Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 20, 2021

How Harper’s Magazine Undermines the Struggle Against White Supremacy

Filed under: african-american,Black Lives Matter,Harper's Open Letter,journalism — louisproyect @ 3:18 pm


John “Rick” MacArthur

When the latest issue of Harper’s arrived in my mailbox in June, white racist grievances had reached a fever-pitch. The University of North Carolina had refused tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, Critical Race Theory had become a bogeyman like Communism was in the 1950s, and Republican state governments were working overtime to pass Jim Crow type voting laws. Instead of standing up to these racist threats, the magazine decided to publish a nearly 5,600 word attack on the 1619 Project by Princeton history professor Matthew Karp titled “History As End: 1619, 1776, and the politics of the past.” While the article is behind a paywall, you can register for one free article a month.

The article argues that it is futile to dwell on the racist history of the USA and to instead look forward to breakthroughs like the Civil War, the civil rights movement, etc. Essentially, Karp aligns himself with the cadre of historians that complained bitterly about all the falsehoods they supposedly saw in the 1619 Project. Among them, his Princeton colleague Sean Wilentz barked the loudest at Hannah-Jones. Mostly, the complaints were about her introductory article that stated that the colonists fought for independence in order to maintain slavery and that racism was in America’s DNA. Except for Wilentz, the historians took their case to the World Socialist Website (WSWS), an outlet distinguished by its hysterical Henny-Penny warnings that WWIII was always about to break out and that Socialist Workers Party leader Joe Hansen was a GPU agent.


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September 30, 2020

Harper’s Magazine and the culture wars

Filed under: Harper's Open Letter — louisproyect @ 8:33 pm

Dinesh D’Souza: the original adversary of cancel culture (and frequent guest of Bill Maher)

Although the term “culture wars” did not get coined until 1991, when sociologist James Davison Hunter came out with “Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America”, I’d argue that its origins were in the Reagan presidency. His hatchet men began to demonize the left as intolerant and out of touch with the values of everyday Americans. It is no surprise that the conflict was sharpest in academia where newly tenured 60s radicals had the nerve to defend Marxism in classrooms. While most of the fire was directed at them, postmodernists also took a beating for their “relativism”.

Throughout the 1990s, there were books that defined the turf being fought over. Dinesh D’Souza, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and a former domestic policy analyst in the Reagan administration, wrote “Illiberal Education”, a book that grew out of an Atlantic Monthly article of the same title. Despite Atlantic’s reputation as a liberal magazine, they saw fit to publish this crap in 1991:

Each fall some 13 million students, 2.5 million of them members of minority groups, enroll in American colleges … At the university they hope to shape themselves as whole human beings, both intellectually and morally. Brimming with idealism, they wish to prepare themselves for full and independent lives in the workplace, at home, and as citizens of a democratic society. In short, what they seek is a liberal education.

By the time these students graduate, many colleges and universities will not have met their need for all-round development. Instead, by precept and example, they will have taught them that all rules are unjust and all preferences are principled; that justice is simply the will of the stronger party; that standards and values are arbitrary, and the ideal of the educated person is largely a figment of bourgeois white male ideology; that individual rights are a red flag signaling social privilege, and should be subordinated to the claims of group interest; that all knowledge can be reduced to politics and should be pursued not for its own sake but for the political end of power; that convenient myths and well-intentioned lies can substitute for truth; that double standards are acceptable as long as they are enforced to the benefit of minority victims; that disputes are best settled not by rational and civil debate but by accusation, intimidation, and official prosecution; that the university stands for nothing in particular and has no claim to be exempt from outside pressures; and that a multiracial society cannot be based on fair rules that apply to every person but must rather be held together with a forced rationing of power among separatist racial groups. In short, instead of liberal education, what many American students are getting is its diametrical opposite: an education in closed-mindedness and intolerance—which is to say, illiberal education.

If there’s a significant difference between what D’Souza wrote in the Atlantic nearly 30 years ago and the momentum behind the Harper’s Open Letter, I can’t see it.

As someone who has subscribed to Harper’s since the early 1980s, it is disconcerting to see this development. Months before the Open Letter, I sent the editor a brief note of complaint over Thomas Chatterton Williams defense of his memoir “Self-Portrait in Black and White” against a cutting review in BookForum. It was so filled with Pecksniffian self-regard that I felt motivated to do something I rarely do, send a letter to an editor. Now that I know that the editor of Harper’s shares Williams’s centrist politics, I can now see it was a waste of time. The very wealthy owner of Harper’s, John “Rick” MacArthur”, is using his power to turn his magazine into a bully pulpit for the same message Atlantic conveyed in 1991.

Starting in the September issue, Harper’s unfurled its culture wars banner and will likely keep it flying from now on. Once you get this bee in your bonnet, it tends to drill straight through to your brain and take over what’s left of your intelligence.

Taking his marching orders from Rick MacArthur, editor Christopher Beha told readers that he was not happy about the NY Times firing James Bennet who had authorized the publication of an op-ed by Senator Tom Cotton urging military strikes on out-of-control BLM activists. This didn’t sit well with NY Times employees, both Black and white, who took to social media to condemn the op-ed and those responsible for approving it. For Beha, this was in line with the cancel culture that the Open Letter attacked. He referred to unnamed people who were “worried that the paper of record was becoming a place of ideological conformity.” As was the case with the Open Letter refusal to give examples of cancel culture, the use of “unnamed” left open all sorts of questions. Who were these unnamed people? Tucker Carlson? Bill Maher?

The rest of the article is a defense of Harper’s Magazine’s ideological diversity. If they can be so open-minded, why can’t some transgender woman be just as tolerant to JK Rowling on Twitter? Beha refers to a forum he organized in Jerusalem with both Israeli and Palestinian speakers. I’ll give him credit for admitting: “I am not suggesting that our Forum made a difference in the conflict.”

In the same vein, the September issue included an article by Cornell University Comparative Literature professor Laurent Dubreuil “Nonconforming: Against the erosion of academic freedom by identity politics”. With a title like that, you knew you were straying into D’Souza territory or at least a leftist version. He complained about trigger warnings, student objections to being assigned texts by racist or homophobic authors, and all the other challenges to professorial authority that get called out regularly on Fox News. Identity politics has even been appropriated by neo-Nazis, according to Dubreuil:

Stormfront, the largest English-language online forum for neo-Nazis and white supremacists, promotes “true diversity” and the interests of the “new, embattled, White minority.” White straight males are already a minority in the United States (though one that enjoys disproportionate representation in power). For many voters, Trump’s affirmation of a wounded white identity is central to his appeal, and, unfortunately, to that of his likely successors.

This is obviously tantamount to saying that Richard Spencer and Malcolm X were both trafficking in racism. In fact, this is exactly what many liberals said when George Lincoln Rockwell tried to create a united front with the Nation of Islam. It turns out that the Nazi did meet with the NoI at one point, a function of the separatist mindset of both he and Elijah Muhammad. It didn’t go very far and Rockwell got a frosty reception at the one meeting he addressed.

