Take a little trip back to the Dark Bush Days with me. I’m talking peak chauvinist American hooting. 2003-2007 in particular. If you are too young to remember, just humor me here. No matter our opinions on the Iraq War, we all appreciated Baghdad Bob. The Iraqi Information Minister whose hyperbolic claims of American defeats at the hands of victorious Iraqi Army forces in 2003 came in the face of obvious and mounting evidence that his government lived on borrowed time and that he was either willfully or ignorantly shouting a propaganda rear guard action into the howling void of events beyond his control.
Fast forward just a year or two later. The general consensus among everyone not on the political right or center at that time was that our own government was made up entirely of Baghdad Bobs. If you lived through this period, you might remember that liberals back then were kind of cool, even if you already knew you weren’t really one of them. We were all in the anti-neoconservative boat together, those who thought ill of Bush and company. Humor was meant to offend the delicate Christian sensibilities of republican wieners. The Daily Show had yet to lose its teeth and was a better critical news source than network TV, and Stephen Colbert was playing an amazing parody of an ironic hyperbolic conservative (the only kind you saw back then) who had yet to slip into his more depressing current phase of playing an unironic hyperbolic liberal. In general, liberal culture (though not politicians) were kind of cool. They were at least playing at being anti-establishment. Common things you would hear from them would be phrases like ‘You can’t trust intelligence agencies, its their job to lie’, and ‘Obviously the government lies all the time, so you can’t trust what they say about foreign countries.’ The most pertinent to those of us- like myself- fighting for gay rights and to defend secularism at the time was ‘the government is overrun by religious ideologues, and therefore must be treated with skepticism.’
Such sentiments are common place in most parts of the world. But not the North Atlantic. Most people are naturally suspicious of their own government first and foremost and it is a testimony to a few centuries of riding high that Anglos don’t often share this vital skepticism. And, as we have seen since about 2014 if not earlier, this brief moment of Bush Era liberal clarity was lost. What events like the Iraq War taught the tastemakers that occupy the overlapping space between mainstream media and the military is that the yokels don’t need propaganda to whipped up against foreigners. Wave a cross and a flag around and holler about foreigners marrying their daughter and they are good. No, the section of the population you really need to convince is the fence-sitting highly educated liberal elite. Gain them, like in 2001-2, and you gain the media. Lose them, like after 2004, and you lose the information war. Obama was the master of manipulating these people, hence why the media tacitly dropped coverage of the Libyan War once that went as bad as Iraq did. ‘Reasonable People’, you know the type: Doonesbury, NPR, Saturday Night Live, Hamilton, etc, never became bothered about Libya because the media effectively covered up the failure there. An unprecedented effort was unleased to sway these people, especially about foreign countries. Something pioneered by their most trusted news sources, PBS and NPR. These are, to use a term introduced to me by Shant Mesrobian, the NPR-Americans.
These people, who once let out tiresome sighs when people around them were too patriotic, suddenly began to take up the mantle of American Exceptionalism with the coming of Trump. They were the true guardians of the republic, and thus they stood against him. When he said (falsely) that he would scale down the military interventions abroad they opposed it reflexively. When he said he opposed giant free trade deals, they announced they were for it. When a newly resurgent paleocon right became one of the factions pointing out we were on the same side as Al Qaeda in Syria, they took this as evidence that blockading and occupying Syria was now good. The one time they praised him was when he bombed Syria in a pique of virtue signaling by cruise missile. Perhaps it reminded them of the Clinton Administration. Granted, many had already imbibed those opinions from their Tulpa, Hillary Clinton’s super hawkish campaign promises the year before.
But what was the reason Hillary lost to Obama in 2008 (in a campaign far nastier than the 2016 primary against Sanders)? That she was too much like Bush and McCain. Of course, so was Obama secretly but he hid it at that time. These opinions had passed the point of heyday. Liberals no longer fought the Bush establishment, they had become it. Makes you wonder how much of that old Gen X coolness they had in 2005 was all just show. Do they really just believe in Team Blue Yay, Team Red Boo and not care about actual policy? It is looking more and more like it every passing year.
Could an average liberal today hold those same positions about distrusting the media and intelligence agencies that they once had? After staging larger protests for Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions than for any actual substantive cause they believe in that was trampled on then, the answer seems to be no. Question any state narrative and you are a ‘conspiracy theorist’ as if uncritically reported false claims about Tonkin Gulf, Iraqi WMDs, and Libyan Viagra Militia never happened.
