Shed a Tear for the Michigan Militia, Comrades
One of the most depressing things I’ve beheld since the elections of the cruel fascistic maniac Donald Trump and the doddering neoliberal caretaker Joe Biden has been the determination of many people I formerly thought be of at least somewhat sound left mind to become useful idiots for the right.
Look, for just one example among dozens, at Krystal Ball and Glenn Greenwald’s recent conspiratorial, paranoid-style claims that the “deep state” FBI is basically creating a false specter of right-wing terrorism. Relying on reporting from the mainstream New Republic, Ball and Greenwald blame the federal government for the specter of right-wing terrorism, as if the nation is not in fact rife with lethal neofascist white-supremacist terrorists. Consistent with their defense of Trump and other fascists against censorship and prosecution and their mockery of the notion that the fascist January 6th Capitol Riot was all that big a deal, they refuse to grasp the obvious fact that two things can be going on at the same time: that the FBI was recruiting, funding, and planning terror plots and that neofascists are also perfectly sincere, active, and deadly serious in their plans to act.
Shed a tear for the Michigan Militia, comrades!
Public Health as Anti-Proletarian Elitism
I’ll soon be running into a towering white male “leftist” who will cite Greenwald and/or Ball to inform me that the neofascist white power movement is a hoax promoted by elitist, politically correct and “fascist” liberals to oppress decent working-class rural dudes being used as patsies by the “deep state.” He may also hit me with the onetime Barack Obama fan Thomas Frank’s recent absurd claims that the Amerikaner Party of Trump (the APOT, formerly known as the Republican Party) is now a “blue collar protest party” and that telling people to get vaccinated and wear masks is anti-working-class elitism driven by authoritarian professional-class Democrats’ “theology” of science. If he’s on his game, the Trumpenlefty will nail me with Frank’s recent smug Le Monde essay on how “Trump voters were white working-class people” (not actually the case) and how fear of Trump’s white nationalist authoritarianism (also known as fascism) is just ruling and professional class “liberal hysteria.” (What’s The Matter with Frank? I’m baffled.)
Mental and Moral Poison
The red-brown Trumpenleft idiocy fueled by running dog grifters (more on this term below) like Greenwald, Ball, Matt Taibbi, Joe Rogan, Caitlin Johnstone, Fredrik DeBoer (below) and others (now apparently including Tom Frank) takes numerous other and related forms: joining fascists in claiming that Donald Trump was and is a product and agent of (um, white) working-class alienation and “populism”; claiming that Trump is an anti-imperialist (how absurd); reflexively rejecting and mocking numerous and obvious ways in which it is elementarily accurate to understand Trump and Trumpism as fascist; fundamentally misunderstanding and misrepresenting the Trump and far right base; falsely claiming that the mainstream media and intellectual class widely denounced Trump as a fascist (it did not); arguing that there’s no fascism worth talking about in the U.S. until the disease takes decisive hold of the nation’s military and ruling class; charging that acknowledging danger on the Amerikaner right makes one an apologist for the dismal corporate and imperial Democrats (no matter how much Left contempt an anti-Trumpist/anti-fascist like myself shows for the dismal Dems); claiming that there are no differences between the two dominant ruling class U.S. parties (false); constant lecturing about the corporate and imperial nature of the Democrats (as if everyone on the Left doesn’t already know about that); vulgar pseudo-Marxian downplaying of the significance of racial, ethnic, and gender oppression; absurdly claiming that race and gender are just ruling-class “scams” to divide the working-class; joining fascists in denouncing anti-racism, anti-sexism, and anti-nativism and anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia as nothing more than liberal elitist “virtue-signaling” and political correctness; dismissing real struggles and popular mobilizations like Black Lives Matter as liberal and even “deep state” diversions; joining fascists in accusing Left and liberal critics of the fascist white power Trump presidency and Trumpismo of “Trump Derangement System;” claiming (against social scientific evidence) that the January 6th Capitol Rioters were mainly working-class people driven by economic anxiety and anger at economic inequality; joining fascists in opposing the banning of Trump and other malignant white nationalist neofascists from social media platforms and calling that banning authoritarian censorship; joining fascists in downplaying the horrific and lethal nature of January 6th and Trump’s broader effort to subvert the 2020 presidential election; being more concerned about Trump’s “free speech” access to Twitter than a recent spate of red state laws criminalizing public school teaching about white systemic racism; being more concerned about Trump’s access to Facebook and Instagram than one ever was about Trump’s access to the nuclear codes; joining fascists in embracing conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and numerous other phenomena; saying nice “populist” things about (white) nationalism and nativism; making “owning the libs” more important than recognizing, much less resisting white nationalism and the white power movement; trumpeting the idiotic and dangerous cause of red-brown right-left unity; constant harping on the need to “reach out” to mostly petit-bourgeois white right-wing people instead of to the nation’s mostly truly oppressed and dangerously demobilized masses; apologizing for and sometimes even embracing anti-vaxxery and anti-maskery while a deadly pandemic works its way through the species.
