The United States is on the brink of a fascistic situation now that Donald Trump is president. But the American left, logically the wellspring of resistance to the establishment of a fascistic order in the world’s most powerful country, finds itself in a very compromised position.
With many Democrats denying the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency on the basis of evident Russian manipulation of the election, it is a bitter irony that the most popular “progressive” voices are rushing to exonerate Moscow of meddling. Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, and Jeremy Scahill are among those effectively seeking to exculpate Vladimir Putin, demanding the CIA show its “evidence,” as if this—and not preparing to resist Trump—were the urgent priority. It also ignores the reality that Trump’s toeing of the Moscow line on Syria, Ukraine, and NATO (not to mention his fawning praise of Putin) strongly points to a quid pro quo.
From Left to Right
In a recent piece for The Intercept, Greenwald called Trump “duly elected,” and accused the President’s critics of “using classic Cold War dirty tactics.” In light of these words, protestations that Greenwald is merely warning the anti-Trump forces against playing of a poor card ring extremely hollow. Greenwald even appeared on Fox News with Tucker Carlson in December 2016 to dismiss the Russian hacking allegations as a “smear.”
In an interview with Breitbart contributor Lee Stranahan that same month, Greenwald praised the “alt-right” organ as having “integrity and a sort of editorial independence that I think most media outlets on both the left and the establishment right utterly lack.” He added that Breitbart is “giving voice to people who are otherwise excluded,” and hailed the site as “very impressive in terms of the impact they’ve been able to have.” Greenwald massaged these statements with banal interjections about how Breitbart contains content he “sometimes find[s] repellant.” Unsurprisingly, and without delay, Breitbart (now practically an official mouthpiece of the Trump team) republished the interview as an act of self-praise.
But perhaps the most damning indictment of Greenwald’s position is his defense of Julian Assange, the mastermind of WikiLeaks, which is now accused of having been the conduit for Democratic National Committee emails purportedly hacked by Russian intelligence. In a December 2016 interview with Italy’s La Repubblica, Assange expressed his forgiving opinion of the then-imminent Trump takeover:
“Donald Trump is not a D.C. insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities,” Assange said. “It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better.” Whereas: “Hillary Clinton’s election would have [simply] been a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States.”
When The Guardian ran a piece accusing Assange of expressing “guarded praise of Trump,” Greenwald responded by attacking the publication and defending Assange, accusing them of “false claims—fabrications, really.” Astonishingly, the Kremlin mouthpiece Sputnik spun the Assange interview exactly the same way (“Assange: Trump Offers Chance for Change”)—but approvingly—and Greenwald apparently saw no problem with that.
In an unlikely interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity in January 2017, Assange complained of Obama and U.S. intelligence agencies, saying “they are trying to say that President-elect Trump is not a legitimate president.” Asked by Hannity if the hacks originated with Russian intelligence, Assange replied: “Our source is not a state party, so the answer for our interactions is no.” Even if his stilted and pretentious prose did not reek of equivocation, Assange’s answer was a dodge: it left open whether WikiLeaks’ “source” may have received the data from Russian intelligence.
Trump joyfully jumped on Assange’s comments, tweeting: “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’—why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!” (In response, CNN noted that Trump told Fox News in a 2010 interview that Assange should get the death penalty for publishing leaked U.S. diplomatic cables.)
What such defenders of Trump seem not to realize is that there are many reasons he is not legitimate, apart from the assumed Russian meddling cited by Representative John Lewis. These include, but are not limited to, his open calls for violence against his opponents on the campaign trail, his blatant contempt for democratic norms, and his undisguised racism and xenophobia. The only thing arguably more disturbing than Trump’s positions is that some icons on the “left” seem undisturbed by them.
The paradox of a “leftist” bloc cozying up to the Trump machine is not surprising. It is part of a larger political convergence, which includes conformity to the Russian line on Syria and Ukraine. Now embraced by Trump, these positions have dominated the American and British “left” for several years.
In December 2015, for example, U.S. Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, notoriously supped with Putin at a Moscow confab sponsored by Kremlin state media mouthpiece RT. Also at the dinner table was Donald Trump’s then military advisor (now National Security Advisor), retired General Mike Flynn—an ultra-Islamophobe who has called for the “destruction of Raqqa” to defeat ISIS, and even boasted that he is “at war with Islam” in an interview with The Intercept (of all places). This is strange company for Stein, who purports to represent a party committed to human rights, peace, and ecology. Indeed, Green parties across Europe assailed Stein for her schmoozing with Putin, as did persecuted Russian environmentalists.