Like fellow Harper’s contributor Thomas Chatterton Williams, Dubreuil asks us to pay heed to Ralph Ellison, the author of “Invisible Man”, who rejected “identity determinism”. Ralph Ellison had many interesting insights in this novel that I read forty years ago but I never found his other writings as relevant to the American situation as James Baldwin. Always prioritizing aesthetic individualism over African-American solidarity, Ellison began to resemble Saul Bellow who was his housemate when they both taught at Bard College in the late 50s. During the Vietnam war, Ellison joined Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, Ralph Ellison, James T. Farrell, John Steinbeck and John Dos Passos in supporting American intervention in Vietnam.

In a NY Times article dated February 28, 1999, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley reported:

According to Charles Tyroler, a Democratic strategist who recruited prominent writers to sign pro-war manifestoes at Johnson’s behest, Ellison agreed to help the Administration in 1967. ”He told me about his own merchant marine service and how disgraceful he thought it was for peaceniks and draft dodgers to denounce our boys in ‘Nam,” Tyroler said in an interview. ”And he thought it was disastrous for the civil rights movement to hitch its future on the antiwar diatribes of H. Rap Brown and Stokely Carmichael.”

Showing that he has been as much of a victim of Blacks, gays or women, Dubreuil recounts the persecutions he endured growing up:

Have I been ridiculed for being too white, owing to the paleness caused by my chronic asthma? Yes, and incidentally this abuse always came from white people, including far-right extremists. Was I bullied in elementary and middle school by other kids for being fat? Yes, I gained weight after recovering from a near-fatal case of hepatitis at age eight, and the hassle lasted for five years. Have I been bullied for other reasons? Oh yes, many: because I sucked at sports, because my parents were poor, because I did well in school, and so on.

I read such blather and wonder how this nitwit ever managed to get a 4,000 word article published in Harper’s. Oh, I know. It satisfied Rick MacArthur’s culture wars appetite with a most tasty dish.

Turning to the current issue, you get Beha defending the Open Letter with this self-congratulatory note: “Indeed, in the days after we published the letter, I received an overwhelming number of messages from young freelance journalists, graduate students, and adjunct professors—the kinds of people who are not insulated by tenure or staff positions—expressing relief that the letter had spoken on their behalf.” Should I be expecting this kind of preening from the editor on an ongoing basis? I love Harper’s cryptic crossword puzzles but might have to make the ultimate sacrifice to avoid this sort of ideological narcissism.

Turning to the five-star general of the culture wars at Harper’s, we find Thomas Chatterton Williams comparing transgender people writing mean tweets to JK Rowling with Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story “The Lottery” that describes a small town’s yearly ritual sacrifice of one of its citizens. In his eyes, this was just such an irrational act of savagery:

We all remember the case of Justine Sacco, back in 2013, perhaps the Ur-cancellation of the Twitter age. Sacco was an unknown public-relations director who, before boarding a flight from London to Cape Town, tweeted a tasteless joke: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She had only 170 followers, yet by the time her plane landed, her bad tweet had gone viral and her life was in tatters. She had become a world-famous racist—and lost her job. A common paradox of any debate around cancel culture is that those who insist it is not a problem oscillate between dismissing it as a made-up phenomenon and asserting that anyone who has endured such a fate deserved it. If Sacco was in fact canceled, the feeling was, she had it coming.

As it happens, there are only about a dozen atrocity tales that keep getting recycled by Williams and his co-thinkers. I dealt with this one in a post titled “Bill Maher puts down the red carpet for Bari Weiss and Thomas Chatterton Williams”:

As Maher tries to eke out what Williams and Weiss mean by cancel-culture, they are hard-pressed to identify any of those humble souls who worry about being fired for saying the wrong thing. Williams refers to Justine Sacco as a virtual martyr to today’s version of the Salem Witch Trials. Sacco was a top executive of IAC, a holding company with over a hundred media and internet companies, including Vimeo, where I have a channel. (I didn’t say a word about her.) When Sacco was on a plane in 2014, she passed the time trying to be funny on Twitter. Visiting family in South Africa, she tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” You’d think after all the people who have gotten in trouble on Twitter, there’d be more caution. This tweet and other stupidities cost her job. Since she was the company’s PR director, how in hell did she think she’d be able to get away with this? The answer. If you want to make racist wisecracks, get a job with the police department. Well, maybe not more recently.

Later on in the article, Williams writes, “Cancellation operates with the logic and velocity of a sucker punch: you can’t protect yourself, and don’t even know where the attack is coming from until it has already landed.” You’d think that someone knowledgeable about the bullets fired into Breonna Taylor’s body by trigger-happy cops would be a little bit more circumspect about harping on surprise attacks. As it happens, Williams practically said that she had it coming in a Tweet:

This is appalling. Breonna Taylor’s ex-boyfriend wasn’t in the apartment that night. She had broken up with months earlier. Who makes amalgams between her and Glover, besides Thomas Chatterton Williams, you might ask. None other than Tucker Carlson, an even bigger white supremacist than Donald Trump:

“They told us that Taylor had nothing to do with her drug dealing ex-boyfriend, who police were investigating,” Carlson said. “That’s why they were there. In fact, intercepted jailhouse communications suggest that Taylor was warehousing that man’s drug money.”


August 9, 2020

Bill Maher puts down the red carpet for Bari Weiss and Thomas Chatterton Williams

Filed under: Harper's Open Letter — louisproyect @ 9:35 pm

Bill Maher, Bari Weiss, and Thomas Chatterton Williams

For those with both a strong stomach and an interest in the ongoing “cancel culture” debate, you might want to check out the podcast of Bill Maher’s chat with Thomas Chatterton Williams and Bari Weiss. Like all these podcasts taking the side of the Harper’s Open Letter, the other side of the debate is completely ignored. You are left with someone like Matt Taibbi being fawned over by Intellectual Dark Web personality Bret Weinstein. If anything, the Maher episode was even more nauseating. He insisted on calling Williams “Sir Thomas”.

Things kick off at 13:50 into Maher’s show. He introduces the discussion by referring to two open letters that was a kind of family feud between liberals. After having said that, there is zero reference to what the second letter stated. Apparently, he was referring to a July 10th letter that appeared on The Objective, a website devoted to “to confront inequities in coverage that have been recognized as rooted in the notion of ‘objectivity’ since the 1950s and continue today.” To this date, Chatterton Williams and company have yet to appear in a debate with anybody equipped to take them on like David Palumbo-Liu or Nikhil Pal Singh.

That’s the problem with Maher’s show. It never has a guest capable of defending a systemic critique of American society. The best you can hope for is flabby left-liberalism of the Michael Moore or Ben Affleck type. That’s the reason I stopped watching it five years ago. The political spectrum is Fox TV on the right and MSNBC on the left. Yawn.

