Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 28, 2020

Chapo Trap House and Matt Taibbi crack down on the antiracists

Filed under: Harper's Open Letter — louisproyect @ 9:00 pm

Chapo Trap House, from left: Felix Biederman, Matt Christman, Amber A’Lee Frost, Virgil Texas and Will Menaker.

The deeper I dig into the controversy provoked by the Harper’s Open Letter, the more convinced I am that it reflects a faultline on the American left. First and foremost, it involves race and class with people such as Thomas Chatterton Williams and Matt Taibbi, two of the leading figures leading the charge against “cancel culture”, contending that Black “identity politics” has become an infection almost as deadly as COVID-19.

There are perhaps two degrees of separation between these two high-profile pundits and the campaign waged by Adolph Reed Jr., Cedric Johnson and Walter Benn Michaels against “antiracism”.

And another two degrees separates them and their frequent interventions on Jacobin and Nonsite from Project 1619, which Reed and some blue-chip historians regard as an insidious propaganda campaign that has the audacity to claim, for example, that Abraham Lincoln was a racist. When Boston decided to remove a statue depicting Abraham Lincoln with a freed black man at his feet, this just became the latest example of cancel culture’s threat to both art and our historical legacy.

Within this boiling cauldron of charges and counter-charges, Jacobin, the DSA and the Sandernista left are at the center, just like the eye of a hurricane. This became obvious to me after listening to their fellow-traveler Chapo Trap House’s podcast number 435, titled “Let’s Get Cancelled”. Made on July 9th, just two days after the Harper’s Open Letter appeared, it featured two Chapo members, Will Menaker and Amber A’Lee Frost, interviewing Matt Taibbi. Like all such podcasts, there is uniformity of opinion to the point of becoming so tedious that you can barely stay awake. For people on such a high horse about the need for free and open debate, you’d think that they’d do a podcast with a range of opinion.

Not only was there an affinity between the three over politics, there was also an affinity over their preening self-image of themselves as fearless and funny social commentators. Like eXile, the Russian magazine where Taibbi wrote many “satirical” articles joking about rape and humiliating women, Chapo Trap House has exploited its left-liberalism and “shock jock” sensibility to make money. Raking in $115,000 a month, their podcasts allow the Sandernista left to enjoy takedowns of people high and low. Hillary Clinton at the top and gays at the bottom are both grist for their mill as this song illustrates:

I am gay and I voted for Obama
I am a shill for the Clinton campaign and the leftwing mainstream press
I’m a pussy who gets fucked right up the ass
I am a cuck
I am a libtard
I am a fag who was blessed to live amongst us
And Arabs to have equal rights.
I have no love of country and the white folks are not all bad
And the Albright folks are tacky
It makes me sad

There’s no need to get offended by this since it is only “satire”, just like the eXile. If you do get offended, then you are one of those snowflakes turning the USA into a totalitarian society where Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” will be required reading just as Mao Zedong’s Red Book was in China. Get caught disagreeing openly with DiAngelo will lead to you being incarcerated for many years. Think I am kidding? Matt Taibbi said that DiAngelo’s philosophy is “Hitlerian”.

Sixteen minutes into the podcast, the subject of Project 1619 came up. In Taibbi’s view, this was an attempt by the NY Times to demonize Donald Trump after Russiagate had fallen flat on its face. He described it as something that never would have made it into the Times if Clinton had been elected. Taibbi was appalled by the idea that anybody would have the gumption to refer to the USA as a white supremacist project. Yeah, they killed the Indians and enslaved Africans but it also produced the Bill of Rights and coca-cola. With Trump in the White House, it became necessary to depict the USA as essentially racist so they printed a bunch of lies in the NY Times, presumably like in the article “Sugar” by Khalil Gibran Muhammad that stated:

The trade was so lucrative that Wall Street’s most impressive buildings were Trinity Church at one end, facing the Hudson River, and the five-story sugar warehouses on the other, close to the East River and near the busy slave market. New York’s enslaved population reached 20 percent, prompting the New York General Assembly in 1730 to issue a consolidated slave code, making it “unlawful for above three slaves” to meet on their own, and authorizing “each town” to employ “a common whipper for their slaves.”

