The Left Needs to Stop Fighting the Last War
When left-wingers start to sound like the alt-right, you know there’s a problem. Unfortunately, the problem goes deeper than politics and has to do with the way people (regardless of partisan affiliation) react to a world that doesn’t conform to their particular ideology.
Recently, I found myself coming across statements by people I considered to be prominent intellectuals that I found rather appalling. There was Elon Musk’s very public statements where he endlessly ranted about the evils of the “woke crowd” and how he was voting Republican because the Democrats had become “the party of hate and division.” The less said about his possible support for a DeSantis presidential run, the better.
There’s also Glenn Greenwald, the famed documentarian who has become a virulent pro-Putin polemic. In addition to apparently gloating over Russia’s successes in the Ukraine, he has repeatedly blamed Putin’s invasion on the U.S. and parroted the Kremlin’s talking points about Ukraine being run by “neo-Nazis.” This is nothing new, he’s been running defense for Putin’s invasion for years, but its become truly worrisome of late.
Then there’s the way Snowden (whom Greenwald helped leak information about the NSA’s domestic surveillance) famously tweeted in 2016 that the election was: “a choice between Donald Trump and Goldman Sachs.” Like many American leftists, he seemed to think that Hillary Clinton would be a worse choice than a bigoted, sex offending, extremely narcissistic, mentally-compromised, Russian “useful idiot” and criminal fraud.
And who can forget the famous case of Julian Assange? For years, the founder of Wikileaks was a champion of freedom of speech and transparency. The way he shared the information provided by Chelsea Manning about military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq largely confirmed what was already known, but was still powerful and shocking. How odd was it that by 2016, he had effectively become an ally to Putin and helped Trump become president?
Many people I consider friends and colleagues had similar thoughts. “Hillary is just as bad,” they would say. Some even claimed she was worse. It was all “establishment” this, and “warmonger” that! For years, this kind of talk surprised the hell out of me because of the way it was completely indistinguishable from the demonstrable lies and deflections coming from alt-right media networks and their affiliated troll farms.
Like many people, I’ve found myself asking the same question again and again over the past few years:
“Did IQs Suddenly Drop?”
The answer to that is a hard no. Much like the idea that the world is getting worse, the most reasonable answer is almost always, “no, you’re just getting to know it better.” But still, this trend that I’ve seen has me rather worried, especially because of the rather volatile times we live in. In the face of instability and fallout, I find people on the far left of the political spectrum are busy fighting the last war.
You may recall this war. It began around the turn of the century when a neo-conservative regime seized power in the U.S. through a blatant act of electoral fraud (i.e., George W. Bush administration). After months of extreme laziness and ineffectual leadership, the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history occurred. This attack was one that they were repeatedly warned about, but chose to ignore. After it occurred, they chose to ruthlessly exploit it for the sake of launching a “crusade” at home and abroad.
What we got was twenty years of warfare that ultimately did nothing to stop international terrorism, spawned an even worse incarnation (ISIS/ISIL), led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and millions more displaced. The criminals were never prosecuted, and despite a change in government (the Obama administration), much of the policies enacted under Bush continued — domestic surveillance, the war in Afghanistan, a “war” on multiple fronts.
To be fair, I get why people on the left end of the political spectrum are still fighting this war. Though I’m not an American, I am emotionally invested in what goes on down there. Like most Canadians, I have family in the U.S. (including my sister and in-laws), and so many of my friends and colleagues today live in the U.S. And I would remind people that as your neighbor (and largest trading partner), whatever happens in the U.S. affects people and the politics up here.
The whole “you aint from around here” and “mind your business” line is childish and asinine! If you fancy yourself a world leader, or “leader of the free world,” you don’t get to pretend that what you do happens in a vacuum. What you do affects the rest of the world and your policies and interests cannot be upheld without the help and support of the international community. The bonds that bind us (like I said, family, friends, colleagues) transcend borders. And it’s not we’re saying anything that the majority of Americans have been for decades, right?
So trust me when I say that I remember what a disgrace Bush was and how his leadership caused no shortage of anxiety in the U.S., Canada, and the world at large. Like most Americans, most Canadians were elated when Obama was elected in 2008 and disheartened when the GOP decided to embrace the Tea Party movement and “go negative” (as Sarah Palin embodied) in response. I also remember how Obama, despite what many people hoped, came to accept the thinking of the military and security apparatus in Washington.
Obama went with a “surge” in Afghanistan, expanding drone strikes to take out suspected terrorists, suppressed information on the resulting civilian deaths, expanded domestic surveillance under PRISM, and exerted “executive privilege” repeatedly. I remember all that, how Obama essentially adopted a “diet Dubya” or “neo-con lite” stance whenever it came to matters of foreign policy and domestic security.
