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The myth of the American “left”

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Michelle Goldberg makes some good points about the neurotic nihilism of the online left, as illustrated by equivocation about or outright support of Hamas’s terrorist murders:

The most sympathetic reading of the online leftists playacting as the Baader-Meinhof Gang is that their nihilism is a function of despair. As Leifer pointed out, even before the killings in Israel, it was a grim time for the American left, as the elation of the Sanders campaign and the revolutionary hopes of the Black Lives Matter movement gave way to backlash and retrenchment. “When the left loses, it enters into a cycle of self-marginalization,” he said.

By valorizing terrorism, these voices on the left are effectively choosing to stop contending for power in a serious way — a slow and grinding process rife with setbacks — and indulge instead in messianic projection. There was a time not long ago when the D.S.A. seemed to be emerging as a political force, with several of its members, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, ascending to Congress. Now it has made itself an embarrassment to most politicians associated with it. Representative Shri Thanedar of Michigan announced on Wednesday that he was cutting ties with the D.S.A. Ocasio-Cortez disavowed the group’s endorsement of a pro-Hamas rally in Times Square, telling Politico, “It should not be hard to shut down hatred and antisemitism where we see it. That is a core tenet of solidarity.”

It’s too early to know how the left’s widespread failure of solidarity will change our politics, but I suspect some sort of fracture is coming. Part of me thinks this could be a moment like after the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, which, coupled with revelations about the evils of Stalinism, led many left intellectuals to break with communism. Though perhaps that’s too grandiose an analogy for an amorphous campus-bred left-wing tendency that communicates in hashtags and sound bites. On social media, some scholars and activists are repeating the line “Decolonization is not a metaphor,” suggesting that the homicidal spree we just saw in Israel is not a departure from their ideology but the embodiment of it. I suspect they will come to regret it if people take them at their word.

I do think she fails to emphasize a critical point, however, which is the utter marginality of these people in the context of American politics. They have no foothold whatsoever anywhere within the Democratic party, as illustrated by AOC’s and Bernie Sanders’s straightforward disavowal of this sort of nonsense.

Another way of putting this is that, in American political discourse, as shaped by Fox News et. al., “the left” is an NYU law student who nuked their legal career by failing to appreciate that Winston & Strawn isn’t wholly committed to revolutionary praxis, while “the right” is . . . Donald Trump, and his wholly owned subsidiary, the Republican party.

This of course is just another way of saying that, for all practical purposes, there is no “left” of any significance within the levers of American political power. It follows from that that railing against the stupidities of a handful of people with no influence over anything is probably not the best use of America’s most valuable column space.

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