The one thing I got out of listening to Williams is how narrowly constrained his interest in Black America is. A few weeks ago I began reading his stuff on Twitter and it revolves around his differences with two well-known pundits on “race questions”. One is Robin DiAngelo, the author of “White Fragility” and the other is Ibram X. Kendi, the author of “How to Be an Antiracist.” Until I began following the controversy around the Harper’s letter, I had no idea who they were.

DiAngelo is an academic specializing in “whiteness studies” who argues:

White people in the U.S. and other white settler colonialist societies live in a racially insular social environment. This insulation builds our expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering our stamina for enduring racial stress. I term this lack of racial stamina White Fragility. White Fragility is a state in which even a minimal challenge to the white position becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves including: argumentation, invalidation, silence, withdrawal and claims of being attacked and misunderstood. These moves function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and maintain control.

She gives workshops on this stuff, probably for big bucks considering that her book has been on the best-seller’s list for 97 weeks. For people like Williams, Adolph Reed Jr. and Matt Taibbi, she is the devil incarnate. David Roediger reviewed her book for the LA Review of Books and offers this pointed observation: “The can-do spirit of the workshop and primer knocks against the sober accounts of the utter embeddedness of white advantage in structures of both political economy and of personality and character.” Structures of political economy. That’s a dimension missed in both DiAngelo and her critics, except maybe perhaps for Reed’s class-reductionist program that only sees Black people benefiting from programs targeting the poor in general. As for Williams, he could be less interested in political economy. The need is for civility but it is tough being civil when the man’s knee is on your neck.

Like DiAngelo, Ibram X. Kendi is an academic but far more rooted in the kind of issues that concern radicals, like how to end police brutality. Kendi has said that “The actual foundation of racism is not ignorance and hate, but self-interest, particularly economic and political and cultural.” This seems irrefutable even if Williams and DiAngelo sidestep questions of economic and political barriers to racial equality in their writing.

For Williams, the emphasis is on transcending race. A review of his memoir “Self-Portrait in Black and White” in Harper’s will give you an idea of where he is coming from:

Self-Portrait is Williams’s attempt to liberate his mind from the shackles of conventional racial designations once he realizes that his children will never be seen by anyone—not even, most likely, by themselves—as black. Williams, the son of a white mother and a black father, whom he calls “Pappy” and who serves as an intellectual and ethical anchor in Self-Portrait and a previous memoir, marries a white French woman, and their firstborn child, a daughter named Marlow, emerges in the delivery room with blond hair and blue eyes. Because Marlow will not share his racial identity, Williams decides that that identity no longer suits him. Instead of black, by the end of the book, he calls himself “ex-black”—which may be a bit like threatening to run away from home but never making it past the front porch.

There’s something vaguely musty about this sort of thing. Back in the late 1950s, we were all reading Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man”, a book with a Black nationalist villain and the main character on an existential search for true identity. His black skin undermines the efforts of others to relate to him as an individual, leaving him open to manipulations from whites and blacks alike. Both sides exploit the color line to gain power and domination.

In an LA Times Op-Ed, you can see how Williams identifies with Ellison:

Several years ago, I came across a Ralph Ellison quote that has stayed with me ever since: “Said a young white professor of English to me after a lecture out in Northern Illinois, ‘Mr. E., how does it feel to be able to go to places most black men can’t go?’ Said I to him, ‘What you mean is, how does it feel to be able to go to places where most white men can’t go.’”

Ellison’s way of thinking was honest and brave in 1970 and remains uncommon today. While prejudice and inequality have proven tenacious, if we take the expression “black lives matter” seriously, we must also accept when black autonomy, equality and even privilege exist. To do otherwise is like overprescribing antibiotics: a valuable defensive tool grows impotent through overuse. Our reflexive indignation fosters a laziness of thought that, paradoxically, can reinforce some of the very anti-black biases it hopes to wipe out.

Yeah, black autonomy, equality and even privilege exist. But so what? We’re talking about society, not individuals. There’s something creepy about Williams’s liberalism, reminding me of what Margaret Thatcher, a neoliberal counter-revolutionary, once said: “And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

As Maher tries to eke out what Williams and Weiss mean by cancel-culture, they are hard-pressed to identify any of those humble souls who worry about being fired for saying the wrong thing. Williams refers to Justine Sacco as a virtual martyr to today’s version of the Salem Witch Trials. Sacco was a top executive of IAC, a holding company with over a hundred media and internet companies, including Vimeo, where I have a channel. (I didn’t say a word about her.) When Sacco was on a plane in 2014, she passed the time trying to be funny on Twitter. Visiting family in South Africa, she tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” You’d think after all the people who have gotten in trouble on Twitter, there’d be more caution. This tweet and other stupidities cost her job. Since she was the company’s PR director, how in hell did she think she’d be able to get away with this? The answer. If you want to make racist wisecracks, get a job with the police department. Well, maybe not more recently.

Bari Weiss came up with a different martyr, the Palestinian owner of the Holy Land grocery in Minneapolis named Majdi Wadi. She told Maher that the poor guy has been victimized because when his 14-year old daughter foolishly praised Hitler, everybody ganged up on him. He lost his lease and much of his business. How can anybody hold his daughter’s stupidity against him?

It only took me ten minutes to learn what was really happening. It was not a simple case of cancel culture as Sahan Journal points out, a local online magazine covering immigrant issues, particularly those affecting Somalis as Hibah Ansari reported on June 19, 2020. He interviewed Mahad, a Somali woman who worked at Holy Land:

Mahad started working at Holy Land in 2013 and asked to be identified by her middle name since she currently works with members of the Wadi family.

Mahad, who is Somali, alleged she was paid less than her Arab coworker who was hired around the same time as her and who once showed Mahad her paycheck.

“Nobody spoke out about it because our jobs would be on the line,” Mahad said.

If a white or Arab customer came to the store, Mahad was encouraged to “give them extra bread,” while customers of color, the majority of Holy Land’s clientele, weren’t treated as well.

According to Mahad, Lianne and her father would follow black customers to make sure they weren’t stealing. Comments from customers on social media echoed the same concern.

“Every time they would see a black family grocery shopping, [Lianne] would leave the cash register all the way on the other side, run and tail that black family just to see if they’re stealing,” Mahad said.

Hana Muse also said she witnessed Lianne follow black customers when she worked there in 2015.

“There were a lot of Somali families that would come to that restaurant,” Muse said. “They were treated like crap.”

Muse said she once came to work with her hair braided, but her managers told her to “take out your hair.”

“They were just so harsh,” Muse said. “I thought that this was how every work environment was, until I quit Holy Land.”

At the end of the night, Muse said Lianne would watch over any black employee counting the cash drawer.

Asked about the complaints regarding pay, Wadi said Holy Land pays employees in accordance with the law and the current market rate for the position.

“I can confirm that we have never paid anyone below the minimum wage,” Wadi said in a statement to Sahan Journal.

Employees subjected to possible discrimination should notify a manager or the human resources office, according to Holy Land’s employee handbook. Human resources would then investigate the allegations and implement corrective action.

