Episode 84: How Claims of “Sowing Discord” Silence Criticism of Power

Citations Needed | July 17, 2019 | Transcript


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed and, of course, you can become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. This, everyone, is our final episode of Season Two of Citations Needed. We after this one will be taking a wee break from the podcast grind for the rest of the summer.

Adam: In the meantime we will have some News Briefs for the Patreon subscribers but we will be back in September with fresh new episodes after we have our little summer recharge.

Nima: Yeah, it’s been a really amazing two years. We cannot thank our listeners enough. Obviously we do that at the end of each episode, but you know we just wanted to start this final episode of the season by thanking you all. We obviously would not have a show without the people listening to it. So we have managed to put together 85 full length episodes — this is listed as 84, we actually have done 85 full-length episodes — and more than 40 News Briefs and, yeah, putting out newsletters and it’s been really great. So thank you to everyone who has been listening.

Adam: Thanks a lot. We really appreciate it. I’m super excited to come back to season three stronger, faster, bigger like The Six Million Dollar Man.

Nima: That’s right.

Adam: I’m 55 years old, apparently. That’s why my references are from the Seventies. But anyway, we really do appreciate it and we’re excited to jump into today’s episode.

Nima: Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticizing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Twitter, we are told, “plays into the hands of Trump.” Russians are using Black Lives Matter and anti-fracking activists to quote “sow discord” end quote, insists CNN. We must quote “be united” end quote, rather than “divided.”

Adam: Everywhere we turn we are told by high status pundits that we shouldn’t air our criticisms of power at this particular moment or with this particular degree of severity lest our mutual enemies exploit those divisions to empower themselves.

Nima: We are told again and again that progressives criticizing party leaders is helping Trump. That fighting Trump’s racism is merely quote “playing into his hands”. We shouldn’t attack other democrats in the primary too harshly because that would just quote “give us four more years of Trump.”

Adam: But there’s a major problem with this theory: there’s no actual evidence that intra-party fighting helps lose elections or assist the quote unquote “other side”. And in many ways, we have anecdotal indicators it may actually help engage voters and make them feel listened to, rather than treated as agency-free partisan plankton whose only value to the democratic system is checking a box every two years.

Nima: Later on the show, we’ll be joined by Maximillian Alvarez, writer and host of the podcast Working People. His writing can be found in The Baffler, Current Affairs, In These Times, Truthout, and Boston Review. He’s currently a dual-PhD candidate in History and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan.

[Begin Clip]

Maximillian Alvarez: This is kind of the greatest trick the centrists you know ever pulled is they conflated centrism as somehow as moderation. There is such a thing as radical centrism and we’re seeing it because what makes something radical has everything to do with how people conceive of and utilize power. And this is kind of what we’re seeing. We’re seeing two vying factions within the Democratic Party leverage their means of power, you know, against each other and to try to do so in ways that will benefit the people that they are representing and will benefit their own political and class interests.

[End Clip]

Adam: So there’s been a lot of talk lately about the extent to which “The Squad” is now the face of the Democratic Party. This is congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley who are women of color, who they’re called The Squad. Their politics are actually quite divergent, but Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar and probably the more actual progressives. For the purposes of this episode, we’ll talk specifically about Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar since that’s really who Fox News obsesses over. Fox News is absolutely obsessed with Ocasio-Cortez, as we’ve talked about on the show. But over the past few weeks, there’s been a back and forth between the democratic quote unquote “establishment,” Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, your kind of traditional centers of liberal opinion making, MSNBC so forth. And Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, who had a back and forth in Politico and via Maureen Dowd, a couple of Mauree Dowd columns, where Nancy Pelosi basically said Twitter’s not that important Ocasio-Cortez needs to sort of get in line. Ocasio-Cortez shot back and basically made the claim that she’s going to fight for what she’s going to fight for and she’s gonna use Twitter whenever she wants because it’s her main outlet. So long story short, the response to this led to a lot of both sides takes about how liberals need to sort of come together and make sure that they don’t quote unquote “divide the party” or “help the other side.” And this was something one saw over and over again. So the impetus was this really facile tweet by Jon Favreau from Pod Save America, who’s the king of facile tweets. He said, quote, “Hey, all you Democrats who work in Washington together: maybe get off Twitter, get into a room next week, and work out your problems like adults because DONALD FUCKING TRUMP IS PRESIDENT.” So this is sort of great RT bait for the kind of low information liberals. 28,000 retweets. But this was not an unoriginal sentiment. This was extremely common.

Nima: Right. So the entire idea here that we’ve seen both in social media but also then in the pages, you know, opinion pages, news columns, straight news that talks about the now growing feud between namely Pelosi and The Squad and they mix and meld and they wind up being all this mush of saying the same thing, which is this: Air these party grievances in the back room, don’t do it in public because god forbid anyone actually talks about real things because there’s a bigger demon out there and it’s Donald Trump. That’s the crux of all of this, saying that if you actually address divisions in the party, you are then breaking down the party itself and clearly that will just be exploited and then there will be no real opposition. So, one example of this that we saw fairly recently, this is from July 11th, 2019 in The Boston Herald and it was a piece with this headline, “Pelosi feud with AOC, Pressley sows division among Democrats.” And the article as you can imagine, as we’ve been discussing, scolds The Squad for quote “sowing division at a time when the Democratic Party needs to project a unified — and more centrist — front to retain its majority and knock Donald Trump from office, political observers say.” End quote. The article goes on to say this, “While other minority representatives have jumped to the freshmen lawmakers’ defense, political experts tell the Herald that Pelosi is doing what she needs to do to maintain Democratic control of the House.” So these political experts that are then quoted, referenced in this article, there are three of them and they are in turns an analyst at Brookings, a DC democratic operative who previously worked in the Bill Clinton White House on the National Economic Council and thirdly, a University of Virginia professor who has an electoral newsletter called Crystal Ball, which incidentally in 2016, predicted that Hillary Clinton would win 322 electoral college votes soaring to victory. Uh, that obviously did not happen. And yet these are the political experts quoted by The Boston Herald saying that The Squad needs to get in line, needs to be more, not only unified with the party, but explicitly more centrist. So one example of this, Patrick Dorton, who’s the democratic operative called a strategist, of course, in the piece, is quoted calling Ocasia-Cortez and others quote “bullies” and advises this quote, “If the Democratic Party wants to win in 2020, they need to be on the same team. And right now, that’s Pelosi’s team.” End quote. Incidentally, Dorton is the same person who earlier this year told The Herald that Beto O’Rourke is quote, “the only person on the Democratic side that’s as nimble as Trump” and also said that quote “the closest thing to (Bill) Clinton and Obama in this field. He’s the only candidate that talks in terms of creating a movement. I think there has been a tremendous hunger for a Beto candidacy.” So anyway, that’s that guy. And so yeah, the article is all about getting in line, playing ball and not stepping out from the establishment line.

