16 July 2021

Why the TYT vs. Jimmy Dore fight isn’t just Twitter drama

If you follow Left Twitter at all (and I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t; it’s as much a mess as the rest of Twitter), you wouldn’t have really been able to miss the ongoing feud between The Young Turks – Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian – on one side, and Jimmy Dore on the other. Basically, what it amounts to is this: Ana Kasparian baselessly, gratuitously and vulgarly called The Nation reporter and author Aaron Maté a Russian agent on the TYT show, Maté demanded an apology, and Jimmy Dore leapt to Maté’s defence when Kasparian doubled down. Now TYT has been smearing Jimmy Dore as a sexual predator, and lining up to attack anyone who defends Aaron Maté, including Glenn Greenwald and Rania Khalek.

Now, some folks on the highly-online left (namely Kyle Kulinski and Krystal Ball), have basically dismissed this spat as meaningless ego-driven Twitter drama. And, to be fair to them, there probably is some element to this that is personality-driven. But it would be a mistake to mischaracterise the fundamental dynamics of this online spat, which really hit at one of the fundamental flaws – or, I should say, fundamental contradictions – at the heart of Anglophone liberal and leftist politics.

Basically, on one side, you have people who are intimately familiar with venues outside the United States, who understand that non-Americans are people with legitimate aspirations, life goals and a need for basic dignity. And these people have lived in these venues long enough and inquired deeply enough, that they have come to understand that American military and economic power projection is an existential threat to these people and these communities. In short, they are anti-imperialists. Now, I’m not sure about Jimmy Dore. He’s a comedian, not a journalist, and in some cases it shows. But note that people like Stephen Kinzer, Glenn Greenwald, Aaron Maté, Rania Khalek, Abby Martin, Max Blumenthal, Ajit Singh and of course late lamented figures like Robert Parry and the great Robert Fisk – have all spent significant amounts of time outside the Anglosphere, doing on-the-ground reporting and talking to ordinary people in conflict zones.

On the other side, you have people who, if they don’t outright support it, then at least don’t strongly object to the use of American military and financial dominance to achieve political and economic goals, regardless of who gets trampled on in the process: Cubans, Venezuelans, Bolivians, Hondurans, Russian-speakers of the Donetsk Basin, Eastern European Jews, Romani, Syrians, Palestinians, Yazidis, Armenians, Libyans, Yemenis, Iraqis or Afghans. This side is automatically better-disposed to American intelligence and military power blocs, and will predictably characterise even mild critics of American intelligence and military power blocs as ‘authoritarians’, ‘tankies’, ‘Marxist-Leninists’, ‘apologists for dictators’, ‘Russian assets’ or ‘Chinese assets’, while themselves posing as advocates for democracy and human rights. Indeed: this is precisely what Ana Kasparian did to Aaron Maté.

And here’s the thing: this divide goes back all the way to the beginnings of the organised Left. Anti-imperialism as an organised force in the West started, arguably, with William Morris… who was intimately familiar with the brutal mass killings, tortures and rapes carried out by the original Young Turks (the same genocidaires that Cenk Uygur named his YouTube channel after) against the Bulgarian peasantry, and who understood the British Empire’s willing and knowing complicity in the Ottoman government’s heinous barbarism. Morris’s opponent on the left was a man named Henry Hyndman, an early disciple of Marx in England who supported British imperial projects in Ireland and in Eastern Europe. Indeed, the disputes between Morris and Hyndman over this matter led to Morris’s leaving the SDF in 1885.

In short: yes, Twitter is toxic. Yes, Twitter is personality-driven. Yes, there’s definitely a personal element to these online fisticuffs. But let’s not be naïve about what is actually going on. This is a bad-faith attempt to ostracise and silence Maté and others like him who are well-informed critics of empire. There is a shadow-movement on the left which still maintains a faith in the fundamental goodness and moral righteousness of American power projection. And then there is the part of the left which has a more realistic understanding of the nature of power, and which is willing to both oppose the abuses of American power and expose and demystify the propagandistic supports for it. Jimmy Dore and Aaron Maté are on the principled side here: the side which William Morris took back in 1885. The Young Turks are - at best - Hyndmanites and apologists for Anglo imperialism. That is, of course, presuming that they aren’t something considerably more sinister, like nostalgists for genocidal Ottoman tyranny in the Middle East. There is a clear choice to be made here, and it is also clear which choice is the correct one.