious blow to our sovereignty if what was alleged were true. When framed this way, these calls for evidence make the case that maintaining the integrity of our elections should be a primary left concern, lest we lose our standing as a self-governing republic.
Well, as should be obvious to anyone with half a brain, we don’t live in a country with fair elections. It’s never been more obvious we really live in a dictatorship of capital managed by the most depraved people on the planet who use the spectacle of our fake election to kill the prospect of anything actually progressive from happening in this country. If we’re going to identify foreign influence or obstructions to the expression of the popular will, we can begin and end with the existence of capital, owned and wielded by the ruling class.
Regardless of this alleged Russian interference, the election has absolutely no legitimacy. Even accepting the premise here, I don’t see the problem with Russia’s ostensible transgressions. @RancidSassy puts it well here:
Now I do want to remind you that the alleged rig was done via hacking, liberation and dissemination of actual, true information about the clownishly disingenuous, war criminal Hillary Clinton. Nobody serious is actually talking about the direct hacking by Russia of the actual voting machines, just of unjust influence via enlightenment upon the lowly scum we allow into a small, usually meaningless part of our political process.
Left journalists opposing leaks on ruling class planning and strategy because it interferes with their bullshit principles and crypto-partisan politics should tell you all you need to know about whose interests they really serve. As Glenn Greenwald and Naomi Klein made clear before the election, hacking powerful political actors like John Podesta is a threat to privacy in the same way NSA spying on the rest of us is. Likewise, Scahill’s framing here implies the alleged attack on the empire’s sovereignty is comparable to its endless subversion of democracy throughout the periphery.
This tendency to completely erase power differentials while seizing victimhood from real victims perhaps reached its peak in this farcical op-ed published in the New York Times that compares the supposed attack on the integrity of our elections with the CIA coup in Chile.
I guess you can call out American hypocrisy and even offer some critical words about the CIA’s murderous history as long you favorably compare Hillary Clinton to Salvador Allende.
As a radical actually interested in radical political change, I don’t give a shit about the privacy rights of fascists, nor do I care about our election being manipulated by any other state. The intelligence agencies are almost certainly lying, but even if they aren’t, people in this country should welcome the intrusion. Not because it would be hypocritical of us as Americans to cry about interference in our elections given our history, but because disruptions of the regular operations of the ruling class is a small win for humanity.
I think it’s worth pointing out that none of this is an expression of a new politics for Scahill, it’s simply that conditions are defining what was always there (as is the case for many others). His highly visible critiques of US foreign policy have always been grounded in decidedly conservative principles that make him an ideal voice of dissent. For example, his emphasis when analyzing Obama’s assassination program is on the policies violation of the constitution, especially the rights of American victims like Anwar al-Awlaki and his son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who were both murdered by drone within the span of a few weeks in Yemen in 2011.
When it comes to imperial aggression in general, whatever weak opposition he can muster is grounded in concerns about blowback, or fear of destabilizing the region “we’re” ostensibly trying to stabilize by lighting country after country on fire over and over again. The reality is that he’s not standing against the most reactionary force in human history, he’s trying to reform it and shepherd other people down a path of similarly compromised politics based on handwringing, not principled anti-imperialism. At the end of the day, his arguments are directed at the state and effectively function as a form of imperial strategy. He’s just trying to help.
Since the election, Greenwald has been on the same grind as Scahill, as seen here on MSNBC calling for evidence of Russian interference in the election, while also attacking the neo-McCarthyism of hysterical Democrats. Howard Dean actually called The Intercept a Russian propaganda machine, which is the kind of rhetoric from the mainstream that works to reinforce the manufactured image that a news organization backed by Pierre Omidyar is comprised of dangerous outsiders speaking truth to power. But the most revealing part of the segment comes at the end when Greenwald says the following in response to the question posed by host Ari Melber:
Where do you think the Democratic party and liberals go from here?
I’m really hoping that the Democrats find their footing because there are a lot of very serious dangers that a Trump presidency poses to a lot of vulnerable populations and we need an opposition that is focused and reasoned and unified and serious about how to impede certain policy proposals that Donald Trump has suggested he will pursue that can run roughshod over basic civil liberties and the interests of lots of people. And that’s the reason why I’m hoping that Democrats stop calling everybody a Putin stooge and stop obsessing on these Russia conspiracy theories and focus on the much more proximate and immediate dangers that a Trump presidency poses.