This is the sort of mental and moral poison that is encouraged by hours spent reading, watching, and listening to fash-sliding “left” grifters like Fatherland News favorite Glenn Greenwald, Tucker Carlson pal Jimmy “Boogaloo” Dore, Krystal “Reach Out the Right” Ball (who nearly always appears next to an insipid Tucker Carlson knockoff named Saagar Enjeti), Joe “Don’t Get all PC on Me” Rogan, and scary dudebro Matt “Marcuse is a Quack and I’m a Normal Guy” Taibbi.
It all comes with the standard caveats about how “I don’t like Trump, don’t get me wrong.” That’s always a giveaway: anyone on “the left” who actually has to say they “don’t like” a sadistic right-wing white supremacist and pandemo-fascist monster like Donald Trump should be viewed with raised eyebrows and taken with a ton of salt.
Minds Clouded by Understandable Hatred of Bourgeois Liberals
How and why did this largely white male Trumpenleft phenomenon happen, whereby left-identified people become patsies of the neofascist right? As the white Trumpenleft dudebros and their Caucasian sister Krystal Ball might appreciate, I blame no small part of the problem on the Clint-Obamanite Dems. Refusal to equate the Dems with the white power APOT hardly means denying the bourgeois nature of the Democrats and their mode of identity politics. Many of the fascism-denying and fascism-normalizing Greenwald-Dore-Ball-citing Trumpish lefties I’ve confronted in recent years seem to have been driven out of their minds by how the Democrats practice what a lapsed left writer once called “the essence of American politics…the manipulation of populism by elitism” in service to wealthy “backers and bankrollers” who keep a “reserve tag” on policy to ensure that concentrated wealth and power is never seriously confronted. Please see my postscript to this essay on why there is no materialist basis for their horror: the Democrats are behaving in accord with the standard and longstanding dictates of bourgeois democracy.
Some folks on the left have had their brains so clouded by their resulting (and I think understandable) hatred of liberals as to want to punish those dastardly, supposedly democracy-betraying Democrats the only way they think they can in a system that permits no seriously powerful Left electoral party. They end up effectively enabling and assisting the only party that can defeat the Dems in the US party and election system– the APOT. The fact that the post- “Republicans” have gone white power eliminationist and authoritarian (fascist) must of course be denied – hence the grifters’ and their victims’ idiotic insistence that Trump represents no particularly significant departure from the presidential norm (“same as it ever was”). Good Trumpenlefties also deny their de facto alliance with the APOT even as they give APOT/FOX News talking points (e.g.,Trump’s claim that he and his fascist supporters are victims of “illegal censorship” by social media corporations) “left” and “populist” spin and work to deride and otherwise reduce votes for the only party that can defeat the APOT under the narrow-spectrum US political system – the dismal Dems. Still worshipping at the church of US bourgeois democracy (see my postscript below), these poor saps become easy pickings for grifters like Greenwald, Taibbi, Dore, Ball, and Rogan et al.
Not DeBoering: Stirring Outrage to “Buy Cool Shit”
Grifters? Really? Yes. There’s money to be made in this game. To be perfectly honest, I could be making a nice bit of pocket change selling Putin-pandering, red-brown Trumpenleft crap on the Internet. It’s a cinch to put a “left” gloss on right-wing propaganda for a white “populist” red-brown audience. It’s easy money. I know because I’ve done it. It’s been good the soul and bad for the pocketbook to opt out.