Wadi said to his knowledge, no one has complained about any racist experiences in the past.

But Muse and Mahad both said the management perpetuated a “take it or leave it” attitude towards complaints. Neither of them ever felt comfortable filing a complaint about racism with a manager.

Now, I can’t say which side is telling the truth but how can Weiss simply omit the version that contradicts her own? Oh, I forgot. She’s entitled because she is in favor of free speech. At the risk of sounding like one of those cancel culture people, I am glad she and the NY Times parted ways. The paper is much better than it used to be, although it still must be read critically. Weiss and James Bennet are bad news. Let them go work for Rupert Murdoch where telling one side of a story is par for the course.


July 28, 2020

Chapo Trap House and Matt Taibbi crack down on the antiracists

Filed under: Harper's Open Letter — louisproyect @ 9:00 pm

Chapo Trap House, from left: Felix Biederman, Matt Christman, Amber A’Lee Frost, Virgil Texas and Will Menaker.

The deeper I dig into the controversy provoked by the Harper’s Open Letter, the more convinced I am that it reflects a faultline on the American left. First and foremost, it involves race and class with people such as Thomas Chatterton Williams and Matt Taibbi, two of the leading figures leading the charge against “cancel culture”, contending that Black “identity politics” has become an infection almost as deadly as COVID-19.

There are perhaps two degrees of separation between these two high-profile pundits and the campaign waged by Adolph Reed Jr., Cedric Johnson and Walter Benn Michaels against “antiracism”.

And another two degrees separates them and their frequent interventions on Jacobin and Nonsite from Project 1619, which Reed and some blue-chip historians regard as an insidious propaganda campaign that has the audacity to claim, for example, that Abraham Lincoln was a racist. When Boston decided to remove a statue depicting Abraham Lincoln with a freed black man at his feet, this just became the latest example of cancel culture’s threat to both art and our historical legacy.

Within this boiling cauldron of charges and counter-charges, Jacobin, the DSA and the Sandernista left are at the center, just like the eye of a hurricane. This became obvious to me after listening to their fellow-traveler Chapo Trap House’s podcast number 435, titled “Let’s Get Cancelled”. Made on July 9th, just two days after the Harper’s Open Letter appeared, it featured two Chapo members, Will Menaker and Amber A’Lee Frost, interviewing Matt Taibbi. Like all such podcasts, there is uniformity of opinion to the point of becoming so tedious that you can barely stay awake. For people on such a high horse about the need for free and open debate, you’d think that they’d do a podcast with a range of opinion.

Not only was there an affinity between the three over politics, there was also an affinity over their preening self-image of themselves as fearless and funny social commentators. Like eXile, the Russian magazine where Taibbi wrote many “satirical” articles joking about rape and humiliating women, Chapo Trap House has exploited its left-liberalism and “shock jock” sensibility to make money. Raking in $115,000 a month, their podcasts allow the Sandernista left to enjoy takedowns of people high and low. Hillary Clinton at the top and gays at the bottom are both grist for their mill as this song illustrates:

I am gay and I voted for Obama
I am a shill for the Clinton campaign and the leftwing mainstream press
I’m a pussy who gets fucked right up the ass
I am a cuck
I am a libtard
I am a fag who was blessed to live amongst us
And Arabs to have equal rights.
I have no love of country and the white folks are not all bad
And the Albright folks are tacky
It makes me sad

There’s no need to get offended by this since it is only “satire”, just like the eXile. If you do get offended, then you are one of those snowflakes turning the USA into a totalitarian society where Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” will be required reading just as Mao Zedong’s Red Book was in China. Get caught disagreeing openly with DiAngelo will lead to you being incarcerated for many years. Think I am kidding? Matt Taibbi said that DiAngelo’s philosophy is “Hitlerian”.

Sixteen minutes into the podcast, the subject of Project 1619 came up. In Taibbi’s view, this was an attempt by the NY Times to demonize Donald Trump after Russiagate had fallen flat on its face. He described it as something that never would have made it into the Times if Clinton had been elected. Taibbi was appalled by the idea that anybody would have the gumption to refer to the USA as a white supremacist project. Yeah, they killed the Indians and enslaved Africans but it also produced the Bill of Rights and coca-cola. With Trump in the White House, it became necessary to depict the USA as essentially racist so they printed a bunch of lies in the NY Times, presumably like in the article “Sugar” by Khalil Gibran Muhammad that stated:

The trade was so lucrative that Wall Street’s most impressive buildings were Trinity Church at one end, facing the Hudson River, and the five-story sugar warehouses on the other, close to the East River and near the busy slave market. New York’s enslaved population reached 20 percent, prompting the New York General Assembly in 1730 to issue a consolidated slave code, making it “unlawful for above three slaves” to meet on their own, and authorizing “each town” to employ “a common whipper for their slaves.”

Yeah, the nerve of the NY Times to cancel Trinity Church. What’s next? St. Patrick’s Cathedral?

Menaker and Frost agreed completely with this analysis, with Frost characterizing it as being supported by “annoying” and “ridiculous” people. Like Adolph Reed Jr., she found herself in total agreement with the long-in-the-tooth professor emeriti who were interviewed on WSWS and saw this country as committed to freedom and democracy, at least on paper.

This pile of crap assumes that the Black reporters at the NY Times were in on this conspiracy to demonize Donald Trump and that it required the publisher’s green light to make it possible. Chapo and Taibbi just don’t get it. Over the past decade, the newsrooms have become more reflective of the diversity of American society. Given their social weight, they are likely to raise a fuss over the lack of representation both in promotions and in what is reported. Yes, someone like Walter Benn Michaels would regard their demands for more representation as just another example of petty-bourgeois indifference to class issues but don’t they have a right to ask for an explanation why Tom Cotton’s racist op-ed piece could have shown up, with its call for shooting down BLM protesters? Taibbi weighed in on this, calling James Bennet’s departure as another example of cancel culture’s totalitarian tendencies.

After denouncing Project 1619, the three compadres next voiced their disgust with how protesters were for abolishing the police and prisons, with calls like “kill the cops” at protests showing how out of touch they were with Americans. Like Reed and Johnson, they referred to African-Americans demanding police protection and described defunding the police as a knuckle-headed demand of the left academy and ultra-leftist rioters. Taibbi felt that he was on solid ground making such points since he had written a highly-regarded book about how the cops killed Eric Garner on Staten Island. Yes, it was a good book but it doesn’t compensate for Taibbi’s more recent forays into law and order apologetics. He told Menaker and Frost that the problem was “bad eggs”, not institutional racism. Apparently, he hadn’t gotten the word that the police didn’t exist in the USA until a need arose for rounding up runaway slaves.

For his part Menaker rued the call for abolishing the police since it distracted attention away from a really popular demand like Medicare for All. Perhaps, abolishing the police became a popular demand when the video of George Floyd having a knee on his neck for 8 minutes made the population rethink the role of the cops. This was not your father’s “Miami Vice” or “NYPD Blue” after all.

