A Tale of Radicalization and Realization — How I Finally Found a Home on the Actual Left
So the last time I wrote here, politically, not counting the now gone posts of a bygone era, I wrote some ultimately compromised, hopeful piece about how people like me weren’t going to take Trump without a fight.
Without knowing it at the time, within a year, I would disagree with much of that position while also not shifting away that much.
See, I was stuck in the rut of liberalism. As I thought I knew it at the time, the American political spectrum was two destination points — Liberal on the left and Conservative on the right. There’s some mush in the middle but ultimately just these two endpoints and nothing more beyond.
The early weeks and months of Trump, I maintained my old, staunch liberalism. I was proud of the label and found the idea of resisting him a perfect fit for where I was. If I posted enough fact checks, angry posts about his shitty antics, and argued enough with my Trump-loving uncle, former coworkers, and the like, well, surely I could win out. After all, the facts should be enough. “We need to come together to repel this abnormality from the body politic!” I would say, loudly to anyone who would hear it. I watched as the conservatives would complain about people being unhappy with Trump, or boogeyman about Antifa, but by and large, my favorite trend was nearly every hardcore conservative I knew posted nearly the same update about how they had to unfollow people on Facebook because they disagreed politically. They’d, of course, couch it in terms of how they were sad at people planting division or some such drivel, but it all amounted to the same posts.
Then I watched as a few of the conservatives in my feed unfriended me. I’ll admit to keeping a watch on my count of friends, and it always made me laugh. When I was a liberal, I took pride in the idea that I wouldn’t unfriend anyone over political divisions, and I only did so one — for someone who said President Obama was behind the Boston Marathon bombing. What I didn’t realize, of course, is that it was the same squishy, centrist liberalism that was making me proud of that. It wasn’t doing anything, or advancing an agenda, it was just mindless adherence to a false ideal. Remaining Facebook friends with conservatives wasn’t changing their minds, nor were we engaging in any real debates. It was, 100%, performative — I’d dunk on them for being anti-factual, which they’d ignore, and then they’d post something about how Obama is the antichrist, and no one was getting any wiser. Little did I know, however, that this was affecting me — in a positive way!
I looked on at the early Trump-era events in a positive way — the bumbling over executive orders, the stalling and ultimate failure of the GOP efforts to repeal the ACA, and as large numbers of people mobilized in marches of all varieties.
“This’ll sure show Trump and the dumb hicks that voted for him!” I’d think, or some variant, as the shit they did progressed, and after that acclimation phase, the administration and the GOP apparatus in Congress and the courts began to start calling their shots correctly. I also watched as every NeverTrump conservative I knew, including Seventeen Posts Bragging About Political Unfollowings, began to pull in to support President Trump.
I wondered, “surely they recognize as they did before that Trump is Not Normal(tm)? Surely they understand that he is destroying the country as they themselves predicted, right?”
It was a winter night, maybe November or December of 2017, when I was poking around YouTube as I usually do, and I found this video from a channel named, simply, Shaun. I cannot remember what hole I fell down to land on this, I think it was when I resumed watching TYT and it popped up eventually.
I watched it (or, as is usually the case with Shaun, listened, since the video is largely unneeded) and I found myself nodding along, agreeing with it. What’s more, though, is that it used the fact-based, liberal-style takedown I was used to enjoying, but there was something more policy-based and direct about the ideas expressed. Rather than keeping it vague in terms of how immigration is Very Good and how gay rights are Correct and Proper, he spoke to human equality and societal factors in a way that I hadn’t really been exposed to.
Before his video, I was indeed watching The Young Turks, and while I like them even today, they tend to focus in wholly on the Democratic Party. Thus, much of their call to action is around reforming the DNC and the other various appendages of the party, and as such, is prone to the flavorless gruel I had grown accustomed to. Sure, Cenk presents loudly and entertainingly, and he himself and his hosts can deliver substantive critiques, but I was finding that once I saw that first Shaun video, my YouTube time was never the same.
