Glenn Greenwald is Not Your Misunderstood Left Comrade

Photograph Source: Senado Federal – CC BY 2.0

I have, as expected, received numerous emails defending Glenn Greenwald against a recent CounterPunch essay in which I, among other things (all of which were ignored by the emailers), criticized his mocking presentation of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s instantly infamous “Tax the Rich” gown caper as an attempted act of “revolutionary socialism.”

Don’t disparage Glenn Greenwald in left media unless you are ready for an inbox eruption.

The leading complaint in these messages is that I failed to acknowledge that Greenwald was being facetious and that he shares my Marxist critique AOC’s faux-radical stunt. A repeated theme can be summarized as follows: “You’re on the same side, give the man a break! Why must the Left always engage in self-destructive internecine warfare?”

Yes, Greenwald was being facetious.

But my critique was worth the effort. And, more importantly, Glenn Greenwald is not a man of “the Left” (or whatever’s left of “the Left”).

There are seven big and related problems with the messages I have received and am still getting from his fans and defenders.

First, why am I hearing from these “leftists” for the first time after 20-plus years of publishing in radical portside media? I could write up the definitive cure for cancer, launch a brilliant new theory of egalitarian people’s revolution on CounterPunch, or just publish ten radical Left books on and against the racist and capitalist American Empire (oh wait, I have done the last one there) and I’d hear at most from three people these days. I dare to criticize Brand Greenwald and a battalion of his lefty fans (who still think he’s a leftist despite ever more abundant evidence to the contrary) dig up my email address and start hammering away. Not that I am pining to get a bunch of emails from readers, but that is depressing. Greenwald still inspires a strange reverence among some left-identified folks even as he ever more obviously shows that he’s not on the Left at all.

Second, my recent online correspondents have no problem with facetiousness as a writing technique. What’s so great about being disingenuous and indirect? I think its creepy and snotty. Political writing is best done in an honest and forthright fashion, not through oblique flippancy. (A good editor might have flagged the facetiousness. But there are no editors at his current reader-supported venue Substack, to which Greenwald has been consigned ever since he told The Intercept he was too good to be edited – this in regard to a piece that tried to advance Trump campaign propaganda against Joe Biden on the eve of the 2020 presidential election.)

Third, the left Greenwald fans writing me seem to have no sense that the faux-radical pretend-populist nature of AOC’s gown gambit is an important and instructive topic that deserves serious treatment from a radical anti-capitalist perspective. That is the kind of substantive Left intellectual work for which Greenwald shows no interest or ability. My September 17th essay did some of that work on the AOC incident even if it didn’t acknowledge Greenwald’s supposedly admirable facetiousness.

Fourth, titles and subtitles set the tone for an essay or a book. Here’s the subtitle of Greenwald’s essay on the AOC gown drama: “While AOC’s revolutionary and subversive socialist gown generated buzz, the normalization of maskless elites attended to by faceless servants is grotesque.” There isn’t a hint of implied facetiousness in that sub-title.

Fifth, my correspondents exhibited no sense that my critique of Greenwald’s take on Gowngate was about much more than just his comments on AOC’s faux radicalism. I also criticized: Greenwald’s snotty shots at the George Floyd Rebellion and at caring about old people’s (“Grandma’s”) pandemic protection; the continuation of his ongoing GOP-friendly double standard on contemporary politics by ripping Democratic elites’ hypocrisy on masks while saying nothing about the GOP madness on masks and vaccines (madness he has sadly aligned himself with); his suggestion that servants are oppressed by wearing masks during a pandemic. (Most of the people serving hors d’oeuvre and cocktails at festive liberal bourgeois-democratic gatherings – and at Republican neofascist ones too by the way – probably want to be masked for some very good health reasons: they have more random and up-close face-to-face interactions with others – and far less control of their personal space – than do the celebrated partygoers at these events. They also have much less access to quality health care after contracting Covid-19.) Covid masks are not tools of worker oppression, comrades.

Sixth, my correspondents do not say one word about the other half of my September 17th essay, which discussed the horrific Covid-friendly policies executed by Greenwald’s preferred capitalist party-in-power (the aforementioned Amerikaner Party of Trump [the APoT], also known as the Republicans) in the state of Iowa. But of course: the emailers are obsessed with Glenn the Great and view any perceived disrespect of him as far more important than three million-plus people in a mere “flyover” state. If any of them care to know, the Delta variant has recently spiked in Iowa, rising to a 7-day average of 1,867 cases on September 19th, up considerably from 201 on July 22. That is a much bigger deal than Greenwald’s online reputation.

