By Jonathan Cook
There’s been a new public fracturing of the intellectual left, typified by an essay last week from Nathan J. Robinson, editor of the small, independent, socialist magazine Current Affairs, accusing Glenn Greenwald and Matt Taibbi of bolstering the right’s arguments. He is the more reasonable face of what seems to be a new industry arguing that Greenwald is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, setting the right’s agenda for it.
Under the headline “How to end up serving the right,” Robinson claims that Greenwald and Taibbi, once his intellectual heroes, are – inadvertently or otherwise – shoring up the right’s positions and weakening the left. He accuses them of reckless indifference to the consequences of criticizing a “liberal” establishment and making common cause with the right’s similar agenda. Both writers, argues Robinson, have ignored the fact that the right wields the greatest power in our societies.
This appears to be a continuation of a fight Robinson picked last year with Krystal Ball, the leftwing, former co-host of a popular online politics show called “The Rising.” Robinson attacked her for sharing her platform with the conservative pundit Saagar Enjeti. Ball and Enjeti have since struck out on their own, recently launching a show called “Breaking Points.”
Notably, Greenwald invited Robinson on to his own YouTube channel to discuss these criticisms of Ball when Robinson first made them. In my opinion, Robinson emerged from that exchange looking more than a little bruised.
As with his clash with Ball, there are problems with Robinson’s fuzzy political definitions.
Somewhat ludicrously in his earlier tussle, he lumped together Enjeti, a thoughtful rightwing populist, with figures like Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, both of them narcissists and authoritarians (of varying degrees of competence) who have donned the garb of populism, as authoritarians tend to do.
Similarly, Robinson’s current disagreements with Greenwald and Taibbi stem in part from a vague formulation — one he seems partially to concede — of what constitutes the “left.” Greenwald has always struck me more as a progressive libertarian than a clear-cut socialist like Robinson. Differences of political emphasis and priorities are inevitable. They are also healthy.
And much of Robinson’s essay is dedicated to cherry picking a handful of tweets from Greenwald and Taibbi to make his case. Greenwald, in particular, is a prolific tweeter. And given the combative and polarizing arena of Twitter, it would be quite astonishing had he not occasionally advanced his arguments without the nuance demanded by Robinson.
Overall, Robinson’s case against both Greenwald and Taibbi is far less persuasive than he appears to imagine.
But the reason I think it worth examining his essay is because it demonstrates a more fundamental split on what — for the sake of convenience — I shall treat as a broader intellectual left that includes Robinson, Greenwald and Taibbi.
Robinson tries to prop up his argument that Greenwald, in particular, is betraying the left and legitimizing the right with an argument from authority, citing some of the left’s biggest icons.
Two, Naomi Klein and Jeremy Scahill, are former journalist colleagues of Greenwald’s at The Intercept, the billionaire-financed online news publication that he co-founded and eventually split from after it broke an editorial promise not to censor his articles.
Greenwald fell out with the editors in spectacularly public fashion late last year after they stifled his attempts to write about the way Silicon Valley and liberal corporate media outlets — not unlike The Intercept — were colluding to stifle negative coverage of Joe Biden in the run-up to the presidential election, in a desperate bid to ensure he beat Trump.
Greenwald’s public statements about his reasons for leaving The Intercept exposed what were effectively institutional failings there — and implicated those like Scahill and Klein who had actively or passively colluded in the editorial censorship of its co-founder. Klein and Scahill are hardly dispassionate commentators on Greenwald when they accuse him of “losing the plot” and “promoting smears.” They have skin in the game.
But Robinson may think his trump (sic) card is an even bigger left icon, Noam Chomsky, who is quoted saying of Greenwald: “He’s a friend, has done wonderful things, I don’t understand what is happening now… I hope it will pass.”
The problem with this way of presenting Greenwald is that the tables can be easily turned. Over the past few years, my feeds — and I am sure others’ — have been filled with followers asking versions of “What happened to Chomsky?” or “What happened to Amy Goodman and Democracy Now?”
The answer to these very reductive questions — what happened to Greenwald and what happened to Chomsky — is the same. Trump happened. And their different responses are illustrative of the way the left polarized during the Trump presidency and how it continues to divide in the post-Trump era.
Robinson treats the Trump factor — what we might term Post-Traumatic Trump Disorder — as though it is irrelevant to his analysis of Greenwald and Taibbi. And yet it lies at the heart of the current tensions on the left. In its simplest terms, the split boils down to the question of how dangerous Trump really was and is, and what that means for the left in terms of its political responses.
Unlike Robinson, I don’t think it is helpful to personalize this. Instead, we should try to understand what has happened to left politics more generally in the Trump and post-Trump era.
“The split boils down to the question of how dangerous Trump really was and is, and what that means for the left in terms of its political responses.”
Parts of the left joined liberals in becoming fixated on Trump as a uniquely evil and dangerous presence in U.S. politics. Robinson notes that Trump posed an especial and immediate threat to our species’ survival through his denial of climate change, and on these grounds alone every effort had to be made to remove him.
Others on the left recoil from this approach. They warn that, by fixating on Trump, elements of the left have drifted into worryingly authoritarian ways of thinking – sometimes openly, more often implicitly – as a bulwark against the return of Trump or anyone like him.
The apotheosis of such tendencies was the obsession, shared alike by liberals and some on the left, with Russiagate. This supposed scandal highlighted in stark fashion the extreme dangers of focusing on a single figure, in Trump, rather than addressing the wider, corrupt political structures that produced him.
It was not just the massive waste of time and energy that went into trying to prove the unprovable claims of Trump’s collusion with the Kremlin – resources that would have been far better invested in addressing Trump’s real crimes, which were being committed out in the open.
It was that the politically tribal Trump-Russia narrative engulfed and subverted a meaningful politics of resistance. It snared those like Wikileaks founder Julian Assange who had been trying to break open the black box of western politics.
It fortified the U.S. security services after they had been exposed by Edward Snowden’s revelations as secretly and illegally conducting mass spying on the public’s communications. It breathed a dangerous credibility into the corrupt Democratic party machine after its embarrassment over engineering Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy. And it revived the fortunes of an increasingly discredited liberal media that quickly won large ratings by promoting fabulists like Rachel Maddow.
Those on the left who tried to challenge Russiagate in order to focus on real political issues were stigmatized as Putin’s puppets, their arguments were labeled “fake news” and they were gradually algorithmed into social media purdah.