That’s when I landed on a recommended video from a channel called AndroidPolitician, and it was Chapo Trap House. I didn’t know what that was, or where the trap house was, but it autoplayed through before I had a chance to think much of it — the one time the algorithm on YouTube didn’t serve me a steaming pile of shit from Sargon of Akkad or Stephen Molyneux after watching content that referenced them negatively — a small victory.
I left it to play, and enjoyed it! It was funny, it was speaking to things I felt deeply and understood without putting words to it, and as the autoplay listing continued to roll, it confronted something I was aware of but didn’t really know.
Capitalism is the problem, and the reason I am finding myself disaffected by the Democrats is that they aren’t willing to address that as they benefit from it, while the Republicans are accelerationists on it and will expedite the end of the Earth for it.
Now it wasn’t just this content alone that did that to me — I was in a fucking awful job where, without knowing Marxist theory, I was learning very simply that my value was being extracted and that if they could commission an AI to do my job, they just would. I helped prepare reports that told me how much money the company made relative to what I made, and I knew how much value my work was creating and how much of that value I wasn’t getting.
I’ve lived a good life overall, sure, and there was a time not too long ago where I was doing fantastically well under capitalism. Whether today or on that day, I’ve done alright under capitalism. I’ve never been homeless, and only on one or two particularly bad occasions was I ever even close enough to seriously think about it. At the same time however, being brought to awareness of the gnawing void of capitalism was like Pandora’s Box — once the lid was open, I could not put that fact back in the shadows and refuse to think about it again. So I began to listen to Chapo Trap House, which I came to understand was a podcast, and on YouTube, I was finding more leftist creators — Shaun led to HBomberguy, who led to ContraPoints, who led to Philosophy Tube, and then folks like Mexie, and then the distinctly less political but still leftist, folks like Dan Olson.
During the Obama administration, people would call him a socialist, and I would recoil in horror and shout about how “nuh uh he isn’t because look at how free market and choice-involved these policies are!” As someone educated through public, American education, of course I just knew that socialism was an awful, yawning chasm that would devour a country whole.
But as I listened to these folks, most of whom are declared socialists or on other varieties of leftist, I found myself wondering what was so bad about it. Of course, it was easy to find such diatribes as The Black Book of Communism and things of that nature — large tomes from philosophers, social scientists, and often, snake oil salesmen, who were largely obsessed with attributing every societal ill under any state that ever adopted capital-C Communism to the system itself. Vicious dictator? Has to have been the system, not the person. Economy devastated by sanctions from other nations on ideological lines *cough* Venezuela *cough*? Has to be the system, not the sanctions.
But it would point me in a variety of directions that ultimately affirmed that moving leftward was the correct thing. I learned more about the history of our country and its shameless intervention in international affairs. I learned names like Pinochet, the deeper and awful machinations underlying issues like Iran-Contra, and of systemic racial problems like redlining, redistricting (outside of just whining about it being unfair), and of the ways in which liberalism ultimately undercuts the movements of the left by allying with the right in punching anyone who winds up further to the left than either party. I was coming to understand the ways in which my American education had failed me by presenting things in a way that were approved of by a government entity.
As someone in high school during 9/11, the onset of the Afghanistan conflict, and the onset of Iraq, I ultimately knew that I disliked war, but I didn’t understand the concept of imperialism, nor the context of prior generations like the anti-war movement of Vietnam. If I had allowed myself to remain in that bubble, the mainstream ideal of what politics are and what America does, I would never have understood the role we have had in the destabilization of handfuls of countries. I could generally call out that these countries had bad things happen, but I would not have known the accurate source of them.
