The Elitist Corporate Media Attacks Populism

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Sometimes a largely inconsequential person says or writes something, by accident, that is so revealing of the rot at the heart of establishment, thinking that it actually becomes highly worthwhile and instructive to dissect it. Such is the case with a stupendously ignorant screed published yesterday by MSNBC that, while containing no novel thought of any kind, is somehow so vividly representative of establishment thought, hostility toward populist politics, and deranged conspiracy theories designed to demonize establishment critics, that it is a master class in shedding light on how mavens of establishment power in politics and media think. We will break that down in order to reveal the rot that drives these hegemonic centers. 

Then, for the Interview segment, I’ll speak with one of the smartest and most independent-minded voices on the left, Briahna Joy Gray, the press secretary for the 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign, who has become a sharp critic of even the left wing of Democratic politics. We’ll compare the defiance last week of House Republican holdouts to the endless subservience of Democratic politicians and discuss much more about the fallout from last week’s speakership drama and American politics generally with her.

Every now and then in politics, a person says something or writes something that is so illuminating, so illustrative of prevailing thought, that it is really worthwhile to analyze and dissect it, even though the person lacks importance or note. Such was the case, for instance, when former free speech defender, Sam Harris, articulated the core defining motivating worldview of American liberals, Democrats and their allies in corporate media, and did so, so perfectly, namely that Donald Trump is such a singular evil and that defeating him in the 2020 election was such a paramount, overarching imperative, that literally anything and everything done to advance that singular goal — lying, cheating, censoring, authoritarianism, suppressing relevant reporting — was not only justifiable but morally necessary.

That’s why that video with Sam Harris went so viral, not because there was anything particularly relevant about Sam Harris, but because what he said was such a pure distillation of establishment thinking that it shined a uniquely bright light on the

rotted mindset that has governed the hegemonic left liberal sectors of our politics and media for the last six years: 


Sam Harris: Now, that’s not… that doesn’t answer the people who say it’s still completely unfair to not have looked at the laptop in a timely way and to have shut down the, you know, The New York Post’s Twitter account like that. That’s just a conspiracy, a left-wing conspiracy to deny the presidency to Donald Trump. Absolutely it was. Absolutely, right? But I think it was warranted, right? And again, it’s a coin toss as to whether or not that particular piece… 

Every time Sam Harris says something that deliberately is provocative and people then get provoked, he then goes and whines and claims it was taken out of context. So, feel free, very free, to go watch the full context because it makes it even worse. I just assumed you’ve all seen it and so I showed you a part of it. And it amazes me every time I see it — not that someone would think that way– it’s incredibly obvious for years that such unscrupulous, limitlessly dishonest corruption is exactly how they thought. What’s amazing is that someone was willing to admit, in public, that that’s how they think. But credit to Sam Harris, I suppose, for his candor in admitting all of that. 

That’s exactly how I feel about a new hit piece that was just published yesterday by MSNBC. Written by former Vox writer and current NBC columnist Zeeshan Aleem, the article claims — and I’m not kidding, not even exaggerating – that, along with former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and the independent journalist Matt Taibbi, I’m leading a sinister and insidious plot to channel innocent leftists into the menacing arms of the authoritarian far right. 

There you see the title of this marvel of investigative journalism that uncovered this conspiracy: “How the Populist Left has Become Vulnerable to the Populist Right”. 

So, we’re not just clandestinely converting leftists into fascists, but we’re predators exploiting this “vulnerable” group, this defenseless, marginalized group against our dark arts of manipulation, mendacity, and mind control. 

And there you see the picture. Let’s put that back up on the screen. The three ringleaders: me, Tulsi Gabbard, and Matt Taibbi. And you see us, they’re all in this grainy black-and-white imagery chosen by MSNBC editors, in total good faith — not to subliminally make us look like fugitive Nazis in the “MOST WANTED” photo, as authorities search in vain for us throughout South America — but just because it’s very difficult, of course, to find color photos of the three of us, that’s why they used this grainy black-and-white imagery. 

Now there on the left, you see me with my mouth open, presumably spouting my melodic, hypnotic tunes that lead the vulnerable leftists down a long, twisted path where they arrive at meetings where they’re taught how to hate Black people and Jews and LGBTs. 

Then next to me, you see Tulsi Gabbard there, her hair deceptively flowing in the spirit of Aloha, while actually containing barely visible Nazi iconography, detectable only through the well-trained eyes of a grizzled giant of investigative journalism like Vox and MSNBC’s Aleem. And then, on the right, exactly where he is and belongs, on the far right, is Matthew Taibbi, looking there like what he is: the lovechild of Bond villain Ernst Strabo Blofeld, there you see him, and Third Reich propagandist, Joseph Goebbels. 

In the lower left-hand corner, there appears for some kind of reason, disembodied arms banging desperately on a door — presumably representing the vulnerable, well-intentioned lefties, we lured, into a locked room in the middle of a rainforest for their Nazi indoctrination training only for them to realize what was happening to them, far too late to escape it, still begging with futility for their freedom. 

And then in that upper right-hand corner appear Roman columns, I guess, because — I have no idea why: has Roman architecture now become a symbol of fascist power in liberal corporate media giants? And then, along the bottom, you see what appears to be a series of colors, perhaps evocative of the colors of the rainbow flag — perhaps because we’re planning the construction of concentration camps for LGBTs, or because there’s a corporate requirement at MSNBC that every article must now contain some artwork in the family of the LGBT flag in order to be inclusive. I’m not really sure why that’s there either. 

But then, under this incredibly objective and neutral montage is the caption “Former stars of the far left have become aligned with the populist right in surprising ways in recent years.” 

Anyway, that’s quite a lot of innuendo and subtle smearing before you even get to the article itself. But let’s proceed there — obviously not because former Vox writer, and current MSNBC columnist, Zeeshan Aleem has any particular relevance — you could randomly pluck literally anyone on Twitter with a resistance hashtag, a Ukrainian flag, or a Lincoln Project coffee mug in their bio to have them write his articles, and literally, nobody would notice. But it’s worth looking at because that article — like Sam Harris’, mega-viral video — really is a masterclass in demonstrating the stunted, very obsolete, and simple-minded prism through which these media simpletons see the world, as well as the way they have completely inverted what “liberty” and “authoritarianism” mean, what right and left meant, and what the core and defining values of journalism once were. 

So, let’s dig into the first passage. 

“Since the mid-2010s, the rise of the populist left and the populist right has shaken up the American political spectrum. Both movements have maneuvered to pressure and persuade the political establishment to adopt their objectives.” — which is kind of what politics is about. “But in recent years, something unusual has been happening. We’re seeing the formation of a pipeline that circumvents the center altogether — and directly connects left-wing to right-wing populism”. Oh, no! We can’t “circumvent the center,”  by which he means the Washington establishment, the only entity Americans hate more than the corporate media, of which he’s a part. 

But that thinking illustrates one of the reasons there is such a gigantic breach between employees of New York City and DC-based media giants, on the one hand, and the citizenry they pretend to represent, on the other. These kinds of journalists are capable of seeing the world, only through this flat, linear framework: over here is the far left; then comes the left; then establishment Democrats, then establishment Republicans and conservatives; then the dreaded far-right or alt-right. 

