How About Some Journalism More Relevant To Norm-Breaking Prioritization Of Non-Elite Interests?
In a recent pair of articles, MSNBC’s Zasheen Aleem:
First acknowledges the inadequacy of Congressional Progressives' softball 'inside game' tactics;
Then deplores Greenwald/Taibbi/Gabbard/Dore for creating a pipeline to threaten “civilized democracy” by pushing their readers through a "pipeline” from Left to Right Populism.
The two articles are worth engaging with as ‘Best of Breed’ examples/archetypes of how ‘responsible Left’ opinion columnists, and people who follow their ideological and tactical leads, seem to have placed their brains in time warps, to preserve static perspectives on:
national electoral illusions frozen before 2015; and
“good war” illusions recycled from around 1965.
[headed:] How the populist left has become vulnerable to the populist right
[sub-headed:] A new political subculture could funnel people from leftism to authoritarianism.
[describes:] ”formation of a pipeline that circumvents the center altogether — and directly connects left-wing to right-wing populism.”
[and concludes:] “If we are to have a civilized, democratic society, the populism pipeline must flow the other way.”
Although a long read (which I have mostly not extracted in this post), this article usefully summarizes a relatively coherent survey of related issues, albeit with important cherry-picking and glossing over of assumptions, of which examples are hinted at by the following word choices:
“circumvents the center” -- These words of Aleem imply an assumption that the “center” of US politics is a logical midpoint, on a one dimensional spectrum, of any person's ideological transition from one 'extreme' to another.
“If we are to have a civilized, democratic society, the populism pipeline must flow the other way.” -- These words of Aleem imply an assumption that the main defects in our present "democracy" are possible to fix by a Bernie-type version ‘3.0’ electoral movement acting through civilized debate & legislative procedure.
“the populist left has become vulnerable” – These words, from Aleem’s article title, assume that a substantial national electoral populist left actually existed immediately before its rightist analog seduced high-profile defectors into exploiting the former’s vulnerability.
Aleem fails to grapple with the possibility that many potential left populists have come to perceive that:
The commanding heights of Big Donor, dark spending & lobbyist-employing wallets are located not only on a different line, but on on a different plane, above all populisms, whatever their gloss of Left, Right, tribalism, etc.
The establishment’s bitch-slapping of Bernie Presidential campaigns 1.0 & 2.0, and its Squad-type heirs, has emasculated the idea of electoral movements based in the Left of the Democratic Party (Aleem’s failure to mention Greens, Peace & Freedom, People’s Party etc. effectively reaffirms the consensus that they are electorally irrelevant).
Left populism has been purged from Congress, and from opportunities to win through the Democratic Party’s primary process.
“Populism” connotes playing-- to win-- games of 'chicken' with the establishment, partly by breaking at least its most self-perpetuating “norms.”
Since 2016, it was only on the Right where Trump broke every norm in sight, won the Republican primary (which presented him with much fewer structural barriers than the Democratic primaries erected against Bernie), and inspired numerous imitators.
Non-elites have always naturally moved between Left and Right alternatives but Aleem’s “pipeline” metaphor can be usefully repurposed as follows: Consistently with the electoral truism that ’you can’t beat something with nothing,’ as left populism evaporated into an electoral ‘nothing,’ a real-life electorally viable populism, burning at one end of the pipeline, created the draft-cum-suction that is necessary to pull any flow through any pipeline.
Hinting at other unjustified assumptions, the assertion by Aleem that:
The MAGA right endeavors to dampen the very meaning of free speech by embracing disinformation as a political strategy
… loses much of its force by failing to acknowledge that:
This strategy is also employed by the Democratic establishment, in close marriage with the National Security State and Big Tech. Of course establishment Republicans have raced, and continue to race, to 'the marriage altar' -- but the Democrats have won the race for now.
From the perspective of generally applicable political philosophy, a key question Aleem avoids addressing directly is: what player can be trusted (especially after periods of time enjoying political or other narrative-defining power) to identify or comparatively rank different degrees of dis- (and mis- and mal-) information?
Aleem unintentionally highlights this problem by his 'limited hangout' downplaying of:
”…some deeply troubling issues, like the FBI’s apparent input into Twitter’s speech regulation.”
… which neatly avoids the most troubling aspects of this "input," notably that:
the FBI leveraged its power of intimidation to relentlessly broaden and deepen its dominance of Twitter’s censorship, even in spaces outside the FBI’s areas of formal authority, partially as a conduit for other government organizations, and
there is no reason to assume that Facebook, Google, Apple, Microsoft or Amazon engaged in less surveillance/propaganda/censorship, with less government involvement, than Twitter.
Aleem’s core substantive argument is that people such as Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi and Tulsi Gabbard are unjustified in their “strateg[y]” of:
casting liberal media as the biggest threat to free speech in America. … The right is at least as worrisome on the issue of restricting speech, and in some respects far more.
The fragility of this ‘equivalence+’ argument is highlighted by Aleem’s obliviousness to the narrowness of his view of “Left” dissent on the Ukraine war, and his consequent inability to wonder where this narrowness comes from. The answer, of course, is that related discourse is dominated, policed and censored by the “center”, into which the self-perceived ‘responsible Left’ has (so profitably!) merged.
Aleem implicitly acknowledges that full scale nuclear war now urgently threatens to harm more people (of every identity!) in the fastest, most severe and most irreversible manner of any consequence of any of the establishment's policies:
the Democratic Party has been overly blasé about nuclear escalation with Russia, and has stigmatized even minor dissent over the issue of how the U.S. should approach vital diplomacy with Moscow.