You might describe Chapo Trap House as Dustin Giustella politics + Don Imus jokes. Like Joe Rogan, it has a distinctly anti-establishment flavor but without any serious consideration of the deeper realities of capitalist society. Taibbi, Rogan and Jacobin pinned all their hopes on a Bernie Sanders presidency and when it failed to materialize, they looked for a scapegoat. Sanders’s failure to win Black voters to his cause was blamed on Hillary Clinton’s exploitation of identity politics rather than his own class-reductionism that continues to this day. Like Taibbi and company, he is for professionalizing the police department, not abolishing it.

As for demands to abolish (or defund) the police and prisons, they certainly push the envelope and have a certain susceptibility to being dismissed as impractical. You might as well dismiss the idea of socialism while you are at it, for that matter. In the 1960s, the SWP used to raise the slogan of Black Control of the Black Community. There was no real chance of that happening as long as capitalism was in firm control of the country but given a certain level of instability, it might begin to seem reasonable. Fifty years ago we overestimated the mood of the country. Given the fact that the BLM protests are the largest in American history, it is high time to think big—ie., revolutionary.

Despite the title of the podcast, the three don’t really get into it until close to the end, at 47:00. Like Harper’s, they aren’t very specific. They talk about all the people being intimidated by the political correctness mob but who exactly has been fired or silenced by hostile tweets from the left?

As mentioned above, they offer up Sanders as someone who was cancelled but there is zero acknowledgement of his own gaffes, which included a failure to go for the jugular in his debates with Biden. In any case, presidential campaigns are nasty business and there’s little evidence that anything Clinton said in 2016 that could be legitimately be described as cancel culture. The Clintons played dirty in every campaign they ever ran. Although I never had any intention of voting for Sanders, I would have like to see him confront Biden over his bromance with Senators James Eastland and Herman Talmadge. It was left to Corey Booker and Kamala Harris to put Biden on the spot. However, the Washington Post anticipated where Sanders was heading with such charges in a June 20, 2019 article:

In recent weeks Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, as well as several lower-polling candidates, have begun criticizing Biden’s track record and campaign messaging. But for the most part, those critiques have been broad and theoretical, without mentioning Biden by name.

Without mentioning Biden by name? Don’t blame cancel culture for Sanders’s miserable showing in the Black community. Like Biden’s friendship with the southern racists, Sanders’s friendship with Biden compromised him. It’s too bad that Sandernista chumps like the Chapistas and Taibbi don’t get it.

Taibbi did come up with a couple of cancel culture incidents that might have qualified as censorious unless you dig beneath the surface. He alluded to the tragic suicide of a Dartmouth administrator named David Bucci who had “nothing to do with anything” but was driven to this desperate act by the typical politically correct mobs on campus. According to Taibbi, some “weird sex scandal” took place in his department. He initially “tried to help” the people who came forward with sexual harassment complaints, but after Dartmouth included him as a plaintiff, he ended up killing himself. Like Taibbi’s support for Evergreen State College’s Bret Weinstein, this is decidedly one-sided. The NY Times reported:

But to the women, Dr. Bucci was a central part of a system that enabled abuse and harassment. He was named 31 times in the 72-page legal complaint, which said that after receiving the initial grievance, the college had been slow to protect the women from further abuse, and that Dr. Bucci had called a department meeting where he browbeat the women who were planning to sue.

The 72-page legal complaint included this finding:

Jane Doe [the unnamed plaintiff] told Chair Bucci [current Chair of Psychology David Bucci] that the culture and harassment perpetuated by the Department’s professors and the poor fit with the lab she had been assigned had left her without a safe scientific home to complete her work. Chair Bucci trivialized Jane Doe’s experiences of harassment and displacement by comparing them with a time when he was inundated with administrative work, stating “I had a hellish year, too, but was able to do my work.”

In fact, there is evidence that the young women who came forward with their complaint suffered cancel culture as well, as an op-ed by two female Dartmouth professors indicated:

The Times article cites friends and family members who see Bucci as “a casualty of a scorched-earth legal strategy to pin blame on the Ivy League college.” But sadly, his heartbreaking death is not the only tragedy that followed in the wake of these events. Several of the plaintiffs became suicidal. Their careers were thrown off track. They were disparaged, threatened and discouraged from speaking out. They were “slut-shamed” by Dartmouth College’s response to the lawsuit, which can be seen as a scorched-earth legal strategy to pin the blame on 17- to 23-year-old female students groomed for abuse by professors who were supposed to mentor them.

Finally, Taibbi drops the name of Canadian novelist Hal Niedzviecki who was forced to resign as editor of a the journal Write after endorsing the idea of cultural appropriation in a special issue featuring indigenous authors. In his editor’s introduction, he wrote: “In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities” and advised writers to try to “Win the Appropriation Prize”. If you knew nothing about indigenous culture in Canada, this might sound reasonable. After all, as Taibbi points out, writers have an obligation to travel outside their comfort zone, even if this lesson would be lost on the people cozying up to each other on these various podcasts.

For a different take on Niedzviecki being “canceled”, I recommend this astute Vice article. It gets to the heart of the Harper’s Open Letter’s Pecksniffian posturing and Taibbi’s nonstop dismissal of Black attempts to gain equality with those born with a white skin [emphases added]:

Like all media controversies, this could have ended pretty quickly. While TWUC [The Writer’s Union of Canada that publishes Write] released the only type of statement they could have after messing up that badly, Niedzviecki could’ve offered a lengthy and selfless public apology alongside his resignation. But it didn’t take long for white Canadian writers to jump to Niedzviecki’s defense. The Globe and Mail’s Elizabeth Renzetti offered the lukewarm argument of the piece being insightful—in that it created a debate. The National Post’s Christie Blatchford went full Blatch and argued that Niedzviecki was being “silenced” and that he joined the ranks of white people who’ve been bullied into apologizing (something he actually never did publicly).

But just as it almost fizzled out thanks to the vicious half-life of the news cycle, a bunch of high-ranking members of Canadian media—all white—decided to go lose their shit on Twitter.

Ken Whyte, former Senior Vice-President of Public Policy at Rogers came up with the novel idea to start the actual award proposed in Niedzviecki’s piece. He was soon joined by Maclean’s editor-in-chief Alison Uncles, and the National Post’s editor-in-chief Anne Marie Owens as well as a growing list of other members of Canadian media. What do they all have in common? They’re white and they’re as powerful as Canadian media gets. As more people dragged these tweets, a few of those who were a part of creating the “Appropriation Prize” admitted they were being stupid or “glib.”

When it comes to the world of literature and media, “controversies” like this one are expected by any person of colour. In my experience, being a writer in Canadian media means being reminded of exactly who the gatekeepers are and exactly what they think of anyone who isn’t white and powerful. It happens often, most recently with the Joseph Boyden controversy, Walrus editor Jonathan Kay took it upon himself to defend the author against Indigenous people with valid concerns over the author’s identity. Again, Kay is the editor-in-chief of a publication that positions itself as Canada’s New Yorker.