They see this as a board game with very rigid rules. One can only move one square at a time. So, if you’re on the mainstream left, it’s fine to move a bit toward establishment liberalism since that’s the next square over, but you can’t jump all the way over to the far right. The rules don’t allow that and, besides, how could that make any ideological sense?

But only insular DC media and political mavens see the world this way. Consider this fact that political journalists are completely incapable of understanding, let alone explaining, even though doing so is their nominal job. 

According to the University of Virginia Center for Politics, 9.2 million Americans voted for Barack Obama in 2012, then voted for Donald Trump in 2016. That was a major reason Trump won in 2016. He attracted large numbers of voters who had not voted Republican in many years but did so in that election. 

Now people like Zeeshan Aleem have absolutely no capacity to understand how this could happen, other than by dismissing such people as stupid, incoherent, and confused — just poorly educated about politics, failing to read enough Vox and listening enough to Rachel Maddow babble about the dangers of the Kremlin and therefore being confused. And trust me, that’s how they think of such people. To them, this is bizarre. Or, to use his words when describing our conspiracy, “a pipeline that circumvents the center altogether — and directly connects left-wing to right-wing populism”. This makes no sense to them.

Last month, Aleem’s former Vox colleague, Matthew Yglesias, was spending his time online like so many of these established media figures expressing similar confusion about my ideology — and the ideology of millions of people like me — by insisting there’s something abnormal about seeming to have one foot in the populist right and one foot in the populist left, but never wanting anything to do with what Aleem calls the “center”. And Yglesias venerates as “the normal moderate”.

Responding to someone, explaining to him that perhaps he thinks my politics changed because the U.S. Security Agencies in which I have long focused my journalistic scrutiny — the FBI, CIA, NSA, Homeland Security — went from being more admired by the American Right, two decades ago, to now being revered by the Democratic Party and their followers. Yglesias wrote in response: ”It’s definitely true that Glenn Greenwald has a kind of consistent monomania about the U.S. intelligence community, but I don’t think that explains the tendency of many people to go from Bernie to Trump without stopping at “normal moderate”. 

What is a ‘normal moderate?’ What people like Yglesias mean by that is, of course, his politics: embracing establishment pieties, liking and trusting establishment institutions and their leaders, and wanting above all else to avoid anything disruptive or destabilizing to the status quo power. They love status quo power. They love status quo institutions. They love anything that preserves and protects it and hates anything that threatens it.

Now, I know it’s incredibly shocking that someone like Matthew Yglesias, born to a rich and famous father, educated as a young child at the Dalton School, a private school in Manhattan that costs $60,000/year: imagine spending $60,000/year to send your child to the first grade — then going to Harvard and spending his life as a couch blogger. I know it’s hard to imagine someone like him being incapable of understanding how millions of Americans think and believing that his highly insular views of him and his like-minded friends are the only things that are “normal,” but the establishment-venerating sentiments he harbors are anything but “normal.” Unless you spend all your time in life protected and ensconced within the most elite institutions.

It really should not be hard at all to understand why millions of people twice voted for Obama and then voted for Trump. It’s because millions of Americans don’t analyze politics or the world through these rigid ideological frameworks anymore. If you’re someone who does, then of course it doesn’t make sense to watch somebody vote for Obama, the liberal Democrat, and then Trump, the conservative Republican. But if you’re capable of understanding the world without those constraining frameworks, it makes perfect sense. And indeed, that’s not how a huge number of Americans see the world. 

What Trump and Obama had in common is glaringly obvious. They both presented themselves as outsiders, eager not to uphold establishment orthodoxies and institutions, but to burn them to the ground. Obama was whatever else you may want to say about him, an extremely adept and talented politician. And he thus was able to weaponize his exotic name and his lack of time in Washington into an asset for a country that hates the Washington establishment — and he did that by masquerading as the candidate of change. He would, “change the way Washington works and for whom.” And, in 2016, Trump did very much the same thing – he was certainly not a creature of Washington — and by running against the establishment wings, not of one party but of both, and by promising, above all else, to “Drain the Swamp” — by which he didn’t just mean Chuck Schumer, but also Mitch McConnell — and to defend “The Forgotten Man,” Trump tapped into the same anti-establishment sentiments that catapulted Obama as a first-term senator to the White House. 

The reason so many people want to “circumvent the center” or avoid Yglesias’ “normal moderates” is because so many people, validly, harbor nothing but contempt for those establishment venues. They don’t care if someone is deemed right or left, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat.

What matters to them, what they want is someone who will reject and wage war against the neoliberal and neoconservative order that has dominated Washington for decades at their expense. And if you don’t understand this about American or Western politics — and these establishment journalists, by definition, don’t  — then you understand nothing about American politics. And that’s why they’re so often confused, insisting that people like me and Tulsi Gabbard and Matt Taibbi either have no ideological coherence by which they mean partisan loyalty — or that one minute we’re on the far left and the next minute we’re on the far right and they can’t figure out what any of it means. It’s because they’re working with a completely obsolete framework, a totally simple-minded, stunted, and archaic one, that has no room or ability to recognize what is actually now the central division in American political life: pro-establishment versus anti-establishment sentiment. 

A very similar thing happened in 2016. It was very common, as political journalists will tell you, for people to go around the country and hear “My two favorite candidates in 2016 are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.” To people like normal journalists who spend their time on Twitter, constantly imprisoned by this stunted framework of who’s on the left and who’s on the right and who’s conservative and who’s liberal, it makes no sense for someone to say: “My two favorite candidates are Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.” They had a lot in common, despite the fact that one is supposedly far left and one is supposedly far right. 

They condemned free trade deals for the same reason that it de-industrialized all of America in order to benefit international capital. They were both credible outsiders to Washington’s power. People forget that Trump had an immigration policy that was actually very similar to Bernie Sanders’ and to the international left for a long time — until it became racist to have it — which was that large numbers of immigrants flooding over the borders are something that is an agenda of the Chamber of Commerce and multinational corporations because it keeps wages low for the American worker. 

I remember when I was writing about politics, in 2005, it was George Bush and Dick Cheney eager to have immigration reform, and people on the left, including labor unions, were vehemently opposed to it on the grounds that it was a Chamber of Commerce plot in order to drive down wages. In fact, Bernie Sanders was interviewed by Ezra Klein, in 2016, for Vox, that same outlet, and asked Bernie Sanders what he thought about open borders. And Bernie looked at him like he was crazy and said,

“Open borders? Are you kidding? Of course, I’m not in favor of open borders. That’s a Koch brothers plot to drive down wages.”

So, they had a lot in common ideologically, namely opposition to this kind of internationalist, globalist neoliberal, neoconservative political order. But more than anything else, they both credibly posed as outsiders to Washington’s power. And that’s why people like them – because neither of them seemed to be a partisan loyalist to either the Democrat or the Republican Party. The Bernie Sanders of 2016 promised to wage a political revolution, not against the Republican Party but against the Democratic and Republican establishment, the Washington establishment, just the same way Trump, in 2016, was promising to run against Bush-Cheney foreign policy orthodoxy and even Reaganomics as no longer applicable to a 21st Century America that has been de-industrialized, stripped of all of its quality of life, providing jobs. 