The con artists and their online armies of followers will of course angrily deny that it’s a grift, but that’s to be expected both of people cashing in on a grift and of people being ripped off in a grift.
Let’s look at a disturbing example – Substacker Fredrik DeBoer, whose name sounds like something out of the South African white apartheid regime. It’s hard to process the dreadfulness of a DeBoer column titled “Orange Cheeto Man Bad.” DeBoer (going as “Freddie” to sound less Afrikaner on Substack) marked the six-month anniversary of Trump’s bloody attempted Capitol Putsch by arguing that liberal and left revulsion against Trump and January 6th was an “hysterical” liberal and elitist “mass freak out” over working-class “populism.” DeBoer falsely claimed that anti-Trump leftists did not understand Trump as a symptom of the capitalist system and were unaware that presidents prior to and since Trump had committed egregious domestic and foreign policy crimes (standard Trumpenleft charges).
In a recent post, DeBoer candidly admits the perverse logic behind this and other parts of his scam. Here is how the self-described “Marxist” DeBoer explains his decision to run with inflammatory and supposedly anti-establishment Trumpenlefty culture war content (apologies for the extended quotation but this shit has to be read at some length to be believed):
After 15 years of proud indifference to clicks and shares and all manner of external validation for my writing, I find that I want to have more readers rather than fewer and to make more money rather than less. I try to police myself and to remain as idiosyncratic and driven by whim as ever, but I cannot help but notice my own concern for paying down my student loans. Or, like, buying cool shit. I’m susceptible to that too.
…there is no such thing as independent media; there are only different kinds of dependence. If your financial security is derived from the approval of others, you are not independent. You can be dependent on different people and that difference does matter. I have been remarkably successful here in a crowdfunding context, but I probably would never have been able to get a staff writer job at any traditional publication. (Such a job would probably pay a third of what I’m making, but that’s for another time.) But my generous readers are themselves stakeholders whose interests I will inevitably weigh and value. A consequence of this dynamic is that “independent” media is subject to external pressures too, in ways both good and bad.
…Things are going great with this project and my life, which was most certainly not true a year ago. I do have a consistent issue though. What a lot of thoughtful people who care about me think I should write, and what gets me the necessary subscription revenue to continue to do this as my job after my Substack Pro contract expires next February4, are very different things. Almost the opposite, in fact. Many of my readers, friends, well-wishers, and general observers want me to stop doing the posts that bring in money and only do the ones that don’t. And I’d like to do that, but I would also like to ensure that I don’t have to go on the job market anytime soon. You see my dilemma.
…My views have fallen off of a cliff in the past several months, and yet subscription revenues are steady, even inching up – I’m projected to earn more by the end of the year now than I was at the beginning of June, at any rate, though not by much. And from the long-term perspective it’s all going great. I’m making much more than I thought I ever would at any job, so I have no complaints there. My readers are, by my lights, unusually amenable to my peculiar set of interests, the breadth and pace of my writing, and my commitment to pursuing whatever I want to think and write about at any given time. I am in a position where I can comfortably support myself and another adult financially, and if we were not in New York due to preference and circumstance I’d obviously be even more secure. I’m lucky, privileged, and grateful.
But in the broader sense, neither Substack nor any other kind of crowd funding scheme can make any of us truly indifferent to audience. We are still in the selling writing business. You sell writing in a market, and if people like what you’re selling, they’ll buy. That’s the rejoinder to critics of this wave of crowdfunded media – we’re succeeding because we provide something people want to consume, something they’re not getting from legacy media. But that also means that the market will always assert itself into your decisions as a writer.’
Translation: “I’m a market whore and I like it. It works for me. It keeps me out of the job market, helps me pay off debt, and lets me purchase extra consumer durables I dig and live in New York City.”
Didn’t Marx and Engels write something about how “the bourgeoisie” (capitalism) “resolve[s] personal worth into exchange value” and drowns all past beliefs and commitments in “the icy water of egotistical calculation.”
