The Intercept has a banner headline today that represents everything I find unsettling about that site's occasional queasy flirtation with a vaguely pro-Trump angle in its political coverage. I get that Glenn Greenwald and the other leftists at Intercept are not going to end up endorsing Trump for president-- which I think would actually cause a tear in the fabric of space and time. I assume the spirit behind all this is simply something like: "Listen up, you self-righteous mainstream liberals, we get that Trump is awful and xenophobic and Islamophobic and all the rest of it, but so are most of the U.S.'s policies with regard to the civil liberties and human rights of Muslim people and the border, and we never seem to hear from you when the Establishment people are doing it -- and weirdly enough Trump actually seems better on a couple points than Hilary Clinton or the mainline GOP candidates do."
That's the idea, I think. I'm here today to remind us, though, that there have got to be limits to how much one toys with contrarian positions in the interests of unmasking hypocrisy. Doing so can lead to some scary places. As we are now a matter of hours away from a potential massive wave of Trump wins on Super Tuesday, and living in the wake of a raft of fresh obscenities from Trump-- including his recent refusal to condemn the KKK and white supremacist leader David Duke when asked to do so and his promise to change the nation's libel laws in order to be able to sue journalists who depict him negatively -- the time has long since passed for this kind of contrarian provocation. We are entering a world in which the possibility of Trump becoming an actual fascist dictator is less of a colorful journalistic point, less of a joke, less of a piece of alarmist rhetoric than it ever was before. What we need now is to circle the wagons, to form ranks. On this one we need all the forces of bourgeois democracy to pull together, plus the forces of Old Europe and Metternich and Guizot to boot-- and Lindsay Graham and whoever else we can get. Come one, come all! This is Popular Front time.
The first sign of the creepy pro-Trump contrarianism I'm talking about (and okay-- I have only seen two signs so far -- but two is more than enough!) appears in a Greenwald piece about Hillary Clinton's remorselessly right-wing stance on Israel. Greenwald, with a deliberate finger in the eye of the presumed liberal reader, says: "[N]otably, there is at least one politician who rejects the view that one must cling to standard pro-Israel orthodoxy in order to win; just yesterday, Donald Trump vowed 'neutrality' on Israel/Palestine."
This sort of thing has been Greenwald's schtick for the last five years at least -- his theme is the great hypocrisy of America's liberal class and the Democratic party. It's a note that is at some times far more salutary than others; and it is positively dangerous when it becomes such a fixation for him that it leads to a kind of twisted involution, à la: liberals are so hypocritical on human rights that they're even worse than Trump!
Of course, they're not worse than Trump. Greenwald knows that. We know that. But let us try to remind ourselves of why we know it.
On torture: liberals have failed to enforce decisive accountability for this war crime when the U.S. military has committed it. Some of them even bought into the sick (and slick) line about "enhanced interrogation" when it was first propounded. All of this is bad.
It is, however, less bad than Trump's pledge to bring back waterboarding and "a helluva lot worse."
On the military: Hillary Clinton is a notorious hawk, who has backed just about every atrocious and devastating war the United States has waged in the Muslim world and then blamed the victims for it when things inevitably turned out poorly. This is bad.
It is, however, less bad than Trump's suggestions that the U.S. should kill the families of terrorists, bomb more civilians, ban all Muslim people from the country, and embrace the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin.
On Israel: Hillary Clinton has not demonstrated that she has the slightest objection to make to the expansion of settlements, the occupation, the systematic disenfranchisement and violent suppression of the Palestinians. This is bad.
Trump has vowed "neutrality" with respect to Israel-- Is this, by comparison, a good thing?
Greenwald seems to imply that it is. Today's Intercept piece, by a different author, but one who is evidently Greenwaldian in tenor and approach, also seems to think so. And yes, I did see that repellent exchange between Rubio and Trump in the last GOP debate, in which Rubio pretty unambiguously equates "Palestinian" with "terrorist." Here's the transcript:
RUBIO: The Palestinians are not a real estate deal, Donald.Okay, that's awful.
TRUMP: OK, no, no, no -- a deal is a deal. Let me tell you that. I learned a long time ago.
