Let me start this piece by stating what should already be obvious: The progressive left is an unequivocally anti-racist movement. Done! But surely, a self-proclaimed “lefty” like Caitlin Johnstone must be well aware of this fact. She must be aware that calling for progressives to align with the most vocally racist group in America would be an absolute non-starter for the left. Right? The alt-right exists in Australia where Johnstone lives, just as it does here, so how could she be so mistaken on such a basic principle?
In looking for an answer to that question, it seemed relevant to discover who Caitlin Johnstone actually is. Johnstone earned a degree in journalism 15 years ago, but unfortunately, other than a book on astrology she’d written over a decade ago, she has no other writing that I could find prior to writing about U.S. politics beginning last year.
Undoubtedly, given the impact U.S. policy has on many other parts of the world, it is not at all unusual that an Australian writer might find good reason to be interested in our politics. However, one must have a significant level of understanding of how to facilitate collaboration and cooperation among groups in order to advance social and political goals. Johnstone may simply lack that understanding.
Johnstone’s condescending, almost Clintonesque, assertion that “it’s absolutely stupid for us not to work together” with alt-right leaders is indicative of that lack of understanding. Those with a deep understanding of who the alt-right is and what their political goals are, will naturally find the entire concept offensive and politically/strategically asinine. While Johnstone may be capable of mainstreaming the alt-right to some of the white political-fence-sitters in her following, she won’t be mainstreaming the alt-right to the progressive left, ever. We are not socio-politically aligned, we do not share the same agenda or goals, and frankly, the left doesn’t need their numbers.
There is no mystery or hidden agenda for the progressive left; its goals are simple. We aim to create a government that works on behalf of the people; one that serves the interests of ALL Americans. Of course, this will require a great deal of effort. We must tear down our corrupt political structure; One that has ushered in historic levels of wealth inequality, for-profit prisons, mass incarceration, low wages, militarized police, corporate consolidation of our media, perpetual U.S. warfare, and the co-opting of our government by corporate and monied elites. The very same elites who, in the end, have the greatest say in American policy and control the U.S. government’s position on foreign military intervention, wages, healthcare, education, environmental and public safety, and climate policy.
An overview of the alt-right’s basic ideology provides all the evidence required to reveal just how far removed they are from the progressive left. Rooted in white identity and the preservation of Western civilization, Richard Spencer, who coined “Alternative Right” in 2008, describes the alt-right as an:
…Ideology that blends the ideas of neo-reactionaries (NRx-ers), who advocate a return to an antiquated, pseudo-libertarian government that supports “traditional western civilization”; “archeofuturists,” those who advocate for a return to “traditional values” without jettisoning the advances of society and technology; human biodiversity adherents (HBDers) and “race realists,” people who generally adhere to “scientific racism”; and other extreme-right ideologies. Alt-Right adherents stridently reject egalitarianism and universalism.
There simply is no middle-ground for leftists on this issue. We’ve just spent a year and a half beating back the weaponization of identity in Democratic politics and there is absolutely no way the left should ally with those who make white identity the focus of their entire movement. In fact, the type of identity politics used by the alt-right are more compatible with those used by Democratic establishment than they are with the anti-establishment left. As noted by Shuja Haider,“…left-liberal identity politics and alt-right white nationalism are not comparable. The problem is that they are compatible.”
Conversely, the anti-establishment left categorically rejects racial identity politics, and sees them as a particularly unsuccessful mobilization strategy. Instead, the anti-establishment left calls for a unified resistance movement among all poor and working class people. Given that these two groups make up the majority of Americans, this strategy includes a diverse group of people with a diverse set of political ideologies. It goes without saying that this group includes both “liberal” and “conservative” voters who all have a common cause, which is to take back economic, social and political power.
However, in Johnstone’s article and in several online interactions, Johnstone repeatedly conflates the alt-right with “conservatives.” Perhaps Johnstone just isn’t well versed in the ideology or politics of the alt-right. The alt-right not only breaks with conservatism, it vehemently rejects it. This hasn’t slowed her down. She continues to describe everything right of left as though there is no spectrum to consider. Johnstone further claims that leftists who reject “conservative” media are just “more interested in vanity politics than in actually getting anything done.” In defending her position, she rolls between the rural working class, traditionally-Republican voting population, and the alt-right as though they are interchangeable. They are no more interchangeable than a Neoliberal and a Communist.
This signifies a lack of nuanced understanding of U.S. political factions. Yes, the left and the right are anti-establishment, but that is where the similarities end. Johnstone seems wholly devoted to only two issues: 1) Destroying the mainstream media (MSM), and 2) ending U.S. military intervention. Unfortunately, she seems unaware that there are 1000 other reforms that need to take place in America. If you polled a million people in this country, destroying the MSM and ending U.S. military intervention would not be high on the list of American’s priorities.