Under the Russiagate banner, parts of the left were soon rallying, however reluctantly, behind corporate champions of the planet-destroying status quo.
But it was even worse than that. The fixation on the obviously hollow Russiagate narrative by the Democratic party, the corporate media, Silicon Valley, and the U.S. intelligence agencies served to prove to wide swaths of conservative America that Trump was right when he berated a “liberal” establishment for being invested only in its own self-preservation and not caring about ordinary Americans.
Russiagate did not just divide the left, it dramatically strengthened the right.
Free Speech Dangers
Robinson knows all this, at least intellectually, but perhaps because Trump looms so large in his thinking he does not weigh the significance in the same terms as Greenwald and Taibbi.
Glenn Greenwald & Matt Taibbi were my early journalistic heroes. But nowadays they repeat deluded & dangerous right-wing propaganda. An explanation of how those who see themselves as reasonable can end up swallowing parts of the right's warped worldview:https://t.co/VCXPJJA46k
— Nathan J Robinson (@NathanJRobinson) June 17, 2021
The problem with characterizing Trump as a supremely evil figure is that all sorts of authoritarian political conclusions flow from that characterization — precisely the political conclusions we have seen parts of the left adopting. Robinson may not expressly share these conclusions but, unlike Greenwald and Taibbi, he has largely ignored or downplayed the threat they present.
If Trump poses a unique danger to democracy, then to avoid any recurrence:
- We are obligated to rally uncritically, or at least very much less critically, behind whoever was selected to be his opponent. Following Trump’s defeat, we are duty-bound to restrain our criticisms of the winner, Joe Biden, however poor his performance, in case it opens the door to Trump, or someone like Trump, standing for the presidency in four years’ time.
- We must curb free speech and limit the free-for-all of social media in case it contributed to the original surge of support for Trump, or created the more febrile political environment in which Trump flourished.
- We must eradicate all signs of populism, whether on the right or the left, because we cannot be sure that in a battle of populisms the left will defeat the right, or that leftwing populism cannot be easily flipped into rightwing populism.
- And most importantly, we must learn to distrust “the masses” – those who elected Trump – because they have demonstrated that they are too easily swayed by emotion, prejudice and charisma. Instead, we must think in more traditional liberal terms, of rule by technocrats and “experts” who can be trusted to run our societies largely in secret but provide a stability that should keep any Trumps out of power.
Greenwald and Taibbi have been focusing precisely on this kind of political fallout from the Trump presidency. And it looks suspiciously like this, as much as anything else, is what is antagonizing Robinson and others.
Greenwald’s own experiences at The Intercept underline his concerns. It was not just that Greenwald was forced out over his efforts late last year to talk about the documents found on Hunter Biden’s laptop and the questions they raised about his father, the man who was about to become U.S. president. It was that The Intercept stopped Greenwald from talking about how the entire liberal corporate media and all of Silicon Valley were actively conspiring to crush any attempt to talk about those documents and their significance — and not on the basis of whether they were genuine or not.
Greenwald walked away from what amounted to a very well-paid sinecure at The Intercept to highlight this all-out assault on democratic discourse and the election process — an assault whose purpose was not the search for truth but to prevent any danger of Trump being re-elected. By contrast, in a tweet thread that has not aged well, Robinson along with many others quibbled about the specifics of Greenwald’s case and whether it amounted to censorship, very much ignoring the wood for the trees.
Now that @ggreenwald's Biden article has been published, the relevant question for evaluating whether the Intercept was justified in refusing to publish it is: are its claims false/insufficiently supported? How did it fall short of publication standards? https://t.co/5CwJT72XpC
— Nathan J Robinson (@NathanJRobinson) October 29, 2020
Greenwald and Taibbi talk so much about the role of the traditional media and Silicon Valley because they understand that the media’s professed liberalism — claims to be protecting the rights of women, ethnic minorities and the trans community — is a very effective way of prettifying corporate authoritarianism, an authoritarianism the left claims to be fighting but has readily endorsed once it has been given a liberal makeover.
It is not that the “liberal” establishment — the corporate media, Silicon Valley, the intelligence services — is actually liberal. It is that liberals have come increasingly to identify with that establishment as sharing their values.
For this reason, Robinson obscures the real nature of the divide on the left when he discusses the power of the Supreme Court. He criticizes Greenwald and Taibbi for ignoring the fact that the right exercises absolute power through its packing of the court with rightwing judges. He accuses them of instead unfairly emphasizing the power exercised by this “liberal” establishment.
But despite Robinson’s claims, the Supreme Court very obviously doesn’t wield “all the power,” even with its veto over legislation and actions of the administration. Because an even greater power is invested in those institutions that can control the public’s ability to access and interpret information; to find out what is being done in the shadows; and to make choices based on that information, including about who should represent them.
Information control and narrative management are the deepest forms of power because they shape our ability to think critically, to resist propaganda, to engage in dialogue and to forge alliances that might turn the tide against a profoundly corrupt establishment that includes both the Supreme Court and Silicon Valley. Robinson ignores this point in his essay, even though it is fundamental to assessing “What happened to Greenwald and Taibbi?” A commitment to keeping channels of information open and ensuring dialogue continues, even in the post-Trump era, is what happened to them.
Hard Drives Smashed
The crux of Robinson’s argument is that Greenwald and Taibbi have made a pact with the devil, gradually chaining their more progressive credentials to a Trumpian rightwing populism to defeat the “liberal” establishment. That, Robinson suggests, will only strengthen and embolden the right, and ensure the return of a Trump.
The evidence Robinson and others adduce for Greenwald’s betrayal, in particular, are his now regular appearances on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, where Greenwald and Carlson often find common ground against the authoritarian excesses of that same “liberal” establishment.
That should not surprise us. Carlson and the right have an interest in the break-up of Silicon Valley’s tech monopolies that favor a Democratic Party authoritarianism over their own Republican Party authoritarianism. Greenwald has an interest in the break-up of Silicon Valley’s tech monopolies too but for a very different reason: because he is against monopolies designed to keep the public propagandized and manipulated.
Opposing them both is an authoritarian “liberal” establishment — the Democratic Party, traditional corporate media, Silicon Valley, the intelligence services — that have every interest in perpetuating their control over the tech monopolies.