A reader responding to the “Orange Cheeto Man” column made an interesting comment illustrating DeBoer’s very point:
‘Your post seemed disingenuous to me — like you have a narrative in mind (traditional Republican presidents bad) and so downplay Trump in comparison. Truth: Jan 6 was an angry mob of Americans egged on by the president of the United States to commit (at the very least) damage and destruction over a lie that the election was stolen. Truth: that lie is still cynically being propagated among mainstream Republican politicians. Truth: that undermines our democracy. Truth: this is something to be concerned about. On the other hand- wow, you did set off quite a passionate discussion here. And a range of viewpoints. Certainly wasn’t boring. 🙂 – Elena.’
DeBoer must have loved that response. Not being “boring” and thereby garnering eyeballs and subscriptions (money) is precisely the point. It’s about entertainment and cash, so DeBoer can continue to be “lucky, privileged, and grateful” and “buy cool stuff” while staying in expensive New York City and staying out of the job market. That’s the point! “You may not like what I write, but I entertained and diverted you. You looked! The fact that you are looking at it makes you a fan and is cash money for me!” As Counterpuncher Anthony DiMaggio recently noted, there’s a Neil Postman-esque “vaudeville,” entertainment aspect to the Trumpenleft grift.
Give Fredrik DeBoer points for honesty. Other Trumpenlefty grifters keep their game more safely under wraps. Of all the red-brown con artists, Krystal Ball is “the best at hiding her hideous rightwing politics.” As the prolific left political scientist and media analyst DiMaggio writes:
‘Krystal Ball is the best of all the nominally left pundits at hiding her rightwing politics. If you go on her twitter feed, 85% of the posts are straight up progressive economics. But the other 15% are linking to people like Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi and others who routinely traffic in GOP propaganda and talking points. And it’s what she’s NOT saying. She rarely emphasizes progressive race or gender issues and doesn’t acknowledge that the Trump base is largely racist, sexist, transphobic, etc, or attack Trumpism for being fascistic, and when she does address these issues, it’s to carry water for the fascistic right and deny any of it is real. And then there’s the conspiracy stuff that she and her co-host push, which has become downright appalling, claiming the January 6 coup and the Michigan Militia were manufactured by the FBI, and that Anthony Fauci was funding “gain of function” research that created Covid-19 as a bioweapon. So with Ball, it takes a discerning eye to pull out all the toxic bullshit because 85% of what she says is normal progressive stuff, and the other 15% is toxic noxious poison. People say, yeah, but 85% is great! Okay, but you might think a pizza is great and eat the whole thing until you get to the last slice and someone sprinkled arsenic on it.’
I suppose if we had an actual Left media that paid decent money for seriously radical, non-vaudevillian content of the sort that could never be seduced into the Trumpenleft and conspiratorial nonsense that prevails on Substack, then our white grifters could feel free to be less mercenarily fash-accommodating. But who knows? My guess is that DeBoer (for example) is genuinely into maximizing return on his labor power investment by stirring the culture war pot every chance he gets. He recently denounced the young Black superstar athlete Simon Biles as “not a hero” and then retracted his post when he realized it might cost him subscriptions.
Lack of Organic Left Intellectual Formation and Agitational Work
Lack of intellectual sophistication and training is another part of the Trumpenleft equation. It takes skills, reading, hard work, time, and nuance many “left” folks (frankly) lack to:
+ understand the specific nature of 21st Century neoliberal era fascism, which shares many core traits with classic 20th century European fascism but is also different than the Classic Coke variants on which many are fixated when they think about the “F-word.”
+ break past the false conflations between class and education and between class and region (and class and culture) that fuel the false narrative of Trumpism as benign working-class populism (here quantitative and numerical literacy is required).
+ get at the real core beliefs and demographics behind the Trump base and the right wing.
+ get past the childish vulgar Marxist economism and faux proletarian-sentimentalizing class essentialism that fuels silly “left” rejection of race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation as relevant, relatively autonomous realms of social and political experience and oppression
+ see the many-sided and interrelated structural, institutional, and historical forces behind contemporary problems and to thereby become properly vaccinated against conspiratorial explanations that skip past complexity.
+ overcome defensiveness and resentment of those who do grasp and insist upon making the sometimes-complex connections.
