“Turd Positionism”: On Glenn Greenwald, Michael Tracey, Angela Nagle and Other Softcore Trumpists

“The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money”


Regrettably, circumstances have forced me to write another article on the subject of digital Third Positionism, or as I call it, “Turd Positionism.” On May 16, I wrote an essay for Washington Babylon on a toxic online movement which I consider to be far right. My piece — Who’s Side Are You On? The Answer Is Clear For Today’s Useful Idiots For The Rightwas criticized in some quarters for implying that there was a tangential connection between the popular political podcast Chapo Trap House and the right entryists I profiled in the story. 

I hope to make this connection clearer in today’s piece, but I warn you: it’s not for the faint of heart. Second caveat. This is the first of a three-part series so you’ll have to check back here later today and Tuesday to get the full story. What follows is a terrifying tale of podcasts, cults, Heathrow Airport, and youth-oriented model plane hobby groups. The series covers, among others in addition to Chapo, Glenn Greenwald, American Affairs, Michael Tracey, Angela Nagle, Anna Khachiyan, Alex Hochuli, Julius Krein, the freak circus known as Living Marxism (now the freak circus known as Spiked) and obvious crypto-rightist Catherine Liu.

I undertook my first article because I wanted to demonstrate Greenwald’s connection to this far right movement. I believe Greenwald is a crypto-fascist and I’m sick of his Jekyll and Hyde routine, presenting one side to his progressive Brazilian audience and another side to his American audience. If you read Portuguese and follow his activity in Brazil, you’d mistake him for an indefatigable, truth-telling socialist and animal lover. But If you follow Greenwald in English media, he can only be described as a mendacious far-right propagandist and loathsome disciple of Joseph Goebbels.

There is absolutely no intellectual or moral justification for this two-faced behavior. If you speak to a leftist in Brazil, they more than likely will tell you that Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro are cut from the same cloth. Indeed, Trump’s Bolsonarista handling of the Covid crisis warrants comparison to the wannabe despot’s appalling management of the pandemic, to cite just one of countless examples. 

The two differ in terms of presentation, and that is only logical. Brazil’s history of military coups and authoritarian rule quite naturally led to macho man Bolsonaro emerging as the incarnation of the country’s fascism. In the US, by contrast, the avatar of American fascism is a P.T. Barnumesque effeminate pretend TV billionaire. We’re splitting hairs by distinguishing the two and engaging in what Freud would call the narcissism of small differences. Let’s just be clear: both figures are dangerous, radically anti-democratic demagogues.

Yet if you watch Greenwald on Fox News or check out his Twitter feed you will see nothing but strained apologetias on Trump’s behalf. Cashing in on his cred as “the real leftist” in Brazil for his professed opposition to Bolsonaro and his gravitas as a figurehead for two of the century’s biggest stories, he takes to Tucker Carlson Tonight to agree with him on pretty much everything. In countless interviews, articles and tweets Greenwald struts as a Brazil expert (despite his appalling Portuguese) in order to play up the fascist threat there — and downplay the danger here, where Trump successfully helped sic a violent mob on congress, something his inept Brazilian cousin has still not managed to do. (Yet.)

It becomes increasingly difficult to make excuses for Greenwald, but that won’t stop the pinko pundits from trying. “He’s just having a bad day,” they’ll say as he absurdly runs cover for Matt Gaetz. “I don’t agree with him on everything but I respect him as a reporter,” they say as he lies shamelessly. Even the comedian Dave Anthony wrote off Greenwald’s obvious fall from grace by suggesting that the millionaire reporter is just like us and is going stir-crazy from the pandemic, oblivious to the fact that Greenwald has his every whim attended to at his opulent Rio de Janeiro mansion, where he lives in splendor surrounded by his harem of stray dogs.

Image by Ccarelo/CC BY-SA 3.0

There is one primary reason that his adoring acolytes in left media can’t see through his bullshit: careerism. With his 1.6 million Twitter followers, Greenwald draws a lot of water. He also dispenses awards for “smart” and “brave” media and as a result the sycophants line up single file to kiss his ring.  It also pays to sweet-talk him and writing for his Substack provides money and great exposure for his young, naive toadies. In sum, they needed to butter him up and Greenwald in turn buttered them up. And let’s face it, media people are vain, and all that buttering up went to their heads. 

Okay, there is another reason for these media people sucking up to shyster, talking head, pornographer and all-around polymath Greenwald. The nascent leftish new media moguls world built their brand around their own type of knee-jerk contrarianism: “owning the libs.” And since Greenwald was “owning the libs,” he must have been doing something right. 

Furthermore, since liberals were largely right about Greenwald and wouldn’t shut up about it, leftish media influencers clung to the Renaissance man even more. In this way podcasts such as Chapo Trap House were similar to the crew of misfits outlined in my article last week. Chapo and Greenwald thus shared a political affinity based on a shared antagonism. This affinity, this posturing at times, made them susceptible to the theories of Marxist revolutionary and Heritage Foundation alum Michael Lind. That, along with the constant mutual PR among influencers, brought them into the orbit of some dubious characters.