Robinson contrasts Greenwald’s behavior to his own clean hands as the editor of the small socialist magazine, Current Affairs.
But we should note that Robinson has compromised himself far more than he cares to admit. For several years he used the liberal corporate outlet of The Guardian as a platform from which to present a watered-down version of his own socialist politics. To do so, he had to ignore the paper’s appalling record of warmongering abroad and of subverting socialists like Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour Party leader, at home.
Robinson finally came unstuck when a Guardian editor effectively fired him for writing a satirical tweet about the huge sums of aid given by the U.S. to Israel each year to kill and maim Palestinians under occupation and destroy their infrastructure.
My latest: In sacking a columnist over a tweet criticising US military aid to Israel, the Guardian wasn't stopping 'antisemitism'. It was policing speech to stop the left drawing attention to the continuing colonial nature of western societies https://t.co/E2gORnn5x8
— Jonathan Cook (@Jonathan_K_Cook) February 11, 2021
One can debate whether it is wise for the left to use essentially hostile corporate platforms — liberal or conservative — to advance its arguments. But that is not the debate Robinson is trying to provoke. And for obvious reasons: because in piggybacking on The Guardian, Robinson did what Greenwald has done in piggybacking on Tucker Carlson. Both have used the reach of a larger corporate outlet to build their audience and expand the number of people exposed to their more progressive ideas.
There is an apparent difference, though. In Robinson’s case, he has admitted with impressive frankness that he would have been willing to self-censor on Israel had he been told by The Guardian beforehand that speaking out was likely to cost him his job. That sets his own position apart from Greenwald, who decided to walk from The Intercept rather than allow his work to be censored.
Nonetheless, it is far from clear, as Robinson assumes, that liberal corporate outlets are a safer bet for the left to ally with than rightwing corporate outlets.
Greenwald, remember, was eased out of the “liberal” Guardian many years before Robinson’s sacking after he brought the paper the glory associated with the Edward Snowden revelations while also incurring the intelligence services’ wrath. Those revelations exposed the dark underbelly of the U.S. national security state under the “liberal” presidency of Barack Obama, not Trump. And years later, Greenwald was again pushed out, this time from the supposedly even more “liberal” Intercept as part of its efforts to protect Biden, Obama’s Democratic Party successor.
Greenwald wasn’t dispatched from these publications for being too rightwing. Tensions escalated at The Guardian over the security service backlash to Greenwald’s unwavering commitment to free speech and transparency — just as The Guardian earlier fell out with Julian Assange as he faced the security services’ retaliation for WikiLeaks’ exposure of Western war crimes.
The Guardian’s own commitment to transparency was surrendered with its agreement to carry out the U.K. security services’ demand that it smash hard drives packed with Snowden’s secrets. The destruction of those files may have been largely symbolic (there were copies in the possession of The New York Times) but the message it sent to the left and to the U.K. intelligence agencies was clear enough: from now on, The Guardian was resolutely going to be a team player.
What these experiences with The Guardian and The Intercept doubtless demonstrated to Greenwald was that his most fundamental political principles were essentially incompatible with those of the “liberal” media — and all the more so in the Trump era. The priority for liberal publications was not truth-telling or hosting all sides of the debate but frantically shoring up the authority of a “moderate” technocratic elite, one that would ensure a stable neoliberal environment in which it could continue its wealth extraction and accumulation.
Robinson implies that Greenwald has been embittered by these experiences, and is petulantly hitting back against the “liberal” establishment without regard to the consequences. But a fairer reading would be that Greenwald is fighting against knee-jerk, authoritarian instincts wherever they are found in our societies — on the right, the centre and the left.
The irony is that he appears be getting a better hearing on Tucker Carlson than he does at The Guardian or The Intercept. Contrary to Robinson’s claim, that says more about The Guardian and the so-called liberal media than it does about Greenwald.
Captured by Wokeness
Robinson also misrepresents what Greenwald and Taibbi are trying to do when they appear on rightwing media.
First, he gives every impression of arguing that, by appearing on the Tucker Carlson show, Greenwald naively hopes to persuade Carlson to switch allegiance from a rightwing to leftwing populism. But Greenwald doesn’t go on the Tucker Carlson show to turn its host into a leftist. He appears on the show to reach and influence Carlson’s millions of viewers, who do not have the same investment in neoliberalism’s continuing success as does the multi-millionaire Carlson.
Is Greenwald’s calculation any more unreasonable than Robinson’s belief while writing for The Guardian that he might succeed in turning The Guardian’s liberal readers into socialists? Is Robinson right to assume that liberals are any less committed to their selfish political worldview than the right? Or that — when their side is losing — liberal readers of The Guardian are any less susceptible to authoritarianism than rightwing viewers of Fox News?
Robinson also wrongly accuses Greenwald and Taibbi of suggesting that the CIA and major corporations have, in Robinson’s words, “become captured by culturally left ‘woke’ ideology.” But neither writer appears to believe that Black Lives Matter or #MeToo is dictating policy to the establishment. The pair are arguing instead that the CIA and the corporations are exploiting and manipulating “woke” ideology to advance their own authoritarian agendas.
Their point is not that the establishment is liberal but rather that it can more credibly market itself as liberal or progressive when a Trump is in power or when it is feared that a Trump might return to power. And that perception weakens truly progressive politics. By donning the garb of liberalism, elites are able to twist the values and objectives of social movements in ways designed to damage them and foster greater social divisions.
A feminism that celebrates women taking all the top jobs at the big arms manufacturers — the corporations whose business is the murder of men, women and children — is not really feminism. It is a perversion of feminism. Similarly, establishment claims to “wokeness” provide cover as Western elites internally divide their own societies and dominate or destroy foreign ones.
“Woke authoritarianism,” as Robinson mockingly terms it, is not an attribute of wokeness. It is a description of one specific incarnation of authoritarianism that is currently favored by an establishment that, in the post-Trump era, has managed more successfully to cast itself as liberal.
Mask Torn Off
The central issue here — the one Robinson raises but avoids discussing — is what political conditions are most likely to foster authoritarianism in the U.S. and other Western states, and what can be done to reverse those conditions.
For Robinson, the answer is reassuringly straightforward. Trump and his rightwing populism pose the biggest threat, and the Democratic Party — however dismal its leaders — is the only available vehicle for countering that menace. Therefore, left journalists have a duty to steer clear of arguments or associations that might confer legitimacy on the right.