Adam: Well, right. So there is an empirical question here. The first thing, which we’ll expand upon later, is the idea that people use centristism interchangeably with things voters like. This is basically conventional wisdom and I’m excited to talk to our guest Max about it because there’s this idea that that which is centrist is inherently popular and more agreeable.

Nima: Well, the idea that like most people live in the middle, right?

Adam: Yeah.

Nima That that means that that’s popular because it’s been established as center.

Adam: Which is just not true. Some far left-wing things, quote unquote “far left-wing” things poll well, some don’t poll well. Some far right-wing things poll well. People are not really one way or the other. You know, obviously Medicare for All depending on how you ask the question is extremely popular. That’s considered a far left thing in several of the columns we’ll reference today. But then there’s the second question, which is an empirical one, which is, is there any evidence that intra-party fighting weakens a party? There really isn’t. So Julia Azari who writes for FiveThirtyEight, among other places, she’s a researcher, she mentioned on Twitter that the evidence for whether or not intra-party fighting hurts is actually quite mixed. There was a Stanford study, cause I want to engage the actual research into this, but there was a Stanford study in May of 2016 — conveniently timed — that showed that quote, “Bitter primaries hurt high-profile candidates’ chances in the general election.” And basically what this says is, so it’s using bitter interchangeably with competitive. The problem with this study and others is they don’t account for, and Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight came to the same conclusion citing this research as well, that if you have a primary with a lot of candidates, it actually hurts the party in the general election. The connection is somewhat spurious, but the data set was large enough to show causality. But what it doesn’t account for is the severity of the criticism or the kind of existential nature of the criticism. And obviously on a presidential level, we have lots of counterfactuals. The Republican primary in 2016 was way more competitive and way more severe and way more hurtful than the democratic one, yet the Republican won, of course he didn’t win the most votes, but he won.

Nima: And you could argue that he won exactly because it was so contentious and so ugly.

Adam: Sure.

Nima: And so bitter. That made him more popular. I’m not saying that is evidence that that should always happen. But —

Adam: Yeah, but, and then of course you have the 2008 primary between Obama and Clinton. Obama, of course, that was very bitter. Obama ended up winning. This idea of bitter is also bizarre to me. But then there’s a separate question of just generalized intra-party fighting, having a negative effect. And to this point, as Azari points out, there’s not really a lot of evidence of this. So there is a piece of dogma that the Jon Favreaus and the Neera Tandens of the world assert, which is that intra-party fighting helps the Republicans and there isn’t really any evidence that supports that and that is an empirical claim, right? It is an empirical claim to say ‘don’t argue in front of the children it’s going to help Republicans.’ Now then there’s the glaring fact, which I also brought up to Azari on Twitter and she sort of conceded was definitely a factor, is that um, wouldn’t it be extremely convenient for the people who run the Democratic Party, the people who are in the leadership, the chairs, the media, the sort of Center for American progress, who get all the big donors who’ve been running the party for the last 20 years, wouldn’t it be extremely convenient for them if criticizing them per se also helped Republicans. That would work out pretty well for them. Right? Cause then you could basically deflect any criticism to say you’re helping the other side. There’s this kind of wartime mentality where in effect, and this is a question I’ve asked on Twitter on numerous occasions, there is in effect never a good time to criticize Democrats. I actually made a graphic just for Twitter that says “When you can criticize democratic party leaders/orthodoxy” and it’s a circular loop, you can’t do it before presidential and midterm elections because that helps the Republican party obviously, you can’t do it right after presidential and midterm elections cause that’s sour grapes and mean spirited and you can’t do it when the GOP is trying to do evil shit because we got to rally around the team and any blue will do. And what I argue is that there’s basically a two day period that’s never revealed to us in which we’re permitted to criticize the Democrats —

(credit: Adam Johnson)

Nima: Unless there’s a school shooting then and then you can’t.

Adam: Yeah. And so this seems very convenient and I asked this question in earnest one time. There was Brian Fallon, who was Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager and sort of all around doofus, he doesn’t strike me as a particularly bright guy, he said in July of 2017 about two years ago he said, um, there was an article in Mic that said Kamala Harris rising democratic star faces a problem, the Bernie wing of the party is skeptical of her, which basically went by and said progressive criticisms of Kamala Harris. And he said, quote, “If you are attacking Harris right now, the problem is you, not her.”

Nima: (Laughs.) Which is completely meaningless.

Adam: Right. So then I asked him, I said, serious question, when is an acceptable time to criticize her? Like give me a specific date. Like what date would be good? Cause you can’t do it three years before the general election, two years before the primary. You can’t do it like, when would be an okay time to do it? He of course never got back to me. I emailed him, I said, what time period can I criticize Kamala Harris? He never got back to me. The reality of course is there is no right time period. These are just ways of shutting up criticism. Because if you’re a partisan hack, if you’re like Brian Fallon or if you blew the most wide open layup in the history of elections, two things he’d want to do more than anything are blame a foreign government and say, ‘oh well you’re not really allowed to criticize people who are running things because doing so per se helps the Republican Party.’ Again, that seems like the stars sort of aligned really well for that one.

Nima: It really works out for the people in power to say that any possible criticism of what they’re doing is gonna really hurt everyone. It winds up being very convenient. And so you see this argument time and again. Adam Best, for example, there was a tweet in August of last year, 2018, that said, you know, this is when David Hogg, one of the survivors of the Parkland shooting, this is the tweet “To David Hogg and others on the left criticizing Nancy Pelosi: now is not the time. If we don’t win this election” — this is before the midterms — “there will be no debate over who should be the Democratic Speaker. Let’s suspend the infighting long enough to win the midterms. Then we can have that conversation.” An even more recent tweet that perfectly exemplifies this concept is one from Caitlin Flanagan, long time contributor to The Atlantic, and a generally useless person with routinely bad takes like ‘Lindsey Graham used to be a good man’ and ‘children who don’t want to grow up on a burning planet should be more polite to Dianne Feinstein,’ stuff like that. So on July 19th, 2019 Flanagan wrote on Twitter this quote, “If I ran the Democratic Party, I would say look, these aren’t normal times. We’ve got a situation here. So this time we’re not going to primary these people into the stratosphere. We’re all voting for X. Everyone else is dropping out.” End quote. The same day Flanagan also tweeted this quote, “I just asked a Minnesotan how Omar could have been elected: Oh…they were probably just being polite.” End quote.

Adam: And so these are, these takes always get a lot of retweets. They’re always very popular when they’re written in column form because they superficially they sort of sound good, right? Like, ‘Let’s stop arguing.’