The obvious solution would be to encourage the minorities they so deeply want to see in stories to, you know, write their own stories—but clearly that’s not their priority.

The thing is, Canadian media seems to be getting more diverse. I see it myself with my colleagues and peers, increasingly I’m seeing that emerging writers who aren’t white get recognition. I see fellow women of colour get more bylines than I did three years ago when I began writing professionally. While it’s great to see at the lower rungs, I question the significance of these slow changes in who is telling what stories when those at the top are still extremely white and male. When our editors are tweeting about funding and creating prizes for white people to pretend to be us, it only shows us we matter in terms of optics.

In Niedzviecki’s piece he argues that in order to see non-white stories better represented in Canadian media, white Canadian authors need to go beyond “what they know” and write from the voices of those who aren’t like their white middle-class selves. What does it show us when the only solution these high-ranking journalists, executives and editors have is to create an award for white people who want to write stories that aren’t their own? The obvious solution would be to encourage the minorities they so deeply want to see in stories to, you know, write their own stories—but clearly that’s not their priority. Their response seemingly shows their real fear—people of colour speaking for themselves and white voices being relegated to the sidelines.

July 24, 2020

Matt Taibbi, the Harper’s Open Letter, and the Intellectual Dark Web

Filed under: Counterpunch,Harper's Open Letter,journalism — louisproyect @ 1:20 pm


Just a day before the Harper’s Open Letter appeared on July 7th, Osita Nwanevu wrote an article for The New Republic on “The Willful Blindness of Reactionary Liberalism” that made Matt Taibbi sound as if his name would show up there the next day. Indeed, in a convivial Rolling Stone podcast that Taibbi and his partner Katie Halper did with Thomas Chatterton Williams, the godfather of the letter regretted that he didn’t have Taibbi’s email address otherwise he would have been invited.

Nwenevu’s article addressed the widespread assault on identity politics that makes it sound like the greatest threat to American democracy is diversity training seminars by Robin Diangelo, the author of “White Fragility.” Indeed, Matt Taibbi described the philosophy behind her book as positively “Hitlerian.”

This furor over “cancel culture” or what used to be called “political correctness” is not exactly new. I saw it as early as 1991 when Nat Hentoff was on the warpath against efforts to reduce racism at universities and the media, just as is happening today:

For 2 1/2 years, I have been interviewing students and professors across the country for a book I’m writing on assaults by orthodoxies — right and left — on freedom of expression. Many specific incidents of political correctness — with names — have been printed in this column from those interviews.

One very bright young man at Brown, for example, told me he finally gave up offering his questions on affirmative action — like “What has it done for poor blacks?” — in class. He got tired of being called a racist, in and out of the room.

Continue reading

July 21, 2020

Transgender people and the Harper’s Open Letter

Filed under: Black Lives Matter,Harper's Open Letter,transgender — louisproyect @ 8:43 pm

A number of critiques of the Harper’s cancel culture open letter have referred to the presence of transphobic signers such as JK Rowling, the British author of the Harry Potter novels. Less well-known is Atlantic contributor Jesse Singal, who is into “concern-trolling” against trans kids. In other words, seeing teens as not having the capacity to decide whether they can make the right decision about transitioning. Of course, when 40 percent of them attempt suicide out of misery, maybe there should be some leeway. Another is Katie Herzog, a freelance writer who was focused on “detransitioners”, those small number of people who regretted their decision and then began identifying with their birth sex again. All three have been “cancelled” for their positions but none has suffered any professional consequences.

Five days after my critique of the open letter appeared on CounterPunch, which had virtually nothing to say about transgender, an article by Robert Jensen appeared there as well. Jensen, a professor emeritus from U. of Texas best known for his articles on foreign policy, defended the open letter and particularly the grievances of people like JK Rowling who have been supposedly victimized for their opinions on transgender issues. A local radical bookstore in Austin cut all ties with him and other speaking engagements have been canceled. In the past, I haven’t gainsaid such actions since they are a democratic right. No matter how much Max Blumenthal complained about bookstores canceling a reading because of his support for Assad, this was not “McCarthyism”. McCarthyism would be, for example, Hollywood screenwriters or professors being fired for signing a petition for the Popular Front in Spain.

Jensen has been writing such articles over the years for CounterPunch and other magazines. In 2014, he wrote one that labeled transitioning medical procedures such as surgery and hormones as contrary to ecological principles as if someone desperately trying to change their sexual identity had something in common with climate change. You might get the idea from such a claim that Jensen has his head up his ass. If you look at his newest article, that take will be reinforced. He writes:

One of the basic points that radical feminists—along with many other writers—have made is that biological sex categories are real and exist outside of any particular cultural understanding of those categories.

If you click the “radical feminist” link, you’ll arrive at an article in Spiked Online titled “The trans ideology is a threat to womanhood” by Meghan Murphy. I guess you can tell from the title that this is openly transphobic. In November 2018, Murphy got booted from Twitter after referring to a trans woman as “him”. She had consistently been using the wrong pronoun and using pre-transition names for transgendered people. I haven’t been following the JK Rowling controversies but I doubt that there’s much difference between her and Murphy.

As for “other writers”, that link takes you to the Wall Street Journal article titled “The Dangerous Denial of Sex”, an opinion piece by Colin M. Wright and Emma N. Hilton. The brunt of the article is to establish that there are two biological categories for sex and that is anti-scientific to accept a transgender person on their own terms. Of course, it wasn’t too long ago when psychologists and scientists held the same rigid views on heterosexuality as a norm.

I come to these discussions not as a theorist but as someone who developed an appreciation for transgender issues as a film critic. Although I never got around to reviewing “A Fantastic Woman”, this great 2017 Chilean film tells the story of a transgender female whose older male companion dies unexpectedly. Excluded from his funeral and left without any support that a married woman might benefit from, the titular character asserts her rights both as the man’s significant other and as a human being deserving respect in her own right”. The film is available on Amazon Prime. More recently, I saw “The Garden We Left Behind” that, like the Chilean film, stars a transgender actor. My review begins:

For most people on the left who are supportive of transgender rights, including me, there’s still little understanding of the realities of transgender life. Having gay friends and comrades is ubiquitous but unless you count a transgender person as part of your social circle, your knowledge tends to be based on what you’ve read about the well-known such as Chelsea Manning. To get that understanding, there’s no better place to start than Flavio Alves’s “The Garden Left Behind” that will be available as VOD on December 13th (Amazon Prime, iTunes, etc).

It stars Carlie Guevara as Tina Carrera, a transgender, 20-something, undocumented Mexican immigrant living and working as a gypsy cab driver in Queens, a far cry from the superheroes, mafia gangsters, ingenues, and cops that you can see in the typical Hollywood movie. Even though Tina’s grandmother Eliana accepts her without qualifications, she still calls her Antonio, a function more of long-time family ties than prejudice.

Unfortunately, the film is not yet available on VOD.