For Greenwald and Taibbi, the picture looks far more complicated, treacherous and potentially bleak.
Trump fundamentally divided the U.S. For a significant section of the public, he answered their deep-seated and intensifying disenchantment with a political system that appears to be rigged against their interests after its wholesale takeover by corporate elites decades ago. He offered hope, however false.
For others, Trump threatened to topple the liberal facade the corporate elites had erected to sanctify their rule. He dispensed with the liberal pieties that had so effectively served to conceal U.S. imperialism abroad and to maintain the fiction of democracy at home. His election tore the mask off everything that was already deeply ugly about the U.S. political system.
Did that glimpse into the abyss fuel the sense of urgency among liberals and parts of the left to be rid of Trump at all costs — and the current desperation to prevent him or someone like him from returning to the Oval Office, even if it means further trashing free speech and transparency?
In essence, the dilemma the left now faces is this:
- To work with the Democrats, with liberals, who are desperate to put the mask back on the system, to shore up its deceptions, so that political stability can be restored — a stability that is waging war around the globe, that is escalating the threat of super-power tensions and nuclear annihilation, and that is destroying the planet.
- Or to keep the mask off, and work with those elements of the populist left and right that share a commitment to free speech and transparency, in the hope that through open debate we can expose the current rule by an unaccountable, authoritarian technocratic class and its corporate patrons masquerading as “liberals.”
The truth is we may be caught between a rock and hard place. Even as the warning signs mount, liberals may stick with the comfort blanket of rule by self-professed experts to the bitter end, to the point of economic and ecological collapse. And conservatives may, at the end of the day, prove that their commitment to free speech and disdain for corporate elites is far weaker than their susceptibility to narcissist strongmen.
Robinson no more has a crystal ball to see the future than Greenwald. Both are making decisions in the dark. For that reason, Robinson and his allies on the left would be better advised to stop claiming they hold the moral high ground.
Jonathan Cook is a former Guardian journalist (1994-2001) and winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. He is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth. If you appreciate his articles, please consider offering your financial support.
This article is from his blog Jonathan Cook.net.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
Feature image: Screenshot of Glen Greenwald hosting an episode “System Update.” (YouTube)
A very fair and balanced and thoughtful article. Especially the way he references Greenwald’s relationship with Tucker.
Full disclosure, I had only watched Tucker occasionally on that awful Crossfire faux debate show with Paul Begalia years ago. It’s only during the last four years, and because of Trumpian politics that I started, in the name of balance, to watch Fox and Tucker in particular. I can honestly say he is no longer the bow tied “ right wing” demagogue that he was then.
He calls out both sides of the aisle and introduces guests who don’t obviously align with the perceptions many think of Fox. Having people on like Greenwald on a fairly regular basis , and Naomi Wolfe, is a clear example of that. I believe that is why his ratings are consistently number one on MSM. People are tired of one sided news reporting and Tucker seems to fill that void. At least amongst viewers of solely MSM many of whom likely aren’t fully aware of Greenwald’s background.
Full disclaimer. I only watch Tucker. Hannity is unbearably repetitive and full right wing . Always looking for external “adversaries.”. Inghraham is bearable in small doses.
Thank goodness for outlets like Consortium News the Greyzone etc. or we’d never be fully informed on the important issues of the day.
None of you children understand. You live and work in a fascist authoritarian corporate system. No real elections, no real parties, no real opposition. A dystopian farce. The US is 1984 with Big Macs and Disneyland. But underneath it’s neo-Nazi Germany – you will be silenced if your words arouse opposition or even serious debate, Until then you can play at “journalist-truthseeker”, draw your wages and get your pats on the back. Stray from the Path, as Trump did, and you will be removed, as Trump was, thoug with less legality. Look at real journalists – Assange. Murray, Webb (RIP), people who did arouse people to action.
I liked the analysis and it shows exactly why the establishment doesn’t like free speech,debates and exchange of ideas ideas like this.Because,it opens the eyes of the masses which is a threat to their control of how people think. Thank you Jonathan for this article.
i’ve been wondering if greenwald’s comment section on substack is genuine or a carefully engineered intelligence operation to occupy the platform. these subscribers provide glenn’s new income.
This sort of thing happens. And it happens on the right too.
Nixon’s policies alienated some conservatives. Many conservatives were angered also by Barry Goldwater’s support for Ford in 1976 rather than Reagan. Reagan got his share of the flak too.
It happens. It will probably always happen. Best not to worry about it that much.
Reading this article from Consortium News . . .
makes me realize . . .
how grateful I am for: Consortium News. Where else could we read something of this calibre ? Maybe DEMOCRACY NOW ?
I didn’t agree entirely with this author, but no matter. The article addresses and analyzes a phenomenon that IMO has been largely ignored as “the elephant in the room” for a long time.
The GUARDIAN’s support for the Iraq Invasion and War made me crazy … and its compliance with the the UK Govt’s demands re: those hard drives is “more of the same”. The alternative would have been: “if you want to smash those hard drives, the law permits you to do so, and you know where they are physically located, but … WE won’t do what you want.”
So much of “the Left” is compliant, and it is sad.
In 1980 we were talking to some Americans (on the day Mount St Helens blew if you’re into ominous portents). They assured us that there was no chance of Reagan being elected. “You must think Americans are really stupid.” So in 2016 when Noam Chomsky went full on Ivory Tower Elite and insisted that voters MUST elect HRC I knew that Trump would wind up in the White House. People, especially Americans, don’t like to be told what to do by their “betters”. Only South Park was able to parse that particular set of tea leaves correctly.
Now if he suggested that people vote for whoever they could stand for president but make sure that enough Democrats were elected to congress to provide some opposition Trump’s agenda maybe some of his worst excesses could have been curbed. Maybe the Greens or Libertarians would have got enough votes to be included in the next presidential debate. And maybe enough voters would decide at the last second that a turd sandwich wasn’t so bad. But they could only do that from the voting booth, not from home.
Or maybe not. The Dems caved on Trump’s domestic agenda. I guess they want some of that Koch money, too. Internationally the CIA went full court press instigating “peaceful” protests in Iran and Nicaragua, continuing their lawfare coups in South America, basically doing whatever they wanted because they knew he couldn’t restrain them (if he even understood what they were doing). But the progressive media were shouting Trump! Trump! Trump! as if he were some Bond villain instead of the third-rate hustler he actually is. It’s no surprise that they wallow in identity politics and devour their own instead of providing the public half a clue what’s going on.