In order to build successful coalitions, you must do so with people who, at the very least, share common economic goals. If not, you end up with deep divisions and infighting that betray efforts to energize and mobilize voters. Suggesting an alliance between two groups of people who not only see the problems in this country from polar-opposite perspectives, but also see the solutions to those problems from polar-opposite perspectives, would indicate that Johnstone is uniquely unqualified to provide guidance in this area.
It’s disconcerting that, in trying to defend her position, Johnstone introduces terminology like “Alt-Lite” and “virtue signaling,” indicating that she is playing directly from the far-right’s handbook. What seems to be lacking in Johnstone’s body of “progressive” writing, is actual progressive policy. Other than a recent article about the death of single-payer in California, which was more or less an attack on the establishment (who can blame her), there just isn’t much in Johnstone’s work that signifies that she is deeply entrenched in the progressive left. Of course, that’s fine, nobody says that she has to be.
When reading Johnstone’s writing, what is immediately clear is that it is drenched in conspiracy and feels more like propaganda than political writing. Propagandists promote a negative image of a shared enemy and reinforce it with rhetoric about their own righteousness. They use simplicity and repetition, divert attention away from troublesome issues, and rely heavily on emotional appeals. These are all recurring themes in Johnstone’s work. In writing about Seth Rich, Johnstone called on her readers to ignore the family’s request for the public to stop using his death as a “political football,” and demanded people “explain in detail why a family’s feelings should take precedence over this very real risk.” In Johnstone’s opinion, keeping the Seth Rich story alive was absolutely necessary for “the life of every terrestrial life form combined.” Really?
Similarly, in arguing the incontrovertible necessity of the progressive left to align with white supremacists, Johnstone frames it as the only conceivable vehicle to SAVE THE ENTIRE PLANET!!! Johnstone falls back on more hyperbolic rhetoric and condescension, stating that “If spitting on everything that doesn’t perfectly align with your exact personal ideology is more important to you than overthrowing the unelected power establishment that’s shoving us toward a world war with a nuclear superpower, your entire worldview is garbage.” So there you have it, if you don’t believe the key to world peace is an alliance with white supremacists, you’re a purist a**hole (code for “leftist” – wait, whose side are we on again?) whose worldview is garbage. Thanks, anti-racists and people of color; your purity is responsible for the end of all life on the planet.
Johnstone has also argued that allying with white supremacist leaders is necessary if we are to destroy the “corporate media propaganda machine.” I’m not sure if Johnstone is aware, but the alt-right has no interest in tearing down media. In fact, they’ve mastered using the MSM to elevate their leaders, they have numerous media outlets of their own, and they also have their own publishing house. What the alt-right (and I’m guessing Johnstone) have in mind is really just their own larger share of the media propaganda market.
Another key part of this debate has been Johnstone’s months-long argument that there are many similarities between the progressive left and the alt-right. Notable among those are the anti-war and anti-establishment positions shared by the two. I hate to break it to Mrs. Johnstone, but the alt-right is the establishment. This is obvious to even the most superficial of political observers. ICE raids, Muslim Ban, attempts to discredit MSM, the appointments of Jeff Sessions, Steve Bannon, and Kris Kobach — all are hat-tips to the alt-right.
So how is the peace process going with the “anti-war,” alt-right influence on the current administration? Not too f*cking well actually. Trump has called for a $54 billion increase in military spending, we’ve dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb in history, fired 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria, and have opened the door for military action in North Korea and Iran. Johnstone’s argument belies a very basic concept of U.S. military intervention: The alt-right isn’t anti-capitalist and bombing the sh*t out of foreign countries is extremely lucrative. As a matter of fact, as we speak, the alt-right’s poster-slob-in-Chief Steve Bannon, along with Jared Kushner and Blackwater’s Erik Prince, are teaming up to privatize the war in Afghanistan.
So there you have it. Not only do we share NO ideological or policy goals with the alt-right, allying with them serves to alienate every single person of color and every anti-racist leftist in this country. The mere discussion of a partnership of any kind weakens the left, makes the things we’re fighting for more difficult, and hands more power to the establishment media, who are able to validate horseshoe theory claims about the right and left and their extremism.
Finally, clickbait articles, such as Johnston’s calling on Senator John McCain to “Please Just Fucking Die Already,” and “Good”, where Johnstone reveles in the fact that McCain’s brain tumor was found to be an especially aggressive form were sentiments mirrored throughout the alt-right community today. Of course, this type of sensationalism is bound to do harm to the perception of the left. Especially, when it draws negative coverage of Johnstone as a “lefty” and “Bernie Sanders supporter” by the MSM.
This may not matter to Johnstone, but in the U.S., activists, advocates, and candidates already have a near endless torrent of bullsh*t to wade through just to operate, negotiate, and navigate the political process. Fueling the Democratic establishment and their media mouthpiece’s narrative that the left is violent, unhinged, racist, and sexist makes that more difficult. Progressives actually need voters to win elections, and we can, considering that Sanders’s economic policies are overwhelmingly favored by a majority of the country. The very last thing the left needs when it has the momentum necessary to make critical reforms, is to hand legitimacy to its critics.