Finally, there is “Changing the Game”, a documentary about transgender teens competing in various sports and putting up with the resistance from parents who feel that they are cheating. This is one of the major issues facing such kids today. My review began:

Like Flavio Alves’s narrative film about a transgender female, “Changing the Game” is a much-needed documentary that will open your minds to one of the most despised minorities in the USA. In this film, we meet a trans male and two trans females who are high school students competing in wrestling and track respectively. As you may know, this has become a major controversy lately as parents of cisgender athletes demand their expulsion from competitions. Mack (born Mackenzie) has been forced to compete with cisfemales even though his deepest desire is to wrestle other boys. That mattered much more to him than becoming the 110-pound class Texas state champion in 2017 and 2018. What makes this film so great in addition to the utter honesty and magnetic personalities of its principals is the support they get from their parents or, in Mack’s case, the grandparents who adopted him after his mom could not provide adequate financial support. They are quintessential Red State personalities but utterly on his side. The grandmother is a cop and the grandfather is a good old boy in bib overalls but don’t let their appearance fool you. Every word out their mouth spells compassion in capital letters.

Like “The Garden We Left Behind”, the film is not yet available on VOD. Keep on the lookout for them.

Most of the articles on the left written about transgendered people involve a lot of theorizing about gender, the biology of sex, psychoanalysis, etc., with references to Judith Butler and a lot of professors writing for specialized journals. I can recommend Richard Seymour’s article in Salvage titled “None Shall Pass: Trans and the Rewriting of the Body” that is roughly divided into two parts. The first part I found most useful since it answers people like Robert Jensen. The second part was an attempt to apply Lacanian psychoanalytic theory to transgender people, which was above my pay grade, I’m afraid. But this snippet from the first part should motivate you to look at the article:

For many who style themselves as ‘trans-critical’, however, being trans is either a delusion or a pretence. “The physical transformations created by hormones and surgery,” Sheila Jeffreys, asserts in Gender Hurts, “do not change the biological sex of the persons upon whom they are visited.”
Jeffreys makes no attempt to argue for this point, but in the past she would not have been expected to, as the state would have agreed with it on the grounds that ‘natural’ sex was the only legitimate basis for heterosexual marriage. Jacqueline Rose recounts the case of April Ashley at length for the London Review of Books, in which the judge made exactly this distinction, claiming that Ashley’s vagina was simply not big enough to accommodate a penis. Anne Fausto-Sterling, in Sexing The Body, describes a similar case in which a marriage between a man and “a woman born without a vagina” was annulled on the grounds that the artificial vagina was only two inches deep, and sex of this kind was a “quasi-natural connexion” to reduce a man to. It is notable that this unexpected convergence of heterosexist, patriarchal reaction with the politics of a militant lesbian feminist takes place around the ‘naturalness’ of the body.

Needless to say, these issues will remain with us for the foreseeable future since the Republican Party will exploit transphobia to win votes for a losing cause.

It is not only the Republican Party that is transphobic. The Socialist Workers Party, a group I belonged to for 11 years, has the same reactionary politics as Robert Jensen. In a recent issue of the Militant newspaper, you can read this assessment of the Supreme Court ruling on a LBGT case:

The decision as issued strengthens the hand of those transgender campaigners who argue that sex is a subjective feeling, not an objective fact, and seek to pillory and threaten anyone who says otherwise. It deals a counterrevolutionary blow to the fight for women’s emancipation.

It also weakens the overall fight to end discrimination against gays and lesbians.

None of these fucking stupid articles take into account the massive sympathy that is developing for the right of people to adopt a sexual identity that allows them a certain amount of gratification as opposed to the daily torture that leads so many of them to suicide. I’ve been retired from Columbia University for nearly a decade but stop occasionally for yearly “international luncheons” in which employees bring meals from their home countries. Yeah, Columbia is big on diversity. Get used to it, Walter Benn Michaels.

When I stop in to take a pee, I get satisfaction out of seeing a sign on the door asking people to use the bathroom whose gender they identify with. As you might expect, an Ivy school is going to be ahead of the curve on something like this. But what if you were a transgender female with a factory job? What would it be like to be forced to use the men’s room because you still had a penis? In most cases, you might get a punch in the mouth. Even worse, if you walk down the wrong street, you might get killed. A March 28th article in the Daily News was titled “Transgender woman fatally stabbed in the neck in Harlem; friend believes she was killed over a wig” Can you believe that? Killed over a wig?

Some commentators took issue with the Harper’s Open Letter showing up during a massive movement against killer-cops. As good liberals, they probably support it but for the kind of support that really matters, you have to appreciate the massive outpouring for Black transgender people at a BLM protest in Brooklyn shown in the video above. It took place on June 14th, the day before Jensen’s wretched article appeared. The NY Times reported:

One speaker at the rally was Melania Brown, sister of Layleen Polanco, a transgender woman who was found dead in 2019 in a cell at Rikers Island.

“Black trans lives matter! My sister’s life mattered!” Brown said in her speech. “If one goes down, we all go down — and I’m not going nowhere.”

Black transgender people not only bear a disproportionate burden of police violence but also face high rates of violence and harassment on the street. The American Medical Association said last fall that killings of transgender women of color in the United States amounted to an epidemic.

Two more black transgender women nationwide were killed in less than 24 hours while the event was coming together. Dominique Fells, 27, known as Rem’Mie, was found with stab wounds in Philadelphia on June 8, Rolling Stone reported. A day later, Riah Milton, 25, was found shot multiple times in Liberty Township, Ohio.

None of these realities impinge on the articles written by the Open Letter signers, Robert Jensen or any other transphobic leftists. From now until a socialist revolution triumphs in the USA, you can bet that transgender people will be on its side. Just as long, of course, if our movement has the wisdom and the courage to stand up for their rights.

July 12, 2020

Pecksniff and the Harper’s Open Letter

Filed under: Harper's Open Letter — louisproyect @ 10:42 pm

Although I have run into very few supporters of the Harper’s Open Letter on Facebook and even less on Marxmail, I was still trying to figure out why there were any. The consensus was that no matter how hypocritical the signers were, it was still necessary to defend free speech. You’d have to wonder what people would make of an open letter in defense of world peace that was signed by Henry Kissinger, John Bolton, George W. Bush, and Madeline Albright. After all, it can’t hurt. Right?

My guess is that most people would not support that letter because the reputation of the four named above precedes them. On the other hand, the Harper’s letter has some good people signing it like Margaret Atwood, Noam Chomsky, and Gloria Steinem. Maybe, that was all it took for someone posting their endorsement of the letter on FB, where superficiality reigns supreme.

From what I have seen, the main explanation for such gullibility is a lack of familiarity with some truly awful signers who have the same relationship to liberal principles that Henry Kissinger has to world peace. For a professor who has been steeped in his or her narrow scholarly bailiwick for their entire career, it might be understandable that the lofty sentiments expressed in the letter might take precedence over the signatures of people who showed contempt for them in practice. It could also be a function of youthfulness. Some people in their 20s might not have any clue what George Packer represents except being the author of a biography of Richard Holbrooke that got mixed reviews.