Thank you Jonathan, exceptional article topped off with so many excellent comments. Evidence of a glimmer of hope.
Nathan Robinson may be an earnest, well-meaning activist, but I think Jonathan Cook is giving him and his ilk too much credence.
The situation, as I see it, is quite black-and-white.
On the one hand, we have honest, fearless journalists and commentators committed to finding the truth, regardless of where their investigations may lead to, and fulfilling their mission of informing the public (to the extent they can get published and seen). People like Greenwald, Taibbi, Blumenthal, Maté, Ball, and especially Joe Lauria. People with the intelligence and especially courage to see things as they are.
On the other hand, there’s the broad mass of pundits from mainstream outlets like The Guardian, NYT, WaPo, the cable stations etc, as well as the think tank circuit – who are, if anything, committed to propaganda, obscuring the truth and misinforming the public.
These people need to be held to account for their manufacturing of consent (on the basis of lies) for such debacles as the Iraq War, the Libyan War, the dirty war in Syria, the character assassinations of Jeremy Corbyn and numerous others on the basis of false “anti-semitism” charges, the list goes on and on – and especially the five-year, threadbare hoax of Russiagate.
I’m not putting Robinson in this latter category, but by insisting on party-member-like support for mainstream outlets considered to be “leftist” and “anti-Trump” he is enabling the mainstream’s misinformation and lies. I think Cook understands this but, out of friendship and respect for Robinson, is a bit circumspect in calling him out.
Robinson is obviously not “the left.” I assume he is a Democrat.
As usual, a brilliant analysis from one of the more thoughtful, honest, and knowledgeable journalists writing today. It is important not only for Cook’s spirited defense of Greenwald and Taibbi but also because of its description of the damage done by Trump’s legacy, in particular Cook’s analysis of the emergence of an authoritarian right and an authoritarian left. Each showing their own particular closed mindedness and cognitive simplicity, intolerance of opposing views, and tribalism. Great work.
In a way that’s good, bad or indifferent, regardless, the two journos (journeymen journalists) mentioned in this article have slogged through some serious shit to bring us revealing info about the most pressing issues of our time. Yeah, that’s probably just a coincidence. Their being attacked from whatever direction for whatever reason. Sorry, forget it.
Thank you for this article, thank you Glenn Greenwald for all your courage and real journalism.
That was a great article. Thanks!
Spot on! Years ago, I recall reading Jonathan’s articles and wondering how he could be based in Israel. I hadn’t read anything from him in a while. Good to see his insights again.
He is based in Nazareth, Palestine.
Right, left, center – who cares? I’m looking for the TRUTH and am finding it hard to locate anywhere. Our Planet is on fire, war is the only game in town, money is king, regular people are jobless, homeless and starving, children are dying, the ocean is a cesspool of plastic, rainforests are disappearing at an alarming rate, guns rule the streets, biodiversity is a thing of the past, we’re running out of clean water and all you clowns can think about is politics? WAKE THE HELL UP!!!!!!
Thank you, susan, for this brilliant summary. I hope you won’t mind if I share it. It’s the perfect reply for most articles being printed these days.
The elephant/donkey in the room is the DNC/HRC plotting to steal the nomination in 2016. I know many of us stopped identifying with the Democrat establishment when the authentic, incriminating emails were LEAKED. Defending the Democrat Party/media after that puts you in the category of stupid or corrupt. The truly “woke” know that both parties deserve zero support from people that care about the working class.
I remember that as well,when little publicity was given to emails about Obama’s acceptance of “suggestions” from certain influential people eg bank CEOs for his cabinet, and virtually every one was accepted. How quickly also was Russia blamed for the “hacked” emails.
The continuation by Blinken and Nod of the worst of Trump’s policies eg Cuba, Assange, Syria, Venezuela with no discussion points us to the very low level the Democratic Party has plunged into, which was visible all through the Obama years as the support for Dems fell in every election and now tries to hide in promises and grand gestures never achievable in selected issues like climate change and union support doe workers.
“It is not that the “liberal” establishment — the corporate media, Silicon Valley, the intelligence services — is actually liberal. It is that liberals have come increasingly to identify with that establishment as sharing their values.’
on that sellout will the decline of the democratic party be based.
Sellout is the word! Cook talks about ‘Post-Traumatic Trump Disorder’, but I think it’s rather Post-Trumpatic Sellout Disorder’.
Excellent analysis, until the end, which admits that “the one Robinson raises but *avoids* discussing”, but dares not elaborate.
How can the issue of “what political conditions are most likely to foster authoritarianism” be remotely tackled, without facing the likelihood, that the combo of Sil. Valley *censorship*, and Intel agencies’ *espionage* reach, are far more likely to cream US freedoms under *current* Dem rule, than they *might* become, in the (rather remote) event of eventual Rightist rule?
When this post says that “liberals *may* stick with the comfort blanket of rule by self-professed experts”, “may” is not the word.
Most liberals WILL stick with the comfort blanket of rule by self-professed experts, because most liberals are, or are in utter thrall of, such experts.
Whereas, when the post says that “conservatives **may**… prove that their commitment to free speech, and disdain for corporate elites is far weaker, than their susceptibility to narcissist strongmen”, using the word “MAY” was spot on.
The idea that Trump is *any* more of a “narcissist strongman”, than is Biden (let alone Comey or Brennan), or than is/ was the Big Dog, is utterly suspect.
Until “journalists” like Robinson come clean, on things like their years-long tantrums on “Trump Collusion with Russian Hacking”, he and his ilk don’t deserve to treated like normal adults, let alone like “experts”.
Brilliant article! (First time commentator, long time reader).
Excellent analysis. I have long had issues with Robinson and with Chomsky over “the lesser of two evils.”
Above all else, know your enemy. My enemy is the US empire, not Trump.
Robinson and Chomsky are wrong in being more worried about a populist demagogue than an empire hell bent on extending its hegemony over time and space at all costs, even if that means destroying all of humanity and the planet.
Fundamentally Robinson and Chomsky are elitists who do not trust the masses — they fear the masses. They are progressives, not populists, as Thomas Frank defines these terms.