And all of that information, flooding my brain, brought me to a series of realizations:
The Democrats are complicit in capitalism, and do not offer real opposition
I wish I could believe the opposite, but it would not be true. The Democrats pay lip service to advancing progressive causes, minority rights, equality for all, and economic fairness — but do little to actually advance these causes. When they do push forward on ideas like the ACA, it starts with the bold, actually leftist idea — Universal Health Care! — and then declines immediately as they water down to get Republican votes that never come, making small, incremental improvements that are then pushed back by the next Republican congress that can get a president to sign off on it. I believed under Obama that incrementalism was the best way to accomplish a progressive policy agenda, and at this point, what of Obama’s legacy even remains? An ACA on the brink of collapse from lacking enforcement and active sabotage, an economy that is growing to the inevitable deflationary spiral, and a lot of innocent dead bodies from a policy of extrajudicial killings via drone. Great legacy. Awesome. Also, this is a good opportunity to mention the following — I don’t doubt that Russia did something during the 2016 election, as a lot of evidence points in that direction — however, Russia did not make Hillary not campaign in her firewall states, put offices exclusively in urban strongholds where she was never going to lose and did not lose, and failing to deliver a strong narrative built on a policy foundation that could be easily stumped on the trail and understood. She had a huge misogynist wall to overcome, along with being tied to the name Clinton and the show trial of the Benghazi hearings, and she did not prepare to campaign effectively to overcome those. She fought to try to win NeverTrump Republicans, who, by the way, are less than 10% of the party and would never have broken in large enough numbers to suit her campaign. She lost it for herself — Russia, at worst, helped put a little kindling in the dumpster fire of her campaign plans.
Trump is, in fact, “Normal” and is the logical continuation of Republican politics (Also, respecting normalcy is stupid in politics)
I’m sorry, I’d love to pretend otherwise, but Trump is in fact perfectly normal and a logical successor to the GOP politics of the last handful of decades. Trump was a TV star — as was Ronald Reagan. His stance on women is abhorrent — and that fits the misogynistic, antagonistic policies of the modern Republican party to a tee. You believed that there was a strong coalition of NeverTrump GOPers willing to stand against him? His approval rating within party has remained in high range, and the recent numbers remain around 90% of Republicans approve of him — the highest numbers intra-party of any president in modern history. Call him what you want — abnormal, aggressive, tonally inadequate for the presidency, but he is not out of line relative to a party that had screaming, crying John Boehner, the pile of pure evil that was Dick Cheney, and the vapid, empty stupidity of George W. Bush. He’s not special, and treating him as such only gives him and especially the GOP power. Further, respecting norms means sacrificing political power. You notice how often Democrats talk about “respecting the process and the office” and then lose and never get a single GOP vote? That is what norm-respect gets you.
Republicans aren’t dumb, or hicks, but largely suburbanite white people who are selfish (and think that they’ll be millionaires someday)
Most conservatives I know are stereotypes in many ways. They often parrot the same points and use the same verbiage. The common dismissal as a liberal is “they’re just dumb and uneducated.” Well, let me tell you, no. They gravitate to conservatism for a reason — the narrative it feeds them that identifies aggressors preventing them from living their best lives and mobilizes them politically. They are being misdirected, of course, but they choose this because it serves them. One of those I mentioned earlier (we’ll just call them Seventeen for now) has adopted the full spectrum of religious policies too — but they aren’t voting to strip gay rights, since they have gay family they care about. They’ll talk shit about transgender people all day, often posting dumb things from Ben Shapiro about how gender is biological, and won’t connect how voting GOP and allowing them to pass anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is hurting their gay family members, but it isn’t from a place of stupidity. It is a choice, made selfishly, and at the end of the day, they want lower taxes and if it means their gay family member suffers, well, that is the cost of the choice — and they didn’t intend it, so they won’t harbor personal guilt for it, no matter how loudly they advocate for the same candidates taking that action otherwise.
They’ll tell you “facts don’t care about your feelings” but they also don’t care about facts
The Republican party has adopted the creed of 5'4" fast-talking, substance-lacking Ben Shapiro — that “facts don’t care about your feelings.” However, their politics are motivated 100% from feelings, and often don’t have facts to back them, but they have a media ecosystem that feeds them sustaining gruel to continue to back the ideas at the core of the capitalist overclass within the party. You cannot convince them of actual facts until it is too late — they are marketed narratives instead, and will not move position without a replacement narrative.
