by Bill Weinberg, Muftah
The United States is poised on the brink of a fascistic situation since the inauguration of Donald Trump. 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.
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 obligingly 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 of course massaged these statements with requisite 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 e-mails hacked by Russian intelligence. In a December interview with Italy's La Repubblica, Assange expressed his forgiving opinion on the imminent Trump takeover.
"Donald Trump is not a DC 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 been a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States."
Greenwald in The Intercept then bashed The Guardian for portraying Assange's interview as "guarded praise of Trump"—which it was, despite Greenwald's transparent denials. And here's the proof of the pudding: Kremlin mouthpiece Sputnik spun it exactly the same way ("Assange: Trump Offers Chance for Change")—but approvingly! And Greenwald apparently has no problem with that!
In early January, Assange went one better in an unlikely interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, complaining of Obama and his intelligence agencies: "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 merely raises the question of whether WikiLeaks' "source" had 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!" (CNN thankfully recalled that Trump told Fox News in a 2010 interview that Assange should be executed. When asked about WikiLeaks and its recent dump of diplomatic cables, he said: "I think it's disgraceful, I think there should be like death penalty or something.")
Left 'Legitimizes' Trump
What such defenders of Trump seem not to realize is that there are many reasons Trump is not legitimate, apart from the assumed Russian meddling cited by Rep. 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, however, surprising. It is part of a larger political convergence evidenced for years before the current bizarre climax. The Russian line on Syria and Ukraine, now embraced by Trump, has become practically the dominant position on the American and British "left."
In December 2015, for example, US 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 Gen. 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. So 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. She said the RT confab was "inspiring," and later added 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 reflect 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.”
Again and again during the presidential campaign, we were told by voices on the "left" that Trump was the less dangerous candidate, because Clinton would start a world war—despite Trump's nuclear posturing and "bomb the shit out of 'em" rhetoric.
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 US at a given moment. This is always an error—it has led "leftists" into such criminally idiotic positions as denying the Bosnia genocide. But it makes no sense whatsoever in this context. The US has not really opposed Assad (with more than increasingly equivocal words), and Trump is now the 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 gays. The Duma has just passed legislation decriminalizing domestic violence.
The third is the most sinister explanation: the emergence of what is called a "Red-Brown" politics in Europe, the notion of a left-fascist bloc against the West. Nearly 80 years after the Hitler-Stalin Pact, elements of the left are again making peace with fascism—pointing to the possibility of these sectors getting co-opted by Trumpism in the manner of Hitler's populist paramilitary force, the Brown Shirts.
It takes but the most cursory grasp of history to understand what a grave error this is. Things worked out poorly for the Brown Shirts in the end; they were crushed once they had outlived their usefulness to the Führer. The Hitler-Stalin Pact didn't work out too well either, as the German dictator betrayed his Russian counterpart with the surprise invasion of 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 the Trump 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 render it vulnerable to such 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 the hands of paleocons—that faction of the policy elite that prefers "stability" under authoritarian regimes—and even the neo-fascists with which they overlap on the right. It is no surprise 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, with 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 across the Arab world, people put their lives on the line under the slogan "the people want the fall of the regime," for self-declared progressives in the West, "regime change" became the ultimate evil.
We may hope that a taste of actual authoritarian rule in Trump's America will serve to shake some leftists out of their enthusiasm for dictators. This particular chicken is rapidly coming home to roost.
A slightly different version of this story first appeared Feb. 10 on Muftah.
Photo: Mike Maguire via Flickr
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Reprinted by CounterVortex, Feb. 24, 2017