Right. It must be understood that Chomsky is an incorrigible Zionist. He opposes BDS because it will lead to destruction of the “Jewish state” even though he opposes other forms of imperialism.
I agree. That’s why I while appreciating the analysis as a whole, think the choice Cook present us with at the end of the piece is false, at least seen as a exclusive binary.
They might seem to be the only two roads ahead for near-establishment leftist journalist (Cook too was once a Guardian) but an alternate road is building independent media based on mass movements or popular mass parties.
A lot harder, but in the end the space available to journos is defined by popular struggle, not by what this or that commentator says or does.
Nothing makes any sense. The Left isn’t the Left and the Right isn’t the Right. Neither liberalisn nor progressivism are a part of the Left (they never were part of the Right). Everything is re-forming and it’s not clear where it’s all going to end up.
Pretty accurate summary, a very confusing picture.
To me, the issue with the left nowadays is that a lot of people who consider themselves with being leftist are actually very comfortable economically, and the old leftist fighting points about who owns the means of production, what should be the governments duties and limitations, income inequality, are not part of these “new leftists” worries. Thanks to the liberal elites and media, Leftism has been taken over by identity politics and “wokenes”. A Left that only worries about wokenes issues is no threat to the establishment.
Until the left ressurges with the fight for workers income and representation , government control of monopolies, and wealth distribution, liberal elites will continue to run the narrative of what is to be a leftist.
Great article, right on the money. Soon America will be able to choose between a right wing authoritarian dictatorship or a faux left wing liberal authoritarian dictatorship. Progress?
Jonathan Cook’s articles are always edifying reading.
The subject matter foreboding, from whichever perspective, left or right!
Interesting stuff. Part of the problem is the inherent ambiguity of terms. What is the “liberal establishment?” Heck, what does “liberal” mean these days? Are we talking economics or American politics when we say “liberal.” Those are very different types of “liberals.” This all is confounded by the very effective “conservative” rebranding of the term “liberal” to mean anything left of Ayn Rand. Remember “Main Street Republicans.” Now they’re RINOs. Another part of the problem is “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” thinking.
The “establishment” that Carlson, Taibbi and Greenwald all despise is mostly the economic liberal establishment, not political liberals. Even leftists hated the economic liberal “establishment” that supported the free trade deals that predictably devastated the American working class.
The GOP used to be a party that at least believed in economic liberalism so the debate between the GOP and Democrats was more over details and extent of government involvement in the economy, but a meaningful role for government was accepted. As such, I think the old main street GOP is properly viewed as part of the “liberal economic establishment.” They wanted good roads, too. Government wasn’t necessarily evil, but too much government or the wrong type of government was evil. Starting with Reagan and hurried along by Gingrich and Norquist, the GOP moved away from economic liberalism to more extreme (or reactionary) economic theories such as “libertarianism” and Ayn Rand’s “objectivism” in which ANY government regulation of markets and all taxation to support government became viewed as evil. That’s why “moderate” Republicans of old such as Rockefeller and Nixon are viewed as RINOs to today’s GOP.
Since everyone views at least one governmental policy or policies as idiotic overreach (and usually with a pretty good reason), there is plenty of common ground in disliking the government as it has been run by the “establishment.” In other words, the government (or “establishment”) is the enemy, so the establishment’s enemy is my friend. So Taibbi and Greenwald find common ground with Carlson. That doesn’t mean they can get together to support any joint prescription as to the solutions on specific issues. Once the enemy is defeated, such alliances fail pretty quickly.
One last comment: The only thing that has lasted longer than Russiagate is the whining that the left got over-obsessed with Russiagate. Sure some did. Just like some on the right got over-obsessed with Benghazi. I never expected to find a smoking gun on Russiagate, but there was plenty of smoke to justify an investigation. What were the Dems supposed to do, just ignore it? In fact, the evidence that Manafort was sharing internal polling with a Russian agent shows there was more than just smoke, there was some fire. It was of course ridiculous to think Trump was stupid enough to leave some kind of trail to himself. He’s been involved in WAY too many lawsuits to do that.
“plenty of smoke to justify an investigation”, from where, other than hacks like Comey?
Virtually everything said about all such stuff, by Comey, Schiff, etc., was (all-but demonstrably) false.
“Manafort was sharing internal polling with a Russian agent”,* known* to be such by *whom*?
As if no campaign staffer had ever shared any internal polling, with any Chinese, Saudi, Israeli, or Venezuelan agent?
Sharing internal polling with a foreign “agent”! Horror of horrors!
Your analysis is solid but your Russia gate is the tell. You still after all this time won’t see it for what it was. I’ll point out that in the very beginning MSMBC had one of there own reporters on the Rachel Maddow show who said in effect, there is nothing there there. Manafort and Stone were easy targets for a political witch hunt with the might of the government and 40 years of business dealings around the world, nobody would stand under that scrutiny. Finally as Glenn and Matt and others have pointed out, how the press responded and they way it did from Clinton’s loss, from Russiagate to impeachment to literally carpet bombing Trump 24/7, not only alienated them but others like me who have been sicked by the likes of Morning Joe and Maddow and the “paper of record.” And in doing so brought out 9 million more folks to vote for a figure like Trump. Nathan J. Robinson is the poster child for zero self reflection on how any of this could have happened.
Your first four paragraphs are thoughtful commentary. Your last paragraph belies the fact that you are still not actually over Russiagate despite the clear wrongdoing that was perpetuated by the FISA court and the FBI in stitching together a false narrative from the outset.
After the Middle-Class Left put the Military Industrial Complex somewhat on the back foot at the end of the ’60s, they were encouraged to present themselves to governments as a disparate swarm of lobby groups, petitioning for their interests. In a superb piece of political judo, Government became the repository of left ideas.
Result ? Left discourse is mired in paranoia about personal pronouns.
Wrong on all counts.
The Middle-Class Left never “presented themselves to governments as a disparate swarm of lobby groups.”
Lobby groups, for the most part, represent corporate interests.
The Government never “became the repository of left ideas.”
The Washington Consensus is anything but “the repository of the left ideas.” All lefties have been purged.
Lastly, left discourse is not “mired in paranoia about personal pronouns.”
Only liberals on the fake left worry about identity politics.
“Only liberals on the fake left worry about identity politics”, but they dominate
the whole country, save for GOP strongholds.