So, if you only can see the world as ‘left versus right’, of course, the Matt Yglesias of the world is going to say, this makes no sense: ‘how do you go from Bernie to Trump without stopping at me — the normal moderate?’ But obviously, millions of people don’t see the world that way because it’s not Matt Yglesias who is normal. He’s deeply abnormal. What’s normal is the kind of political thinking these people can no longer understand.

We’re talking about relevance, who’s relevant, and who’s not? Whatever you want to add, whatever metrics you want to use for relevance, I think it’s very difficult to dispute that the most influential media figure over the last, say, five to six years is most definitely not somebody who works for a large media corporation like NBC or CNN or The New York Times or The Washington Post. 

He’s somebody who influences particularly younger people and how they think about politics, even though it’s very difficult to define him ideologically or politically. I’m speaking, of course, of Joe Rogan, who has become the symbol of the part of the media ecosystem that is actually thriving independent journalism, for people who not only aren’t and don’t want to be attached to or employed by some gigantic media corporation that tells you what you can and can’t talk about or tells you how you can and can’t talk about it but instead, remain independent. 

Nor is he somebody who has any kind of overt partisan loyalty. He’s willing to tell you the truth and condemn the establishment as a whole, and therefore has inspired huge numbers, millions and millions of people, who trust and listen to him, even though he’ll be the first to tell you he doesn’t know everything about everything. He often knows very little about some things, but he’s open-minded and curious and doesn’t treat his audience with condescension, like they’re all idiots unless they agree with him — but he treats them as him, somebody trying to figure out a complex world. And that’s what people trust more than anything else. 

If you look at Joe Rogan’s politics, it’s a lot more recognizable when it comes to the average American than Yglesias’ is or the person who wrote this MSNBC article.

Remember that here in 2020, Joe Rogan essentially said that his favorite candidate, in 2020, was Bernie Sanders. You may recall that Bernie Sanders’s campaign did what any smart politician would do, which was to take the endorsement of one of the most popular and influential people in American cultural life, Joe Rogan, and tout the fact that Joe Rogan had said that Bernie was his favorite candidate. People on the left, like AOC, were enraged that he would do that because Joe Rogan is supposed to be off limits — but that’s because, to AOC, he’s not a good Democrat, he’s not a good leftist. But Bernie’s campaign recognized that millions and millions of people don’t think that way in those terms. Only professional journalists and politicians do. 

And so, here’s Joe Rogan saying, in 2020, “My favorite candidate is Bernie Sanders”. Here, just two years later, you see Joe Rogan saying, “I think Ron DeSantis would be a good president”. To journalists who work inside media corporations, this is nothing but incoherence: how can you go from praising a far leftist like Bernie Sanders to praising a hard-core conservative, authoritarian like Ron DeSantis? And yet, to millions and millions of people who listen to Joe Rogan, who identify far more with Joe Rogan than the Dalton School’s Matt Yglesias, not only does this make sense, but this is how they think. Voting patterns prove that. What they’re looking for are people who seem to be unattached to the prevailing establishment orthodoxy that they rightfully have come to hate. 

And that’s what brings up so much confusion, when these journalists — these employees of media corporations who never break any stories, whose only worldview is anchored to a political party — talk about with so much confusion and anger and disorientation, people who are part of the media that’s thriving: myself, Matt Taibbi, Tulsi Gabbard, Joe Rogan and so many more. They are incapable of understanding people who are in a sector of politics and journalism that is liberated, emancipated from the prism that suffocates them. 

Now, let’s look at a couple of passages from this article that declares that Tulsi, Matt Taibbi and I are leading a sinister movement to channel innocent, young, vulnerable leftists into right-wing fascism: 

“A group of journalists and media personalities who were once at home on the far left, has formed a niche but influential political subculture that encourages leftists to abandon leftism for the populist right. Its most recognizable faces are former icons of leftist discourse who have millions of diehard fans: Glenn Greenwald, a co-founder of The Intercept, known as one of the most powerful critics of the War on Terror in the Bush era. Matt Taibbi, a former Rolling Stone writer who was famous for excoriating defenders of neoliberalism and likened Goldman Sachs to a “giant vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,” Tulsi Gabbard, formerly a Democratic House member and 2020 presidential candidate who was aligned with the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. But in recent years, their focus has changed. What happened to them? These commentators had never hesitated to criticize Democrats alongside Republicans, but now they pivoted to targeting liberals almost exclusively while forming ties with the authoritarian right” 

All right. Let’s just stop there for a second, because there’s a lot there to unpack. 

First of all, what do they mean by the “authoritarian right” and “forming ties with the authoritarian right?” Probably the leading cause of mine and Matt Taibbi’s journalistically, and one of Tulsa Gabbard’s leading causes, is the primary value of free speech, which, as you might know, is not something we invented but is reflected in the First Amendment, in fact, guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. 

The Free speech movement in the United States in its absolutist form was something that was largely codified in Supreme Court jurisprudence by Supreme Court justices in the 20th century, most frequently associated with the left. It was defended by the ACLU, which, being a very principled free speech organization in its old incarnation, was composed largely of Jewish leftists who believed in the need for free speech on the grounds that fascist movements, like the Nazi movement, use censorship, like book burning, to persecute people who think differently. 

Therefore, if you’re a member of a minority group – as most of them were, leftist Jews –  it’s in your interest to defend the principle of free speech so that you will have the right to speak and not be persecuted. 

So, what is authoritarian in these debates? To me, it seems like what’s authoritarian are the people who want to merge corporate and state power in order to censor the Internet — and I’ve shown you many times the Pew survey proving that Democrats overwhelmingly, 67%, two-thirds, favor not just Big Tech monopolies, but also the government censoring the Internet in the name of stopping disinformation. They want to fuse corporate and state power in order to censor the Internet. 

If you go and study fascism in any first-year undergraduate college, you’re going to learn that one of its defining hallmarks, as implemented by Mussolini and then by Hitler, is the merger of corporate and state power, so that there’s no such thing as a private sector ever working at odds with the public sector. The government and corporate power are always merged to control the population: exactly what the Democratic Party, the liberals who support it, and largely the left that supports it as well, are in favor of doing. 

So, who’s the authoritarian there? When they say, “forming ties with the authoritarian right,” – to the extent people on the right support our advocacy of free speech – in what way are they the authoritarians as opposed to the people on the left, who are the ones who actually want to use state power that way? 

Now, the other part of that passage that is so amazing is that they go through these views that supposedly defined us as far leftist — my critique of the War on Terror; Matt Taibbi’s critique of neo-liberal Wall Street fraud; Tulsi Gabbard’s view that Bernie Sanders is a better candidate than Hillary Clinton because he was more antiwar and opposed to international capital. 