Nima: Like, ‘Tone it down, come together. We have a bigger fight before us.’

Adam: The problem is that the thing that AOC and others were criticizing Pelosi over was her completely ineffectual leadership in the face of Trump. And so if you care about something, you would criticize its leadership. And to not do so is to effectively conflate the thing you care about with the leadership. So even if, and you know, forget what’s good for the Democrats, which is of course a separate question from what’s good for society, right? But assuming it’s even granting that, what’s good for the Democrats is your primary objective, if I’m a Bears fan, the idea that I would never criticize the coach would be unheard of. Right? Like part of being a fan of the Bears is I would say, ‘Oh yeah, this coach we have is an idiot, we need to get a new one.’ But to criticize leadership is to them is per se, to criticize the thing that they’re leading.

Nima: Right. But there’s also a kind of inherent flaw in this argument, which is when the critique has to do with the leadership of say, an opposition party, for example, and the critique is that the leadership is ineffectual, is not doing what it needs to do in the face of such a horrible threat, in the face of authoritarianism, of fascism, of white supremacy, etcetera, etcetera, whatever it may be, that critique is fundamental to the argument of how to then win against that. So basically for the people in power to say, ‘no, no, no, no, don’t critique our tactics that you think aren’t going to let us win. Let’s just come together. We’ll win. And then we can have that conversation.’ It’s like, no, no, no, we don’t think you’re going to win that way. The whole point is how best to win and the way that you figure that out is not by shutting up and letting the people who keep losing all the time do that again and again.

Adam: Yeah, and it’s not an original way to kind of rally the troops. Right? So this is something that goes back a very long time.

Nima: Here is a quote from a British newspaper from an article called “Dividing the Party.”

“There is no exhortation so common or so natural at every contested election as the exportation not to divide the party. At present it is heard almost exclusively on the Liberal side, but this is explained by the fact that a party which has been long in opposition is sure to be better disciplined than a party which has been long in power. The latter is constantly tempted to try experiments how far it may venture in the direction of independence. It has a variety of objects in view, and some of these may be dearer to this or that minority among its members than the keeping their adversaries out in the cold. The party in opposition may have a similar variety of objects, but its members usually look to gaining them by the action of their leaders when in office. Experience has not taught them how little leaders can do in this way; or, if they did learn the lesson once upon a time, they have long ago forgotten it. At the beginning of an election the discipline of the Liberal party is usually very bad. Two or three candidates nominally holding the same views, or at all events calling themselves by the same name, come forward to contest one seat after another, and it is then that the cry of the liberal agent waxes louder: Don’t divide the party. If you are a candidate withdraw at once, provided that there is a man in the field who can show more promises than you can. If you are an elector, be sure and give your vote to the man who is most likely to win. Never mind if there is another candidate whom you think better of. Personal preferences must not be set against party interests.”

So that long quote, forgive me, is from the Pall Mall Gazette published in London, England on February 9th, 1874.

Adam: Yeah. Specifically the line, “Never mind if there is another candidate whom you think better of. Personal preferences must not be set against party interests.” Is basically a Neera Tanden quote, right? It’s sort of saying your purity politics, your personal preferences are not important, what matters is winning. Again, I’m, I’m sort of open to the idea that in the abstract this could be true, but it’s just this knee jerk, brain dead thing people say when they don’t want you to criticize the party. So in 1980 there was an article by James Restin in The New York Times “Democrat liberals divide party.” This is when liberals was the far left term. “The Democratic liberals have contempt for Gov. Reagan. They are almost vicious in their criticism of President Carter. They have given up on Sen. Kennedy.” So the piece would go on and sort of generally just complain about, again, what at that point was liberals. Liberals were sort of the far left of the party because Carter had abandoned them. There’s not a lot of statistical evidence or any at all that progressives or people who identified as liberals abandoned Carter in that election or stayed home. This is something that you hear a lot in 2016, that Sanders voters stayed home and helped elect Trump. There’s of course, as we’ve talked about on the show, just as a statistical point of reference, this isn’t true. In 2008, 25 percent of Hillary Clinton supporters in the primary voted for the Republican John McCain. In 2016, half of that, or less than half of that, 12 percent of Sanders supporters voted for Trump. So these are just kind of cliches that are thrown out. There’s also an article in 2000 that’s from The Montclair Times in New Jersey called “Eat Your Own.”

Nima: (Laughs.) Right.

Adam: So in 2000 there’s an editorial from The Montclair Times where the editorial board is scolding Jon Corzine for running too aggressive of attack ads on his competitor, Governor Jim Florio, and it goes into the, the origins of the term “eat your own” where it talks about and it consistently refers to Corzine as being cannibalistic, where they’re helping the Republicans. Jon Corzine of course ended up winning anyway. So here we have 1874, 1934, 1980, 2000. The idea that competitive primaries or intra-party criticism are helping the Republicans is a very old line.

Nima: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you see all of this language still currently, like for example, just late last year when someone on Twitter said, you know, “if Chuck Schumer can’t get Manchin on board and unite this caucus in a No vote on” the, this was for the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, “there is little reason he should remain Senate leader.” That’s very, I think, a pretty normal thing to say. And yet the response was this from the Neera Tanden: “Yes eating our own is the smartest thing to do right now.” So, you know, you see the same language, the ‘don’t divide the party,’ ‘don’t eat your own,’ ‘don’t argue in public,’ ‘this should all be done in secret,’ you know, and you go all the way up to like just recently, July 17th, 2019 Thomas Friedman in The New York Times wrote this:

“Just nominate a decent, sane person, one committed to reunifying the country and creating more good jobs, a person who can gain the support of the independents, moderate Republicans and suburban women who abandoned Donald Trump in the midterms and thus swung the House of Representatives to the Democrats and could do the same for the presidency. And that candidate can win!

“But please, spare me the revolution! It can wait. Win the presidency, hold the House and narrow the spread in the Senate, and a lot of good things still can be accomplished. ‘No,’ you say, ‘the left wants a revolution now!’ O.K., I’ll give the left a revolution now: four more years of Donald Trump.”

Adam: And so you know Thomas Friedman’s a billionaire, right? He’s married to a billionaire. We know this because you can look at stock options. He is not supporting the centrist candidate because he, this is just a variation on the inexplicably Republican best friend we talked about in Episode 69 with Ashley Feinberg, he’s not genuinely worried that having a “radical left” quote unquote nominee will lose the election. He’s just supporting the thing he supports. He’s a centrist. He’s a capitalist. He goes on to say that in the article, what are the odds that it happens that what he personally thinks is important, what personally helps his bottom line as a capitalist, as someone who I’m sure has lots of money in different trusts and investment funds and portfolios, what is more likely? That he supports a candidate who happens to align with his class interest or he happens to support a candidate or he supports a candidate who he thinks is the best for the Democrats, and that those happen to be the same thing? And there’s another issue here that we really don’t talk about, which is that when Ocasio-Cortez and the quote unquote “Squad” were complaining, were pushing back and arguing that the attacks that Pelosi was leveling against them, and of course Trump later expanded on, were racially charged or racist, one of the sort of savvy takes was to say, and Jake Tapper did this by laundering some anonymous democratic official, is that when we talk about race, that Trump wins. It emboldens Trump. That when we talk about race or racism, right?