Yeah, the nerve of the NY Times to cancel Trinity Church. What’s next? St. Patrick’s Cathedral?

Menaker and Frost agreed completely with this analysis, with Frost characterizing it as being supported by “annoying” and “ridiculous” people. Like Adolph Reed Jr., she found herself in total agreement with the long-in-the-tooth professor emeriti who were interviewed on WSWS and saw this country as committed to freedom and democracy, at least on paper.

This pile of crap assumes that the Black reporters at the NY Times were in on this conspiracy to demonize Donald Trump and that it required the publisher’s green light to make it possible. Chapo and Taibbi just don’t get it. Over the past decade, the newsrooms have become more reflective of the diversity of American society. Given their social weight, they are likely to raise a fuss over the lack of representation both in promotions and in what is reported. Yes, someone like Walter Benn Michaels would regard their demands for more representation as just another example of petty-bourgeois indifference to class issues but don’t they have a right to ask for an explanation why Tom Cotton’s racist op-ed piece could have shown up, with its call for shooting down BLM protesters? Taibbi weighed in on this, calling James Bennet’s departure as another example of cancel culture’s totalitarian tendencies.

After denouncing Project 1619, the three compadres next voiced their disgust with how protesters were for abolishing the police and prisons, with calls like “kill the cops” at protests showing how out of touch they were with Americans. Like Reed and Johnson, they referred to African-Americans demanding police protection and described defunding the police as a knuckle-headed demand of the left academy and ultra-leftist rioters. Taibbi felt that he was on solid ground making such points since he had written a highly-regarded book about how the cops killed Eric Garner on Staten Island. Yes, it was a good book but it doesn’t compensate for Taibbi’s more recent forays into law and order apologetics. He told Menaker and Frost that the problem was “bad eggs”, not institutional racism. Apparently, he hadn’t gotten the word that the police didn’t exist in the USA until a need arose for rounding up runaway slaves.

For his part Menaker rued the call for abolishing the police since it distracted attention away from a really popular demand like Medicare for All. Perhaps, abolishing the police became a popular demand when the video of George Floyd having a knee on his neck for 8 minutes made the population rethink the role of the cops. This was not your father’s “Miami Vice” or “NYPD Blue” after all.

You might describe Chapo Trap House as Dustin Giustella politics + Don Imus jokes. Like Joe Rogan, it has a distinctly anti-establishment flavor but without any serious consideration of the deeper realities of capitalist society. Taibbi, Rogan and Jacobin pinned all their hopes on a Bernie Sanders presidency and when it failed to materialize, they looked for a scapegoat. Sanders’s failure to win Black voters to his cause was blamed on Hillary Clinton’s exploitation of identity politics rather than his own class-reductionism that continues to this day. Like Taibbi and company, he is for professionalizing the police department, not abolishing it.

As for demands to abolish (or defund) the police and prisons, they certainly push the envelope and have a certain susceptibility to being dismissed as impractical. You might as well dismiss the idea of socialism while you are at it, for that matter. In the 1960s, the SWP used to raise the slogan of Black Control of the Black Community. There was no real chance of that happening as long as capitalism was in firm control of the country but given a certain level of instability, it might begin to seem reasonable. Fifty years ago we overestimated the mood of the country. Given the fact that the BLM protests are the largest in American history, it is high time to think big—ie., revolutionary.

Despite the title of the podcast, the three don’t really get into it until close to the end, at 47:00. Like Harper’s, they aren’t very specific. They talk about all the people being intimidated by the political correctness mob but who exactly has been fired or silenced by hostile tweets from the left?

As mentioned above, they offer up Sanders as someone who was cancelled but there is zero acknowledgement of his own gaffes, which included a failure to go for the jugular in his debates with Biden. In any case, presidential campaigns are nasty business and there’s little evidence that anything Clinton said in 2016 that could be legitimately be described as cancel culture. The Clintons played dirty in every campaign they ever ran. Although I never had any intention of voting for Sanders, I would have like to see him confront Biden over his bromance with Senators James Eastland and Herman Talmadge. It was left to Corey Booker and Kamala Harris to put Biden on the spot. However, the Washington Post anticipated where Sanders was heading with such charges in a June 20, 2019 article:

In recent weeks Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, as well as several lower-polling candidates, have begun criticizing Biden’s track record and campaign messaging. But for the most part, those critiques have been broad and theoretical, without mentioning Biden by name.

