Trump’s useful idiots on the left

BY:C.J. Atkins| February 11, 2022
Trump’s useful idiots on the left


It’s sometimes said in politics you can go so far left that you end up circling all the way around to the right. French philosopher Jean-Pierre Faye called it the “horseshoe theory.” Typically, centrists and conservatives use the idea to trash the left and progressives, to compare them to Nazis.

Serious political analysis doesn’t have much use for the horseshoe metaphor. But occasionally, some who claim to be on the left come so close to mimicking the far right that you can’t help but wonder whether they’re working together. Recent discussion around the anniversary of the deadly January 6th, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol is one such occasion.

On Feb. 4, the Republican National Committee ratcheted up its campaign to rewrite the history of that assault on democracy. In a resolution, the GOP declared the armed riot “legitimate political discourse.” They even slammed two of their own, Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, for assisting in the Congressional probe, saying they were participating in “a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens.”

The GOP is working overtime to make people forget what they saw on their televisions Jan. 6th: a violent mob unleashed by a losing presidential candidate as part of a plan to derail a democratic election and illegally hold onto power.

For a party that regularly seeks to strip people (especially people of color) of their right to vote and re-draws district lines to rig elections in their favor, the GOP’s lies about January 6th come as no surprise. That’s about what you’d expect from a Republican Party increasingly dominated by its fascist-leaning wing.

The disappointment, however, comes when you realize that some people supposedly on the left are assisting in this historical revisionism.

Trump’s helpers

Chief among the GOP’s helpers lately: journalist Glenn Greenwald. The Pulitzer Prize–winning writer, famous for his takedowns of George W. Bush’s Iraq War WMD lies and exposés of U.S. and British surveillance around the world, appears to have effectively switched sides.

Appearing regularly on Fox News as a “progressive commentator,” Greenwald praises right-wing journalists out to cripple Black Lives Matter, denounces “antifa” as a violent leftist threat, and repeats Trump talking points about a “Deep State” operating in league with the “liberal left.”

He’s become a useful tool for the likes of Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham to say to their viewers, “Look, even one of the left’s own guys thinks they’re all crazy!”

On the one-year anniversary of the Jan. 6th insurrection, Greenwald went all in for the right wing, downplaying the attack on democracy that Trump and his supporters launched. Instead of targeting the coup plotters, Greenwald attacked Democrats, the left, the media, and, by implication, Black Lives Matter.

Here are just a few quotes from his long article, which is garnering attention across the political spectrum:

Where is this ‘insurrection’? What happened to it? Where did it go? The January 6 protest barely lasted four hours until it was easily subdued.

That the January 6 riot was some sort of serious attempted insurrection or “coup” was laughable from the start . . . .

The number of people killed by pro-Trump supporters at the January 6 Capitol riot is equal to the number of pro-Trump supporters who brandished guns or knives inside the Capitol . . . zero.

[There is] an element of truth. . . . There are right-wing extremists in the U.S. bent on using violence to advance their political agenda, just as there are left-wing extremists and anarchist insurrectionary movements and many other types eager to do the same (more destruction was caused by the latter than the former over the last two years, to say nothing of the dozens of journalists physically assaulted by individuals participating in Antifa protests).

Hapless defendants [Capitol rioters – C.A.] who are not even accused of using violence have been held in harsh solitary confinement for close to a year, then sentenced to years in prison. . . .

The Democratic Party, eager to cling to their majoritarian control of the White House and both houses of Congress, knows it has no political program that is appealing and thus hopes that this concocted drama will help them win. . . .

 What happened on January 6 was ugly and disturbing. But it was nowhere near an insurrection, a coup, or anything threatening American democracy (to the extent it can be said to exist) in a fundamental or sustained way. [The] core truth . . . it was merely an angry protest. . . .

Many of the talking points could have been lifted straight from a Republican press release. The problem of supposed progressives going to bat for Trump and the MAGA crowd goes beyond Greenwald, though. He’s just the loudest and most influential voice among a group of left-wingers who, whether they realize it or not, are putting out right-wing propaganda while wearing a left mask.

One article in this category making the rounds in erstwhile socialist and Marxist circles is “Myths about the January 6th Capitol Building Events,” written by Roger D. Harris, a member of California’s Peace and Freedom Party. Various versions have appeared in Marxism-Leninism Today, Black Agenda Report, Orinoco Tribune, and perhaps in other outlets.

Pulling heavily from Greenwald’s work and trashing everyone from Noam Chomsky to Kamala Harris, the article lends more assistance to the January 6th whitewashing effort.

The riot was no attempted coup; it was just “a sitting president unprecedentedly calling a march on the Capitol . . . signifying a breakdown of bourgeois political norms.” Trump almost comes off as a rebel in this telling, someone who, unlike Al Gore in 2000, was unwilling to take “a hit for elite political stability.”

The Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans, the reasoning goes, so why get all excited about Trump and his insurrection? After embarrassingly losing to Trump in 2016, the Democrats are the ones who are so desperate to hold onto power, so for them “the January 6th incident has become the ruse . . . for retaining the presidency and congressional majorities.”

As for Trump himself, he might be “power hungry,” but “that does not necessarily distinguish him from other politicians.” Like the battle over the “minutia of Build Back Better,” apparently he is just another sideshow of politics under capitalism.

To be fair, there are plenty of truisms thrown around by writers like Harris and Greenwald, enough to make a reader think about whether everything else they’re selling might be accurate.