Nima: Right. If you’re going to talk about Trump’s rallies and like all the things that Trump actually says about people when it has to do with race, then you’re just gonna concede the debate to him because you know, then you’re just playing into his hands all over again.

Adam: So the savvy line, and this is something that several people advanced, is that Trump wants to raise the profile and center The Squad, Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, because if he can do that, he can run against him in 2020 right? This is kind of the, David Axelrod made this point. He was sort of a savvy, you know, former campaign aide to Obama. Now the problem with this is two fold. Number one, Trump’s going to be a racist dipshit no matter what Democrats do. It doesn’t matter. Two, if you say the Democrats shouldn’t center things like conversations about racism because it quote “plays into the hands of Trump” unquote, you’ve effectively created a heckler’s veto, and for those who don’t know what a heckler’s veto is, it’s a general principle of free speech that you can’t shut down a protest or rally because it may cause violence. Because if you do that, you create a chilling effect on speech and you effectively give a veto power for anyone who’s willing to cause violence. And just the same if you’re going to not talk about things or not be progressive because it may in some eleven-dimensional chess simulation you’ve run on your computer, may help Trump in 2020 than we’ve effectively given Trump control of democratic priorities.

Nima: Because if that fundamental principle of talking about fascism and racism, actual things that are important and you say, ‘well, you can’t talk about those because that’s just going to be exactly what Trump wants. It’s going to rile up his base. It’s going to give him more fodder for his attacks and therefore Ilhan Omar and AOC and Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley,’ etcetera, etcetera, whoever else ‘and immigrants and refugees and any black people and any brown people and any people in this country or other countries,’ like if you talk about anyone’s interests, that would somehow then double back on itself and play into Trump’s hands. ‘Oh, that’s just what they want.’ Then yes. I mean, as you said Adam, like then it is just conceding any, it’s conceding the entire democratic platform and conceding any possible conversation to the very people who want to destroy all of those things.

Adam: We talked about this in the episode about trans rights as a boutique issue. Bill Maher before the election Fall of 2016 said ‘you need to set aside trans issues’ like it’s sort of not important. ‘We need to win this election.’ Right? There’s always some, there’s always some ticking time bomb emergency where minorities have to shut the fuck up because —

Nima: Because there are more important issues to discuss, Adam.

Adam: Yeah, there’s like seven NASCAR dads in some county in Ohio that we have to win or, you know, so, but of course there’s never a right time. There’s never a right time to assert your rights or to have conversations you think are important. What Ocasio-Cortez says to her credit, again, someone who I think is a very good media critic says, ‘I’m going to talk about what I’m going to talk about that’s going to happen regardless of what other sort of 2020 simulation Nate Silver runs or, or some meta conversation about the impact of, of how I’m being quote unquote “elevated.” I don’t give a shit. This is what I was elected to do.’ It’s a far more elegant way of doing politics because then politics becomes not about some sort of meta game theory about what’s gonna read here and what’s going to play there. It’s just about what’s right and it’s about what’s good. And just on a, on a purely practical level, it is so much easier to do that. And secondly, I think it, I do think it reads false. I think voters begin to read false when people have these conversations about how to appeal to this nebulous suburban moms? What did Thomas Friedman say? That like it, this is obviously what you’re calibrating your party to. And I do think that in the aggregate that depresses turnout. It depresses turnout for minorities. You know, if you told minorities, you know, over and over again that-

Nima: That this really isn’t about you because ‘we have bigger fish to fry.’

Adam: Yeah. Then why would I show up? Why would I donate? Why would I campaign if everything we do has to calibrate to this nebulous moderate voter? And I think, and I think that there’s now a movement pushing back against that. And I think those who have built their political careers, the institutional power, and by institutional I mean that in the strictest sense, which is no matter who wins or loses the same people are still in charge of the major pillars of the Democratic Party. That the specter of, ‘don’t criticize me lest you help the Republicans’ is how they’ve, that’s the entire moral authority they have and when you take that away or when you challenge that or when you challenge the premise of electability, then they have nothing else because that’s what they’ve always had.

Nima: Because what you’re actually doing is asking what do you fucking stand for? And when the answer is ‘I stand for poll numbers and dividing my messages based on what audience I’m addressing and who the consultants have told me. This is a key audience. That’s a key audience. Those over there, well they’re with you anyway so don’t worry about it.’ Then it’s not about ideology, it’s about audience and what AOC, as you were saying, is doing is saying ‘no, no, no this is about ideology.’ This is not just about parsing superficial political dividing lines on the, again, completely false premise without evidence that doing this is somehow a losing strategy. That like talking about what is really fucking important, talking about what this society should look like to be totally hokey about it, like real fundamental questions about who the fuck we are. If that’s not important, then nothing’s important. And to claim that that isn’t important because evidence shows that once you do that, you can’t win. It’s just patently false and serves the power structures as they currently are.

Adam: Yeah, it’s cause it’s an empirical claim, right? Which is ‘we win elections.’ Like Pelosi’s moral authority such that it is derived from this, this nebulous idea of both competency, and Chuck Schumer as well, this nebulous idea of competency and winning, but it’s not clear what exactly they’re winning. Okay. They won Obamacare 10 years ago. That was sort of, okay. They lost a thousand seats across the country. Then maybe gained like 50 to a hundred back after the 2018 midterms. Like it’s not clear, if your moral authority derives from competency and winning and you don’t really do either, it’s not clear where the moral authority is being derived from. And I think there’s a genuine idea that these emerging progressive’s can challenge that moral authority because there’s no one behind the curtain. There’s nothing really there. It’s entirely based on its tautology. We’re in power because we’re in power. We’re in power because we’re leaders and you should protect the leader because to criticize us is to provide space for Republicans to win and there’s a real existential questioning of from whence the power comes.

Nima: To discuss this more we’re going to be joined by Maximillian Alvarez, writer and host of the podcast Working People. His writing can be found in The Baffler, Current Affairs, In These Times, Truthout, and Boston Review. Max is currently a dual-PhD candidate in History and Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. He’ll join us in just a moment. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by Max Alvarez. Max, it is great to have you on the show today. Thank you for joining Citations Needed.

Maximillian Alvarez: Hey guys, thanks for having me. Really, really love the show and appreciate the work that y’all are doing.

