Every rose has its thorn
Just like every night has its dawn.
The New Republic’s Jeet Heer just wrote a long, strange screed against Leftist podcast Chapo Trap House. The argument of Heer’s article seemed to be:
— Chapo is a noted scurrilous podcast
— Several offense-searchers online took offense to something Chapo said.
— These offense-searchers have political agendas which guarantee they are not really honest brokers.
— We all agree this is not what Chapo meant, at all.
— However, doesn’t this sound like a bad thing somebody could have said? Couldn’t you imagine that happening?
— So, in conclusion, we have proven Chapo did something terrible.
— Chapo invented a thing I’ll call “dominance politics,” which makes them Trump.
— Politics is a wine and cheese affair, which these dirtbags are ruining.
— Having no other point to this feature, I will wrap it up.
Heer’s piece is “How rude” repeated about twelve thousand times. In itself, Heer’s piece is not particularly bad, just incoherent. But it is part of a larger journalistic trend, the anti-Chapo, anti-Left piece. This has been a regular installment of every establishment publication since Bernie and the new Left began their public ascent last year. As the most visible, and most easily-misrepresented face of the Dirtbag Left, Chapo is a typical target.
A sip here and there will give you a taste of the whole ocean:
Chapo’s many foes seized on the phrase “bend the knee.” Because the show has often been accused of sexism, the phrase “bend the knee” was interpreted by some listeners as a sexual remark aimed at humiliating Hillary Clinton supporters.
The author is Cillizza-ing but good. I imagine Heer looking up: “Often been accused ... Some listeners as a sexual remark ... oh what? ... No, I’m not claiming anything … just asking questions … not me … just reporting the facts, ma’am.” It’s the usual both-sides school of horserace political journalism that we all know and love. This kind of argument has been in frequent practice since Caesar got his knives.
What Heer wants to say, but can’t, is that “Well, yes, I’m a liberal, but Chapo is both successful and rude, which they shouldn’t be.” That’s the essence of the complaint. The rest is varnish on the idea of unearned merit, which is the emotional linchpin. Success outside the walls of the monastery: the very idea drives the hall-monitor set absolutely bazonkers. You can tell, because in all of the anti-Chapo, anti-Left pieces, there is zero concern with any progressive concepts. Just endless iterations on “How will it play at the Yale Alumni Mixer?”
Why the lack of dialogue with reformist notions? Simple. Centrists, as a group, are not concerned with progressive ideas. They believe in the status quo. However, they prefer to see themselves as enlightened liberals. Part of their reason for being centrist is class-bound: they are fine with keeping the world as it is. Some of the disdain is social: most of them have been educated and brought up in an order which rewards middle-class and upper-middle class values.
Some of their justification is based on reasons of pride: they do not want to think of themselves as conservative. And the largest element of centrism is fear: they genuinely believe that the rest of the world is secretly reactionary or openly stupid. They are afraid of their base. Leftism, in any form, disrupts this careful emotional balancing act. To the center, Leftism is awkward: it makes the centrists look conservative (which they despise), it makes them feel privileged (which they deny), it makes them feel electorally vulnerable (which they fear).
Tone is part of their objection, but not the actual substance. Chapo and the rest of the Dirtbag Left could wear suits of roses and laser-carve “RESISTANCE” on the dry face of the moon, and it would never be enough. Leftists disrupt the alt-center’s worldview point-by-point. It is not the Left’s arguments, or their stances, or their organizations, or their podcasts that irritates. The centrists object to their existence.
If Trump insulted his way to the presidency, Chapo is insulting the Democrats to move the party leftward, using mockery and derision to push for a socialist America. There’s clearly a market for such content: The show is extremely popular, generating more than $70,000 a month in Patreon subscriptions, outdistancing the other top podcasts on Patreon by nearly three to one.
Keep in mind the order of priority: the insulting of Democrats is the issue here.
As it so happened, Heer’s story was published the same day America’s premiere alt-center game theorist Eric Garland uncoiled—God help us all—a Tweet storm about how the Left was funded by Russian dark money. May Bowie’s celestial ghost strike me down with sexual electricity if I’m lying about this. Garland seemed to suggest Chapo and the rest of the Left were funded by Kremlin gold.
I can’t speak for other progressives, but let me now confirm publicly that I was long-ago purchased by the caring autocrats of the Presnensky District: my boatload of Tsarist relics arrives daily from the vaults of Gazprombank, and they are curing my twenty skin maladies as I type this sentence. I have asked for the bronzed head of Yeltsin to add to my McDuck-like hoard, and I have reason to believe it will arrive any day now.
Aside from Garland’s accusations, Heer’s piece and Eric’s were strikingly similar. The accusations were identical: troubling people are invading the party. Heer again:
The comparison Semley draws with the alt-right is apt. On substance, Chapo upholds the democratic-socialist politics of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, but in style it is much closer to the vituperative, insulting, shock-jock tactics used not just by Twitter users with Pepe the Frog avatars, but Trump himself. The response of mainstream liberals to these tactics on the right has been to double down on the importance of civility. “When they go low, we go high,” as Michelle Obama famously said. But the Dirtbag Left has no use for civility, and instead wants to counter the alt-right’s mudslinging in kind. Their slogan could be, “When they go low, we go into the gutter.”
The centrists seem to honestly believe that the Alt-Right and the Left invented dominance in politics. What can one say to that? Holding golf in any estimation is anathema to me. But the golfer Bobby Jones once said, of Jack Nicklaus, “He plays a kind of golf with which I am not familiar.” Are the centrists beaming their takes in from Mars? Politics is about power. That is the mainspring.
Here’s the problem with the speakers for the status quo: most of them have never been on the wrong side of politics, and honestly don’t realize this is an ass-kicking contest. That doesn’t mean being cruel or immoral, but it means ridiculing stupid ideas, mocking corrupt people, and laughing silly superstitions, bad institutions, and class signifiers into the grave.
Politics is group decision-making; it is a nonviolent competition for scarce resources and the struggle between groups of interests for power. Playing to win has nothing to do with masculinity or military metaphors. Centrists operate in a system which puts great emphasis on explicit rules of courtly behavior and mostly ignores systems of institutionalized deprivation and violence.
The center mostly despises Trump for his bumbling oafishness, not because his air war has already killed over two thousand citizens. To the centrist, one is unforgivable; the other is merely unfortunate. Those are the rules of the road. Imagine a judge obsessed with the dress code in his court and ignorant of the carceral state he aids. That is the centrist in miniature. Civility on the surface, and authority beneath.
Still, I think we must have pity for the alt-center. The Chapo think-pieces are how the centrists deal with the new Left. It is a very present method of coping in a troublesome time. Where do the centrists interact with politics? They have no ideas. They have no movement. The only surface where they touch with the productive working of power is in this carefully scripted kabuki of hand-wring and pearl-clutch. The alt-center doesn’t have anything but think-pieces, and the courting of might. There, and there alone, do they have sway. Centrists are the Canada of politics. Polite, but not necessarily kind. They share a border with troublesome power, and they’re proud of it. Why?