Without mentioning Biden by name? Don’t blame cancel culture for Sanders’s miserable showing in the Black community. Like Biden’s friendship with the southern racists, Sanders’s friendship with Biden compromised him. It’s too bad that Sandernista chumps like the Chapistas and Taibbi don’t get it.

Taibbi did come up with a couple of cancel culture incidents that might have qualified as censorious unless you dig beneath the surface. He alluded to the tragic suicide of a Dartmouth administrator named David Bucci who had “nothing to do with anything” but was driven to this desperate act by the typical politically correct mobs on campus. According to Taibbi, some “weird sex scandal” took place in his department. He initially “tried to help” the people who came forward with sexual harassment complaints, but after Dartmouth included him as a plaintiff, he ended up killing himself. Like Taibbi’s support for Evergreen State College’s Bret Weinstein, this is decidedly one-sided. The NY Times reported:

But to the women, Dr. Bucci was a central part of a system that enabled abuse and harassment. He was named 31 times in the 72-page legal complaint, which said that after receiving the initial grievance, the college had been slow to protect the women from further abuse, and that Dr. Bucci had called a department meeting where he browbeat the women who were planning to sue.

The 72-page legal complaint included this finding:

Jane Doe [the unnamed plaintiff] told Chair Bucci [current Chair of Psychology David Bucci] that the culture and harassment perpetuated by the Department’s professors and the poor fit with the lab she had been assigned had left her without a safe scientific home to complete her work. Chair Bucci trivialized Jane Doe’s experiences of harassment and displacement by comparing them with a time when he was inundated with administrative work, stating “I had a hellish year, too, but was able to do my work.”

In fact, there is evidence that the young women who came forward with their complaint suffered cancel culture as well, as an op-ed by two female Dartmouth professors indicated:

The Times article cites friends and family members who see Bucci as “a casualty of a scorched-earth legal strategy to pin blame on the Ivy League college.” But sadly, his heartbreaking death is not the only tragedy that followed in the wake of these events. Several of the plaintiffs became suicidal. Their careers were thrown off track. They were disparaged, threatened and discouraged from speaking out. They were “slut-shamed” by Dartmouth College’s response to the lawsuit, which can be seen as a scorched-earth legal strategy to pin the blame on 17- to 23-year-old female students groomed for abuse by professors who were supposed to mentor them.

Finally, Taibbi drops the name of Canadian novelist Hal Niedzviecki who was forced to resign as editor of a the journal Write after endorsing the idea of cultural appropriation in a special issue featuring indigenous authors. In his editor’s introduction, he wrote: “In my opinion, anyone, anywhere, should be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities” and advised writers to try to “Win the Appropriation Prize”. If you knew nothing about indigenous culture in Canada, this might sound reasonable. After all, as Taibbi points out, writers have an obligation to travel outside their comfort zone, even if this lesson would be lost on the people cozying up to each other on these various podcasts.

For a different take on Niedzviecki being “canceled”, I recommend this astute Vice article. It gets to the heart of the Harper’s Open Letter’s Pecksniffian posturing and Taibbi’s nonstop dismissal of Black attempts to gain equality with those born with a white skin [emphases added]:

Like all media controversies, this could have ended pretty quickly. While TWUC [The Writer’s Union of Canada that publishes Write] released the only type of statement they could have after messing up that badly, Niedzviecki could’ve offered a lengthy and selfless public apology alongside his resignation. But it didn’t take long for white Canadian writers to jump to Niedzviecki’s defense. The Globe and Mail’s Elizabeth Renzetti offered the lukewarm argument of the piece being insightful—in that it created a debate. The National Post’s Christie Blatchford went full Blatch and argued that Niedzviecki was being “silenced” and that he joined the ranks of white people who’ve been bullied into apologizing (something he actually never did publicly).

But just as it almost fizzled out thanks to the vicious half-life of the news cycle, a bunch of high-ranking members of Canadian media—all white—decided to go lose their shit on Twitter.