Nima: Thank you.

Adam: We are discussing the idea of intra-party fighting and the generally accepted conventional wisdom that it hurts the left. Now there’s not a lot of empirical basis for this. There’s some data suggesting primaries with lots of candidates are linked to weakened general election candidates, but there’s not a lot of evidence supporting that the general public arguments inside the party weakens Democrats. We showed how this trope kind of goes back decades, if not hundreds of years, but I want you to talk about what do you think the trope is supposed to do and who do you think had benefits?

Maximillian Alvarez: So I mean, I think the question is way more interesting than like the way we see this play out, you know, in the news, which is more or less, it makes me want to bash my head against a wall. But I think the reasons for why it exists and the reasons for why this is such a go-to tactic for those in power, I think actually has a lot to tell us about the nature of centrist politics. And I mean, I guess like the short answer is that, you know, it’s a, it’s a political tool to silence opposition. Just like the bromides about civility that we hear all the time. And you know, just like in the rush after a mass shooting, you know, when people are rushing to say that that is not the time for politics, even though it’s the time when people are most viscerally motivated to take political action, right? I mean it’s a way to take these, um, kind of political energies that pose some sort of threat to your, your interest and to, you know, convert them into nothing, right? And to package that all up with some vaguely Hallmark-y nice sounding appeals to unity and national character and what have you. I mean, but it is fundamentally a power play. And I think that’s one of the more kind of insidious things is that when we hear it coming from like the democratic establishment and people like Nancy Pelosi, it poses itself as a sort of anti-political tactic, a sort of like, ‘we need to get our ducks in a row and so let’s divert our politics here.’ And so, you know, in a nefarious way poses itself as somehow less political than what Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of The Squad are actually doing. But I guess the first point to make is that it is just as much a political move as anything that The Squad is trying to do. But I mean like, and here’s where things get really interesting though and this is, I think, something that I’ve obsessed over for a while. So I mean, I guess bear with me because I think this does like kind of converge quite a lot with the kind of stuff that you guys talk about on this show, because I think, you know, part of the question that you’re asking is like, why is this popular on an ideological level? Right? You know, like what kind of purpose does this serve for the people and institutions in power? Right? And I joked before that I, um, pretty much make the same three, you know, arguments in everything that I’ve written and everything that I’ve said. And one of them has to do with the fact that history is never a settled thing. Political stasis in the kind of centrist vein that is embodied in these sorts of tactics, it’s an illusion, right? And history only ever, you know, slows down or, or speeds up, but it never stops. And as the old gives way to the new, the battle over who and what gets to define the good is going to continue to rage on. And so that’s, I mean, that’s the context of everything that we’re watching here, right? I mean, it’s kind of easy to forget that like what we’re seeing playing out amidst this progressive wing and this more established wing of the Democrats is taking place at a time of serious and heated political struggle over the very future of this country. The very shape of our society. Right? And it’s not as if, that this battle isn’t always kind of raging on, you know, sometimes the battle is taking place out in the open for everyone to see. Other times it’s um, happening underneath the surface in back rooms and private planes and just generally beneath the facade of business as usual. But you know, history is, like I said, it’s always moving and the conflicts and contradictions between the people and the forces that shape history will eventually boil over. And the facade will inevitably break and a new normal will inevitably settle in over our world. However temporary that may be. And I guess the, you know, the point that I’m trying to make was that, and I, and I’m by no means the only one to make this point. I think most people who consider themselves kind of outside of the political center and that includes people on the left and people on the right, I think most people believe this. And I think that the real point is that as the existing social order breaks apart and eats itself and gives birth to something new, the status quo will not save you. You have to fight for it. You have to fight for, you know, what you want history to be and the shape you want society to take. And I’m not saying that, you know, this means that the democratic establishment is, you know, apolitical or anything because I think the point that I’m trying to make here is that maintaining this sort of fiction of political stasis, maintaining this sort of kind of liberal order is their politics. I mean this is written into everything the democratic establishment is about these days, you know, everything that you guys cover on this show and, and you know, everything that I think drives so many of us on the left nuts. I think it’s right there in the episodes that y’all did on, um, you know, the fetishization of civility or the episode that you did, um, on The West Wing with uh, with my man Luke Savage. The proud embrace of Centrism with a capital “C” I think really tells you everything that you need to know. They see themselves as the ordain maintenance crew of political status, right? They are there to manage the contradictions between the left and the right. And as they see it, their highest charge is to adjust the knobs and release the pressure on a machine that is basically falling apart before our eyes. And I mean, there are many things in our political landscape that I just really can’t wrap my head around, but I can understand that. Right? I can at least understand and appreciate where this liberal ideological compulsion comes from. You know, because if you can, at least for a second, bracket off the class dynamics, the imperial motivations and then colonial foundations of American liberal democracy and that’s no small task-

Nima: Okay, but granted-

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, granted (laughs) I’ll give you that. But if you can somehow look past that, right? You can see why centrists today are invested in preserving this political economic system that nominally represents things like the rule of law, basic individual rights, freedom of the press, yada yada, yada. I mean, I get why they want what they want and I get how this ravenous obsession with silencing the fringes fits into this kind of political worldview and the, you know, the strategy that centrists like Nancy Pelosi had developed to implement it. Now, from my own personal standpoint, I think that this is just flat out a bad political strategy. And I think that, you know, it’s total badness in many ways stems from the fact that it is based on a truly hubristic notion that history has no more surprises left in store for the great American project. Even if they won’t acknowledge it or even say it out loud, you know, centrists have been powering through as if they were absolutely certain that this too will pass. Right? That the structure of what they believe American liberal democracy to be will hold.

Nima: Right.

Maximillian Alvarez: It’s a very, you know, Francis Fukuyama End of History kind of conceit. But even, you know, regardless of what I personally think about whether or not there’s a good strategy, the fact of the matter is that this kind of strategy can only really work if the contradictory political forces that you are trying to manage and trying to massage into some kind of enduring centrist compromise, they have some semblance of a shared political principle. If everyone involved buys into some foundational belief that the tenets of American liberal governance are worth holding onto and that’s just not the case. Right? You know, like Sam Adler-Bell and Matthew Sitman have a great new podcast on the American right, and it’s called Know Your Enemy. And they actually had a really great episode recently about the rise of illiberal conservatism. And I think they do a great job of showing how conservative politics today has become increasingly unmoored from any principal attachment to the tenets of liberal democracy. And if that’s the case, then the centrist establishment really is bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Adam: Right.