Lack of a materialist foundation helps make many left-leaning people suckers for vaguely left-identified commentators who also themselves have never had a meaningful engagement with either classical Marxism or 20th and 21st century neo- and cultural Marxism. It seems possible that DeBoer (far below others on the Trumpenleft food chain) may have had some of the engagement but it doesn’t seem to matter given his self-acknowledged commodity fetishism and desire to stay out of the job market, where he might have to rub shoulders with actual members of the proletariat in whose name he claims to write.
The Trumpenleft grifters’ fans/victims/subscribers will tell you that their online heroes are “grassroots” products of independent “left” media. This is false. Here, again, DiMaggio provides essential insight:
Greenwald, Taibbi, Ball, Rogan, and Dore are not independent media lefties. They are products of corporate media. Why do they have massive followings that no one on the independent non corporate left has ever seen? Especially when they are trafficking in obvious, transparent clownish absurdities. It’s not a matter of producing content that is better quality, because what they are writing is embarrassing. It is because they’ve built up large followings because they had mass exposure for years and were able to parlay that into continued mass exposure today. Why did they have mass exposure before? Because they are products of a corporate media system/culture. Anyone who thinks they are independent just because they say so has been taken in by their grift.
Jimmy Dore: built up his brand and visibility on late night corporate comedy during the 1990s with late night comedy hosts, then migrated to YouTube, building up massive followers with the name recognition he had from his years as a comedian on corporate tv.
Joe Rogan: worked in corporate media hosting Fear Factor, doing color commentary for UFC. He signed a deal recently with Spotify for $100 million. To even pretend he’s independent is a sick joke.
Glenn Greenwald: made his reputation as a Guardian columnist (no, the Guardian is not indy media). Then got huge paychecks at the Intercept, which was funded with massive amounts of E-Bay “big tech” startup money, which is such a cruel grift hoax considering he now spends all his time allegedly railing against “big tech,” except when it makes him rich, in the case of EBay and substack, another corporate “big tech” venue that currently pays him fabulous amounts of money. Also gets paid by FOX News and reigns over his own corporate Twitter empire of followers in the millions. None of these are indy media, He’s corporate, through and through.
Taibbi: a Rolling Stone guy (that’s not indy media) who also presides over corporate media today at Substack and Twitter, he’s essentially a poor man’s Greenwald, so no need to go into more on him here as a corporate pundit.
Krystal Ball: worked for The Hill “Rising” and MSNBC (both corporate venues). Later took her listeners and her podcast to Apple with “Breaking Points” and has continually used YouTube to disseminate her clips. So no indy media there at all.
Residence in blue big city and campus town bubbles is part of the grifters’ fans’ profile. Many Trumpenelfty sorts I have encountered in the last six years seem to have never had any real contact with the rural, exurban, and suburban Amerikaners they want to see as potential comrades in proletarian populism. This spatial and sociopolitical segregation helps them maintain a false image of the neofascist Trump base, an image blind to its petit-bourgeois authoritarianism, racism, sexism, nativism, anti-urbanism, anti-intellectualism, anti-truthism, anti-socialism, and violence-tinged toxicity. At the same time, Trumpenlefties in blue America are surrounded by (yes) arrogant, privileged, self-satisfied, and virtue-signaling liberal and centrist elitists who could give a flying f*#k about proletarians of any color. The arrogance of the urban and university “PMC” (the Trumpenleft’s beloved acronym for the “professional managerial class”) drives them up the wall. And with no serious left outlet for their class consciousness beyond kooky Green Party sects and DSA chapters reigned over by snobbish “PC” yuppies and graduate students, they are easy pickings for Greenwald, Taibbi, and Ball at al.
Drawn to Transgressive Appearance
Some of the red-brown sorts I’ve heard from seem drawn to any form of ani-establishment transgression, rendering them incapable of making adult distinctions between a fascist riot and a leftist protest. They are wrapped up in a kind of infantile leftism that lets them see Boogaloo Boys and Three Percenters as real or potential comrades since they break stuff, attack government capitols, and hate liberals and Dems (in their minds nothing that liberals hate can be all bad). Fascism, it is worth remembering, has always taken on and mimicked the mass, populist movement feel of socialism and anarchism. It has always risen to power through real mass movements as well as alliances with sections of the ruling class.