Ken Whyte, former Senior Vice-President of Public Policy at Rogers came up with the novel idea to start the actual award proposed in Niedzviecki’s piece. He was soon joined by Maclean’s editor-in-chief Alison Uncles, and the National Post’s editor-in-chief Anne Marie Owens as well as a growing list of other members of Canadian media. What do they all have in common? They’re white and they’re as powerful as Canadian media gets. As more people dragged these tweets, a few of those who were a part of creating the “Appropriation Prize” admitted they were being stupid or “glib.”

When it comes to the world of literature and media, “controversies” like this one are expected by any person of colour. In my experience, being a writer in Canadian media means being reminded of exactly who the gatekeepers are and exactly what they think of anyone who isn’t white and powerful. It happens often, most recently with the Joseph Boyden controversy, Walrus editor Jonathan Kay took it upon himself to defend the author against Indigenous people with valid concerns over the author’s identity. Again, Kay is the editor-in-chief of a publication that positions itself as Canada’s New Yorker.

The obvious solution would be to encourage the minorities they so deeply want to see in stories to, you know, write their own stories—but clearly that’s not their priority.

The thing is, Canadian media seems to be getting more diverse. I see it myself with my colleagues and peers, increasingly I’m seeing that emerging writers who aren’t white get recognition. I see fellow women of colour get more bylines than I did three years ago when I began writing professionally. While it’s great to see at the lower rungs, I question the significance of these slow changes in who is telling what stories when those at the top are still extremely white and male. When our editors are tweeting about funding and creating prizes for white people to pretend to be us, it only shows us we matter in terms of optics.

In Niedzviecki’s piece he argues that in order to see non-white stories better represented in Canadian media, white Canadian authors need to go beyond “what they know” and write from the voices of those who aren’t like their white middle-class selves. What does it show us when the only solution these high-ranking journalists, executives and editors have is to create an award for white people who want to write stories that aren’t their own? The obvious solution would be to encourage the minorities they so deeply want to see in stories to, you know, write their own stories—but clearly that’s not their priority. Their response seemingly shows their real fear—people of colour speaking for themselves and white voices being relegated to the sidelines.


  1. I find most podcasts, especially Shithole Claphouse, insufferably dull. What’s the point of listening for hours to a lot of pompous mansplainers who can seldom manage a complete sentence as they hem and haw and change subjects in mid-rant, and then change gears and, as Louis says, spew Don-Imus-style jokes which are not only offensive but–what’s far worse–not the least bit funny.

    I’d rather read. What’s so great about hearing people talk if they have snotty attitudes and can barely express themselves?

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 29, 2020 @ 5:11 am

  2. If you don’t like it, don’t listen Mr Kalosar. This is a pretty basic concept. Especially with podcasts that you actually have to go out of your way to find. It’s not like they’re broadcast over public airwaves that you would accidentally stumble upon while driving around in your Prius.

    Anyway, I wonder what “left wing” supporters of BLM think of corporate sponsorship of “the movement”? Why are major capitalist corporations like Ford and Nike spending so much money promoting this if it is radical or revolutionary?

    Why does “the newspaper of record” run a 1619 Project if it is radical or revolutionary?

    Did the bourgeoisie suddenly become progressive again, 150 years after the Civil War?

    Why is this so rarely mentioned? Do you imagine this is like the Germans giving Lenin a train ride back to Russia?

    And if this is true, why did they at the same time put so much effort into keeping the butter milk soft reformist Bernie Sanders out of the election?

    I am genuinely curious.

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — July 29, 2020 @ 6:29 am

  3. Very curious indeed.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — July 29, 2020 @ 4:14 pm

  4. Why does “the newspaper of record” run a 1619 Project if it is radical or revolutionary?

    To sell newspapers, of course, you idiot. A majority of the country supports BLM so why wouldn’t a newspaper see them as a potential market? Even though it is apocryphal, it still is worth considering the words attributed to Lenin: “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

    Comment by louisproyect — July 29, 2020 @ 7:24 pm

  5. Ueno-san,

    I am genuinely curious; are you a Japanese person living in Japan, or a Japanese person living in the U.S., or Japanese American?

    In any case …

    The Japan Times, on 20 March, 2020, clarified its position on “comfort women” issue (specifically the definition thereof), going against the right wing ruling elites in Japan and siding with the victims, mostly Korean (as well as Chinese and Japanese) women, enslaved by the Japanese imperial army before and during WWII, forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers.

