Glenn Greenwald’s long intellectual journey from center left to far left to, well, somewhere is a subject of fascination in elite circles. Greenwald comes out of a tradition of progressive journalism that focused primarily on attacking liberals and the Democratic Party from the left. Like many progressives, he latched on to Bernie Sanders’s two presidential campaigns as a righteous crusade to liberate the Democratic Party from the nefarious grip of its corporate, neoliberal masters.
After that, things got weird.
Some Bernie fans remained embittered with the Democratic Party. A handful of them broke with it — not only from the left, on foreign policy and economics, but also from the right on social policy, coming to believe the party’s elitist program was deliberately using facile identity politics to divert voters from a true working-class agenda.
Greenwald took this impulse even further by positioning himself as a frequent guest on Fox News, where he would reliably bash the Democrats from the standpoint of the “good progressive.” The distinction between Greenwald’s attacks on the Democratic Party from the left and the Fox News attacks on Democrats from the right has grown increasingly difficult to discern. Greenwald has finally erased the line, and perhaps completed his voyage of discovery across the ideological spectrum, in a new interview with the right-wing Daily Caller.
In it, he declares that he considers the Donald Trump of 2016 along with Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson to be authentic socialists, unlike the center left, which is “about nothing more than trying to sandpaper the edges off neoliberalism”:
“I would describe a lot of people on the right as being socialist. I would consider Steve Bannon to be socialist. I would consider the 2016 iteration of Donald Trump the candidate to be a socialist, based on what he was saying. I would consider Tucker Carlson to be a socialist.”
Greenwald’s primary focus is on foreign policy and national security, where the ideological lines really are blurry enough to construct a halfway-plausible case that Trump is to the left of the Democratic Party. It’s certainly true that Trump has more dovish views on Russia, though his motives for cozying up to it and repeating Vladimir Putin’s propaganda are obviously deeply corrupt, a reality Greenwald has fanatically refused to concede.
But Greenwald is now going well beyond that to define figures like Trump circa 2016 version, Bannon, and Carlson as socialists, not merely as enemies of the national security state. Pinning down a precise definition of socialism is a question that entire forests’ worth of books and articles have given their lives to answer, largely in vain. Suffice it to say that any sane definition of socialism involves some combination of government regulation, redistribution of resources, and the power to effect more economic equality.
How, exactly, do the likes of Trump, Carlson, and Bannon qualify as socialists? Greenwald explains — or at least tries to:
“I think the vision is, you know, you have this kind of right-wing populism, which really is socialism, that says we should close our borders, not allow unconstrained immigration, and then take better care of our own working-class people and not allow this kind of transnational, global, corporatist elite to take everything for themselves under the guise of neoliberalism.”
All the work here is being done by the brief reference to “tak[ing] better care of our own working-class people.” The lack of detail in this crucial clause is striking.
It’s true that, on some issues, Carlson has positioned himself to the left of Trump and the Republican Party. He criticized Trump’s plan to repeal Obamacare as well as his corporate tax cuts. The problem is that every single Democrat also opposes Trump’s tax cuts and the repeal of Obamacare. What’s more, the Democratic Party proposes not just to keep Obamacare and repeal Trump’s tax cuts but to tax the rich even more and expand health-care coverage. Bannon and Carlson don’t believe in any of those things.
Carlson likewise opposes increasing the minimum wage, enthusiastically supports fossil-fuel companies’ rights to dump carbon pollution into the atmosphere at no cost, and likes to use socialist as a term of abuse, a habit that usually indicates you’re not a socialist.
Note, however, that we have proven only that Carlson, Bannon, and Trump fail any sane definition of socialism. There is still an insane definition, favored in parts of the right, which claims that Adolph Hitler was actually a socialist. By this definition, the political spectrum is a simple line, with one pole being laissez-faire capitalism as articulated by the American right and the other being any form of “big government.” Since fascism employs a great deal of government power and sometimes even uses the term socialist in its self-definition, fascism is actually on the left.
This was always a ridiculous way to understand fascism. It has become more obviously ridiculous over the past five years, which have brought actual, self-identified Nazis into a broad coalition with laissez-faire conservatives. (There’s a reason the Nazis called their 2017 Charlottesville torchlight rally “Unite the Right,” not “Unite the Left.” It’s because they’re on the political right.)
But yes, if you consider demagogic attacks on immigrants and the “transnational, global, corporatist elite” combined with substance-free promises to “take better care of our own working class” to be “socialism,” then you can describe Carlson’s brand of demagogic hate-mongering as socialist. In place of a redistribution of wealth, it offers working-class people the chance to direct their resentment at cosmopolitan elites [tugs collar nervously] and various brown-skinned people.
Propelled by his unshakable conviction that the Democratic Party is the main obstacle to the progressive agenda, Greenwald has successfully completed his orbit around the political spectrum. He now finds himself hailing the socialist bona fides of a wealthy heir who uses racial resentment to redirect the white working class away from material concerns. It’s a (National Socialist German) workers’ party now.