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What Ever Happened To The Anti-Corporate Left?


There was a time when the far left was more legitimately anti-corporate and anti-establishment. Now it just thinks it is. As Joy Pullmann reported this week, when asked by a newly released survey to rank their confidence levels in 20 institutions, Democrats listed Amazon and Google as their first- and fourth- highest picks, respectively. But “major companies,” for some reason, clocked in all the way down at 15.

This, after CNBC reported on Wednesday that Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s long-shot, press-vaunted progressive bid to oust Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is being boosted in large part by employees of those “major companies” Democrats have more confidence in than in the police, courts, religion, and organized labor.

That’s a snapshot of the left in 2018: their favorite candidate of this midterm cycle is being fueled by big corporations, two of which Democrats now say they have more confidence in than organized labor.

This strange evolution seems to have inspired at least some internal critics. Later the same day those poll results were released, progressive stronghold Slate published an article skewering “The Alarming Paternalism of Today’s Queer Agenda.” Coining the term “corporate spreadsheet radicalism,” Tom Joudrey insisted that an “authentic radicalism” in the LGBT movement “must defy priggish codes of propriety and mawkish pleas from self-righteous do-gooders.”

Vulture published an interview that day with “American Psycho” author Bret Easton Ellis, who was doing some early promotion of his forthcoming essay collection “White.” Easton Ellis, who can hardly be considered a leftist these days, said the book is “about the last ten years and where I ended up, and how I felt always that I was a fairly liberal gay man, if I want to identify myself like that, and have found myself, in 2018, living with a socialist millennial verging on communism and finding that I’m actually more center than I ever thought I would be, and how did this happen?”

One day later, a profile of the “Red Scare” podcast hosts appeared in The Cut, which described the show’s tone as a “shock-swagger combination that recalls both Old Vice and Old Jezebel of a decade ago.”

“The Red Scare hosts, who seem to feel so disenfranchised that they have nothing left to lose, serve up a vicarious thrill with their willingness to offend, their apparent nihilism,” the profile observed, noting the podcast “can sometimes feel as if it is trapped in a hermetic, obsessive battle with the internet’s hypermediated analysis of ‘woke’ culture.” Neither Kendrick Lamar nor Lena Dunham nor Elon Musk is safe from their mockery.

“Red Scare” has its nihilism. Joudrey wants a more “authentic radicalism.” Easton Ellis, who’s admittedly not in the same category of radical leftism, has his self-described “neutrality.” This is interesting because the conformist “corporate spreadsheet radicalism” and “self-righteous do-gooders” rankling Joudrey seem to be what irks “Red Scare” as well. And the virtue-signaling “reputation economy,” as he calls it, is what turned Easton Ellis away from the left too.

Perhaps the elite center’s feverish anti-Trumpism, championed by Silicon Valley and the establishment media, has turbocharged the left’s drift into the clutches of corporatism and conformity. As a consequence of the dogma driving corporate leaders in Big Tech and the major media becoming more overt, the left’s remaining faction of legitimate antiestablishmentarians is kind of homeless— and not just in the Democratic Party (that would hardly be unusual), but in the broader arena of progressivism.

For all its paternalism and breathless hypersensitivity, the wokeness spread by progressives and reinforced by major companies and the legacy media is eminently mockable. But in practice, it also forbids self-deprecation. So what’s a leftist to do?

When Nike announced its ad campaign with Colin Kaepernick, the left reflexively lavished the company in praise, rather than criticizing the athlete for providing a progressive face for a company with business practices they would hardly consider progressive. Corporations have co-opted the culture of wokeness, and it seems to be working. Kaepernick is using his allegedly radical politics to boost the profits of a multibillion-dollar corporation accused by garment workers (along with other brands) of “extreme exploitation.” That’s more radically capitalist than anything else.

Nevertheless, the left’s reflex was to praise Nike rather than criticize the company or Kaepernick himself. It’s bizarre, incoherent, and telling all at once.

There are other examples, too. When progressives petitioned the University of California at Berkeley to keep Ann Coulter from speaking, Joan Baez went from singing “We Shall Overcome” as part of the free speech movement on campus in 1964 to condemning the left’s attempted censorship of Coulter in 2018.

In this context, it’s easy to understand why the dwindling number of genuine anti-establishment leftists would chafe at all the self-righteousness. But it’s harder to see how they’ll be able to convince their peers they should be chafing too. Nike makes nice shoes, and you can get them pretty quickly with Amazon Prime.