    Is the ruling class in Japan becoming feminist defenders of the rights of Comfort Women all of a sudden? Are you not shocked that a mainstream newspaper in a capitalist country would refute the official stance of the ruling elites? I am shocked; shocked, I say!!

    See: “To our readers: Internal review of ‘comfort women’ and ‘wartime labor’ descriptions”

    Comment by Reza — July 29, 2020 @ 7:34 pm

  6. No one who knows anything about these topics can read your posts and think you know anything about what’s going on. Also, Lenin did not say “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”, nor any variation of that. Do you want to see how easy it is to get a quote right, with the internet and all? — “That isn’t some old Trotskyist lag like Louis Proyect, dozing on the dungheap of history like Odysseus’ lice-ridden old hound Argos, woofing with alarm as the shadow of a new idea darkens the threshold.”

    Comment by Urnot — July 29, 2020 @ 9:28 pm

  7. “No one who knows anything about these topics can read your posts and think you know anything about what’s going on.”

    Then, why do you keep reading this blog?

    Comment by Reza — July 29, 2020 @ 9:42 pm

  8. Also, Lenin did not say “The capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them”,

    You drooling imbecile, didn’t you understand what the word apocryphal meant?

    Comment by louisproyect — July 29, 2020 @ 10:23 pm

  9. I’m pretty sure they make something north of $150k/month and was even higher until COVID or more likely after the Sanders campaign went up in flames. Biden carries the mantle of democratic socialism and opposing Trump, now.

    Comment by Aaron — July 30, 2020 @ 2:02 pm

  10. Reza wrote: “Then, why do you keep reading this blog?”

    Because when he writes about things he knows about, he can be good.

    Comment by Urnot — July 31, 2020 @ 6:04 pm

  11. LP wrote: “…didn’t you understand what the word apocryphal meant?”

    I see that you went back and re-wrote your response. I see that.

    Comment by Urnot — July 31, 2020 @ 6:05 pm

  12. I rewrote my response? Are you out of your fucking mind?

    Comment by louisproyect — July 31, 2020 @ 6:16 pm

  13. The latest from the R-R-R-R-Revolutionary BLM Movement. They’ve destroyed a statue of Tadeusz Kosciuszko in Washington.

    Those among us with a third grade education will recall that Kosciuszko fought on the right side of the American and Polish revolutions.

    When given a slave as a gift by an American officer he was appalled and immediately freed him.

    Kosciuszko also embarrassed his friend Thomas Jefferson by practicing what the latter preached but was too politically cowed to practice.

    Further, Kosciuszko’s will designated that the property he was awarded in Ohio as a reward for his service in the Revolution be sold to buy freedom and education for black slaves.

    Apparently leftists today are the latest incarnation of the “Know Nothing Party” in America.

    Truly sickening stuff.

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — August 1, 2020 @ 1:29 pm

  14. Reza, I am sorry but it doesn’t matter who I am or what country I live in. If I have an answer to your question it is either correct or incorrect. Which has nothing to do with my passport, ethnicity or place of birth. This is a frankly horrifying way of thinking that finds its logical conclusion in the bunker with Hitler.

    Comment by Tanaka Ueno — August 1, 2020 @ 1:31 pm

  15. “This is a frankly horrifying way of thinking that finds its logical conclusion in the bunker with Hitler.”

    Dude, I was just curious. I lived and worked in Japan for eight years, as a twice-removed ‘expat’, loved and hated several things Japanese and was just curious. Just making conversation. If you don’t want to answer the question, that’s fine; you don’t need to resort to hyper-sensationalization. Take it easy.

    Comment by Reza — August 1, 2020 @ 3:00 pm

  16. Here’s a rich one:

    Bill Maher, Who Said the N-Word on TV, Decries ‘Cancel Culture’

    Comment by Reza — August 1, 2020 @ 6:34 pm

  17. Reza, How does it feel to be on the side of the people who villified Lenny Bruce?

    Comment by Urnot — August 5, 2020 @ 11:44 am

  18. Urnot, or whatever your name is, as the poet once said, “Lenny Bruce is not afraid”.

    Comment by Reza — August 5, 2020 @ 3:26 pm

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