As Michael Parenti would say, this is a liberal complaint, not a radical analysis. Like Scahill, Greenwald’s biases are completely exposed here along with the poverty of his analysis and the hollow core of his opposition. He completely erases class, pining for a moment where half of the business party starts acting like the resistance they’re now pretending to be. He doesn’t want to see the Democrats destroyed, in fact, he wants to see a Democratic party resurgence so this radical Republican insurgency doesn’t go unchallenged. He’s simply reinforcing the baseless notion that a Trump presidency represents a departure from the polices Obama has quietly pursued and institutionalized these past 8 years under the guise of progressive critique.
Any hope for a decent future thru the Democratic party is an ahistorical fantasy peddled by the vast majority of those with a left platform from The Intercept to Jacobin.
But these are the politics you get when the left is colonized by billionaire-vetted clerks and irretrievably dumb liberals who like to imagine themselves socialists.
Even before the election I had been noticing shifts to a more openly reactionary politics from many of the left’s leading lights. It seemed like they were interacting with the forms of intense reaction in the mainstream by leading a mirror shift in the margins, effectively consolidating the ground they’ve gained in their war on the left imagination.
For example, I caught Scahill’s appearance on the insufferable irony bro podcast Chapo Trap House which contained an hour plus of mostly sincere and deeply conformist political discussion with the occasional Casino/Sopranos reference to help their audience make sense of it all. Scahill was in rare form with multiple cases of gross revisionism and power-serving framing by equating North Korea with Saudi Arabia, smearing FARC and Milosevich, and in many cases minimizing the role imperialism plays in the myriad crises it’s initiated all over the world.
This particular discussion was taking place while the war on Yemen was in the news for once and Scahill spent a lot of time explaining his interpretation of the country’s recent history and present condition that amounted to a whitewash of the role the US has played in Yemen’s current straits. He framed the latest assault as a Saudi war, assisted by US diplomatic cover and weaponry, but not an expression of US imperialism directly (he did the same with Israel elsewhere).
The Chapos mostly nodded along in agreement and played comic relief by ridiculing the lowest possible hanging fruit like Max Boot, often showing their half-assed politics amount to little more than empty references and signals that somehow pass for radicalism in these parts. When they attempted any kind of analysis, the weak foundations of their politics were clearly on display as they constantly referred to the empire as “we.”
But the moment that really stood out to me was a segment on Iran where Scahill speculated that there’s a “serious possibility of the US doing some insane military action in Iran” if Trump were to win the election, while he couldn’t imagine Clinton so much as contemplating the idea, even though she has a long history of supporting aggression against the country (and pretty much everybody else). As a senator and presidential candidate in 2007, she voted for an amendment that “asked U.S. forces to ‘combat, contain, and roll back’ the Iranian menace within Iraq,” opening the door to yet another war in MENA.
Oh and she also threatened to obliterate the whole country if they attacked Israel:
I know Hillary lost so this brazen omission that whitewashes the Democrats seems kinda irrelevant now, but I think it’s worth noting how far these people can push the line without drawing any critical attention.
Another memorable example of election year partisan framing is embedded in this faux critique of lesser evilism by Sam Kriss which contains one of the most outrageous arguments by a radically branded voice I read all year. When speculating on the number of excess deaths under both a Clinton and a Trump administration, Kriss came out with this:
Still it’s not impossible, we can quantify anything. Say two million excess deaths under President Clinton – from financial predation, from disease, from war – and ten million excess deaths under President Trump – all those plus racist violence, malfeasance, and incompetence – and there’s your moral case for voting for Clinton…
…I won’t tell you how to vote (I’ll just hint) because that’s not the point. Vote for Clinton to stop Trump; save the eight million, nobody will blame you…
Obviously he pulled these numbers straight out of his ass, and no matter the intent, this is apologia for a mass murderer who openly supported a no-fly zone in Syria during her campaign, which more so than any other policy proposed by either candidate is likely to start another world war. If you write a critique of lesser evil politics that concedes there is a lesser evil to the tune of 8 million less dead, you’re just reinforcing the logic of the argument you’re ostensibly combating. But these power-serving rhetorical maneuvers are an essential part of what makes people like Kriss so attractive to mainstream propaganda organs like Vice.
I think it should be sufficient to simply point out where these people are being published in order to destroy their radical street cred, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Today’s left sees no contradiction between people claiming to be communists while getting space in Vice and Slate or “socialist” podcasts that get profiled in the New Yorker. In large part we can thank people like Greenwald and Scahill for standardizing this kind of media illiteracy.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Noam Chomsky’s final step into respectability with his shameless shilling for the Democrats all year, capped off by this short discussion published in Truth Out just before the election. His comments on Clinton follow the interviewers prompt in bold:
So it’s the old Cold War doctrine: when the Russians move one step forward, American policy must be prepared to move one step back, and vice versa. There is a great deal of concern among progressive writers that this doctrine will lead to a confrontation with the Russians.