RUBIO: A deal is not a deal when you're dealing with terrorists. Have you ever negotiated with terrorists?
I'd feel better about Trump's less than wholly pro-Israel stance, though, it the guy wasn't also flirting with white power activists and fascist rhetoric. Could it be that Trump just doesn't want to alienate the Anti-Semitic vote that, yes, still exists in this country -- and may be found wherever David Duke's endorsements may lead? Remember, Intercept friends, there are good reasons for opposing the actions of the State of Israel, yes-- but there are also some monstrously bad ones!
How does Trump stack up against the Establishment GOP candidates on immigration? Admittedly, the media has cut Rubio and the other mainstream candidates far too much slack on this. One still hears nonsense from the New York Times about the "diversity" represented by Marco Rubio -- I assume they have never actually listened to one of his recent speeches or debate performances, in which he has repeatedly forsworn any hospitable intention he may once have had toward immigrants and asylum seekers.
There is no doubt about Rubio's utter lack of scruple on this issue. In this last CNN/Telemundo debate he was puffing his immigrant heritage in nearly the same breaths as he was pledging to rescind Obama's executive orders shielding children and some families from deportation, and baldly denying his own earlier words to the opposite effect.
CELESTE: Senator Rubio, last week, you said that on your first day in office, you will get rid of President Obama's executive action known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, DACA for short.
ARRASAS: It is a program that has protected hundreds of thousands of young people that came here when they were children, brought to the U.S. by undocumented immigrants. This is the only home they know, and that is a dramatic change from last April when you said in Spanish, and I'm going to quote you (in Spanish) which translates to DACA is going to have to end at some point, but it wouldn't be fair to cancel it immediately.
So Senator Rubio, what changed?
RUBIO: It didn't change.
ARRASAS: Why is it now fair to cancel it on Day One?
RUBIO: No, it's the same policy. It will have to end at some moment, and as I said, we will -- we will eliminate that executive order. The people that are on it now will not be allowed to renew it, and new applicants will not be allowed to apply to it. And it's not because we're not compassionate to the plight of a 2 -- someone who came here when they were 2 years old. I understand. I know people that are personally impacted by this.
The problem with the executive order is it is unconstitutional. The president doesn't have the power to do that.
And he himself admitted that.
ARRASAS: Senator, Senator...
RUBIO: I'm sorry, but let me finish my...
ARRASAS: ... but you went -- you went from saying that it was deeply disruptive to deport them immediately to deport them on Day One.
RUBIO: No, but this is not about deportation. Everybody always goes immediately to the issue of deportation. This is about DACA. DACA is an executive order that is unconstitutional. I will cancel it on my first day in office, which means people who currently hold those permits will not be allowed to renew them when they expire, and new people will not be allowed to apply for them.See, he's not contradicting himself! The executive order is evil and unconstitutional, it just also happens to have been the right policy for a certain period of time, and that period of time happens to expire at the exact moment that Marco Rubio assumes office!
Of Rubio's views on Israel and immigration, we can say with some assurance: these are bad; and yes, Rubio has played on the same Islamophobia and fear-mongering that Trump has, and only seems to be turning on the latter now that it's expedient for the election.
These things are, however, far less bad than any number of the horrifying things Trump has said about mass deportation, and less bad than being a crypto-fascist and possible anti-Semite.
So look, folks, there is a straightforward moral hierarchy here. It doesn't mean you have to like Rubio, or Clinton, or the Establishment, or the Consensus, or anything else. The fact that Hitler was worse than Hindenburg doesn't mean roses for the latter. It just means that we're going to have to take our allies where we can get them this time. As soon as Trump gets the nomination, my "I'm with Her" T-shirt is going to be in the mail.
By the way, Intercept people, this isn't the first time the dovish left has flirted with the isolationist right, and they have always had cause to regret it. The Pat Buchanan conservatives may occasionally sound the right note on military intervention-- but it will never take them long to show their xenophobic, nationalist, and Anti-Semitic fangs soon afterward.
In the campaign against Trump, everyone is my friend. Neocons, Robert Kagan, Hillary Clinton, welcome aboard. We will go back to disliking each other soon enough, but I am at any rate confident that these people will not erect a literal fascist state if they return to power. That's good enough for me today.