The ultimate article of faith for these people seems to be RussiaGate. A farcical conspiracy theory in its own right but one supported by influential actors within the state. It is constantly used as a litmus test to affirm loyalty to the state and to what is considered respectable discourse in the media ecosystem. I have consistently and since the very beginning called these claims either exaggerated or fully bogus, as can be seen going through the archives on this site. A clearly designed program to ingratiate liberals and democratic party partisans into being a strong support base for neoconservative policies and spending priorities they once would have opposed. Last week, this story that was hyped for years finally and obviously collapsed. Granted, if you had read the book ‘Shattered’ back in 2017 like I had, you could have predicted this turn of events easily, but apparently most had not or missed the part where its revealed Podesta and company cooked up the whole thing to excuse their epic, historic, and humiliating surprise loss to a carnival barker.
There have been no mea culpas from the RussiaGate obsessed media for this. Not even from the supposedly objective news organizations that Very Serious People take as objective purveyors of truth. There has only been a constant doubling down akin to faith based sectarianism, as much with the NPR set as with the cable news people. Russel Brand, of all people, brought up the collapse of Russiagate and faced an immediate swarm of liberals denouncing him and comparing him to Alex Jones.
These are not the liberals I grew up with.
Often I think, maybe its me that has changed. Liberals are the first to accuse people they used to get along with of changing when they no longer tow the BlueAnon line, as I have seen happen to the few journalists who have kept their sanity amid a profession riddled with Trump Derangement Syndrome. I have, in fact, changed a lot since then myself. But the core of me is not that different. I was then a realist (if far less sophisticated) of a socially libertarian but still community policy oriented bent who really *really* hated neoconservatives and theocrats. Those things are all still true today. My only really big change are my views on economics, which have become far more left-wing now than they were then. This means the liberal canard that everyone who crosses them is a secret conservative now cannot possibly carry water. Sure, I am philosophically if not politically ‘conservative’ (anti-progressive would be a far better term for me) in many ways, but this was also true back then. So it is they who have changed. For the worse. This makes it far more difficult for them to keep making that ‘lesser evil’ argument they are so fond of. At this point, Pompeos and Cottons aside, I fear more about their vision of the world than the other guys on more than a few issues.
I blame supposedly trustworthy news organizations like NPR more than most things for this shift. The ones with a supposedly objective front who lie via omission and selective fact presentation while being unaware that what they think is sensible is an ideological as any other position. Gwen Ifill’s death removed one of the last straight-up great reporters and the space she left behind has been filled by utter mediocrities and occasionally outright malignancies (such as the apparently Thalmor-named Yamiche Alcindor who serves, perhaps, as the ultimate example of a commissar figure in the guise of an objective reporter). I will always champion the right of PBS to exist, with its excellent science and nature documentaries, but every year since about 2016 it has continually lost what once made its news section great. NPR, with its strange frenetic jazz and morphine addict-sounding monotonal inflections, has always been a waste and could be cut for the benefit of taxpayers. Add on to this the ultimate irony of the fans of these state-funded media enterprises being the first criticize foreign countries with powerful state media organs as always being suspicious or illegitimate and…well, you get the point.
While it is one’s credulousness that is ultimately responsible, the unholy alliance of liberals and media sets the tone for so much of the cesspit of dialogue we are forced to wade through regularly today. This has an extra and hysterical quality because it is becoming increasingly apparent that, philosophically speaking, the 21rst Century has not been kind of the ideology of liberal-humanism. America’s special role of spreading its mode of government and its ideals around the world have led to instability and sectarian conflict, as well as given its rivals strong cards to play as reactive oppositional forces. Inevitable results of overreach for any hyper-expansionist state, regardless of its self-proclaimed ideology. Populist causes of both substantive and non-substantive issues rebel constantly at home. Supposed expertise leads to nothing but decaying infrastructure, declining living standards, and perpetual imperial expansion to benefit only defense contractors and ideologues who wish to play missionary. The market does not liberate but enslaves. Social media no longer serves a counter-cultural role as it did in the Aughts but is now a rigid tool of world wide homogenization into Anglo-American culture wars. The liberal dream is dying because it succeeded. We are now atomized little market-humanists screaming into echo chambers and regulated by human resources rhetoric.
They weren’t supposed to be the bad guys. History wasn’t supposed to keep going. But they are and it did. They cannot allow themselves to question the ideology they have buried so much of their life into, so they lash out, defiant and angry. How dare the very real forces of the disaffected interrupt brunch? Don’t those unwashed masses know that it is the liberals who are always on The Right Side of History?™ Steven Pinker is there to provide the citations to the thesis, you know.
And Baghdad Bob would be so proud of them for holding the line doggedly in the face of reality.