There is, but I think it’s misplaced. I mean, I don’t like Clinton at all, but I think she’s really being demonized. She’s no worse than the European leaders, for example. So, for example, in Libya she was terrible, but [former French President Nicolas] Sarkozy and [former UK Prime Minister David] Cameron were worse. And on some things, she’s surprisingly dovish…. There’s a leak of a private discussion that she had with a couple of anti-nuke people, national security specialists who were critical of the nuclear buildup — not [defense secretary for President Bill Clinton] William Perry, but [former Defense Department official] Andrew C. Weber — and she was probably accommodating to them, but the statements that she made were not bad — if you hold her feet to the fire and make her pursue that, it would make sense.
Attaching words like “dovish” to a war criminal like Clinton by pointing out some tepid stances she took on the campaign trail while omitting the long list of atrocities she’s personally responsible for is just openly partisan propaganda. Arguing someone with that much blood on her hands is being demonized in any way is beyond the pale.
And speaking of demons, this is what Chomsky had to say about Assad’s “barrel bombs:”
There’s strong evidence for that. He’s pretty horrible. In this case, I don’t think he’s really being demonized. It’s pretty awful.
I don’t think I could tell the difference between Chomsky and Ken Roth or any other hopeless Democrat at this point.
At the end of the interview, Chomsky completely erases Obama’s role in the war on Syria:
And it’s just very hard to think of any recommendations. I mean, I don’t know what Obama could’ve done that’s better [than] what he did do.
In framing the Obama administration’s covert aggression against Syria as a kind of passive prudence in the face of a country committing suicide, Chomsky echoes the president himself. With this atrocious line on Syria, Chomsky joins a slew of others on the State Dept Left in framing the horror there as a product of western non-intervention, while delivering the same propaganda messages to the margins that are used to drum up support for escalation in the mainstream. Chomsky won’t go so far as to call for things like a no-fly zone, but there’s nothing about his analysis here that distinguishes him from those who will.
None of the Celebrity Left have put themselves in a position to actually explain the war in clear terms to people in the west who are being bombarded from every direction by the most manipulative and cynical propaganda campaign in recent memory. Instead, they do the same ideological work they claim to resist by inverting the reality in Syria, making it nearly impossible for concerned spectators to understand what’s really going on unless they devote all of their free time to researching the war independently.
Other Celeb Lefts like Max Blumenthal, Ben Norton and Rania Khalek have moved in the opposite direction, now claiming to be opposed to the “revolution” they backed for years without apology or explanation. These shifts are one part savvy brand realignment and another part a push to reestablish control over the coordinates of critical discourse now that more people are seeing the “revolution” for what it is. Positioning themselves as the lone critics of American power and the fake revolution in Syria is obviously intended to erase useful and consistent anti-imperialists who also happen to be relentless critics of these ridiculous opportunists.
All this shows once again that Celeb Lefts don’t amplify our concerns to a larger audience, they co-opt radical analysis and deform it, while ensuring that no space can exist outside the media spectacle they’re tasked with perpetuating.
It remains the point of this blog to delegitimize the false idols of the American left and to point out that lines of demarcation need to be formed, not just between the ruling class and those of us who want to see it destroyed, but also between their representatives in the margins who are placed there to completely erase radical content from left politics.
As the liberal disorientation metastasizes, there’s going to be pressure on radicals to compromise and make common cause with other so-called leftists for the sake of a unified opposition in this new age of reaction. But we’ve been down this road before. It ends with liberal opportunists and worse claiming all existing radical spaces for themselves, replacing what used to be there with the resistance theater that’s been all the rage since the Clinton collapse. Not only does this degrade our politics in the present, it robs people with a class interest in radical change of the language and historical example they need to see their role isn’t to observe history but to make it. That connection to the past needs to be reestablished if there’s going to be a future at all.
Accommodating fake radicals like the DSA-shilling Chapo gang/Jacobin crew who police the margins and impose their shitty politics/forms of interaction on people seeking out an alternative is to concede everything. These people sold Bernie fucking Sanders as the vanguard of the socialist movement in this country. Resisting their claim to radical spaces is not infighting, it’s the assertion of a real radical alternative that is needed now more than ever. Accepting the sincerity, authority and leadership of these parasites is suicide.
Big thanks to Lorenzo for making contributions and helping to edit this post.