This framing is grossly insufficient, even before he further dilutes it as follows:
…But …While it’s true that the MAGA wing’s increasing hesitation to involve itself in Ukraine has the effect of calling for a less hawkish position than many Democrats, the actual ideology underlying the position isn’t fundamentally antiwar [towards China and other foreign and domestic ‘threats’].
This is a bizarrely abstract way of avoiding discussions such as the following:
While many MAGA types are hawkish on non-Ukraine and non-Russia ‘threats’, the tangible effects of “antiwar” positions take form one war at a time. It may be possible for any populist’s avoidance of war to become as habit-forming as the establishment’s serial seeking out and provocation of wars.
It is precisely today’s establishment's (a) plans to use brink-cum-war with Russia, as a stepping stone into a bigger brink-cum-war with China, and (b) obliviousness to players’ actual relative economic and military capabilities, which make this establishment more dangerous than predecessors, even such non-pacifists as Kissinger and Brzezinski.
Why should any “Left Populists” wait in place forever begging economic crumbs while the “center” trends so rapidly towards heedless militarism and ineptitude at everything other than piling up money and eradicating Left Populism as an electoral force?
Where is Zeeshan Aleem coming from?
The above blind spots, and Aleem’s own lack of antiwar grounding, are highlighted by Aleem’s earlier December 30 2022 article on the expanding number of self-described Progressives in Congress, in which he self-describes as “someone far to the left of the Democratic establishment,” and reasonably comments:
”I’m unsure how much the growing ranks of bold progressives matters if they don’t use their numbers to play hardball with the establishment they claim to buck. So far, the Democrats’ most progressive members haven’t used their power as aggressively as they should.”
But this trend has not moved Aleem away from a static self-perceived location in a static Left-Right political arena. This lack of movement is clear from his complacency in this prediction:
with Democrats losing control of the House in January, the expanded roster of progressives will not matter nearly as much as when Democrats regain a majority in the future. …As lawmakers, their greatest power [is in] their capacity to obstruct bad polices and help pass better policies in Washington.
In other words, he has a static perspective in which:
no amount of mandate-squandering by the Democratic establishment will prevent them from having future governing majorities, and
no amount of pre-emptive surrenders by Progressives in Congress will discredit them enough to prevent future successes in more toughly forcing Democratic majorities into Leftward concessions.
The other big ‘tell’ on the static core of Aleem’s ideology was that, although he criticized the fact that “The squad has also not tried to seriously challenge, or add conditions to, military aid to Ukraine” he immediately explained this criticism as follows:
”Our funding of Ukraine’s war effort is generally moral and savvy, but it also requires strategic restraint in order to avoid nuclear escalation with Russia — a substantial concern of the antiwar left.”
Whoah. How static is it to recycle the precise perspectives held by moderate Left Democrats on the Vietnam War circa 1965? The only present-day world in which massive investments into arming Ukraine would be “savvy” is one in which (paraphrasing various establishment figures):
‘we must bleed the Russians to the last Ukrainian, now in Ukraine, so that we don’t have to, later, fight the Russians in the USA.’
Since nobody fears future clouds of Russian (or Chinese) paratroopers garrisoning American towns, this rhetoric must be disguising one or both of the following:
a “fight” to prevent Russian and/or Chinese ideas from “interfering" in (competing in the domestic political market-place of) the ‘ever-more-perfect’ Democracies that the USA has created domestically and in its foreign client states; or
a “fight” to replace the US public’s 1950s-1970s fear of Eurasian Communism with new fears of the US being economically outclassed by a combination of (a) raw materials directed by Russia’s conservative Christian Orthodoxy, with (b) manufacturing capacity directed by China’s still “Communist”-branded bureaucratic Confucianism.
Each of these alternative fights can only be justified by a highly static view of world affairs, and would serve mainly to preserve the privileged and lucrative role of the US’s national security state and military industrial complex, despite the trends for the US's declining global hegemony to cause ever-fewer table crumbs to trickle down to the majority of the US populace.
Meanwhile, the assertion, that heavily arming Ukraine (not to mention destroying Germany’s gas pipeline from Russia) is “moral,” depends on ignoring the following:
The heavily documented story of NATO’s (per Rand’s advice) intentional weaponizing of Ukraine and of its internal divisions against (and thereby seeking to provoke) Russia since at least 2008 (building upon the CIA’s campaigns dating back to around 1945), in overdrive since the 2014 extra-constitutional overthrow of Ukraine’s recently elected President; and
The parade of (former US military) commenters (such as Douglas MacGregor, Scott Ritter & Brian Berletic) explaining why, as unlikely it is for Russia to “lose” this war on the military battlefields, it is infinitely more unlikely for Ukraine to “win” it in any way, in comparison with the Ukraine’s now-abandoned alternative of negotiating over compromises that were long proposed by Russia.
The least “moral” type of war is the never-ending war that NATO has been promising.
In sum, Aleem's recent article, naming Greenwald/Taibbi/Gabbard/Dore (to which I would add Brie Joy Gray and many others), worries that journalists and commentators like them may encourage their audiences to flow (across an imaginary static two-dimensional political spectrum) to the Populist Right, but Aleem fails to analyze and respond to what are arguably much broader changes:
What if the audiences of Greenwald/Taibbi/Gabbard/Dore/Gray etc. now feel overdue for journalism more relevant to norm-breaking prioritization of non-elite interests?
What if these audiences are more active than passive participants in flows away from the deepening void of any electorally serious Populist Left?
What Aleem sees as a constructed and curated "pipeline" looks more to me like a river, of egalitarian-inclined anti-elitism, growing and surging over its eroding Democrat-built banks, which no nostalgia-drenched appeals to "moral" or "savvy" status quo apologia, from Aleem or his patrons, will be able to bring back under 'flood control.'