Matt Christman, following the defeat of his beloved candidate Bernie Sanders, journeyed deep up the Nung river and his methods became shaky. In streams which at times resemble the ravings of the photojournalist from Apocalypse Now, Christman despaired of the state of US politics and came dangerously close to Marxism-Lindism

For the record, I actually think Christman is funny and has decent politics most of the time, so I’ll cut him some slack because these streams were impromptu. Maybe he was high or maybe he was under the influence of Amber A’Lee Frost. (Who flirted and cuddled with American Affairs, or, most charitably, showed very poor judgement in penning an essay the conservative journal found useful.)

American Affairs publishes a lot of stuff from “leftists” it finds useful. Take this artlessly titled article, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: The Collapse of the Sanders Campaign and the ‘Fusionist’ Left, penned by gruesome twosome losersomes Michael Tracey and Angela Nagle. Needless to say, the article is distinguished by the same scrupulous attention to detail and fastidious preoccupation with accurate sourcing that characterizes all of Nagle’s work. Don’t believe me? Check out her voluminous footnotes.

The frivolous, dishonest postmortem of the Sanders campaign omits nearly all of the most salient facts about the 2020 primary election, yet does suggest that leftists ought to embrace socially conservative positions, an argument that American Affairs prints merely because it is a heterodox journal interested in ideas. “When it seemed at least conceivable that Sanders was on course to win the nomination, the so-called establishment backlash against him was conspicuously… muted,” Tracey, licking the cheeto dust from his fingers, grunts. 

This of course willfully ignores the mountains of evidence to the contrary, and that “the establishment,” in its smoke-filled rooms, did strategize about how to quell the momentum of the campaign and fought tooth-and-nail to do so

There is no mention of the massive voter suppression which occurred in young, heavily urban districts, nor is there mention of the obvious chicanery at the Iowa Caucuses, where a dark money financed vote tabulating app malfunctioned, fouling up the entire election and allowing Generalissimo Pete Buttigieg to unilaterally declare himself the winner as goose-stepping commandos and tanks closed in on the Des Moines high school gymnasium. Okay, it didn’t go that far, but it was some serious banana republic shit.

There is no mention of South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn’s intervention and, most absurdly, it barely mentions the most important and significant historical event that year which played the most decisive role in the election outcome: Covid. When they do mention Covid, it is just plain silly.

Over and over again, the duo recall, Sanders declared the mobilization of vast numbers of new voters integral to his success. “We need to have the largest voter turnout in the history of the United States,” he repeatedly projected. And sure enough, there was a large voter turnout in this year’s Democratic primary contests (at least before the coronavirus upended the logistics of voting). The trouble for Sanders, though, was that the vast numbers of new voters turning out did not support him. The “large voter turnout” he prophesied did materialize, but they rejected his candidacy.

Pause for a moment and consider this. Here, Tracey and Nagle mention that a Sanders victory was predicated on high voter turnout, something he was achieving in the early contests, but then go on to passingly mention that coronavirus “upended the logistics of voting,” effectively canceling the primaries and frustrating Sanders’ ability to command the high turnout necessary to win. Yet, somehow, this also amounted to a “rejection of his candidacy.” No, the pandemic was a death knell to the Sanders campaign as it prevented him from mobilizing his supporters and drawing them to the polls.

Chicago attorney Pericles Abbasi says as much. “I was working on campaigns for the Illinois primary and people were freaking out about Covid at least three weeks before that, making it almost impossible to canvas because no one would answer the door,” he has said. Yet to hear it from Tracey and Nagle, the latte-swilling PMC made the white working class uncomfortable by asking people their preferred pronouns, thereby dooming the Sanders campaign. Stripped to it’s most basic level their argument is that if only Bernie had been more racist he could have won over stupid but kind-hearted white folk and done socialism. It’s crude, but this is the kind of propaganda American Affairs pays top dollar for.

As an aside, I will note that my May 16 article was criticized by some on the grounds that the connections I made between the media personalities and think tanks were “tenuous.” That is not at all the case. The dupes, saps, opportunists, pseudo-intellectuals and trolls I mentioned are all part of the same incestuous online milieu. 

That milieu contains odious Twitter anons on the low end of the food chain to people like Nagle and Greenwald higher up. They all say the same things and regularly cross promote each other. It is not a tenuous connection at all. The people I wrote about literally took money from right-wing publications, funded by right-wing think tanks and right-wing billionaires with their own agenda. I’ve also heard critics, some of whom call themselves left-wing, make excuses for this practice because struggling writers need to make a living and American Affairs pays $1,000 dollars an article.

To that argument I will respond thusly: there is a 19th century philosopher who this crew are fond of citing, who bears a resemblance to Santa Claus and is credited with fusing the intellectual traditions of French socialism, German idealism and English political economy. I don’t often like to quote him because it’s boring, rhetorically ineffective and you come off like a religious nut by doing so. Nevertheless, in this case I will because I happen to agree with the quote and it’s something my critics appear to have forgotten. “The writer must earn money in order to be able to live and to write, but he must by no means live and write for the purpose of making money.” 

If these struggling writers need to earn money they don’t need to produce propaganda. They can get real jobs. Furthermore, I would not sell myself for the paltry sum of $1,000, and no one’s soul should be on sale at such a fire sale rate.

Coming later today, Part II: Meet Alex Hochuli, a slippery, protean, obscurantist drivel factory.

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Tony Belletier is a teacher, occasional writer and satirist. Follow him on Twitter @tonybelletier.