I also remember in 2014 when Hillary Clinton came to Canada as part of an official state visit and delivered a series of lectures at universities across the country. The subject was foreign policy and the “war on terror,” though her administration had long since dropped that term from their lexicon. I remember how I read her words and how they left a bad taste in my mouth and several uncomfortable questions on my mind.
I remember how she connected 9/11 and the then-recent terrorist attacks in Paris to the shooter (a radicalized Libyan-Canadian man from Quebec) who shot a soldier on sentry duty at the War Memorial in Ottawa and then attempted to storm Parliament Hill. Fortunately for all people, he was shot dead by security before he could kill anyone else. She claimed this showed how we needed a “united front” against extremism ideologies.
For many reasons, her words didn’t sit right with me. For starters, Canada fought alongside the U.S. and “Coalition Forces” in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2011. We lost a lot of good people fighting pro-Taliban forces in their strongholds of Kandahar province while 16,000 U.S. troops remained in and around Kabul to protect the president they installed. This was Hamid Karzai, nicknamed the “mayor of Kabul” because of how he had no real power was beyond the city.
Canada also committed to intervention in Syria that year due to the rise of ISIS. That decision was made immediately prior to the shooting on Parliament Hill, which many of us saw as a connection. Clinton also said that we needed to remain committed to fighting “extremist ideology” on multiple fronts, as it was pervasive. She also included the caveat that this was NOT a war on Islam or Muslims and that most Muslims are peaceful people who are also victims of extremist ideology.
Having absorbed all that, I had a few questions for the then-Secretary of State:
- How do you wage war on ideology? How can you stop the spread of ideology with guns, bombs, and missiles?
- How is this any different than Bush’s appeals for unity in the “war on terror”? Are we not fighting the same war, only with new labels now?
- Why aren’t the roots of this problem being addressed? Like poverty and underdevelopment, or how the U.S. has invaded, bombed, embargoed, or intervened in the domestic politics of 14 Islamic nations since 1980?
- Does the fact that we’ve all experienced terrorist attacks since 9/11 prove that we need to stand with you? Or is the fact that we’re standing with you the reason we’ve all experienced terrorists attacks?
- How much longer is this war going to be? Do you even know if it can be won, or how?
These questions were hardly original. During the Obama administration, there was no shortage of people who saw that their really was little difference between Democrats and Republicans anymore. On every major issue, border security, terrorism, domestic surveillance, drone strikes, airstrikes, embargoes, North Korea, Iran, Russia, terrorism, American exceptionalism and leadership, both sides were reading from the same playbook and citing the same tired cliches.
I certainly can’t blame people for being cynical or looking beyond the two-party system for ideas and solutions. However, there’s a flipside to that coin that became horribly and painfully apparent by 2015–2016.
Like I said, when it comes to foreign policy and security, Democrats and Republicans have become virtually indistinguishable. But the reality is, the Obama administration inherited the policies of the Bush admin, and short of withdrawing on all fronts and officially terminating the “war on terror,” they were forced to come up with solutions.
The solutions they came up with involved withdrawing troops from Iraq, staying in Afghanistan (which had been sorely neglected from 2002 onward), relying on drones instead of boots on the ground, and switching from domestic wiretapping to something more sophisticated (PRISM). This was by no means a perfect solution, but at least it refocused efforts on actually fighting Al-Qaeda and it’s affiliates — not wasting time using 9/11 as a pretext for invading countries that had nothing to do it.
However, Democrats and Republicans couldn’t be more different when it comes to domestic and social issues — where they are strictly polarized. It doesn’t take a genius to see why this is. By 2008, the Democrats occupied most of the political landscape, from the left-of-center and middle to the right-of-center. That included middle-income families, working-class families, moderates, white liberals and progressives, African-Americans, immigrants, and minorities.
After the 2008 election, the Republican Party understood that it had a “minority problem” and tried to rebrand itself as something fresh and new. But by 2010–2011, they’d ditched all that in order to embrace a new wave of far-right fringe idiots — the Tea Party and Birthers —instead. Why? Because it’s always easier to exploit ignorance, fear, hatred, and mob mentality. By 2012, it was sickening to see the level of pandering they had sunk to.
Being a candidate on the GOP ticket now meant you had to promise to get rid of certain government agencies altogether, say that water-boarding and “enhanced interrogation” weren’t torture, believe in Birther nonsense (tacitly), that you’d let sick people die rather than insure them, that corporations were people, and that people who needed social assistance were “entitled” parasites ruining America. You also had to accuse your opponents of being “RINOs.”
But to actually run for president, you had to reverse all those positions in a hurry and pretend that you were a moderate. This was illustrated perfectly by the candidacy of Mitt Romney, which was horribly confused and terribly off-message. His contradictions and flip-flops were so notable that even Republicans voter claimed he “would say anything to get your vote.”