Now, you would think, in order to claim, as this article is doing, that we changed – that we moved from the far left to the far right – they would have to identify one of those or many of those views that defined our politics previously that we’ve now repudiated and renounced. But they don’t because they can’t, because we haven’t changed any of those views. My view of the War on Terror is not only something I continue to maintain. It’s what formed so much of my current focus today. It’s the reason I’m opposed to a domestic War on Terror in the name of January 6 — because I saw what the first War on Terror, in the name of September 11, did to all of our civil liberties. It’s the reason I’m opposed to the CIA, Homeland Security, the FBI, and the NSA. 

So, again, when Matt Taibbi or Tulsi Gabbard or myself are warning about the CIA, the NSA, Homeland Security, and the FBI, and particularly, their growing propensity to interfere in our domestic politics, and people on the right find common ground in those concerns — in what way is that the authoritarian right? The authoritarians are the people who venerate those agencies — that’s always been the case — and who seem unconcerned about their involvement in our politics precisely because the Democrats and liberals now perceive – correctly — that those Security State Agencies are their political allies. 

Do you see how they’ve completely inverted this so that we are now supposedly joined at the hip with the authoritarian right, even though the issues on which we’re finding common ground are anti-authoritarian by definition and the enemies that we have are, by definition, the people who have become complete and utter authoritarians, which is precisely why this left versus right framework makes no sense anymore? Is free speech a left-wing or a right-wing value? It used to be a left-wing value, but it no longer is. It’s opposition to the U.S. security state a left-wing or a right-wing value? Is opposition to the war in Ukraine a left-wing or a right-wing value? They have no more meaning anymore except as a function, a byproduct of opposing establishment sentiment, establishment values, and most importantly of all, the maintenance of establishment power.

Now, let’s look at this next passage that we’ve chosen for you: 

On issues such as free speech, the war in Ukraine, and social inclusivity, this group’s commentary has garnered tremendous attention and plaudits from right-wingers, and some of them have grown fond of using conservative media platforms to spread their message. In 2022, this trend appeared to reach new heights. Gabbard served as a guest host from Fox News’ white nationalist-in-chief, Tucker Carlson. 

By the way, this is what you do when you have no argument: you just start throwing around these cliches so you don’t have to prove that Tulsi Gabbard is sitting in for an actual white nationalist chief. You just call them that and move on knowing that your liberal audience already thinks that and agrees. 

Taibbi became right-wing Twitter CEO Elon Musk’s go-to stenographer for a series of leaks from Twitter’s internal documents meant to make Musk’s takeover of the social media platform look necessary. 

That, by the way, is a total lie and implies that Elon Musk, when he went to Matt Taibbi, the way every source goes to a journalist, imposed on Matt Taibbi constraints about what they could and couldn’t say and forced Matt Taibbi to adopt Elon Musk’s worldview. I interviewed Matt Taibbi and, I think, three other Twitter Files journalists, including Michael Shellenberger, Lee Fang, and there was another one whom I interviewed as well. Who? He’s not coming to mind.

But in any event, I interviewed every single one of these Twitter Files journalists, and I asked each of them — What’s that? Oh yeah. David Zweig. Exactly. – I interviewed four of the reporters and I asked each of them all: “What were the conditions imposed upon you by Elon Musk when doing this reporting?” And they all said the same thing: other than having to do the reporting on Twitter in the first instance, absolutely none. So how was it any different for Matt Taibbi to have a source, Elon Musk, that gives him access to the internal documents of Twitter and allows him to freely report whatever he wanted — obviously, Musk had no control over what Taibbi would say — how is that any different than when someone inside the CIA or FBI or Homeland Security goes,  as they do every day, to this person’s employer at NBC News and gives information to them? Of course, that’s how journalism works all the time. But do you see how this piece is so tendentious and how they try and discredit what, in fact, is totally common? 

Here’s the last line: “Greenwald attended the premiere of a documentary about right-wing disinformation mogul, Alex Jones, and conducted a shockingly sympathetic interview with him. Collectively, these and other lesser-known pundits push a political position that could be called anti-lib populism”. (‘Lib’ as in the pejorative slang term for a liberal, in currency among leftists and the right, a word I don’t think I’ve ever uttered in my life until I just read it right now off the screen). “Like all populism, it purports to oppose elitism and speaks on behalf of the people. But as a practice, it funnels people toward the snake-oil populism of the right”. 

That whole paragraph is filled with all kinds of names and accusations. It’s guilt by association. We go on Fox News, and we speak with people who they believe shouldn’t be spoken to — and yes, of course, we do. Why would we not go on Fox News?

Fox News is the only place, for example, where you’ll hear a stirring defense of Edward Snowden, my source, and Julian Assange. Tucker Carlson went on a virtual crusade advocating for the pardons of Edward Snowden and, especially, Julian Assange, the only person in media that would do that.

If you want to hear opposition to or even questioning of the U.S. role in the proxy war in Ukraine, you cannot hear that by turning on MSNBC or CNN, which is always captive to the agenda of the U.S. Security State, half of which seems to work for those but you have to go to Fox News. If you want to hear people complaining about the threat of censorship from the Union of Big Tech and the U.S. Security State, there’s only one place to go, when it comes to a major network, which is Fox News. Or if you want to speak freely, you come to a place like this, which is Rumble, because on YouTube and Facebook and even still on Twitter, you get censored.

So, this whole idea of ‘guilt by association’ — that we’re somehow on the far right because we speak to people who are conservatives and use their platforms to communicate — this is what they’re trying to do more than anything, keep us all divided. Do you see? That’s what’s really implicit in this entire article. You are a liberal, you are a leftist. That means you sit over here in this corner. You are a conservative. You’re on the right. You sit over here in this corner and you just hate each other constantly, all day, every day. You don’t talk to each other. You don’t go on each other’s shows. You don’t interact. You don’t treat each other like human beings. You don’t see if there’s common ground. You just keep all your hatred focused over here on the left, or over here, on the right. Why? What is missing from that? This division that they want to put us in? Any focus on what Matt Yglesias heralds as the ‘normal moderates’ or this writer calls the ‘Washington establishment’. That’s how the Washington establishment and establishment venues stay shielded from critique is by constantly demanding that we never talk to each other or find common ground among us. And if we do, we become demonized as people who must be secret fascists, even though we’re uniting on definitively anti-authoritarian values. 

But through a little more of this: “One of the most prominent strategies of anti-lib populists is casting liberal media as the biggest threat to free speech in America” — Yes, that’s because the primary defenders and agitators of online censorship are liberal employees of media corporations. We characterize them as the biggest threats to free speech in America, because that’s precisely what they are.

Taibbi and Greenwald spend a lot of energy warning about cancel culture” — again, a phrase I think I’ve barely ever used in my life — and opposing de-platforming and speech regulation on Internet platforms to occupy an Oked worldview. Some of it is legitimate. I, too, worry about opaque internet censorship and certain aspects of cancel culture like self-sabotaging groupthink and targeting people’s jobs for misbehavior.

That’s very generous of you to acknowledge that those things are valid, that journalists are no longer focused on power centers like Wall Street, Silicon Valley, and the CIA, but instead are trying to destroy the lives of individuals who have ideas and views and donate to causes that these journalists and major corporations, funded by Jeff Bezos, don’t agree with. 