Maximillian Alvarez: And I think that this speaks to another episode that you guys did, you know, on the hollowness of hypocrisy. Right? And that’s something that I’ve talked about a lot before as well. You know, I think I even joked on another podcast last year that it’s just sad and pointless when centrists call someone like Mitch McConnell a hypocrite and whine that he’s like, you know, cheating at democracy. And I’m like, you know, they’re not, they’re not cheating at democracy. They just don’t believe in it. Right? And, and you know, I think the real kicker here is that, you know, a lot of this is kind of the end stage result of the new democratic ethos that took hold after Bill Clinton, after the end of the Cold War. You know, when, when the Fukuyama End of History thesis really became a thing. And maybe you know, that gives a little credence to the argument I’m trying to make here however long winded it is, but like we all know that the strategy Democrats struck upon after the Reagan Revolution was basically to beat Republicans by being Republicans.

Adam: Yeah. That was the big brain genius breakthrough they had. I want to take it back real quick to this ideological regime that really is at work here when we have these debates that I kind of, and we’ve all had these conversations, people who are not extremely involved in politics or being online, I think it’s fair to say, and I’m making a generalization, but I think it’s completely fair to say that there is a conventional wisdom that’s shared by the majority of people in the United States that what is good for the establishment Democrats is interchangeable with that which wins elections. That which is quote unquote “moderate” is interchangeable with that which wins elections. And we touched on this earlier in this episode, but I want to really drill down here because we’ve all had this conversation with people where they’re saying, you know, ‘It’s important to elect someone like Biden or Tim Kaine or someone who is sort of normal and not insane and that they’re not going to go through the boutique wishlist of the left like do criminalization of immigration or Medicare for All, these are just radical fringe things that aren’t going to win elections.’ And this is, I think accepted by probably 80 to 90 percent of people. Then when you show them, you say this is not empirically true, that many left-wing positions are actually very popular when they’re presented the right way. Some aren’t. That’s true. But many are and many centrist positions like for example, permanent war are actually very unpopular. Their fucking brain fries. So like the smoke and the sparks go off. So I want to talk about these truisms. To what extent have these axioms of interchangeably using political moderation, which we’ll define as sort of the corporate center with the ability to win elections, to what extent has that made any meaningful normative political conversation almost impossible?

Maximillian Alvarez: A large extent. (Laughs.) Next question. Like, um, no, I, I totally, I totally get what you’re asking cause like I think you’re right in it does kind of have that net effect, right? I mean, because there are kind of like so many inbuilt ways that we have been trained from birth to think about politics and to think about life and society itself as kind of somehow striving towards, um, a balance like in the kind of just boilerplate Marxist view of history. That’s just never the case. Right? And so I think that instead of this logic really providing people with some sort of viable answer to the question, like, what should politics be? Right. You know, it really just convinces them in a way that I think shores up power for the establishment. It convinces them that politics is not of their making. Right? It is not something that happens in the streets. It’s not something that happens in your workplace or you know, in the community organizations that you’re a part of or the relationships that you build. I think it drives people towards accepting this kind of elitist notion that power operates in closed rooms in halls that exist above their heads.

Nima: Well, yeah, I, I think that speaks exactly to this idea of, you know, not in front of the kids, right? Like let’s do this behind closed doors. But fundamentally what that also has to do with is where the people who hold power actually do hold power. Because I think what Pelosi and others are seeing is not only the rise of, you know, a more say ideological, more left-wing of the party, but also people who are actually doing politics where it matters. That even Twitter seems to be what some of this is about. That it’s like Pelosi and Schumer hold court in the establishment back rooms, which is why it’s so threatening that people who have three, four, five million Twitter followers are calling them out on their bullshit in public because that’s not where they are able to wield that similar kind of power.

Maximillian Alvarez: Right. And to pick up on both threads first, you know, just something on the, on the airing dirty laundry thing. I think this gives the whole game away, right? I mean, because anyone who is even remotely earnest about the notion that airing out dirty laundry in the realm of kind of party politics today is somehow going to hurt the party’s cause is living in a fantasy world. Right? I mean like under what circumstances is that dirty laundry not going to make its way, you know, out into the public anyway, right? Like does anyone actually think that Republican strategists or Fox News analysts don’t already know about the divisions in the Democratic Party? Who, but like the most naive of altar boys actually buys this notion that you’re going to be able to keep those things hidden from public view? Or you know, that keeping a lid on ideological divisions within one or two major parties in a massive and diverse country is somehow a worthwhile political strategy. You know, that to kind of in any way be representative of the varying interests and concerns of an immensely diverse and widespread population what that requires is somehow less debate, less discussion and more privacy. Right?

Adam: Right.

Maximillian Alvarez: I mean, like again, I think it gives the game away and reveals just kind of the, the core political nature of centrism, right? The power politics of centrism, right? I mean this is kind of the greatest trick the centrists, you know, ever polled is, is they conflated centrism somehow as moderation. There is such a thing as radical centrism and we’re seeing it because what makes something radical has everything to do with how people conceive of and utilize power. Right? And this is kind of what we’re seeing. We’re seeing two vying factions within the Democratic Party leverage their means of power, you know, against each other and to try to do so in ways that will benefit the people that they are representing and will benefit their own political and class interests.

Adam: To me, the be one of the beauties of, of the intra-party civility appeal is that it’s modular. You can sort of use it for different ends. So like when Jon Favreau and Neera Tanden say, ‘Oh, you know, Democrats need to get off Twitter,’ this is a very popular line. Neera Tanden recently said that “your Twitter bubbles aren’t important” were her words. You know, Neera Tanden is someone who yells at people on Twitter at three o’clock in the morning all the time. And by the way, there is a direct correlation between people who tell you Twitter is not important and people with like 300,000 tweets. Um, but she, um, when people say, ‘oh, get off Twitter,’ the thing is, is that that of course necessarily helps Nancy Pelosi who has no meaningful social media presence. Whereas Ocasio-Cortez can literally curate, if not create news cycles just by virtue of tweeting that clearly you’re asking her to surrender her one mode of power, which is to go directly to the people, to fundamentally, you know, it’s not perfect, but it’s a relatively populist medium. Meanwhile, Pelosi’s leaking stories to Maureen Dowd sort of the, you know, the kind of worst artifact of the old media gossip hacks who spent most of her time smearing Monica Lewinsky. It’s an -ism. It’s a sort of appeal that has multiple uses. There’s always some degree of civility we have to have lest we help the evil Republicans.

