Glenn Greenwald in Lalaland

Photograph Source: Robert O’Neill – CC BY-SA 4.0

Glenn Greenwald, along with his buddy Matt Taibbi, is currently the most prominent ideological turncoat emanating from the American left. He has established a brand for himself as a conservative-friendly “decent leftist” with his numerous friendly guest appearances on Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Ingraham Angle; as one who agrees with the right-wing on issues ranging from trans rights to supposed Big Tech targeting of conservatives for censorship, the January 6 riots and COVID lockdowns. Last summer he even conducted a softball interview with Alex Jones, despite previously expressing great disdain for the latter. This stance has been popular: at one point in 2021, he was reportedly earning between $80,000 and $160,000 per month in Substack subscriptions. Currently his primary venue, besides Twitter, is his hosting of the System Update podcast on Rumble, the right-wing video platform, funded, in part by Peter Thiel, the pro-MAGA billionaire Silicon Valley tycoon and Pentagon contractor. His Rumble page lists 321,000 followers. Transcripts and full videos of System Update episodes are currently accessible only behind a paywall—the transcripts will be utilized as sources in the article below.

Like other formerly left turncoats, Greenwald has a variation of the “I didn’t leave the left, it left me” line. This is to the effect that on the issues he cares most about—foreign policy, the national security state—the “populist right” represented by MAGA embodies views far more congruent with traditional left views than does the current iteration of the progressive left. He has also expressed admiration for the general populist tone taken by MAGA politicians and publicists; he argued in 2021 that both Tucker Carlson and Steve Bannon were socialists—and that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign was economically populist to such an extent that it should be considered socialist.

On February 2nd, Greenwald offered some reflections on the dynamic populism of the celebrated MAGA congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene in a System Update monologue prior to his interview of that distinguished lady:

“Many things interest me about the Republican Congresswoman representing Georgia’s 14th Congressional District – her strident opposition to bipartisan foreign policy orthodoxy in Washington, the still escalating U.S. role in the war in Ukraine…..

….Regardless of what you think about her causes and her ideology – and she is, needless to say, a deeply polarizing figure, as is almost everyone who holds genuinely passionate convictions as a matter of principle – I think one could say without much controversy that she’s the most organic and authentic representation in Congress of the MAGA movement that attracted the support of tens of millions of Americans from every walk of life, from every racial and ethnic group and from every part of the country. And that just has to matter in politics.

Congresswoman Greene is no ordinary member of Congress, and she’s no ordinary Republican either. Many of her most passionately held views are ones that were utterly anathema to the Republican Party until Donald Trump came along in 2016 and became the Republican nominee for president not by affirming and validating long standing Republican orthodoxies – voters already had Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio if they wanted that – but instead, by denouncing and vowing to uproot his own party’s establishment orthodoxies (System Update, episode #33, 2/02/23).”

Putting aside the above passage’s drivel about MTG’s (and Trump’s) heterodox populism, Greenwald’s statement about the congresswoman’s “strident opposition to bipartisan foreign policy orthodoxy” is extremely problematic. Greenwald curiously acknowledged a big part of the problem when he said to MTG:

“You mentioned China several times on that question, and I’m glad you did, because whenever I point out that the energy behind opposing American interventionism, American wars, is actually much more on the populist right than on the populous [sic]left, the argument I’ll hear is, no, that is a fraudulent agenda they’re selling. They’re not actually opposed to going to war with other countries. They’re just angry that we’re at war with the wrong country. They want to stop the war in Russia. So, they can actually go have a war with China. And they say they’re opposed to preventing Russia from taking over Crimea, that that shouldn’t be our business. And yet they’re willing to go to war with China in order to protect Taiwan, which is also a foreign country, not the 51st state on the other side of the world. Is there any circumstance in which you would defend – other than, of course, a direct attack by the Chinese government on America or its people around the world – is there any circumstance in which you would actually support a direct hot war between the United States and China, including China’s potential invasion of Taiwan?(System Update, episode #33, 2/02/23).”

Unfortunately for Greenwald, after stating that she would regret a US-China war because both powers are nuclear-armed, she confirmed what Greenwald had just stated about what his critics are saying about MAGA’s “fraudulent” anti-war agenda:

“But we have to be realistic about what China says. You see, we should listen to our enemies and believe them when they say it. China says that they want to be the number one world superpower, both economically and militarily, and they really mean that. So, we have to take them seriously and we have to be prepared if something terrible were to happen (System Update, episode #33, 2/02/23).”

What MTG says here confirms what she has said elsewhere about her support for a military buildup directed against China. She also stated that defending Taiwan was a vital US national interest because Taiwanese factories produce most microprocessor chips for the US economy. Several days later on System Update, in conversation with his weekly guest Michael Tracey (not yet available in transcript form), Greenwald pronounced himself impressed with MTG’s computer chip argument, stating that Taiwanese computer chips are indeed vital to the US economy. He then spoke of the “paradox” of populist right-wingers like MTG who advocate for a reduction of US militarism but also advocate confrontation with China. Tracey, to his credit, engaged in considerably more substantive analysis of the US-Chinese relationship than Greenwald did in that episode.