Seventh, and this is by far the most relevant point here, the correspondents who tell me that Greenwald and radical Leftists like myself are “on the same side” are way off base. For years now, the sly fascism-denier Greenwald has creepily thrown in with the white nationalist right. He downplays the seriousness of the fascist-putschist Capitol Riot of January 6, 2021. He defends Trump and other Amerikaner neofascists against the “censorship” of their supposed free speech right to spew sexist, nativist, and white power hatred on Twitter and Facebook but has little if anything to say about how numerous red states have definitely attacked free speech in viciously racist ways by banning honest public-school discussion of American white systemic racism past and present. He accuses 2020 George Floyd social justice and anti-police protesters of wanton violence but defends the fascist January 6th insurrectionists against government repression. He recklessly rage-tweets against anti-racist “wokeness,” against supposedly ubiquitous liberal and left “Cancel Culture” (a white male right-wing obsession), and against identity politics, which he habitually identifies with the Democrats (who advance elitist bourgeois identitarianism as all good Leftists know) but not with the virulently white-identitarian Amerikaner Republicans. He has joined the white nationalist right in warning against “endless hordes of people pour[ing] over the [US] border,” opining that “a nation cannot survive if its population lacks any common foundation” and is “characterized by scattered allegiances.” He derides the elementary observation that such nativist sentiments are “racist” as childish name-calling.

He said earlier this year that the virulent fascists Steve Bannon, Tucker Carlson, and the “2016 iteration of Donald Trump” are “socialists” – a thoroughly bizarre characterization. I’m not making this up (you can’t make something like that up). In an interview he gave to the far-right journal The Daily Caller (lovely outlet for a fellow Leftist!) last March, Greenwald announced that he saw Bannon, Carlson, the Trump of 2016, and numerous other far-right white nationalists as the real socialists, unlike progressive Democrats who were “about nothing more than trying to sandpaper the edges off neoliberalism”: “I would describe a lot of people on the right as being socialist. I would consider Steve Bannon to be socialist. I would consider the 2016 iteration of Donald Trump the candidate to be a socialist, based on what he was saying. I would consider Tucker Carlson to be a socialist.

That actually happened: Greenwald actually said that. What the f*#k!

My next book, This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America, includes a chapter sub-section that goes through much of what Trump said and did in 2016 (and before and after). It shows beyond the sliver of a shadow of any reasonable doubt that the future 45th President of the United States’ 2016 actions and statements had nothing to do with socialism (for God’s sake) and everything to do with a perverse, mutually reinforcing mix of malignant narcissism, fake populism, and white nationalist neofascism.

“Socialism?” Only perhaps if we mean the National Socialism of the Nazi Third Reich, many of whose early techniques and narratives “the most dangerous criminal in human history” (Noam Chomsky’s accurate characterization of Trump in early 2020) and his team would deploy during the orange beast’s criminal presidency. As the liberal commentator Jonathan Chait had the surprising decency to point out in 275 dead-on words last March:

…Carlson, Bannon, and Trump fail any sane definition of socialism. There is still an insane definition, favored in parts of the right, which claims that Adolph Hitler was actually a socialist. By this definition, the political spectrum is a simple line, with one pole being laissez-faire capitalism as articulated by the American right and the other being any form of “big government.” Since fascism employs a great deal of government power and sometimes even uses the term socialist in its self-definition, fascism is actually on the left.

This was always a ridiculous way to understand fascism. It has become more obviously ridiculous over the past five years, which have brought actual, self-identified Nazis into a broad coalition with laissez-faire conservatives. (There’s a reason the Nazis called their 2017 Charlottesville torchlight rally “Unite the Right,” not “Unite the Left.” It’s because they’re on the political right.) …But yes, if you consider demagogic attacks on immigrants and the “transnational, global, corporatist elite” combined with substance-free promises to “take better care of our own working class” to be “socialism,” then you can describe Carlson’s brand of demagogic hate-mongering as socialist. In place of a redistribution of wealth, it offers working-class people the chance to direct their resentment at cosmopolitan elites [tugs collar nervously] and various brown-skinned people.

Propelled by his unshakable conviction that the Democratic Party is the main obstacle to the progressive agenda, Greenwald has successfully completed his orbit around the political spectrum. He now finds himself hailing the socialist bona fides of a wealthy heir who uses racial resentment to redirect the white working-class away from material concerns. It’s a (National Socialist German) workers’ party now.

Bulls-eye! Greenwald has appeared dozens of times on his “misunderstood” friend Carlson’s despicable Fatherland News show (likely accounting for the lions’ share of his 72 appearances on Fox News between December of 2017 and June of 2021) and the leading forum of white nationalist hate and neofascist propaganda in the United States today. He provides cover for the fascist frozen food fortune heir Carlson (who recently spent a week broadcasting from neofascist Hungary), backing “Tuckems’” bogus claim to be the victim of liberal surveillance by the National Security Agency. He lends deceptive credibility to the “tv dinner princeling’s” claim to be open-minded and tolerant of “the left” by habitually going on the show as a supposed portside commentator. Writing about Greenwald’s regular presence on the Tucker Carlson Hate Hour, The New Republic’s Jacob Silverman put things very well last July:

