by James Wolcott · March 3, 2017
Illustration by Vanity Fair.
Internet clickbait promotes mental tooth decay, squirting synthetic controversy out of a can of Reddi-wip, but an article by Eileen Jones on January 9 went out of its way to swirl it on extra thick. Headlined AGAINST MERYL STREEP, the indictment declared, “Meryl Streep’s speechifying at the Golden Globes was the worst thing to happen since Trump’s election.” Hoo-kay. If Donald Trump speaks Jerkish, according to retired novelist Philip Roth, Jones’s broadside was written in Snarkish: “That I should live to see the day when Meryl Streep’s speechifying at a Hollywood awards show is admired as solemnly and discussed as fervently as Lincoln’s second inaugural address is a personal nightmare. Lectured by Streep! And about how her and all her Hollywood pals, decked out in everything that costs the earth and sparkles in the spotlight, are among the true victims of Donald Trump’s American authoritarianism!” Streep’s chastising of Trump in her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes was derided as a sniffy display of royal hauteur, as if her ladyship had gotten her blue sash in a twist. “The way she condemned the ‘performance’ of Donald Trump when he mocked disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, as if Trump were up for a rival Golden Globes Award and had disgraced the Screen Actors Guild, was truly righteous, wasn’t it? She’s so classy, isn’t she?”
Such derision of liberal Hollywood pieties—Jones ripped Streep for being the sweetheart of Hillary Clinton’s “faux-feminist ‘pantsuit nation’ ”—is familiar gargle from right-wing hucksters such as radio host Laura Ingraham, the author of Shut Up & Sing: How Elites from Hollywood, Politics, and the Media Are Subverting America. But here’s the twist: Eileen Jones is no righty coveting a rotation spot in the Fox News greenroom. She teaches film at Berkeley—and you know what it’s like at Berkeley, radical fervor springing from every hair follicle—and her Streep denunciation was published in Jacobin, which bills itself as “a leading voice of the American left, offering socialist perspectives on politics, economics, and culture.” Disillusionment with Obama’s presidency, loathing of Hillary Clinton, disgust with “identity politics,” and a craving for a climactic reckoning that will clear the stage for a bold tomorrow have created a kinship between the “alt-right” and an alt-left. They’re not kissin’ cousins, but they caterwaul some of the same tunes in different keys.
The alt-right receives the meatiest share of attention in the media, as it should. It’s powerful, vicious, steeped in neo-Nazi ideology, nativist white supremacy, men’s-rights misogyny, and Ayn Rand capitalist übermensch mythos, and it heralds a conquering hero in the White House in President Donald J. Trump, while the former executive chairman of the venereally right-wing Breitbart News, Steve Bannon, functions as despot whisperer, trickling Iago-ish poison into Trump’s receptive skull. The alt-left can’t match that for strength, malignancy, or tentacled reach, but its dude-bros and “purity progressives” exert a powerful reality-distortion field online and foster factionalism on the lib-left. Its outlets include not only Jacobin but also the Intercept, one of whose co-founders is the inexhaustible Glenn Greenwald, lawyer, author, journalist, and crucial conduit for Edward Snowden’s stolen N.S.A. data to The Guardian; Web sites such as Truthdig, Consortiumnews, and Naked Capitalism; and anomalous apostates such as Mickey Kaus, a former contributor to liberal percolators of ideas and opinions such as Washington Monthly, the New Republic, Harper’s, and Slate, who migrated sideways and down to the right-wing Daily Caller, did a temporary hitch as a columnist for the Breitbart bughouse in 2016, and serves as a tweeting defender of Trump’s proposed wall. Other busy beavers on Twitter include Michael Tracey, Freddie deBoer, Mark Ames, Connor Kilpatrick (a Jacobin contributor), Jeremy Scahill (journalist and Intercept co-founder), and similar fun guys. A Tumblr site devoted to “Trumpian Leftism” captures the intellectual flavor of their temperaments. One of the alt-left’s political darlings is Tulsi Gabbard, a progressive congresswoman from Hawaii who met with then president-elect Donald Trump in Trump Tower and was rumored to be under consideration for a Cabinet position, and its quixotic preacher-man and noble leper is Cornel West, once an orator at every social-justice convocation who got so uncoiled by his rancorous contempt for Obama and cast adrift into the hazy fringes of the alt-left—see Michael Eric Dyson’s definitive autopsy, “The Ghost of Cornel West,” the New Republic, April 19, 2015—that in 2016 he supported the Green Party candidacy of Jill Stein, that stellar mind.