Indeed, other MAGA politicians recently praised by Greenwald for opposition to US support for Ukraine (Trump, Matt Gaetz) also share the Confrontation-with-China-instead-of-Russia approach to US foreign policy. Gaetz, lauded by Greenwald as an “anti-establishment populist” and interviewed on a February 15th System Update by Greenwald, has introduced legislation to defund US support for Ukraine—and also a War Powers Resolution with bipartisan support to withdraw US troops from Syria. A few of the remarks made by Gaetz in his interview with Greenwald about nefarious arms manufacturers are of high enough intelligence that they might have been published in Counterpunch. However, Greenwald did not feel the need to address with Gaetz the fact that the latter is an active worker for securing military pork for his northwest Florida district. He has participated in the typical alarmism that fuels increased military spending; he recently upbraided Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for the US’s supposed trailing of China in terms of supersonic missile development.

An enthusiasm for vastly inflated US military budgets is what unites Trump, Greene and Gaetz, heterodox critics of establishment US foreign policy (at least according to Greenwald’s imagination). None of them have questioned the need for the US to spend multiple times more on its military budget than the rest of the world combined. While Greenwald allows that Trump in many ways followed conventional foreign and defense policies while President– discarding the vague anti-war noises he made during his 2016 presidential campaign which impressed Greenwald to an alarming degree–he ignores that Trump did follow through on one campaign promise: to significantly expand US conventional and nuclear US military budgets. In this passion for military spending, Trump was at one with the cabal of Neocon-influenced cabinet members—Mike Pompeo, Niki Hailey, John Bolton—who Greenwald alleges manipulated him through his weakness for flattery into adopting conventional militarist policies.

In February, Greenwald was positively giddy when Trump made a statement attacking the Biden administration’s support for Ukraine in its war with Russia, naming “the last globalists in the Deep State, the Pentagon, the State Department, and the National Security Industrial Complex” as the malefactors bringing the world closer to World War III with such support. Greenwald suggested that Trump’s remarks were similar in nature to Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell address in January 1961 which warned of the Military-Industrial Complex. It remains to be seen, Greenwald continued, whether Trump will push his anti-militarist inclinations should he retake the presidency in 2024. Being of skeptical and thoughtful bent, Greenwald recognizes that, in a second Trump term, Trump’s actions might fall well behind his profound anti-militarist words, as they did during his first term:

“maybe he’ll be too weak and undisciplined again, maybe he’ll be too vulnerable to flattery again. He talked like this before and did some things about it, but not very much. Though, again, [during his presidency] he did avoid war of the kind that Joe Biden is feeding in Ukraine. So, he at least deserves credit for that. And he’s saying the right things. And tonight, by the way, he’s in East Palestine to visit the actual American citizens suffering greatly, who have been forgotten by the Biden administration, which is focused, for whatever reason, on who is going to rule provinces in Eastern Ukraine (System Update, episode #44, 2/24/23).”

Greenwald was impressed by Trump’s photo-op visit to the site of the derailment of the Norfolk Southern train carrying highly flammable, toxic materials in East Palestine, Ohio. He didn’t see fit to mention what David Sirota, his guest on a previous System Update episode, alluded to during Greenwald’s interview with him: that while Biden’s Transportation Department headed by Pete Buttigieg has behaved abominably in the derailment’s aftermath, it was Trump’s Transportation Department which conducted a highly flawed cost-benefit analysis which eliminated a rule requiring Electronically Controlled Pneumatic Brakes(ECP) on trains carrying material like that in the derailment. This rule might have seriously mitigated or averted the East Palestine train disaster ((System Update, episode #41, 2/24/23).

As for Trump as president avoiding “war of the kind that Joe Biden is feeding in Ukraine,” did Greenwald forget Trump’s enthusiastic support for weapons sales to the Saudi/UAE coalition slaughtering civilians in Yemen by the ten of thousands? It’s true, unlike Ukraine, that US allies face no nuclear armed superpower in Yemen. But what is the qualitative difference between the two situations in terms of effects on civilian populations?

Greenwald observes that “President Trump did escalate a couple of the bombing campaigns he inherited, such as in Syria and Iraq against ISIS and al-Qaeda.” However, he suggests that Trump should be applauded because he was “the first president in decades not to involve the United States in a new war. That’s like a good achievement, right? We should all be able to agree on that. I know we don’t, but we should (System Update, episode #44, 2/24/23).”

Why should Trump be celebrated for not starting a new war when there was no overwhelming push for one; the US population and imperial elite have become exhausted after two decades of endless, resource-draining war? Why should he be applauded for mere campaign rhetoric adorned with anti-war phrases? Why should Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz be praised for opposing war while opposition backbenchers? Greenwald places Trump in the recent anti-war Republican tradition of Ron Paul: but the latter, although a Bircher-style reactionary, at least had the decency to actively oppose the militaristic policies of his own Party while it held executive branch power during the Bush years.

The sad truth is that Greenwald, as with others including Matt Taibbi, has found himself embedded within a web of right-wing media platforms and informal networks backed by Silicon Valley billionaires like David Sacks, Elon Musk, and Peter Thiel. Whether consciously or unconsciously, this most recent period of his journalistic career has served to normalize and deny the dangerousness of MAGA-style extremism by absurdly constructing the latter as substantively anti-war and working-class populist. Moreover, his reputation as a muckraking iconoclastic journalist resolutely challenging the US Security State gives him credibility with inexperienced or perhaps somewhat softheaded individuals with vaguely left-wing anti-war inclinations. These persons are so entranced by his self-constructed aura of a strong, independent-minded personality that they are unable to admit to themselves the utter vapidity of many of his ideas. To paraphrase the late Adolf Hitler, how fortunate for publicists of Greenwald’s ilk that people do not think!

Chris Green has a master’s degree in history from Western Washington University. He can be reached at, his twitter handle is @Del4163.