John d braby says-
‘Government became the repository of left ideas.’
LOL!!! You need to lay off the crack bro’. To get a better idea of how we got to where we are today, read the Powell Memo linked above. Powell was a corporate lawyer from Virginia who then became a Supreme Court justice appointed by Nixon. As you can see in his memo, he hysterically overreacts to the human rights/peace movements of the 60’s. This memo is the blueprint for the corporate takeover of government that has since passed decades ago.
The Russiagate narrative turns Trumpism, a homegrown populist movement in the US, into a worldwide conspiracy of white nationalism led by Trump and Putin. And so it transforms the neoliberal corporatist Clinton Democrats into noble warriors in a global crusade against evil. Good luck getting people to question a narrative that tells them they are noble warriors.
Funny it’s so either or, black or white. Either Greenwald is speaking Truth to Power, or a “conspiracy of global white nationalism” is being defeated by “noble warrior” Clinton.
No thanks to both.
I think you have analyzed this matter very well. I condemn all the “pundits” who have criticized Greenwald and Tabbi for telling the truth and attempting to educate the people how the establishment has deceived them. As you point out, Greenwald appeared on Carlson’s show because none of the so-called “liberal” media allowed him to appear on their shows.
As often happens, the basic issues are obscured by the sound and fury stirred up by partisan and personal interests. All of us, regardless of political beliefs or political party membership should uniformly condemn the following:
1. Censorship of information needed or helpful to the people in informing themselves concerning the operations and activities of our government. I have been appalled at how so-called “progressive” members of Congress have advocated for legislation which would require even more censorship of social media by the plutocrats of Silicon Valley.
2. Outright misrepresentation of facts by any political party, member of the media, or politician for any purpose. I am referring here to the fraud of Russiagate perpetrated by the Democratic Party and its leaders, Hillary Clinton leading the pack. This is one of the most shameful of many outrageous acts of fraud which the establishment has employed to persuade the people to support the Democratic Party. Now pundits such as Robinson are now saying, in effect, we must support the fraud because it was perpetrated for a “good purpose”. Nope, we are not buying that nonsense. It must be condemned. What are the chances of getting that condemnation on MSNBC? If it is Tucker Carlson’s show which must be the forum, then so be it.
3. The bipartisan consensus for the ongoing mass murder by illegitimate wars, sanctions and other acts of terror being waged by this Country. Both political parties, together with Trump, must be thoroughly condemned for these acts of horror, which have, just in this Century, now killed approximately 6 million people and displaced about 37 million people.
4. All lies told by any political party, politician, journalist or other member of the media for the purpose of adversely affecting the ability of the people to gain an accurate understanding of the operations and activities of our government.
The efforts of pundits such as Mr. Robinson to justify the suppression of information needed by the people, and promote falsehoods such as Russiagate, must be rejected and condemned. They are wrong. The people should have received all available information concerning Hunter Biden’s laptop prior to the election. We must now allow such information to be censored.
As others have observed, we no longer have a functioning democracy in this Country due to the total corruption of our political/electoral system. We have what has accurately been described as a system of legalized bribery. Now we are faced with multiple threats to what little remains of even the form of democracy, including the following:
1. The ongoing attempts of the Republican Party to enact voter suppression legislation throughout the Country, the purpose of which is to keep those who are likely to vote for Democrats from doing so.
2. The overwhelming power of the so-called intelligence agencies to manipulate public opinion via unlimited budgets (used in part to fund so-called “think tanks” to try to put a patina of legitimacy on the falsehoods they manufacture), to commit crimes of every description, to cause retired members of their ranks on the staffs of the MSM, giving the establishment an appearance of legitimacy which it does not deserve and to threaten and intimidate anyone who dares oppose their nefarious acts. These agencies must be brought under control if we are to have any hope of establishing a democracy in this Country.
3. The utter lack of integrity of both of the principal political parties and every member of their leaderships. If the corruption now existing in our political/electoral system is not rooted out, and real democracy put in its place, I hold no hope for the improvement of the lives of the people in this Country, regardless of which of the criminal political parties “wins” future elections.
I am afraid that I could not say it better.
It is also worth to add something about populism. While vague, one aspect of populism is to harp against corruption and to accuse opponents as corrupt. The second aspect is to offer “decisive measure”, which is a bit related, as compromise solutions can be accused of splitting the spoils among the corrupted sides.
In practice, neither corruption nor splitting of spoils is commendable, but campaigning against them can be very manipulative. This manipulative aspect is what is an actual danger, and thus some make a distinctions between genuine and phony populism.
In the last election cycle, Democrats had a choice of compromise versus decisive measures concerning healthcare system. Spending 10% of GDP more than Australia and yet having trouble in providing healthcare for all and not achieving better health outcomes means that trillions lands in private hands as spoils. Single payer system would shrink this pie and redirect part of the recovered money to assure that all people in the country have decent healthcare. Anti-populist were vehemently against, which is actually supporting “division of spoils”, some income redistribution coupled with the protection of those trillions in profits.
Concerning “appearances of impropriety” that Trump would exploit in the same fashion as four years earlier, one solution was to settle on a candidate without such appearances, unlike Clinton and Biden, or launch censorship operation, better than in 2016.
The problem of “liberals” is that a substantial part of “independent voters” hates corruption and likes decisive solution. In their abhorrence of populism, they actually support corruption and do not consider genuine solutions.
Mind you, there are vile “decisive solutions” like “tough on crime” measures, or stupid, “defund the police” — real issue being standards, training and accountability. Perhaps we need “wonky populism”, a hybrid picking good features from different approaches.
Very well said, indeed.
I read Robinson’s article and was quite put off at the implications, which Mr. Cook (as usual) illuminates most clearly here. I found Robinson’s arguments to be reactionary, short-sighted and fairly obviously steeped in his own personal fears, which he arrogantly states must be our own, too. I’m glad to see a thoughtful rebuttal here.
I listened to a recent episode of Mr. Robinson’s Current Affairs podcast recently, too, in which he submitted a proposal for a ‘universal database of all human knowledge’ to be freely available to all. While I found a good bit of the discussion/concerns about such a thing interesting, it struck me that nearly every one of the participants agreed that there would not only need to exist an ‘army of librarians’ to categorize it all, but a kind of censorship imposed, too, lest any get the wrong ideas from having access to all that knowledge. Quite an elitist position, indeed.