I belong to neither category. I am neither a cloistered professor, nor am I young. Over the past thirty years since I got on the Internet at Columbia University, my exposure to a variety of Pecksniffian figures has made my antenna highly sensitized to their pretensions. If the term Pecksniffian does not ring a bell, it comes from Charles Dickens’s “Martin Chuzzlewit”. A character named Sam Pecksniff is a greedy architect who pays his staff about the same that Scrooge paid Cratchit, and, even worse, passes their work off as his own. This is how Dickens characterized Pecksniff:

His very throat was moral. You saw a good deal of it. You looked over a very low fence of white cravat (whereof no man had ever beheld the tie for he fastened it behind), and there it lay, a valley between two jutting heights of collar, serene and whiskerless before you. It seemed to say, on the part of Mr Pecksniff, ‘There is no deception, ladies and gentlemen, all is peace, a holy calm pervades me.’ So did his hair, just grizzled with an iron-grey which was all brushed off his forehead, and stood bolt upright, or slightly drooped in kindred action with his heavy eyelids. So did his person, which was sleek though free from corpulency. So did his manner, which was soft and oily. In a word, even his plain black suit, and state of widower and dangling double eye-glass, all tended to the same purpose, and cried aloud, ‘Behold the moral Pecksniff!’

If I had more time, I’d like to prepare a much longer dossier than this but if by some chance you still take the open letter seriously, you should at least consider the records of some of the worst signers. You have to keep in mind, after all, that ignorance is not a defense in the court of law, nor in the moral judgements of the left.

Martin Amis—Best friend of Christopher Hitchens who shared his Islamophobia. In a 2007 interview, he said, “The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’ What sort of suffering? Not letting them travel. Deportation – further down the road. Curtailing of freedoms. Strip-searching people who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan.”

Anne Applebaum—This historian and journalist is an unreconstructed cold warrior. In her review of Robert Harvey’s “Comrades: the Rise and Fall of World Communism”, she begins: “Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Ceausescu, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Salvador Allende, Mengistu, Castro, Kim Il-sung: the list of murderous communist leaders is long, diverse and profoundly multicultural.” Salvador Allende? Murderous communist leader? WTF?

Roger Berkowitz—He’s a Bard College professor that runs the Hannah Arendt Center. He wrote an article that charged Occupy Wall Street with racism since Atlanta protesters refused to allow Congressman John Lewis to speak. As you can see, he was on the lookout for cancel culture before the term existed. As it happens, the protesters were in no mood to listen to any Democrats, especially one who used his civil rights credentials to legitimize his corporate connections.

Paul Berman—During the war against Nicaragua, Berman used to write a weekly column in the Village Voice that frequently called for the overthrow of the Sandinistas. When Adam Hochschild instructed Michael Moore to publish a Berman article in Mother Jones, Moore refused and then got fired. Cancel culture strikes again. Later on, Berman became a supporter of the invasion of Iraq and wrote a book titled Terror and Liberalism that was a polite version of what Martin Amis said.

David Bromwich—Highly acclaimed Yale professor who spent much of the last 8 years defending Bashar al-Assad in various high-toned magazines.

Ian Buruma—Another Bard professor of ill-repute. He was fired as editor of the New York Review of books after publishing an article by the Canadian talk show host Jian Ghomeshi, who had been acquitted in 2016 of one count of choking and four counts of sexual assault. Over twenty women complained either to the police or the media. When asked why he decided to publish the article, Buruma said, “The exact nature of his behavior—how much consent was involved—I have no idea, nor is it really my concern.”

Todd Gitlin—He chastised radicals in 1968 for not supporting Hubert Humphrey and had a particular animus toward Ralph Nader for running as a Green and then as an independent.

Malcolm Gladwell—He is a New Yorker magazine contributor. In “Talking to Strangers”, he argues that Sandra Bland, a young black woman who committed suicide in a Texas jail after a pointless traffic infraction, was the victim of a “failure to communicate”. Racism wasn’t to blame. Instead, since she and the policeman were strangers to each other, they couldn’t bridge a social divide.

Adam Hochschild—Fired Michael Moore for refusing to publish Paul Berman (see above.)

Michael Ignatieff—He was one of the most vociferous supporters of the invasion of Iraq in 2002. His 2003 book Empire Lite: Nation-Building in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan, argued that America had to create a “humanitarian empire” through military force.

Laura Kipnis—She was a FB friend I had to let go because she kept trolling me. She is also celebrated some for writing articles claiming that date rape incidents on college campuses were overblown and for criticizing Ian Buruma’s firing.

Nicholas Lemann—Dean emeritus of the Columbia Journalism School who derided net-based citizen journalism in a New Yorker article.

Mark Lilla—Another Columbia professor. His claim to fame is writing a book urging the Democrats to dump “identity politics”. Katherine Franke, a Columbia law professor compared Lilla to David Duke and charged him with “underwriting the whitening of American nationalism, and the re-centering of white lives as the lives that matter most in the U.S.” Maybe he signed the letter because she “canceled” him.

Yascha Mounk—He teaches at Johns Hopkins and is best-known for his book The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It that some regard as a swipe at “cancel culture”. He has created a website devoted to these ideas called Persuasion. The New Republic that published an excellent article critiquing this trend even before the Harper’s open letter appeared also published one that asked whether his website was “obsessed with cancel culture.”

Cary Nelson—Nelson is a professor emeritus at the U. of Illinois. In 2013, its board of trustees sent Steven Salaita a letter stating they were hiring him for a job teaching American Indian studies. Behind the scenes, Nelson and major donors connected to the Israel lobby had already begun a campaign to persuade the board to rescind the offer because of Salaita’s pro-Palestinian views. He had already resigned a tenured position when the board caved into Zionist pressures. That left Salaita unemployed. Today he drives a school bus and will likely never teach again.

George Packer—Like Paul Berman and Michael Ignatieff, this New Yorker magazine writer was gung-ho for the invasion of Iraq.

Steven Pinker—Pinker is arguably the worst person who signed the letter. My interest in him was focused on his reactionary sociobiological theories that I described as a mixture of Hobbes and Pangloss. I also recommend a new Jacobin article titled “It’s Official — Steven Pinker Is Full of Shit”. I guess Jacobin was guilty of cancel culture.

Michael Walzer—Despite being a social democrat and long-time Dissent Magazine contributor (or maybe because he was so connected), he was another supporter of the invasion of Iraq but argued more Talmudically than the others.

Sean Wilentz—Like Walzer, he has been associated with Dissent for decades. Recently, he has been leading the charge alongside the WSWS sectarians against Project 1619. (Some people commenting on the Harper’s letter question its timing, as it implicitly connects all of the tumult about white bias in the media as cancel culture.) He also hates radical history, both Howard Zinn’s, and the film that Oliver Stone made with Peter Kuznick.


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