For instance, Harris rightly calls out liberal elites for their class chauvinism and for looking down on all Trump voters for being ignorant fools (remember “basket of deplorables”?).

His critique of those who are too eager to portray Trump and the Proud Boys as carbon copies of Hitler and his SA storm troopers rings true as well. It’s also undeniable that white supremacy didn’t begin or end with Trump (just as anti-Semitism didn’t begin or end with Hitler).

And who could deny that there has been bipartisan agreement for record-shattering Pentagon budgets while the people of the United States struggled to get the help they needed to survive the pandemic and the economic crisis it caused?

Finally, one of the claims of analysts like Greenwald and Harris which carries weight is that the events of January 6th are “being used to justify further expansion of the security state” — a security state which has always been and will continue to be used largely against the left.

But as commendable as it is to oppose the U.S. state’s intelligence and surveillance apparatus and to criticize the liberal hacks who populate the mainstream corporate press, going down the Republicans’ rabbit hole of January 6th denialism is another thing altogether.

The coup attempt wasn’t a one-day affair

A major straw man that Greenwald and his acolytes use is to treat January 6th as a singular event, a one-day protest. Of course the riot, on its own, did not constitute a coup. But anyone who’s paid attention knows that the violence of that day was, in reality, the capstone of an anti-democratic effort which stretched across several months.

Early in 2020, Trump admitted that if too many people (especially people of color) voted, Republicans couldn’t win. That’s why he and his party embarked on a massive campaign of voter suppressionpurging voter rolls, closing polling places, and intimidating voters through the use of so-called poll watchers. It was the same set of tactics the GOP has used for years, but on steroids.

In the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, when vaccines were not yet available and people had to avoid crowds to protect themselves, Trump tried to sabotage vote-by-mail. With the help of his hand-picked postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, Trump managed to cripple the U.S. Postal Service by stripping mail-sorting machines from post offices, cutting back on letter carriers’ delivery hours, and ripping out blue mailboxes from urban street corners.

In a related effort, Republicans in state after state tried to block people’s ability to cast absentee ballots altogether, whether by mail or any other means. By banning the automatic distribution of ballots, they attempted to tie the hands of county clerks trying to help people vote.

Worried that even these efforts wouldn’t be enough to save him from the voters’ verdict, in the summer of 2020 Trump toyed with the idea of using the coronavirus as an excuse to postpone the election.

In the fall, there were attempts to set up vote-stealing, GOP-dominated election commissions in Pennsylvania and other states. By early November, just before voters went to the polls, a Trump plan to declare victory before ballots could be counted was exposed.

And then, when the writing was on the wall and it was clear that Trump had lost the presidency, his election-stealing operation kicked into even higher gear. Trump, top advisers, and lawyers plotted to send the military into swing states to seize voting machines and re-run the vote. He’d already used armed force against Black Lives Matters protesters in Washington, D.C., so there’s no doubt he would have deployed soldiers to hold onto the presidency if he had been able to.

More than 60 court challenges were filed and intense political pressure brought to bear on election officials in states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona to ignore the will of voters and toss out enough ballots to give Trump a victory. “Stop the Count!” became the early Republican rallying cry, later substituted with the more accusatory “Stop the Steal!”

With all his efforts having failed and with a massive “Protect the Vote” movement mobilized around the nation, everything came down to the last-ditch measure of strong-arming Vice President Pence to illegally throw out the entire election when Congress met on January 6th to certify the Electoral College results.

Unleashing the mob that day was the final card Trump had left in his hand. His followers, instigated by the Big Lie that fraud had cost Trump his office, stormed the Capitol on the hunt for Pence, Nancy Pelosi, and other lawmakers. They actually managed to derail the election certification, but only temporarily.

Revelations since that day — and Trump’s own admissions — have only further confirmed the fact that he was, without a doubt, trying to overturn a democratic election and install himself for a second term in the White House.

January 6th, then, was the crescendo of a plot that stretched back long before the votes were even cast and which continued after the riot at the Capitol that day. The conspirators who set it in motion continue their plotting today and still pose a threat to democracy.

Trump’s henchmen in state legislatures across the U.S. have escalated the voter suppression campaign in the wake of their 2020 losses. Last year, they filed no fewer than 262 bills to hijack the election process. As always, voters of color and working-class voters were first in the crosshairs. And already in 2022, Republicans in the Senate killed two major voting rights bills — the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

How can it not be clear to observers like Greenwald and Harris? Trump and the GOP would have thrown the votes of millions of Americans in the garbage to keep him in office if they’d been able to, and to this day they are still trying to kill democracy in this country.

Some “left” analysts are eager to give a progressive or Marxist veneer to the lies that Trump and the Republicans tell about their schemes. Such voices shouldn’t be given the time of day by anyone who wants to be a part of the fight to protect voting rights and save what democracy we have left in the United States.

Back in the Cold War days, right-wingers often said that Communists used non-communists to propagandize for their cause. They attributed the idea to V. I. Lenin, whom they said referred to such dupes as “useful idiots.” There’s no evidence the Russian leader ever used the term, but if he were around today, perhaps he’d say Trump and the Republicans have found some useful idiots of their own.

If the (horse)shoe fits . .

Image: Jan. 6, Tyler Merbler, Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0); “Deplorable,” Gage Skidmore (CC BY-SA 2.0); Voting rally, Common Cause (Facebook).


    C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.

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