Considering this together with his article attempting to dissect Greenwald and Taibbi, it seems to me that Mr. Robinson is – knowingly or not – supporting the curtailing of our rights to free speech and debate to assuage his fears, which he insists are the correct fears. I find him way off base here.
Well said! We are in a blind alley with no way out. I’ll go with those committed to the truth, as best they can divine and relate it. Greenwald, Taibbi, you, Hedges, Blumenthal, Mate, Norton, Khalek and many, many more. Robinson and his ilk have no stomach for a fight. They want to be “reasonable”. That has lead us here, to the slaughter. Like it or not, we are in a fight for our very lives and “reasonable” people like Robinson, Scahill, Klein et al. will ensure our demise.
One of the best analyses I’ve read on the conflict among various “left” journalists and analysts in the post-2016 era. Thanks for the clear assessment of what’s been going on and why. For my part, Taibbi, Greenwald, and their like-minded colleagues are among the few reliable sources available. And Robinson represents merely one of the least abominable representatives of what the former are contending against. Not as horrible as Rachel Maddow or Cenk & Ana of the Young Turks, but still awful.
The most disturbing liberal betrayal of common sense is their embrace of Victoria Nuland, whose assertion is that we must have Nazi proxies in Ukraine because they are the only forces willing to risk nuclear war with Russia.
Somehow, arming Nazis protects us from Trump and Putin, both of whom they proclaim are Hitler.
Now of course NATO (the completely obsolete power trying to ensure peace can never be attained) describes Russia as an “acute threat”. I suppose if you send 32 ships blundering innocently into the Black Sea and Russia objects, this really is threatening.
I think this is an exceptionally important article.
At the risk of seeming egotistical, I want to say something about myself which will indicate I hope why I welcome this article. I am a left-wing person who since the emergence of Trump as a major political figure has suffered much confusion and dismay in my interactions with other left wing people. These left-wingers regard Trump as a uniquely evil force whose discreditation and elimination should be the exclusive and unconditional goal of all left-wing persons. Such hyperbolic thinking has always seemed to me to be itself a toxic phenomenon from which the left should keep a safe distance.
I hope Cook’s article helps us do this.
Thank you Mr. Cook. Glenn’s been on fire since he left the Intercep and has been doing some great work. Sad to see Mr. Robinson trying to somehow virtue signal his way to the “moral high ground” in his fatuous condemnation of true honest and progressive journalists like Glenn and Matt, rather than engaging in an honest dialogue about the issues they address. Anyone still suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome at this point in time is quite frankly simply – “deranged.”
Most Wokesters aren’t remotely capable of any honest dialogue about the issues.
I can’t seem to get rid of yet another “smoke and mirrors” impression.
I wonder why ..
Thank you for publishing this piece. Cook might have mentioned that it was Robert Parry?s relentless articles here at Consortium News that exposed the Russiagate scam being perpetuated on the American public, a shiny object swung in front of our eyes to distract us from the uncomfortable reality exposed by Hillary Clinton?s leaked emails: The DNC cooked the party?s nomination. The differences in the left became painfully apparent when commentators like Robert Reich could not write a single piece without somehow working in a reference or two to the Russian menace. I welcome the clarity this split has brought to progressive journalism. It is of great help in choosing reliable sites and reliable writers.
sorry, I didn’t/ couldn’t read the whole of your article or the whole of Robinson’s article because for me the simplest, Occam’s Rasor answer to it all recently became clear.
It’s all about the money. Policy is driven by the short term financial goals of the powerful corporations and individual. The social left/right arguments are irrelevant and distractions that both political parties profit from by confusing things.
For example – the abortion issue is a red herring. A Harvard social scientist pointed out years ago that the fewest abortions are performed in Sweden which has the most lenient abortion laws. Why? BECAUSE Sweden makes the following available to women who become pregnant – health care, child care, day care, housing, a job, etc SO THAT women have a real choice to make and are not driven out of desperation to dispose of their child.
So there’s plenty of room for common ground between those who believe that the state should not control women’s bodies and those who believe that a fetus should not be aborted.
The policies of WAR, ENERGY, JOBS, INFRASTRUCTURE, CLIMATE DISRUPTION, HEALTH CARE AND THE REST are driven by who benefits financially. Regulations are gone, sustainable life on the planet gone, ending wars gone, health care gone.
Politicians bought and paid for.
All these arguments you mention and Robinson mentions can be explained if one looks at CLASS/MOMEY AND WHO BENEFITS – and the wealthy and powerful own the Congress and the President and they are hell bent on collecting every last penny and ready to bankrupt the country and blow up the world. Think Dr Strangelove.
The first step in critical thinking is to divorce oneself from both liberal and conservative camps to look away and decide what is best for ourselves and the country. Regrettably this is counter to the need to belong. I can’t stand the Dems for their hawkishness and patronizing approach to its members, the Republicans for their affliction for looking and finding enemies abroad and their cries of creeping socialism as if we are not and ever have been by virtue of taxes and public spending socialists. If we were not, we would not have a nation.
I think Greenwald comes close to being that kind of person.
Excellent commentary by Johnathan Cook. Glad to see CN pick it up. Greenwald and Taibbi’s “problems” are the same ones shared by CN and its contributing writers: intellectual and journalistic integrity.
Thoughtful, extensive look in this article at both sides of the argument. When the two worst candidates in the Democratic field win the primary, that leaves only way forward: undo the technocratic, elitist authoritarianism that gave them the power to ascend from the shadows in the first place.
No, Hillary happened. She promoted Trump, and others to a lesser extent, in the expectation that he would be a slam dunk like Todd Akin was to Claire McCaskell. The email Wikileaks exposed was called “Pied Piper”. She was the driving force behind Russiagate. Everything from then on was “me, me, me”, how I would have won except for (fill in the blank).
Greenwald didn’t fall for that crap, because he thinks for himself. That, you see, is the dividing line, Mr. Cook.
“Trump” – give me a break.
“Between a rock and a hard place” is a fitting description of the lesser of two evils conundrum faced by many around the world. The difference is that here in the US we still have access to the streets, to independent media and organization to “keep the mask off” as we search for “door # 3.” As Cook points out though, many so called leftists willingly donned their own “masks” and are willfully blind. The reasons for this go beyond Trump.