‘If Greenwald were a more honest broker, he would denounce Fox News as fiercely as he does CNN and MSNBC. In the world of 24/7 infotainment, there are no redeemable cable news networks, but Fox’s list of sins is long. Carlson peddles vile anti-immigrant rhetoric (as Greenwald did, early in his blogging career) and has expressed support for replacement theory, in which, according to its adherents, the white population of this country is threatened. Carlson is also less than reliable. Last year, in defending their star personality in a slander case, Fox News’s lawyers said that he should not be taken seriously. Instead, they claimed, Carlson is “engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.’” Tucker Carlson Tonight, which until last year employed a writer who posted floridly racist comments on internet forums, traffics in conspiracy and unsourced rumormongering: Just last week, speaking above a chyron that warned of “Anti-White Mania,” Carlson suggested that white Americans might go the way of Rwandan Tutsis, who were massacred in a genocide. Between these segments on threats to white Americans and the perils of immigration caravans appears one of the most laureled and famous journalists of recent years… a once-great journalist has dispensed with investigatory skepticism, turning himself into an unquestioning collaborator for a network as hateful and propagandistic as anything on the air. Extending every measure of good faith to Fox’s clownish right-wing personalities, Greenwald is just as ruthless and unforgiving with his enemies, who now seem to be everywhere. Promising that he’s tolerant of genuine critique, he brooks none. With 1.6 million Twitter followers and tens of thousands of Substack subscribers, he can afford to live in his own bubble.

As the prolific left political scientist and media critic Anthony DiMaggio recently wrote me:

Some of Greenwald’s right-wing giveaways:

+1. Going on Fox News and giving credence to Tucker Carlson and using it as a platform to attack Dems, while refusing to say a single critical word about Republicans. It’s hard to see how people can be so intentionally thick as to miss that he is only invited on because he’s attacking Dems. The second he goes after the Republicans, he’s done there.

+2. Absurdly attacking the “big tech” companies for supposedly being left-wing totalitarian censors. This ignores the reality that they have served as hardcore platforms for the worst kind of rightwing conspiracy theorizing for years, under Trump and beyond. They’ve been a vehicle for turning US politics into a rightwing conspiratorial sewer.

+3. Attacking the Democrats as fascist and Orwellian while denying that white supremacy and fascism is a real thing on the American right. This is just monstrous and deplorable, but, hey, he made his bones defending Nazis, so that’s what he does.

He’s on my (left) side? Really? I don’t ally with white supremacists, the GOP, Nazis, and carry water for a fascist-denying, climate-denying, arch-plutocratic GOP. His opposition to NSA spying was almost 10 years ago. He can’t sit on his laurels forever. His appeal to the left has to be about more than that. If that’s it, plus all the normalizing of rightwing neofascist politics he’s been doing, it’s a sad state of affairs. And now he’s channeling GOP talking points with all the [anti-] mask stuff and [ripping on] AOC. He talks shit about her and not wearing masks at a gala, but says nothing about pandemofascists like Greg Abbot, Ron DeSantis, and Trump. You can’t do that and be taken seriously on the left, or what passes for it.

Where is GG’s attack on the GOP for the anti-CRT Orwellian spying on teachers in the classroom stuff? He has literally ZERO, ZERO to say that is critical of the GOP. All he does is attack Dems. Because that’s what Fox wants. That makes him a Republican. “Glenn Greenwald is a Republican Because FOX News Signs for His Checks.” That’s your headline right there.

In point # 3, DiMaggio is of course referring to how Greenwald broke into the public eye – as lawyer for Illinois Nazi leader Matt Hale.

Maybe “GG” is just circling back to his beginnings. I have recently and belatedly learned that Greenwald initially supported the US invasion of Iraq because, as he explained in his 2006 book How Would a Patriot Act?,I wanted the president [the maniacal messianic militarist George W. Bush!] to succeed, because my loyalty is to my country, and because I accepted his judgment that American security would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.” Yikes. Greenwald was the 36-year-old 1994 graduate of an elite law school in March of 2003 when the monstrous war criminal Dubya ordered the transparently criminal, Orwellian, and mass-murderous assault on Mesopotamia. Millions of US Americans marched against this illegal and imperialist war even before it was launched.

Speaking of my inbox, since I clicked on Greenwald’s Substack page, I am now getting emails advertising his latest essays. A message that went out two days ago reports that he is hot on the trail of a late-breaking news story: the oppression of Donald Trump by Hillary Clinton’s RussiaGate hoax. A message today (Wednesday, September 22nd) says that he’s found “new proof of the Biden family e-mails” and of how the liberal media collaborated with the CIA and Big Tech to steal the 2020 election from that 2016 socialist Donald Trump. When he’s not worrying about how face masks and vaccine mandates oppress the proletariat, Greenwald is all over the Hunter Biden-New York Post-deep state laptop story. He’ll no doubt be elaborating about all this on Fatherland News any day now.

And no, me shaking my head in disbelief at Greenwald’s obscene service to the neofascist APoT does not make me a fake Left apologist for the doddering corporate imperialist Joe Biden, who I have relentlessly criticized from the radical Left (see this for one of many examples) for the last three years.

Okay, that’s enough. If the last remaining “left” Greenwald defenders and fans want to bust me out for not properly acknowledging the (snotty and ill-advised) facetiousness of Greenwald’s attack on the gowned social democrat AOC and her fans, fine, but for God’s sake please don’t tell me in 2021 that he’s still a comrade on the Left if he ever really was. He’s a contrarian grifter turned neo-Kapo fascism bootlicker facetiously snarking all the way to the bank in his ever more bizarre Internet bubble.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).