“But”, he says, ‘But what’s odd about the anti-lib outlook is its singular focus on liberals. The right is at least as worrisome on the issue of restricting speech and in some respects, far more. The GOP has become an overt advocate for government censorship on college campuses and in schools and libraries. While he was president, Trump ramped up legal attacks on the media and harassed journalists. The MAGA right endeavors to dampen the very meaning of free speech by embracing disinformation as a political strategy. Billionaires who are hostile to the left own social media platforms and make decisions about speech based on profit motives”. 

There’s way too much there, too many lies to even dissect. 

So, the only point I want to really make is that first of all, I know people on the left – I hate to admit this — but corporations are completely on their side. It wasn’t a Democratic president who was kicked off the Internet. It was a Republican president named Donald Trump. There’s a long list of conservative authors and pundits and journalists and even elected officials who have been banned and booted off of and censored by Big Tech and almost none who are Democrats and liberals.

Again, the relevant distinction here is not conservatives and liberals, as they keep saying. If you’re an establishment conservative if you’re Marco Rubio or Lindsey Graham or Kevin McCarthy, or any of those kinds of people, you’re not going to get censored off the Internet. Mitch McConnell is never a threat to establishment politics. He is the establishment, just like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi are, or Amy Klobuchar is. These people are the establishment. No one’s targeting them. The people who get targeted are anti-establishment voices on both left and right. Those are the people who get censored. And that’s where the real divide is. But again, they’re incapable of understanding the world except by reference to left and right.

The final point I want to make here is that the free speech debate has really broken down along this kind of anti-establishment line. But the claim that all of us don’t criticize Republicans, but only Democrats is a complete lie. I constantly am pointing out, in fact, that there’s way more in common that the Democrat and Republican establishments have with one another than they do with any of you. Just last night on my show, that was the very point I made, that obviously a multimillionaire like Nancy Pelosi, who has spent decades building political power in Washington through raising money from Wall Street, has far more in common with Mitch McConnell, a multimillionaire who has spent decades in Washington raising money through Wall Street than they do with people who are anti-establishment. 

It happens to be the case that the media spends over what an overwhelming portion of its time criticizing the Republican Party. So, I do try to use my platform not to echo what everyone else in the media is already saying — otherwise, what would be the need for me or my show or my platform but to shine a light on what people aren’t talking about? And it’s also the case that liberal left political views and cultural views have become hegemonic and major institutions of power in Washington, in media, in academia, and in Hollywood. And so, therefore, they deserve a lot more scrutiny than they get. But the idea that populist voices — that this article is focused on myself, Matt Taibbi, and Tulsi Gabbard — don’t criticize the Republican establishment is utterly false because anti-establishment politics is precisely about criticizing not the left or the right, not Republicans or Democrats, but the establishment itself. 

Now, I want to end with this amazing part here where he actually ends by acknowledging that he doesn’t actually think that we are members of the far right because he admits that we hold many views which can’t reasonably be described that way. He says, for example, “A skeptic of my schematic might say that I’m simply describing right-wing populists. Well, not exactly. First of all, these commentators don’t fit neatly into any conventional ideological box”. That’s what confuses them. And then, he says, “and complicating things further, never really did fit neatly on the left. Greenwald’s stated normative views are decidedly not conservative, not conventionally right-wing”. Oh, you think so? “Gabbard identifies as an independent and has declined to join the Republicans, at least for now. Taibbi calls himself a run-of-mill old-school ACLU liberal who likes Bernie Sanders”. 

That’s because of what we all are. And in that part of the sentence where he says, my “stated normative views are decidedly not conventionally right-wing” he links to this tweet of mine where — I was actually having a conversation with him I had forgotten about six months ago that presumably led to this article — where he asked me about do you have any views that are not conservative anymore. And I said, a huge number. And here are some of the examples I gave: “Factory farms should be heavily regulated, if not dismantled, to stop the mass torture of animals and harm to public health and the environment. The drug war should end with resources devoted to treatment. Big Tech monopolies should be broken up. CIA should be reined in, if not abolished”.

Now, how can you take these views, just these four in this one tweet, and try and depict me as some sort of clandestine agent of the far right leading leftists down this path, the right-wing authoritarianism? You can only do that if you’re entirely dishonest and more so, so simple-minded that you just can’t understand politics unless it fits into these dumb, stunted, simple-minded boxes. And that’s why this article is so valuable because it shows that they are incapable of that. They can’t see the world through any prism. And the prism they really don’t recognize is ultimately the only one that really matters, which is the prism of are you in favor of maintaining establishment power in orthodoxies, or are you opposed to it? 

So, for our interview segment tonight, I’m delighted to welcome Briahna Joy Gray for what will be her debut appearance, but by no means is it our last one on System Update. She, in my view, is one of the most incisive and fearlessly principled political commentators on the left. She currently holds her own podcast Bad Faith, as well as The Hills Rising. She served as Sally Sanders’s national press secretary, in 2020, and before that was a senior political editor for a news outlet. I forget the name of it. I think it was called Intercepting or The Intercept or something like that. I’m not really sure. She’s one of the few truly independent thinkers and commentators willing to make criticism of leaders of her own party and to transgress many of her own tribes’ ideological boundaries. She’s no stranger to controversy. As a result, she’s a good friend of mine. I’m happy to have her on my show. 

The Interview: Briahna Joy Gray

G.G.: Hello, Bree. Good evening. By the way, do you know the name of that site that I was talking about? I can’t remember. 

B.J.G.: I think it might be The Intercept, but it’s been a while. 

G.G.: It rings a bell. Yeah, it’s been a while for me, too. 

So, I want to begin by. First of all, thanks so much for it. So great to see you here on the screen. I want to start with the drama. Last week in Washington, as you know, Republican members of Congress refused to vote for Kevin McCarthy until they got a bunch of concessions and they really got them in spades. They didn’t just get one. They got a whole heap of them. Before we get to those, and I do want to talk about the substance of those and what happened last week, as some people probably don’t know or maybe don’t remember, you were involved in a very similar debate when Nancy Pelosi was in a very similar position, in 2020, to the one Kevin McCarthy was in last week. She was working with a small majority, not a big one, and therefore needed the votes of almost everyone in her caucus in order to become Speaker, which she obviously wanted to be, which in turn gave power to almost every one of those members to get things in exchange. What was the debate that emerged and what was your view of that debate? 

B.J.G.: Yeah, so it was an almost identical situation, and the reason that many people probably didn’t realize that it’s because, unlike these vanguards, twenty or so Republicans, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party has absolutely no appetite for actually going against leadership — despite statements that people like AOC had made while running, acknowledging that she shouldn’t be in the same party as someone like Joe Biden, or that it’s ridiculous that Nancy Pelosi has never faced a real speakership challenge in all the years she’s held the gavel. 

