Leftists That Aren’t Leftist
In the last few weeks a video of Michelle Obama speaking at a conference began to make the twitter rounds to general acclaim. In it the former First Lady was responding to a query concerning the phenomenon of Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome, first conceived of by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, has been a common topic of discussion in liberal academic circles since and it concerns the negative experiences of members of underrepresented groups in straight white male dominated environments — the feeling of being an imposter in such settings.The First Lady, interpreting and guiding the conversation in a somewhat different direction, began to use the imposter syndrome conversation as a base to expand upon other conceptions of the imposter. Though not directly stated (she really has mastered the ability to name names without actually naming any names), her comments were very clearly a grade-A read of the current president: he was the imposter. While Trump may fit the predetermined mold our society has outlined for the role of president in body and skin tone and selection of sexual partners, the implication underlying the First Lady’s statement was that in reality he was actually a fake and maybe, perhaps, us self-conscious marginalized types are not the ones so out of place.
This reinvention of imposter syndrome — a re-envisioning in which some people do not feel like imposters because they seem the part but in truth they are — has haunted me since: for we on the left have imposters in our midst too.
A shocking (well, honestly, if you keep track of these things not very shocking) Buzzfeed report dropped two weeks ago outlining how Broadly and VICE reporter Mitchell Sunderland had used his close, chummy, back channel connections to avowed white supremacist and pedophilia advocate, Milo Yiannopolous, to push for a campaign of harassment against the feminist writer, Lindy West. Sunderland, along with a host of high profile writers almost all of which had coincidentally used their positions of power to attack a feminist presidential candidate last year, had been found to be part of an extensive email chain with Milo that put them remarkably close to the fascist movement. As leftists, you’re supposed to oppose fascism. Seemingly, however, they didn’t. What made Sunderland’s behavior particularly vile was that he makes his money (well…made as he’s been fired over the ordeal) writing as a feminist ‘ally’: Broadly is an ostensibly feminist publication and his vertical for VICE was concerned with covering women’s issues.
I’d call that an imposter.
Sunderland wasn’t the only ‘ally’ unmasked that week. Longtime leftist donor and Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein, has been a huge topic of discussion ever since a bombshell NY Times article dropped, outlining years of sexual harassment. In the intervening weeks dozens of women have come forward with heart-wrenching stories of abuse that go back decades. The political world has been caught in the fray on the one hand because of a clear politicization campaign by the right but on the other, in part, because Harvey Weinstein’s public persona benefitted for years from high profile donations to leftist causes and activist positioning that imparted a seeming benevolence. Keeping up the ruse, after the disgusting revelations exploded onto the public conscience he indicated that he’d be donating millions to women’s causes and fighting gun control. At least no one believes him now.
This is by no means a new problem — falseness has been an integral part of human history since societies first formed and likely before that (Cain and Abel, after all, is a story of false pretenses) — but it is a particularly salient one for a modern left that is currently riddled with imposters.
Take Julian Assange, for instance: ever since Wikileaks first dropped those Chelsea Manning-acquired dispatches he’s been hailed by large portions of the left as a truth-telling hero of the people. This reputation has largely continued with that group even as the man, self-exiled to an embassy due to rape charges, worked for a year to get Trump elected and has been operating as a clear front for the far right Russian government. He’s even had things to say on twitter about Weinstein! Mostly, that he blames the former Democratic presidential candidate and popular vote winner Hillary Clinton for Weinstein.
There’s Jill Stein to consider too. The former Green Party candidate ran off with Hillary supporters’ money at the end of 2016 and is now a likely focus of Mueller’s investigation. Importantly, her state margins and choice to specifically target battleground states played an integral role in Trump’s election. And she still has no explanation for her infamous dinner with Putin.
And there’s Edward Snowden: a far left hero since 2012 and bunk buddy to Putin ever since, he urged voters nationwide — likely at Putin’s request — to vote third party. It had, obviously, a disastrous outcome. Both Snowden and Stein have largely kept their image intact with the far left even as their actions have contributed directly to the rise of the right: there seems to be no recognition of the damage they each have wrought. As for the man, Glenn Greenwald, who made Snowden famous in 2012? You could have caught him on FOX News this week attacking Democrats and liberals.
