Culture Wars/Current Controversies

What Happened to the Left?

The ideology of the ruled is now the dogma of the rulers

May 14, 2023


Last week, Glenn Greenwald appeared as a guest on the Ben Shapiro Show. The coupling, Shapiro pointed out, was “weird.” For years, Greenwald and Shapiro have traded vicious barbs on Twitter. Greenwald has called Shapiro “genuinely a fucking idiot” and also “soulless.” Shapiro has called Greenwald “a wolf,” as well as a “useful idiot.” But here were the two together, agreeing on a lot more than they disagreed on.

Liberal haters of Greenwald claim that he became a right-winger a long time ago, so his newfound collegiality with his erstwhile nemesis, Shapiro, is hardly a surprise. But that lazy explanation is belied by the common ground they now share. Among the points of agreement in their conversation: the U.S. security state is undermining democracy, America should be brokering peace in Ukraine instead of fueling the conflict, and our free speech is being undermined by the arrogance of elites.

All of these were standard issue leftist reflexes a mere decade ago. Greenwald would have been right at home arguing each of them back then in his column at the Guardian, or in Salon before that. If Greenwald now belongs to “the right,” then it seems that the right has moved to him rather than vice versa. Which invites the question: where, exactly, is the left now?

In an essay last year in Tablet, Alana Newhouse described the current upside-down world of American politics this way:

When I was in elementary school, our gym teacher used to split us into two teams and then, midway through class, divide each side and swap the halves to make two new teams. That’s kind of like what is happening in America today.

I would only add to Alana’s analogy that in the case of American politics, it’s as if, instead of assigning new teams, the gym teacher gave the kids ten minutes to go find their new teammates themselves. We’re in that chaotic re-sorting period right now, except that instead of ten minutes it’s spanning the course of multiple presidential administrations.

For those of us over the age of, say, 30, it’s a dizzying experience to have to presume that the most vociferous critics of corporate/state censorship and US military adventurism probably have a MAGA hat somewhere, and to get used to erstwhile Bernie and Elizabeth Warren stans defending the integrity of pharmaceutical corporations and CIA spooks. One day a few months ago, I had lunch with a group of Bay Area feminists who opposed the intrusion of biological men into female-only spaces under the cover of trans rights. Many of them were lesbians and the older ones among them may well have been hippies in the 60s. “Did you see Tucker last night?” one of them asked eagerly. Some of the others responded gleefully that they had. One of them had once been a guest on the show.

“What happened to Glenn Greenwald?” is something of a rhetorical trope among online leftists. The simple answer is “nothing.” He’s the same ferocious skeptic of American state and corporate power that he’s always been. The better question is, “What happened to the left?”


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