Has the pursuit of moral triumphalism on the Left led them to abandon their moral compass altogether? Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi makes that argument on his own eponymous site in a lengthy condemnation of the abandonment of civil rights by Democrats and progressives. From Russiagate to COVID-19 all the way into Judge Emmet Sullivan’s courtroom, Taibbi accuses the Left of becoming the authoritarians — perhaps even the fascists, although Taibbi doesn’t use that term — the Left claims to abhor.
Of course, one has to ask whether that was the point all along, but Taibbi starts with the presumption that their concerns over civil liberties were valid and authentic at some point. Taibbi’s essay presents this in a series of interconnected arguments that is tough to excerpt, but this gets to the heart of his cri de coeur:
I can understand not caring about the plight of Michael Flynn, but cases like this have turned erstwhile liberals – people who just a decade ago were marching in the streets over the civil liberties implications of Cheney’s War on Terror apparatus – into defenders of the spy state. Politicians and pundits across the last four years have rolled their eyes at attorney-client privilege, the presumption of innocence, the right to face one’s accuser, the right to counsel and a host of other issues, regularly denouncing civil rights worries as red-herring excuses for Trumpism.
Democrats clearly believe constituents will forgive them for abandoning constitutional principles, so long as the targets of official inquiry are figures like Flynn or Paul Manafort or Trump himself. In the process, they’ve raised a generation of followers whose contempt for civil liberties is now genuine-to-permanent. Blue-staters have gone from dismissing constitutional concerns as Trumpian ruse to sneering at them, in the manner of French aristocrats, as evidence of proletarian mental defect.
Nowhere has this been more evident than in the response to the Covid-19 crisis, where the almost mandatory take of pundits is that any protest of lockdown measures is troglodyte death wish. The aftereffects of years of Russiagate/Trump coverage are seen everywhere: press outlets reflexively associate complaints of government overreach with Trump, treason, and racism, and conversely radiate a creepily gleeful tone when describing aggressive emergency measures and the problems some “dumb” Americans have had accepting them.
One small quibble: Actually, I don’t understand “not caring about the plight of Michael Flynn.” Flynn spent his life in service to his country, and got paid for it by being discarded when he attempted to warn the Obama administration about the rise of ISIS before it exploded onto the scene in western Iraq and Syria. He retired from the military before going into the private sector and then into politics. Perhaps he should have been more picky about his client list, but Turkey was and still is nominally a US ally and a member of NATO (whether or not that’s wise). This prosecution looks more like a punishment for crossing the Obama administration and the political leadership at the top of the intelligence community than a rational and legal response to any legal or security threat Flynn posed. To be fair, Taibbi wrote that as a sort of rhetorical mechanism — the protection of the law applies to everyone — but let’s not give the attack on Flynn any credit for a moral sense in its illegitimate targeting.
And it’s not just Flynn, as Taibbi argues extensively, but the entire Russiagate archipelago that exposes the rottenness of the Left’s approach to civil rights and authoritarianism. That also applies to the national media that has cheered it on, especially in relation to Sullivan’s latest rulings, demonstrating that power rather than freedom is the ultimate goal. “One had to search far and wide to find a non-conservative legal analyst willing to say the obvious,” Taibbi writes scornfully, “i.e. that Sullivan’s decision was the kind of thing one would expect from a judge in Belarus.”
Skeptics of the Left would argue, and undoubtedly will argue, that power was the idea all along, and that civil rights was a handy mask to be discarded whenever it interfered. Taibbi leaves a curious lacuna in his civil-rights argument, one that leaves this outside of the Donald Trump context in which he frames this. There perhaps is no better demonstration of Taibbi’s argument than the contrasts between the treatment received by Brett Kavanaugh in comparison to Joe Biden, and Clarence Thomas in comparison to Bill Clinton (until very recently, anyway) for alleged incidents of sexual harassment and/or assault.
The two Republican-nominated jurists got the Salem witch trial treatment in which they were essentially asked to prove their innocence over vague and uncorroborated allegations. The same torch-and-pitchfork crowd that provided the social panic for those pillories then insisted on due process and the benefit of the doubt for two popular Democrats — even when the evidence and corroboration were stronger for both. In both cases, the media played right along too, offering praise and hero-worship for accusers of Thomas and Kavanaugh without any but the most cursory look into the veracity of their claims. Monica Lewinsky, Juanita Broaddrick, and Tara Reade have, in contrast, got and are receiving the “little bit nutty, little bit slutty” treatment, with deep dives into their pasts and lots of speculation over their mental state.
This has nothing to do with overarching principles, but rather simply just the destruction of one’s opponents. The defense of women only mattered to these groups as long as it suited their political purposes. The civil-rights arguments of #MeToo and “believe all women” got applied when it suited the Left, only to be quickly discarded when it was about to be applied to the Left, at which point they wrapped themselves in concern over due process and the presumption of innocence. They actually don’t value either civil rights for women or civil rights of the accused — except for the value both have in grabbing power through their exploitation.
Taibbi’s argument is compelling enough, and it should be read in full. Its only real fault is that it doesn’t go far enough to the obvious conclusion, which is that civil rights has never been the point of progressivism. Power is the point of progressivism, and its concern for civil rights has always been a cover for that purpose. That is what makes progressives dangerous to the rule of law and due process, as we have increasingly seen play out before our eyes and about which Taibbi rightly warns. As Democrats have morphed into the Progressive Party, that danger has only increased — and become more and more our reality.
Update: I should have included Juanita Broaddrick among the women who became very inconvenient to the Left, even after #MeToo. I’ve added her name above.