Notably, Stein’s viral YouTube statement from Red Square during the trip, filled with predictable “anti-war” rhetoric, had not a syllable of criticism either for Flynn or for her Kremlin hosts—who were then (as now) busy bombing Syrian towns and cities into rubble. Instead, she said the RT confab was “inspiring,” and that Putin told her he “agree[d]” with her “on many issues.”
Stein’s silence on Russia’s actions in Syria was hardly surprising. She and her campaign had often come to the defense of the Assad regime, even seeking to exculpate it of using chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.
Since her Moscow visit, Stein has regularly echoed the Moscow line, telling Vox in September 2016 that “Russia used to own Ukraine,” and saying the idea of “Russian aggression” there is “highly questionable,” comments that reflected a dubious understanding of international law.
The following month, in October, Stein said that Clinton’s plan for a no-fly zone in Syria could lead to nuclear war, and added that “it is actually Hillary’s policies which are much scarier than Donald Trump who does not want to go to war with Russia.” Later that month, Trump seemingly lifted this talking point from Stein, telling Reuters: “What we should do is focus on ISIS. We should not be focusing on Syria [apparently meaning the Assad regime]. You’re going to end up in World War Three over Syria if we listen to Hillary Clinton.”
What explains this sinister convergence of the supposed “left” and the Trump-Putin right? Three explanations come to mind—and they each reveal very muddled and dangerous thinking.
The first is enemy-of-my-enemy thinking, the notion that we must support any side opposing or opposed by the United States at a given moment. This is always an error—it has led “leftists” into such criminally idiotic positions as denying the Bosnia genocide. It makes no sense, whatsoever, in the current context. The United States has not really opposed Assad (with more than increasingly equivocal words), and Trump is no longer an “outsider,” but the U.S. president—openly calling for complete betrayal of the Syrian rebels and giving Putin a free hand in Ukraine.
The second is a Cold War-nostalgist Russophilia that yearns for the days when Moscow claimed to lead world socialism. But, this too gets the political context nearly backwards. If slavish adherence to the Moscow line was an error even back then, it is far less forgivable today. Putin’s nascent dictatorship is far closer to fascism than to communism. Russia’s brave and lonely anti-war dissidents are persecuted, along with feminists and members of the LGBTQ community. The Duma has just passed legislation decriminalizing domestic violence.
The third is the most sinister, and compelling, explanation: the emergence of what is called a “Red-Brown” politics in Europe—namely collaboration between the left and fascists against the West. Nearly eighty years after the Hitler-Stalin Pact, elements of the left are again making peace with fascism. It takes but the most cursory grasp of history to understand what a grave error this is. The Hitler-Stalin Pact did not work out too well, as the German dictator betrayed his Russian counterpart with a surprise invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. However oleaginous Donald and Vladimir may be at the moment, it is easy to imagine the new American demagogue deciding to turn Moscow into a nuclear crater, because Putin made an unflattering comment about the size of his fingers.
There are a few tendencies long at work on the left that make it vulnerable to Red-Brown politics. One is the idea that the liberals are the “real” enemy because they are more insidious than the hard right, and lull the masses into complacency—always a fashionable posture of hard-left machismo. Another is that, after the Iraq disaster, fear of “neocons” has driven much of the left into hands of paleocons (that faction of the policy elite that prefers “stability” under authoritarian regimes) and even the neo-fascists with which they overlap. It is no surprise, for example, that that soft-on-fascism Pat Buchanan, reigning patriarch of paleoconservatism, currently has a piece on his website asking, “Is Putin One of Us?” Pat praises the Russian strongman for his “moral clarity” in opposing the decadence of the West.
This backlash against the neocons and their hubristic dreams of Washington-directed “regime change,” has led to an ironic “leftist” suspicion of authentic revolution. In Iran in 2009, as in Serbia in 2000 and Ukraine in 2014, and even in Egypt in 2011, many “leftists” in the West saw only Washington conspiracies in popular revolutions to bring down oppressive regimes. While people across the Arab world put their lives on the line under the slogan “the people want the fall of the regime,” self-declared progressives in the West only saw “regime change.”
We can only hope that a taste of actual authoritarian rule in Trump’s America will serve to shake some leftists out of their enthusiasm for dictators.