Politics are personal, and anyone who tells you that you can separate the two is bullshitting you
As a straight white male, I have a litany of luxuries that minorities don’t have. The biggest one you will often see from conservatives is this illusion that “politics aren’t personal.” They are, they absolutely are personal, and everyone’s daily life is affected (sometimes deeply) by the body politic. For someone like me, sure, the daily drumbeat of my life is very sparsely affected by politics, and usually only economically. For minorities, POC, women, and people around the world affected by the colonial project of America, politics are very personal and wear them down in ways both small and large. Anyone, anyone, who tries to convince you that politics are not personal and should be kept at arms-length is trying to disenfranchise you. The GOP base feels personal resentment to liberals, leftists, minorities, POC, women, and more, and this personal emotion and feeling is what animates them to vote and act in support of the politicians weaponizing their resentment.
Arguing with conservatives in general is usually a waste, but especially in public
Social media and the advent of internet culture have led to internet nerds wanting to debate everyone all the time. The right (especially the Alt-Right shitheads) have made their trade in debating publicly. There is an excellent series from YouTuber Innuendo Studios that covers this in much more detail, but here’s the cliff notes — debate is a public performance, and the right uses it to speak past you to your audience in an attempt to cast a net and bring in converts with deeply misleading language. Outside of public debate, know this — trying to privately discuss politics with a right-winger will almost never yield the results you might hope for. You can talk and even get them to agree you have the correct interpretation of a situation, but they will never budge from their beliefs to the left. Those that can be nudged, you will usually be able to tell, but even then, you need a narrative — not just a loose chain of facts and stats.
Politics is about power, not flowery collaboration or bipartisanship
I won’t tell you that you shouldn’t understand the right (or the left, if you are one of two of my right-wing friends that might hate-read this), but the reality is this — politics is about power. It is not compromise, bipartisanship, or partnership — you build a base to mobilize people to pass policies, those people elect a political leader who will work on that issue, and then you write and pass comprehensive legislation on that issue. You don’t water it down for your enemies, you don’t play nice, you don’t engage in civility fetishist behaviors. You pass the damn legislation and advance the platform. If your enemies aim to stop you, you target their objections, swat those down, and then crush them. When Americans talk about civility, it is only ever one side expected to be respectful or civil — the left. Fuck that noise. Make no mistake, the conservative wing of the country is your enemy — they aren’t colleagues, they aren’t your lovely friends, they are out there every day telling their voters that Democrats want to sell out the country to terrorists and that you hit the DemocRATs (!) with “second amendment remedies.” Don’t fucking bend over backwards for people who hate you. Vote for politicians who will fight, and who understand that politics is about power. Trump and the GOP violate every so-called “norm” of American governance, and look at what happens — they pass tons of laws, advance their agenda by miles, and face no punishment for it! Stop advocating civility — your opponents are not civil and will never be civil.
The choice is socialism or barbarism
Our planet is heating up at a rapid rate towards a total environmental apocalypse, and we sit on our hands and allow capital to enforce its brutal agenda on us all. There are puff-pieces on every capitalist media network about how if we all cut meat consumption by 30%, turn off more lights, get LED everything, and take a bike to work once or twice a week, it’ll get better. Lost in this noise is that 71% of the emissions on the planet are due to 100 companies doing this for their own economic betterment. You won’t often hear that on the news, and that is purposeful. The choice of the world is to continue on a capitalist path, allowing those 100 companies to degrade our air quality and erode the barrier protecting us from being baked by the sun, or to move to a socialist economy where a lack of profit motive will help facilitate moves to renewable energy sources, as no barriers will exist with lobbyist power and cash to stop it. Think that is an exaggeration? Look at the right’s rhetoric on immigration. Climate change will cause large swaths of the planet to become uninhabitable, creating an immigration crisis the likes of which we have never seen in history. The fascistic tendencies, moving people to learn to accept othering of people that are not from the US, all of that serves to numb people to the solution they have in mind for when such a crisis occurs — mass murders and oppression of displaced people. Food rationing will happen, and what are the odds people like you or I will be able to eat? If we do not band together as a society and embrace a strong social construct free of profit motive and the corrupting influence of capital, we will be stuck in a hellscape where right-wing death squads will be murdering masses of immigrants, leftists, and anyone they choose.
None of these realizations came easily, but I hope by imparting them, I can emphasize the importance of mobilizing to more than just mushy, soft liberalism. The world needs better, and it needs it sooner than we want to admit. That fact is saddening, but it is still a path that can be course-corrected.