So, what ended up happening was that another YouTuber, Jimmy Dore, floated an idea, but he had gleaned actually from the DSA handbook, which pointed out that this was an excellent strategy, that when you have a narrow majority in the House, a very small number of people, say, the Squad, could withhold their vote to confirm Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House in exchange for any number of concessions. And at the time, we were in the throes of the COVID pre-vaccine era when there was a lot of concern about what was going to happen next, frankly. — and also, I think, a lot of frustration from progressives about how the Bernie campaign ended and concern about the Medicare for All movement as a whole was going to die with the Bernie 2020 campaign — the idea was floated that one of the core concessions that could be demanded was a floor vote for Medicare for All. So, at the very least, you could be having a public conversation about what the government’s obligation should be to people as they were suffering with the pandemic, incurring medical bills, and the like. And it seemed like a real opportunity, in part because there was a public conversation happening about how no one should have to go bankrupt from COVID treatments. No one should have to die because they weren’t able to afford to get treatments for COVID. So, it’s very easy to see how that argument demands being extended to any other disease …

G.G.: We’ve been showing increased support for the idea that everybody should have health care and health insurance. Not only among Democrats but increased support among Republicans as well. It’s kind of a perfect time for that debate. 

B.J.G.:  Absolutely. 

G.G.: Yeah. So go ahead. Go ahead with the… 

B.J.G.: What happened was kind of remarkable. At first, there was some appetite among even people who had a distaste for the guy who came up with the idea, Jimmy Dore. But everyone seemed to turn on a dime. There was an allusion to a phone call that one commentator has made to Jimmy Dore — sorry, it’s not clear what that phone call was or who it was from. But it seemed like there was a faction of the left who quickly fell in line behind the idea that it was a ridiculous thing to push for, that the media would be against progressives if they were to decline to vote for Pelosi, which is probably true. It’s certainly what we saw with this right-wing conservative insurgency here. But they still were able to secure real concessions. 

And in addition, there were a lot of liberal progressive media figures who came out and said things like, well, they’re negotiating behind closed doors; they’re going to get things like a pay-go exemption or seats on important committees. And in fact, we know now that didn’t happen, in fact, the progressives had fewer committee assignments than they had in the previous term, with notably Katie Porter losing her spot in the Financial Services Committee. So, what we saw was a lot of mobilization against folks that were force the vote from the other flank of the progressive left media with absolutely no pressure or accountability on the Squad themselves to follow through.

And because of some antipathy, it seems, for the guy who came up with the idea, Jimmy Dore, basically they were able to — they were willing, rather, to relinquish. The only leverage, frankly, that they had left over the Democratic Party, and spent the next two years bending the knee to Joe Manchin and Kirsten Gillibrand and Joe Biden, who didn’t seem to actually have very much of an appetite for passing policies like the $15 minimum wage, which he said he committed to in order to get people to vote for him in the Democratic primary. 

G.G.:  What’s striking is that you know, the thing that people were trying to get the Squad and progressive members of the House Democratic Caucus to ask for in exchange for their vote for Pelosi was so much less than the concessions these Republicans demanded, and really held out for, and got — because they did so. And I want to try and understand what’s going on in the two parties and what accounts for these very different postures because this is not the only time that’s happened. 

What amazed me was if you go and look at the vote for the $40 billion war package to fuel the war in Ukraine, there were people on the left in Congress: Bernie Sanders wrote a Guardian article warning of the dangers of the U.S. involvement there; Ilhan Omar was very vocal about the opposition she said she had in order to do it; Cori Bush, on the day she voted for it, issued a statement that sounded like the kind of statement you would make explaining why you voted No, even though she and every other Democrat voted Yes. So, they’re aware of the reasons why it’s bad and yet snapping into line anyway.

And one of the most important foreign policy issues in decades and, to me, probably the worst example, was when Nancy Pelosi wanted $2 billion more for the Capitol Police after many of these members of Congress spent six months chanting “Defund the police”. They promised — all of them, all six members of the Squad — to activists, they were going to vote No until it turned out that Nancy Pelosi actually needed their votes. And once they found out she needed their votes, three of them switched the president to allow Nancy Pelosi to get what she wants.

In other words, they were going to vote No only if it didn’t matter, if it was theatrical. You know, I interviewed AOC before she won during her primary fight. I have watched Ilhan Omar for years. I don’t think these people were completely deceitful, and saying they want to take on the Democratic Party and yet they get to Washington and they’re utterly subservient soldiers to Democratic Party power. At the same time, you see people like Matt Gaetz being willing to take on the anger and hatred of the media of the Republican establishment, of pretty much everyone, in order to get these concessions that are important to U.S. voters. What explains this disparity? I mean, I’m really asking you because I don’t know. 

B.J.G.: What do they say? Republicans fall in love; Democrats fall in line. You know, …

G.G.:  Well, no, it used to be the opposite. That’s the thing: the phrase used to be Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall into line. We always used to hear that the Republicans were a cult, they do what they’re told, and it’s completely the opposite now. 

B.J.G.: It’s completely the opposite. And there’s been some revealing statements made, you know, in revealing moments. Frankly, I laid some of them out in a radar I did on Rising last week. But I’m sure you recall that moment when AOC was made to cry on the House floor by Nancy Pelosi after she first voted against money for the Iron Dome. Then there was some stern-looking conversation that happened with a lot of gesticulating. Who knows what was actually said? But subsequently, AOC changed her vote and was later seen wiping tears away on the House Floor. She gave an interview last week in the context of all of the brouhaha around the McCarthy speaker battle and alluded to the fact that sometimes arms get twisted in a way that seemed frankly kind of self-referential.

And there’s been a lot of reporting about how Nancy Pelosi has kind of wined and dined, whose carrots and sticks in order to get the squad members in line. There’s been outright antipathy calling the Green New Deal, the Green new whatever. Seemingly very frustrated with the energy with which AOC first came into Congress, of course, notably posting that sitting in Nancy Pelosi’s office on our first day, I think the signal went out that that kind of behavior was not going to be accepted. But here’s the problem. Republicans and the establishment, of course, were mad at Matt Gaetz and the rest of the crew as well.

There were threats. I’m sure that committee appointments would be stripped in the like. People like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have been threatened and those threats have been executed with respect to their privileges within Congress. But they don’t care. They, I think, have more trust and faith in their base that they’re appealing to as opposed to climbing the ranks of the Democratic Party. And for whatever reason, there is absolutely zero appetite on the left to actually challenge Nancy Pelosi. And frankly, the left media went right along with it and said things like, ‘well, they’ll lose their committee position’. 

In my view, if you are a principled human being that presented themselves the way that AOC presented herself to you in that interview, someone who, like AOC, said, I’d rather be a one-term congressperson, than forgo my values, then you should be willing to use your position to highlight the gap between what you stand for, what a majority of Americans stand for, and what this corporatized party is standing for. How can one side say I should be in the same party with someone like Joe Biden or Nancy Pelosi, but completely be utterly unwilling to say they are willing to punish me for standing up for you? And I’m going to then bend the knee so that you have a committee position on a committee that’s never going to effectuate anything that actually delivers for the American public. What’s the point of that? 

G.G.:  You know, I don’t want to get to the Republican sessions, but as we’re talking, it’s just riling me up more and more, and I’m remembering, you know what I mean? 