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It was Jill Stein who said Hillary might be the greater evil in a Trump matchup (“Hillary has the potential to do a whole lot more damage, get us into more wars”), a sentiment shared by actress Susan Sarandon, who told an interviewer she believed that Clinton was “more dangerous” than Trump because she was more hawkish and better able to ram her agenda through Congress. In words I suspect Sarandon wishes she could reel back, she discounted the threat level posed by a Trump presidency: “Seriously, I am not worried about a wall being built . . . . He is not going to get rid of every Muslim in this country.” She speculated on another occasion that a Trump win might hasten the revolution. The left’s romance with revolution has always been a reality-blinder, this thermodynamic belief that things need to get bad beyond the breaking point so that people will take the vape pens out of their mouths, rise up, and storm the Bastille. But the history of non-democracies and authoritarian personality cults shows that things can stay bad and get worse for a long time, leaving unhealable wounds. Mao’s China, for example. Putin’s tubercular Russia.
There’s a confluence between the alt-right and the alt-left regarding Vladimir Putin and the ratfucking (to use a venerable Watergate-era term) performed by Russian hackers, trolls, and bots. The Tyler Durden Fight Club alt-right idolizes Putin as a bare-chested manly man, as opposed to a metrosexual like Obama and an emasculating harpy like Hillary. This isn’t a beefcake fetish the alt-left shares. Instead, it invokes McCarthyism and the specter of a new Red Scare to characterize rising alarm over the Russian cyber-warfare as a rehash of Cold War bogeyman tales. In a widely noticed Facebook post, director Oliver Stone (whose most recent film was a soft-focus portrait of Edward Snowden) reminisced, “I remember well in the 1950s when the Russians were supposed to be in our schools, Congress, State Department—and according to many Eisenhower/Nixon supporters—about to take over our country without serious opposition (and they call me paranoid!).” Stone ascribes the hysteria over the Russian hijacking of the democratic process to mainstream-media mau-mauing. “As much as I may disagree with Donald Trump (and I do) he’s right now target number one of the MSM propaganda—until, that is, he jumps to the anti-Kremlin track because of some kind of false intelligence or misunderstanding cooked up by CIA. Then I fear, in his hot-headed way, he starts fighting with the Russians, and it wouldn’t be long then until a state of war against Russia is declared.”
THERE’S A CONFLUENCE BETWEEN ALT-RIGHT AND ALT-LEFT REGARDING VLADIMIR PUTIN.
Wouldn’t worry about that. Too much sky-high, mile-wide evidence has piled up since Stone’s post about the human-centipede collusion of Trump’s family and some of his advisers (the resignation of Michael Flynn notwithstanding) and Cabinet picks with Russian business interests and Putin cronies to make such a Dr. Strangelove scenario plausible. Former Democratic presidential candidate and maverick liberal Dennis Kucinich, who sent Trump a congratulatory tweet after his inauguration, shares Stone’s fear that Russophobia is being whipped up to further foul plans afoot not in the Kremlin but at Langley and Foggy Bottom: “#WakeUpAmerica, enough of the BS re #Russia stealing election =CIA & State Dept propaganda to legitimize hostilities,” he tweeted on December 10. And here is where the alt-right and the alt-left press foreheads for a Vulcan mind-meld: the belief that the real enemy, the true Evil Empire, isn’t Putin’s Russia but the Deep State, the C.I.A./F.B.I./N.S.A. alphabet-soup national-security matrix. But if the Deep State can rid us of the blighted presidency of Donald Trump, all I can say is “Go, State, go.”