Luckily for everyone, all the antics failed and Obama was reelected. Nevertheless, many people were still cynical and admitted they only voted for him because he was the “lesser of two evils.” As Obama started his second term, the economy surged, Republicans doubled down on impeaching him and repealing Obamacare, and life went on. By 2016, things got so much worse!
Trump Derangement Syndrome
By 2016, Trump entered the political scene amid a wave of bigotry, xenophobia, stupidity, and laughable, terrible showmanship. This was the age of “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” or TDS! This was yet another term that Team Trump stole in their mission to dominate the airwaves with cheap theatrics and talking points.
Much like how MAGA was ripped from Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan, “Let’s Make America Great Again!” TDS was a copy and paste version of “Bush Derangement Syndrome.” This was coined by neo-conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer in 2003 as a similarly feeble attempt to deflect criticism of then-president George W. Bush.
Alas, the derangement Trump inspired was real. The effect he had on the minds of simple and desperate people, as well as educated individuals on all sides of the political spectrum, was tantamount to derangement. There was just something about his vicious, slovenly, incredibly stupid manner that drove people nuts! Some got swept up in his phony bravado and began acting like complete jackasses and unruly mobs (as demonstrated by literally any Trump rally).
Others felt their IQ dropping from the mere act of listening to him stumble through his word salads and weak boasts. Trump certainly attracted like-minded idiots to his side. But for those who joined him for entirely self-serving and amoral reasons began to sound more and more like idiots too. The example of Kellyanne Conway will suffice, little Mrs. “Alternative Facts.” This is what happens when you bet on the dumbest man in the race, you have to access your inner idiot in order to remain loyal and avoid imploding from self-disgust.
But it’s the people on the far-left, the ones who hated Bush and hated Obama for being too much like Bush, that I’m concerned with here. For reasons I could NOT fathom, they seemed to like Trump — or at least, they liked him better than Hillary Clinton. Even people I considered friends would say things like “she’s just as bad” or “she’s worse than Trump” or that Trump’s only crime was “being uncouth.” At the very least, they decried how it was unfair that they had to pick “the lesser of two evils.”
I would ask them to rationalize those statements and why they were so quick to join the chorus that called her a “fascist,” a “warmonger,” or “racist.” I asked the same questions about Biden when he was making his presidential run in 2020 (and was accused by many leftists of being “rapey” and “racist.”) Why was it that it so was hard for them to choose between an “establishment candidate” whom they did not like and a man-child who was clearly a threat to democracy, immigrants, women, and people of color?
Not one of these individuals could rationalize their arguments beyond saying “look at her record!” No details were forthcoming on said record, unless they turned to right-wing websites that were peddling half-truths, misleading information or flat-out fabrications. Even if such conspiracy theories were true — a la Uranium One, “Obama gave Iran billions,” the Crime Bill, Hillary threatened Bill’s accusers— they hardly compared to a mentally-compromised white nationalist rapist who was colluding with Vladimir Putin!
Speaking of Putin, the same held true of him whenever I asked leftists or seemingly rational people to explain why they thought Putin was “good for Russia” or the “good guy” in all of this. The most popular responses were to the effect of, “Putin’s trying to defend his people from the war-mongering U.S,” or “Hillary will start World War III!” Most of all, they would parrot Putin’s own favorite talking point, “what about the U.S. [insert alleged crime here]?” This is something Putin does any time someone challenges him regarding his latest crimes against humanity. He deflects with his “whataboutism” or claims he’s too busy to murder political rivals.
Somehow, any facts I would cite about Putin’s record were false. Whether it was how he came to power through a a terrorist attack on his own people, his murdering and jailing of political rivals, his persecution of journalists and whistle-blowers, his repeated invasions of neighboring states, his use of secret police to silence dissent, his ties to organized crime and criminal “oligarchs,” or his persecution of gay people, they’d tell me I was brainwashed by “CIA propaganda.”
Oh, and of course, there were the hard core socialists who claimed that the U.S. intelligence community was lying about Trump colluding with Russia because… “WMDs and Iraq!” They also loved the argument that the U.S. did the same to Russia in the 1990s by sending financial aid to the government of Boris Yeltsin. How the hell that compared to an act of cyber-terrorism designed to put a puppet into power is beyond me.
Somehow, they didn’t see how their vague anti-establishment beliefs were feeding the anti-establishment narrative Trump was exploiting. Also, they couldn’t see how their die-hard opinions were no longer able to rationalize the flow of events around the world. The trend continued into Trump’s presidency amid repeated humiliations, crises, scandals, corruption, the worst pandemic in U.S. history, the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression, an attempted coup, and an insurrection.