Hakeem Jeffries is the living, breathing embodiment of everything the American left claims to hate. He is, you know, a hardcore K Street lobbyist. He, you know, you can’t find a bigger PAC loyalist than he. He has made his contempt for the Squad, but part of his identity revels in showing them how much he hates them. He works to defeat them all the time. And yet there wasn’t a peep of protest. They all stood in, cheered by acclamation, and made him their leader. I think probably the most embarrassing thing ever was when the progressive signed that letter, very politely asking for a little bit of diplomacy to try and end the war in Ukraine and they got slapped down by the Democratic establishment and they meekly apologized and went through their own letter. You would never see that on the Republican side of politics, ever. 

I want to ask you about the role of left versus right media. You know, if you turn on Fox News, you are going to hear pretty much all-day attacks on Mitch McConnell, attacks on Kevin McCarthy. And then if you’ve got to get to kind of the activist part of the media, like YouTube shows and podcast and the like, you know, overwhelmingly those people are going to be siding with Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene in these holdouts and not attacking them on behalf of the establishment. Then you look at left-wing media and it’s exactly the opposite. They’re almost constantly running interference for the Democratic establishment, demanding that nothing be asked of them. What is the role of left and right media in this and what has happened to most of the left-wing media, and is that the role that they so eagerly and humiliatingly play? There’s no dignity to them. 

B.J.G.: I will say that in terms of actual left media as corporate, not corporate independent, YouTube based, you know, alternative media. It was about a 50-50 split, with a couple of the major channels, Young Turks, […] in particular, siding with the establishment, siding with the Squad against the idea “Force the Vote”. But I would say a majority of people on the left — and maybe even a bare majority of left media channels in terms of audience size, people like Kyle Galinsky and Krystal Ball, yourself, myself, people like Chris Hedges, Cornel West — were all very supportive of “Force the Vote”.

The problem was that there were enough people in the media space to give the Squad cover and to really shape the narrative for a lot of people, at least until it was too late for them to do anything about it. But I think the major difference with the mainstream corporate media, liberal versus conservative, is that the conservatives, to your point, really do allow a lot more dissension within the ranks, a lot more political ideological diversity on the actual news channels than channels like CNN and MSNBC do. There was actually a study some years back that showed that there were more leftists that were allowed on Fox News than ever appear on CNN and MSNBC. Their version of ideological diversity is to have a never-Trump Republican on — someone who doesn’t really represent the ideological diversity of the Republican Party and who, frankly, is very ideologically similar to most liberals, or they’re both neoliberals who care about routine and procedure and decorum above substantive politics and who have no appetite for dissent on the left or the right. A dissent that, frankly, has captured most of the energy of the country. 

And that’s why I think that some of the people who are critical of the left doing the “Force the Vote”, [the fact] when they pointed out that there would be no defenders of the Squad in the mainstream media. That’s fine. But that’s why independent media is so important for anti-establishment politicos like yourself and myself, who have politics that are never going to be boosted or reflected on a mainstream news site, at least not a left-leaning mainstream news site.

G.G.:  Yeah, exactly. I mean, just like, you know, relating to the monologue I did in that MSNBC article, attacking us as sort of channeling people from the far left into the far right. You know, Matt Taibbi did this reporting. Whatever else he thought about it that showed the FBI, the CIA, Homeland Security playing a direct role in trying to determine what gets censored and what doesn’t on the Internet, something that traditionally would have been a left-wing cause, anger over the FBI and CIA, whose role in our domestic politics, and the only show that he gets invited to go and appear on to talk about it is Fox News. So, you see this inversion here. 

Let me ask you about the specific concessions that these Republicans got. You know, I’m not somebody who spends a lot of time focused on the kind of mechanics of Congress. So, I learned a lot in the last month about it. I had Justin Amash on my show who, you know, spent a decade in Congress, is kind of a very independent voice. And you know, what he basically explained really well was that starting with Paul Ryan, and then Nancy Pelosi, they’ve almost entirely centralized all power within a tiny coterie of leadership, meaning that if you’re just a rank-and-file member of Congress, you have absolutely no opportunity to even offer amendments, let alone bills.

You’re basically powerless. You’re just like a mascot to democracy with no real power. So much of the frustration these holdouts had was about that. They demanded more of a say in the kind of, you know, that that would benefit, I would think, both Democrats and Republicans in terms of the rank and file. I’m sure there are some things you disagree with about, you know, not being able to raise the debt ceiling without cutting spending and the like but other substantive concessions like a Church Committee to investigate the FBI and the CIA seem like something people on the left would celebrate as well. So, beyond just the kind of admiration for the fact that they stood their ground and used their leverage, what do you think of the substantive concessions themselves? 

B.J.G.:  When you go back to the 2021, 2020 fight on the left for “Force the Vote”, I mean, the irony is that part of the reason that the floor vote for Medicare for All was such a significant [ask] because that is something that the Speaker of the House has control over and which she historically has used her control over to simply not do because part of the power that the establishment wields is obscuring the extent to which they pretend to be in line with a lot of very popular progressive platform items, but never actually have to show whether or not they are or will be willing to actually vote for it if it came up. And they do that by not having votes on these various issues, keeping them behind closed doors. 

Nancy Pelosi recently quietly killed this very popular bill to ban stock trading. She has expressed displeasure with the bill — displeasure with the idea that she shouldn’t be allowed to trade stocks despite having all the insider information that you would imagine a Speaker of the House or any member of Congress to have. But she, after getting some public pushback about disagreeing with the bill, probably realized she doesn’t have to. make vocal statements about the fact that she doesn’t like this bill. She has the power to make sure that nobody just ever votes for the bill. 

So those kinds of rights, being able to force votes on various issues to have more control outside of just the leadership gavel are very important. I think the most significant one for me, though, you were talking about Hakeem Jeffries earlier — Hakeem Jeffries, who’s, you know, so pro-Israel that he called Israel the sixth borough of New York — is that he, you’re right, has been an enemy of the left, principally because of the left’s sympathetic statements, at very least, and occasionally votes, for the Palestinian people.

And so, what he did, in 2021, was to create a super PAC with Josh Gottheimer and, I believe, Terri Sewell, that was specifically designed to attack people, leftists, insurgents, who were running against Democratic incumbents, specifically protecting the Democratic Party from a left flank. One of the major concessions that the Republican vanguard here was able to secure was to ensure that Kevin McCarthy’s super PAC didn’t put its thumb on the scale in Republican primaries. 

Now, contrast this. Republicans are saying this small 20-person coterie of Republicans is saying, ‘Speaker, don’t get involved in our primaries. Let the people speak’. On the other side, you have progressive, self-described progressive, self-described socialists saying we’re going to clap and cheer and repeatedly vote for someone like Hakeem Jeffries, who’s literally put a target on our backs or I guess metaphorically put a target on our backs, quite literally, put a monetary target on our backs, at the very least, to try to get us out of Congress altogether, never using any opportunity during this whole speakership battle to highlight the extent to which the new Speaker of the House is the biggest enemy against progressives and progressive issues that again, are wildly popular across the country. 