Standpoint by Default
Standpoint epistemology is in my opinion intellectually bankrupt (see this magisterial old volume on why by a white guy [sorry – deal with it] named E.H. Carr) but racial, ethnic, and gender standpoint tend to matter a great deal (by default) in shaping the political views and choices of people who lack a proper scientific and historical-material analytical framework. At least 90 percent of the Trumpenleft folks I hear from are white, male, straight, born in the US, and middle-class. That is no mere accident. Many of them see their status and income as under assault from immigrants, nonwhites, and, above all, women. They can be shockingly indifferent to the menace posed by the ever more mainstreamed far right since neofascism’s main targets are poor, nonwhite, female, immigrant, gay, and transgender.
A recurrent theme in their experience is failure – failure to cash in in a big way (like DeBoer says he is now) on their white male privilege, a failure blamed on elitist liberals. As a straight white male Marxist who has long seen his career and “earnings” cancelled by elitist PC liberals who have wielded “diversity” as a weapon and justification for denying me jobs and publications as well as by my own stubborn insistence (good for the soul, stupid for the pocketbook) on being an open radical (anti-capitalist/-racist-imperialist-sexist) Leftist, I can personally testify that blaming elitist liberals for one’s straits is not necessarily or always inappropriate. I’ve been royally f*#ked-over by more professional class liberals more times than I can count.
Still, the real culprit behind declining fortunes for tens of millions of working- and middle-class white males is a massive transformation in U.S capitalist class structure that has produced a vast upward concentration of wealth and power in the neoliberal era. And one’s own victimization by the “liberal PMC” is no excuse for deciding to play footsy with the white nationalist neofascist right.
It’s Foolish to Play Footsy with Fascism
That footsy is foolish and dangerous. As the World Socialist Website (WSWS) noted last May, “The decision by Facebook and Twitter to shut down Trump’s social media accounts took place in the context of a bitter struggle within the ruling class between its pseudo-democratic and openly fascist factions.”
The outcome of that struggle is of no small concern to actual leftists. Now as throughout history, we have ruling class Door # 1 and ruling class Door #2. Door #1 cloaks the underlying de facto class dictatorship of imperial capital with bourgeois democracy and rule of law. Door #2 represents open authoritarianism, dictatorship, fascism.
And the difference is not irrelevant. We need to overthrow the whole structure, the underlying dictatorship. It’s helpful not to be getting rounded up in stadiums and tossed out of helicopters in trying to organize for that.
Postscript: On Bourgeois Democracy
My only quibble with the WSWS statement is that I would replace the “pseudo-democratic” with bourgeois-democratic. And what is bourgeois democracy? It is not actual democracy qualified by bourgeois power, as in “take money out of politics,” or “we can achieve socialism through reform and electing decent people.” No, it is the class rule of capital cloaked by nominally democratic and representative electoral and parliamentary institutions and formal rule of law. As Frederick Engels said in his introduction to the 1891 edition of Marx’s Civil War in France: “The state is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in the democratic republic no less than in the monarchy.” Lenin put it well in his 1918 pamphlet The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky: “bourgeois democracy…always remains, and under capitalism is bound to remain, restricted, truncated, false and hypocritical, a paradise for the rich and a snare and deception for the exploited, for the poor.” Indeed. Bourgeois democracy is democracy for the bourgeoisie alone. It is cloak for the de facto class dictatorship of imperial capital.
If an actual radical Leftist prefers a Biden to a Trump in the imperial presidency, it has nothing to do with believing in bourgeois democracy and everything to do with the calculation that chances for building opposition to the whole damn system are better under bourgeois democracy and its nominal rule of law than they are under fascism. That’s all.
These are things the Trumpenlefties do not understand with their misplaced anger at the Democrats for being “too corporate and imperial” and thereby betraying supposedly serious democratic principles represented by reformers like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – and with their false claim that anti-fascist Left radicals became dupes of the corporate Democrats by voting to remove Trump from the world’s most powerful office with Biden (the only viable electoral alternative on offer) last fall. Beneath their deceptive radical cloak, the white power neofascism enabling/-normalizing Trumpenelfties I’ve encountered in recent years are still worshipping at the church of bourgeois democracy. Their alienation from the Democrats reflects a childish sense of betrayal and abandonment that has nothing to do with the real US social and political order.