Maximillian Alvarez: Right. You know, it’s about what we emphasize and when and how, you know, like that, that can tell us a lot more, you know, about what’s really happening. And I think that this is a case in point. There are obviously ongoing debates about where Twitter and other forms of social media kind of fit into the political landscape. You know, I think the left has had, you know, many of its own debates about this, you know, for a long time. We’ve talked about whether or not Twitter and the Arab Spring, you know, were, could be kind of linked as much as people made it out to be or under what circumstances could social media kind of be an effective organizing tool or yada, yada, yada. But I think the thing to really hammer home here is that, you know, when the left debates the limits of political engagement on social media, right? You know, we’re not having the same debate that people like Pelosi or Maureen Dowd are having. On the surface there are similarities, right? You know, like they’re saying like, ‘oh this, this isn’t where real people are.’ Right? And yeah, of course there, I know the Pew Research Center like came out with the, you know, that study recently, the vast amount of Twitter discourse is generated by like, you know, 10 percent of people. But like you said Adam, like, that doesn’t mean that we can somehow pretend that Ocasio-Cortez’ Twitter account — just like Trump’s — doesn’t generate, you know, news cycles that are then gonna filter out way beyond social media.

Adam: Yeah, of course. What’s funny is when people say the Twitter doesn’t matter thing and obviously as someone who tweets all the time, I have somewhat of a conflict of interest here, but like obviously it matters. The President of the United States largely built his platform on Twitter because it matters to people who matter. Should it matter? I don’t know, whatever. It’s just as arbitrary as the fucking New York Times. Like a random Twitter account with 340 followers is just as qualified to comment on politics as Thomas Friedman that’s for sure. But the idea that like, ‘oh, get off Twitter it’s like lol, it’s Twitter. It’s funny.’ It’s like no, it’s an extremely powerful form because it matters to people who matter. It’s followed by highly motivated political entities and journalists and that disseminates to their respective outlets. So of course it fucking matters. If it didn’t matter, governments and corporations wouldn’t spend millions and millions of dollars to influence it.

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, exactly. And, you know, in terms of where and when it matters and under what circumstances, I mean like the one thing that I wanted to kind of add to that is when the left is discussing how much social media matters, you know, in the lives of everyday working people. Right? That is a fundamentally different discussion than what we’re talking about here in regards to how people use Twitter to kind of drive news cycles, to apply pressure to, you know, public officials and to call out media outlets for their bullshit reporting and so on and so forth. Like that is kind of one part of this. But when the left argues that posting and arguing and sharing and trolling on social media isn’t politics or that it can never be a substitute for organizing our communities in our workplaces, for building relationships and mobilizing people and all that stuff. Right? You know, the implied message is that politics exists and is exercised within the real messy material stuff that shapes the lives of working people, right? And that social media may be a part of that ecology of everyday life, but it’s not like enough on its own to drive the sort of political change that we need. But when people like Pelosi argue that Twitter is not a real sphere of political engagement, you know, the implied message is fundamentally different.

Adam: Well it’s ‘shut the fuck up.’

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, ‘it’s shut the fuck up because politics happens behind closed doors.’

Nima: Right.

Adam: Right.

Maximillian Alvarez: And when Pelosi says that Twitter followers don’t represent real people, right? She is 100 percent not trying to evoke any sense that these real people are active political beings who will meet us with their materialize force of their own ideas. You know, who will meet us with their own organizing and their own participation in civic life. She’s gesturing to quote unquote “real people” to invoke their surrendered political power to her. The point being that we need to accept from the outset that this bashing of progressive representatives is about a top down struggle from Pelosi and others who subscribe to this establishment principle, you know, of shoring up what is by definition a less democratic politics.

Nima: Right. Which actually also speaks to how really so much of this is about setting the terms of the debate in general, what is allowed to be said, what is not allowed to be said. And you know, something we were discussing earlier on the show is the idea of using AOC and Ilhan Omar as obviously punching bags on the right and for Fox News, but that even this kind of blue check mark liberal set saying, well they actually need to be deplatformed, not centered in the main ideological push of the party because — what else, what will this do? — but play into the hands of Trump, right? Play into the hands of the Republicans. It’s giving them more ammunition. You’re going to rile up the racists and they’re now anointed leader. And so basically what you’re doing, and we were talking about this earlier as I said, is you’re granting the heckler’s veto to Trump and to his supporters to say whatever the demarcation of the Democratic Party platform are going to be, it’s not going to be that because that just pisses off our opposition, which is just granting opposition, you know, edit rights over your own platform. Can you Max discuss a little bit of the really insidious implication of this, you know, ‘don’t rile up the beast’ strategy? Why is this popular and where do you see it going from here?

Maximillian Alvarez: This is something that always breaks my brain a bit, right? Because I think that on one hand it’s important to recognize that this is a kind of knee jerk reaction or this can be a kind of tendency that people can express on other sides of the political spectrum, right? Because I remember kind of writing about this for The Baffler like last year when I was at the University of Michigan doing a lot of organizing with grad students and faculty and non University affiliated people, right? We were mobilizing against Richard Spencer coming to campus and doing a lot of great stuff throughout the year. And in the process, we, like other people around the country, especially people on college campuses, we’re actually getting a lot of shit from other people on the left who were, you know, trying to make the argument that anti-fascist, anti-racist politics in this kind of mode is bad.

Adam: Yeah. It’s just helping. It’s giving them publicity, right? Which, by the way, turned out to not be true, using about 75 different indicators.

Maximillian Alvarez: Right. And lo and behold, like Richard Spencer ended his college tour after we met him and his Nazis at Michigan State. But you know, like another thing that blew my mind was that I wrote this piece called “Antifascism and the Left’s Fear of Power.” Right? And so I think the point I’m trying to make is that I’ve seen this on the left as well, right? But it was like, you know, people arguing that by protesting controversial speakers or racist speakers like you know, Charles Murray to Richard Spencer, right? Like using different tactics to express discontent and protect our communities and so on and so forth that this was giving ammunition to reactionaries in the media and in state legislatures who were going to use it to further crack down on student descent, to further kind of implement policies and state laws that would make it easier for students to be expelled for doing this kind of activism and so on and so forth. And the thing that kind of broke my brain is I was like, do you think they haven’t been doing that anyway? Like what world are you living in where this is not the game that has been played for the past thirty even forty, fifty years.

Nima: Right.

Maximillian Alvarez: This goes deep into kind of the launch of like Reagan’s political career in opposition to students at Berkeley. Right? I mean like they’re going to find a boogeyman to justify this politics and it just, it blows my mind to think that it is an effective political strategy to limit your options to what your opposition or even your enemies think is permissible. Right? That is not the point of politics. The point is not to not ruffle the feathers of, you know, racist people who are chanting that Ilhan Omar should be sent back. The point is to beat them and I don’t understand, you know, like why that is such a hard thing to wrap our head around.

Nima: Well, because for, I think, you know, say Pelosi as a catchall term, but you know, Pelosi and other establishment Democrats, the idea is not to beat them. It is to win them over. Right? It’s like those klan rallies that Trump is leading, I don’t think are fundamentally seen in like the centrist community and certainly not in a moderate Republican community — whatever the fuck that is — as being, ‘they need to be ostracized and destroyed politically,’ right? No. Rather, it is, ‘how do we appeal to the majority of that audience to get them to vote for Joe Biden?’ That’s the thought process. It’s not saying ‘no, our votes come from elsewhere. We need to talk to them.’