These people are fakes. They do not wish the party well and they do not care about the ramifications of a rising far right they’ve regularly assisted. They are in this for themselves. The left needs to recognize that.
What gives each of these imposters power is the inherent naïveté of the left. Leftists/liberals (a distinction in American politics that did not exist until last year when some self-avowed but philosophically lacking “leftists” decided to differentiate themselves from individuals that emphasized civil rights) tend to believe in the inherent goodness of most people and are often open to new individuals. As long as one speaks in the lexicon of leftism or liberalism one is usually accepted quickly as a potentially contributing member. Doubts vanish too soon which is obviously highly problematic in an era where many, many people are feigning interest in leftist causes publicly while privately only seeking self-aggrandizement (or, in Julian Assange’s case, the utter destruction of the left).
Edward Snowden, Jill Stein, Julian Assange, and Glenn Greenwald aren’t alone. If they were the threat may be less severe. In truth, the nexus of imposters spans great distances and there are plenty of other, smaller but also deeply insidious figures that dot the left media landscape, poisoning the well:
The Young Turks built its viewership last year off of antipathy towards the Democratic nominee and soft acceptance of Donald Trump. They are not our friends.
Nina Turner went from nobody appointed state senator to the head of Our Revolution on the backs of refusing to endorse the liberal candidate in the most important election in our lifetimes. She has no interest in stopping Trump.
VICE writer and self-described communist and feminist Sam Kriss was found this week to have sexually assaulted a woman who he then bragged about his mansion to. Sexually abusing women is not left and neither is bragging about possessing a mansion.
Bottom-feeders like Katie Halper and Michael Tracey gained significant twitter followings off of accusing the first woman presidential candidate of being a rape enabler and a race baiter, respectively. They do not care about the left; they want fame and money and they intend to troll their way to it.
Even the party’s “Unity Commission” is represented in part by a member, Nomiki Konst, who goes on FOX News to attack Democrats so often she seems to be auditioning for a time slot there. Three years ago this would have been entirely unacceptable but now it is sadly the norm. Having flunked out of Arizona state politics, Nomiki Konst now seems to exist only to give Republicans talking points and to use the power of her commission membership to try to force caucuses nationwide. If breaking the party power of black voters and yapping on FOX is your 2017 contribution to the world you. are. not. left.
Each of these individuals is prized by the self-stated far left in this era but each of these individuals is an imposter. Further, these are not isolated cases but rather repeated cases of an overwhelming falseness that has taken over the American left of late. It is an untenable situation. Democrats cannot recover as a party and leftism cannot recover as an ideology if each continues to be flooded with people that do not have the interests of those groups at heart. A pruning is required. Ironically, as Glenn Greenwald said on his most recent foray on FOX News, there IS a warped incentive scheme in the media currently. It is, however, within the ostensibly far left media where that warped incentive scheme is most clearly seen: it pays to attack Democrats and to harm leftism nowadays.
Going forward, Democrats need a reckoning. Perhaps the 2018 and 2020 primaries will nullify many of these worst voices but if they do not diminish quickly we are looking at an unchecked far right with free reign to exert power: a self-injuring left cannot and will not fight that. If the incentives do not change on the left away from mercilessly attacking liberals and the party apparatus, Democrats will not be able to win and rather we will be seeing more and more Cassandra Fairbanks types popping up (yes, that would be the Cassandra Fairbanks that pretended to be an anti-establishment leftist during the primary only to reveal her true self as a white nationalist afterwards).
My recommendation? The left must be distrusting. Michelle Obama’s framing of the imposter syndrome is an important one to keep considering going forward: just because the look is right, the sound is right, the tone is right, and the words are fitting does not mean that the soul is suited. The left must recognize that many people now and to come might have leftist bodies while hiding imposter hearts. We’ll need to keep an eye out for those.