Oh, but there are two defenses of Trump that really drove me nuts! One, “we’d have been worse off under Clinton,” and “he didn’t start any new wars.” Again, these were said by people who were outspokenly on the far-right and far-left of the spectrum. And they are f***ing hilarious for being so simple-minded and detached from reality. Let’s start with the latter:
The reason Trump didn’t “start” any new wars is the same reason he let 500,000 Americans die rather than admit a pandemic was coming, spent 60% of his days watching TV and posting unhinged tweets, wandered away in the middle of important functions, delegated all the real work to his VP, son-in-law, or some other incompetent, and why his staff had to constantly hide things from him and lie to him.
In short, Trump is quite possibly the most negligent, stupid, lazy, and incompetent manchild to ever hold office! On top of that, he flaunts the signs of half a dozen mental disorders, including early-onset dementia. Congratulating Trump for being too lazy and stupid to conduct any military operations is like congratulating him (as the media often did) for getting through a speech without totally sh**ing the bed!
When it came to foreign policy, he repeatedly capitulated to regimes hostile to the U.S. — Russia, Syria, Turkey, and North Korea —rather than stand up to them. Beyond the fact that he couldn’t be bothered to do anything, he gave in to these “strongmen” because he admired them! He couldn’t say enough nice things about some of history’s worst dictators, and repeatedly praised Putin, Kim Jong-un, Erdogan, and Xi Jinping, whom he wanted to emulate.
Meanwhile, his efforts at home were overwhelmingly focused on obstructing any and all investigation into how he betrayed his country to the Russians and publicly siding with Putin over his own intelligence community. Beyond that, he did nothing but abuse the power of his office for personal and financial gain, support white nationalist violence, and attempt to rig the 2020 election. In short, he started a war alright, against his own f***ing country!
I would add that Trump’s war is still raging and TDS is on full display. In every Red State and in the Republican-stacked SCOTUS, abortion and homosexuality is being criminalized, books that teach about real history are being burned, and voting rights are under attack. To many, an actual civil war seems likely at this point, all thanks to cowardly Republicans, white nationalists, alt-right media swindlers, and people who engaged in insurrection and treason against their own country!
Which brings us to the “we’d have been worse off under Clinton.” Considering all that’s happened and the state of things right now, you’d have to be incredibly stupid or spent the last five years in a cave on the Moon. But that’s the point, isn’t it? I do believe that this is the real reason why far-leftists are shooting themselves in the foot and why they seem to be in agreement with the far-right these days.
I think Neal Stephenson said it best in The Diamond Age, where a character describes what it means to be an intelligent person:
“The difference between stupid and intelligent people — and this is true whether or not they are well-educated — is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations — in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.”
That’s the real problem isn’t it? Simple people try to force simple explanations on the world and get mad at it when it doesn’t conform. At that point, they look around for someone to blame — an individual, a trend, or even an entire segment of society. It’s not even a question of partisan politics, but a parallel struggle between stupid people on the left and the right.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making the “both sides” argument. We all can see with our own eyes who is at fault for the terrible rift in politics in the U.S. and beyond today. One side is actively courting white supremacists, anti-vaxxers, climate change-denial, anti-government paranoia, foreign hostile regimes, and reckless stupidity for the sake of political power — Republicans! The other side is struggling to actually govern (however imperfectly) and wasting its time calling for unity, basic common sense, and decency.
But for people on the far-left, this problem is acute. They are still hoping that the world will conform to their old perceptions and are experiencing cognitive dissonance over what is happening today. Praising Trump, Putin, siding with anti-vaxxers, claiming “both sides are awful,” and generally withdrawing from the struggle are all symptoms. Aside from the millions who shared Trump’s blatant bigotry, it seems to me that it was this same impulse that drove many Americans to vote for him.
If you look at it this way, you suddenly stop seeing things in terms of “polarized opinion” or “division.” The problem is that stupidity has become amplified by a number of factors and people fighting for solutions are being undermined by said stupidity. It is not only ruining political discourse, but preventing reform and action at a time when it is needed the most!
In the U.S., abortion and voting rights are under assault in every single Red State (with the help of SCOTUS), mass shootings are a constant feature, and climate change is leading to increased drought, wildfires, extreme weather and storm activity — all at a time when the U.S. is drowning in debt, wealth is extremely polarized, and infrastructure is crumbling.
Globally, pandemics are becoming the new normal, white supremacist parties are growing in power, hate crimes are on the rise, refugee crises are regular, and climate change is threatening ecological collapse in some of the most densely-populated parts of the world. All of these issues is projected to become worse as populations continue to grow as resources dwindle and hundreds of millions of desperate people are forced to migrate.
These are the realities of the world we live in today, and they are NOT in dispute (despite what troll farms and whack jobs would have you believe). If we’re going to have a chance at staving off calamity and collapse in this century, we need to trust in medical science, acknowledge climate science, promote international cooperation, fight for positive change at home, and support politicians who are doing the same!
We need to stop fighting among ourselves like idiots and stop trying to make the world conform to our paranoia, politics, ideologies, and self-righteousness!