G.G.:  So as the last question we want to ask you, and it’s kind of a broad topic, so feel free to just kind of center in on whatever you think is most important about it. It could be a whole show on just this topic but as somebody who worked in the Bernie Sanders campaign, in 2020, but notably voted for Jill Stein and not Hillary Clinton in 2016, you’re somebody who has talked a lot about kind of anti-establishment versus pro-establishment politics. At the same time, you identify as somebody on the left, and a lot of debates, left versus right still matters. It matters on culture, and war issues; it matters on lots of economic issues, though I don’t think quite as many as it used to even there. But what do you see now as kind of the relative importance of understanding American politics through a prism of anti-establishment and pro-establishment and the ability of kind of anti-establishment people, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, otherwise to unite and find common ground, as opposed to the importance of, say, traditional conservative versus liberal divisions? 

B.J.G.:I think the main reason in matters to be, in my view, anti-establishment left versus anti-establishment right, is because, unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the Republicans have been much savvier about adopting a veneer of anti-establishment politics or supporting policies that would entrench class divides, entrench power among wealthy elites. At the same time, they’re using lingo that suggests that they are doing something different than the status quo. And I think that is mischievous because I think a lot of conservatives very rightly see that the social safety net isn’t there. The social contract, the great bargain, the American dream is no longer holding up, are looking for answers as to why that is. 

Republicans are offering answers that superficially seem like a good idea, but when you start to pick at it, you see that really a lot of these policies are about continuing to aggregate that power and well, because there isn’t an analysis of power that really gets to the root of the problem. As long as you have a Republican Party that still has every member willing to take corporate donations, is willing to do the bidding of these pharmaceutical companies, that these insurance companies of the oil companies of every company that is putting profit first and not thinking about the interest of the average American. You’re not going to have substantive changes. 

I mean, one example of this is this conversation about the IRS. And it’s difficult because people are absolutely correct that the IRS disproportionately focuses and persecutes people who are lower income. I think the most audited county in America is this tiny, poor county in Mississippi, where something like 50% of the population is the earned income tax credit, meaning they’re very, very low earners, I think $25,000 or less. 

Why is that? Well, you know, part of it is that there’s a punitive system that exists that has always targeted the poor while letting the rich off the hook. But part of it is a resource battle where it is a lot more costly, it’s a lot more expensive to audit affluent people who have a whole army of tax attorneys on their side, who have lawyers up the wazoo, and who can litigate into a very good job hiding money all across the world in the Cayman Islands and Switzerland and the like. And so, auditors go for low-hanging fruit.

This is obviously relevant because we’re in this conversation now where Republicans want to, you know, defund the IRS to a significant degree. And they are arguing that we should do it because the IRS targets the poor. Well, if you defund the IRS without addressing whether or not they’re going to be able to target the rich, are you actually, in fact, just Deepening the incentives that already exist to continue to go after poor people, maybe in the lesser volume? But are you ultimately ever going to go after tax cheats or is it a workaround that enables you to sound like you’re being populist while ultimately advocating for a policy prescription that’s going to let your wealthy friends off the hook? 

And can we, as a populist community, can as an outsider insurgent community, figure out a way to address both problems, but the auditing the poor and the under-auditing of the rich at the same time? It’s difficult. And I think that people aren’t going to like that. I brought up that example in the first place… 

G.G.:  You know, I’m glad you did because, to me, I think it does speak to one of the key tensions, which is, you know, in theory, it is true that if you give more money to the IRS, they do have the ability then to pursue wealthier people instead of only going after poor people. The problem, I think, is that people distrust the willingness and the posture of a government where both parties are funded by the same special interests over and over. I think Matt Gaetz, by the way, is the one Republican who refuses to take PAC money. But other than that, you know, the vast majority of both parties being funded by the same special interests. Everybody watched after the 2008 financial crisis, the U.S. government under President Obama, first under Bush and then Obama, acting not to protect the interests of the ordinary person, but to protect the barons on Wall Street who fund those campaigns. 

And so, in theory, it may be true that if you give the IRS more money, they could go after wealthier people. I think people so distrust on a fundamental level that unless you have a radical change in how the government is structured and what its values are, you just going to fuel these institutions even more to do more of what they’ve already been doing. And I think that’s the problem.

But I definitely hear you when you see the Republican Party, on the one hand, claiming to want to go after Big Tech and claiming to want to work for the ordinary person and then the other, giving tax cuts to corporations and, you know, not doing very much for the American worker. I think you’re right to raise doubts about the extent to which populism is the dominant ideology in the Republican Party. I don’t think it is. I think it’s still a minority ideology, which is why I’m most interested in that kind of coalition. And in order to make that coalition the majority. 

B.J.G.:  Yeah. I mean, look, I’m not a legislator, but I feel like we could start to address some of those concerns. like putting caps on what percentage of audits actually happen for lower-income people, as opposed to making sure the distribution leans toward more affluent people, which it, again, absolutely does not. The least audited districts in the country are the most affluent districts in the country.

But it seems like you could design legislation and design the institution in order to enshrine those kinds of principles and make those directives a point of law — instead of having that conversation about how many rich people should be audited. There is, I think, too often an instinct on the right to say, let’s throw everything away and have laissez-faire operations here. But we all know that when there is a void, what ends up happening is that corporations, who absolutely are not democratically accountable and do not have the interests of the people at heart and are pursuing nakedly –and are legally obligated to pursue the profit motive by their own corporate charter — end up causing a lot of destruction as well. 

So, I think that the critique of government corruption is real and important, but a lot of the government corruption is because of lobbying that’s happened, that happens at the hand of big business. So, saying getting government out of the way, but not addressing the way that ordinary Americans’ lives are destroyed by kind of free market capitalism on a daily basis doesn’t really solve the problem. And I think we need to be having deeper conversations about that as a united, independent — not Democrat, not Republican — populist community. 

G.G.:  I think the pivotal moment of the Trump administration was when Steve Bannon, whose plan was to go in and do an infrastructure bill, a bipartisan infrastructure bill, cut taxes, raised taxes on the wealthy, and then build the wall, lost out to Jared, Jared Kushner, who is a much more traditional Republican right from Wall Street, looking to profit in all sorts of ways, not just for himself but his corporate friends. I think that shaped a lot of the Trump administration. 

The bad news is we’re out of time. The good news is we can continue this conversation because I’m now going to reciprocate and be on your amazing show, which is the Bad Faith podcast. I hope people listen to it. Bree interviews everyone from across the spectrum and a very kind of polite but relentless adversarial way. I hope you’re going to watch that. You can also watch Around Rising, obviously following on Twitter. Bree, thank you so much. I will be seeing you in a day or two to continue our conversation. 

B.J.G.: I’m looking forward to it. 

G.G.: Have a great night. Bye-bye. 

So that concludes our show for this evening. As always, we will now move to our Locals community, where we will have our live interactive aftershow. 

For those of you who aren’t members but who want to be, you can click the red join button in the upper right-hand corner of the page and join our Locals community where you’ll have access to the aftershow and also all of my written journalism, which will be very shortly appearing exclusively there. 

In the meantime, we hope to see you back tomorrow night and every night, 7 p.m., live, exclusively here on Rumble. 

Have a great night, everybody. 

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