Why the Alt-Center Is a Problem, Too Eric Levitz March 3, 2017 5:38 p.m.


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Photo-Illustration: Daily Intelligencer

Not everyone on the left side of the American political spectrum shares the same policy vision and electoral strategy.

Some believe Barack Obama’s tenure was a model of progressive governance (save, perhaps, for the appointment of James Comey). Others see the ex-president’s neglect of the foreclosure crisisexpansion of the drone war, and crackdown on whistle-blowers as profound betrayals of the left’s core values.

Some were thrilled to vote for the first female major-party nominee — and the historically progressive platform she campaigned on. Others morosely cast their ballots for a candidate whose past support for the Iraq War and welfare reform they couldn’t forgive — and whose progressive policy commitments they couldn’t believe. (And, a few maddeningly misguided devotees of the categorical imperative burned their ballots on the altar of Jill Stein).

Some believe progressives must defend the Affordable Care Act unequivocally; others, that they must push for a single-payer system. Some feel little ambivalence about the prospect of the “deep state” sabotaging Trump’s presidency; others fret about that precedent. Some believe Trump’s Russia scandal is an excellent issue for the 2018 midterms; others feel that bread-and-butter issues will be more resonant. Some believe the party should unite its coalition around issues of “identity”; others favor an emphasis on class. Some believe that the (enlightened) interests of capital and working people are not irreconcilable; others say they are. Some are repulsed by a strategic alliance with Wall Street; others, by one with dissatisfied Trump supporters.

The preceding litany is not meant to encompass every relevant position on the subjects it addresses. Nor is it intended to imply that there is a clean dichotomy on the left, such that everyone who favors single-payer healthcare was unenthusiastic about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. (Personally, I sympathize with “some” on some things, and with “others” on others.)

The point is, simply, that Donald Trump’s enemies disagree about many things, including how to handle their disagreements: Some believe that the Trump presidency requires the left to put aside its divisions — and focus its fire on the reactionary regime that threatens all it holds dear. Others claim that the choice before us is Sandersism or barbarism.

In my view, a strong case can be made for a popular front. But few are actually making it. Instead, some liberals who claim to favor unity are going out of their way to exaggerate the left’s divisions — and likening their socialist critics to neo-Nazis.

Vanity Fair’s James Wolcott is among them. The esteemed culture critic’s new column, “Why the Alt-Left Is a Problem, Too,” opens with the phrase, “Internet clickbait promotes mental tooth decay” — and proceeds to convincingly establish that its author has fallen prey to that very malady. Which is to say: Bad left-wing hot takes seem to have (temporarily, one hopes) rotted a great writer’s critical faculties.

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