Maximillian Alvarez: Right. And, and you know, I think it goes back to, um, what I was kind of saying, um, in response to your first question, right? Because the way I even approach this, um, discussion is by trying to kind of understand how the Democrats have placed themselves over the past, you know, three decades and you know, how that corresponds to kind of centrism as an ideology. But I think the reason that I, you know, was trying to kind of walk through that path was because I think that that is fundamental to understanding just why this is such a bad strategy and why in fact it is stoking the very kinds of things that people like Pelosi believe that they are resolving with this sort of tactic. Right? Because, you know, like, like I was saying that the kind of End of History conceit that, you know, the new Democrats would occupy forever and ever more the political center. You know, like what it has done in many ways is kind of set the board for the kinds of, um, forces of reaction that we’re seeing today. And one way I think that hasn’t been talked about much but is starting to enter into our political debates, is that for almost three decades now, the new Democrats have kind of squatted down in what they see as the political middle and they have taken it upon themselves to secure the American machine and to manage the contradictions within it, right? To manage the class contradictions just enough so that rich people stay rich and the rest of us don’t starve and have enough consumeristic choices so that we still believe that we’re free. Right? They are there to manage the contradictions of our imperialist war machine so that our, you know, economic interests are served, but our safety at home isn’t compromised. And you know, they see it as their role to manage the contradictions between political forces on their left and on their right. But like in the process, the Democratic establishment has basically colonized the territory of liberal Republicanism and we’ve now call the people on that side of the party moderates of the Democratic Party. And what this has done is left a vacuum in the Republican Party to be filled by different illiberal conservative factions who have no political or ideological interests in centrist compromise and you are seeing that at Trump’s rallies.

Adam: So I think that’s a really salient point to end on. Before you go, do you want to talk about your podcast real quick and where our listeners can check it out?

Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, so my podcast is called Working People and to tie it to everything that we’ve been discussing here and something that we didn’t get to touch on in the kinds of questions we were answering is that, you know, another dimension of all this is that what we’re also seeing is like kind of the combating forces of class, right? I mean we are seeing Democratic progressive women of color who represent like districts that are incredibly diverse, that have a lot of working class people and the working class is itself, you know, incredibly diverse. It is not just the white working industrial class, it is women, it is people of color, it is people working in the service industry and all of that. All right. And so what we’re also seeing playing out, you know, in this debate and this sort of power struggle is a class struggle, right? A class struggle between people who are seeing some semblance of possibility in The Squad, in this progressive wing that is speaking to matters that are going to directly impact the lives of working people versus you know, a kind of Democratic force that is, you know, for all intents and purposes, more invested in, um, maintaining the, the hegemony of the donor class. Right? And so in that vein, my podcast Working People is a show where I interview workers from around the country. You know, we talk about their lives and their jobs and their dreams and struggles. And I think that if people listened to kind of the life stories of workers around the country a lot of this will, you know, start to, you’ll start to see kind of what the real stakes are of everything that we’re talking about here. I mean these people, I mean like all the people I talk to, like they don’t give a shit about this unity for the sake of unity, right? They want to be able to pay their bills. They want their kids to have healthcare, they want to be able to eat. And I think that if we are going to have any sort of kind of politics that can match the dangerous forces that are mobilizing right now, we need to look to our neighbors, look to our coworkers, talk to each other and that is what we try to do on Working People. You can follow us on Twitter @WorkingPod, we’re on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, all that good stuff. Subscribe on Patreon if you want bonus episodes. I just had a killer one with Adam and, yeah, let’s keep building working class solidarity.

Nima: That is a perfect place to leave it Maximillian Alvarez, writer, PhD candidate, host of the podcast Working People. Writing can be found in The Baffler, Current Affairs, In These Times, Truthout, Boston Review. Max, thank you so much for joining us today on Citations Needed.

Maximillian Alvarez: Thanks so much for having me guys and to everyone listening out there subscribe to Citations Needed on Patreon. We need this work now more than ever.


Adam: I think his interrogation of like the notion of modern centristism with respect to an increasingly illiberal and increasingly not even trying to be liberal Republican Party is, is true. You always want to make sure you don’t make it look like they’re too detached from the current of the Republican Party but it is true that there have been steps in that direction and uh, again, they are still combating and often aligning with a completely non-existent sort of moderate Republican Party that just does not exist.

Nima: The idea that the mainstream centrist wing of the Democratic Party, which I mean, one could even argue there is no centrist-wing, there’s a left-wing and a right-wing of the Democratic Party, so that like the right-wing of the Democratic Party is really just playing like the #NeverTrumper game. They’re just #NeverTrumpers, basically. And they’re like, who’s the Republican candidate that we could pretend is a Democrat that just maintain that shit. And is that going to be Biden or someone like Biden?

Adam: Because their first job is to maintain the system, the civility system and then second to that is winning elections. And so the resistance must talk about norms more than values.

Nima: Exactly. Well that will do it for this season, season two of Citations Needed. It has been yet another incredible year. Very happy to have completed another season. We have done, as I mentioned earlier, now 85 full-length episodes, many, many News Briefs and have just put together a show that I’m really thrilled people like listening to.

Adam: So a little bit of housekeeping, we really pride ourselves in trying to get back to everyone who emails us or messages us. I personally have gotten kind of bad at that lately. So if you’ve emailed us or messaged us in the last few months and we haven’t gotten back to you, I’m sorry, please do it again. I’m going to be spending the next week or two clearing out the inbox and if you have the chance, if you have something you want to comment or an idea or whatever it is, please email us over the next couple of weeks. I will be responding to them personally. We take pride in trying to respond to everybody who reaches out to us. So if we haven’t, I’m sorry and please do again.

Nima: Thank you everyone, as always, for listening to this episode of citations needed. You can follow us on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed. And also before we go, I just want to acknowledge the tremendous work of the folks on the Citations Needed team outside of the Florence, Nima, Adam crew and that includes Trendel, Sophia, Josh, Morgan, Marco, Ethan and Sarah for just helping us do the show. We absolutely cannot do it without that team. It also takes a lot of time and sometimes space to make this podcast. You know, microphones have to sit somewhere. And so we’d also really like to thank our families for allowing us that time and space, we know it is not easy and so endless thanks to them. We also could not do this show, as I say every single episode, without the tremendous support of our patrons through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson and especially of course our critic level supporters. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Production consultant is Josh Kross. Production Assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Research and newsletter by Marco Cartolano. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. Have a great summer everyone. We’ll see you in September.


This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, July 23, 2019.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.