The Left and Right Are Not Equal, No Matter How Many Instigators Cry “Both Sides”

Matt Taibbi’s latest piece, The Left is Now the Right, misses the point in our political divide. In arguing that the Left and Right have “traded villainous cultural pathologies,” he conflates citizens and social unrest with lawmakers and policy. This is common malpractice in political punditry that serves to obscure the real crisis of our time: Right-wing radicalization at the highest levels of government.

“Things we once despised about the right have been amplified a thousand-fold on the flip,” he writes, noting that it’s not “Podunk school boards under assault by junk science and crackpot theologies, but Princeton University, the New York Times, the Smithsonian, and a hundred other institutions.”

There may be some truth to that, and the trend should be explored. But by framing his essay as a matter of Left and Right — terms synonymous with Democrat and Republican — he draws a false equivalence and misleads readers. Unlike the Republican Party, which is controlled by junk science and crackpot theologies, the Democratic Party is not steered by universities and museums or whatever institutions Taibbi warns threaten democracy.

I’m disappointed Taibbi would succumb to the distractions that fuel “both-sides” thinking. He used to see through the culture wars. His 2010 piece in Rolling Stone, The Truth About the Tea Party, proved to be one of the most prescient warnings of the political movement that defines this era. But now he’s trying too hard to be an equal opportunity offender, and in his quest has been sucked into irrelevant societal grievances.

Taibbi has become a reactionary centrist, glossing over critical distinctions in order to insist that both sides present an equal threat.

Extremism exists outside the party

I agree that there’s too much virtue signaling in corners of the Left. Peaceful protest is admirable, but “purity culture” is dangerous to the Progressive movement. But these debates are separate from Democratic leadership, even as the party has moved left and championed inclusivity.

There isn’t a single Democrat in Congress who supports “defunding” the police, despite Republican propaganda talking points. One member, out of 279, called for a single department to be dismantled. The rest are focused on reprioritizing and rebuilding communities in effective ways.

Contrast that with the Republican Party, which is run by Donald Trump and Tea Partiers who continue to exploit racism and actually reject science and expertise while campaigning on fear and division. They’ve tried to defund the social safety net and have successfully closed down polling stations, showing the power of right-wing extremism as a guiding force of the larger mission.

There’s also the fact that Trump is the ultimate purveyor of “cancel culture,” an irony that seems to escape his remarkably tone-deaf cult.

Moreover, the Left base isn’t a monolith like the Trump Right. It’s not rooted in personality and responsive to an individual but rather defined by a diverse coalition and built on ideas, each of which happens to conflict with Trumpism. That’s another important distinction between the two sides, as it unravels the idea that everyone on the left can be defined by a single term.

The Left doesn’t operate in a vacuum

I’m a Democrat, yet I break from certain views often aligned with the left. I think Colin Kaepernick’s NFL shunning had less to do with his belief itself than the locker-room distraction he became as a result of the demonstration. I think ESPN obsessed too much over Caitlyn Jenner in 2015. And I don’t want to silence any speech or rush to disqualify another’s views. In fact I’m often at odds with these types of liberals, the ones most likely to refrain from voting.

The point is, the Left isn’t a single-minded force, despite the narrative that Fox News pushes and which Taibbi seems to believe. The Right projects its own cult hood onto anyone who lives outside of it, painting everyone into one of two corners to create a tidy Us vs. Them divide. But we shouldn’t accept this false framing.

Liberal backlash followed the rise of Trump

Now that we’ve established that liberal extremism exists outside the Democratic Party, we can examine its origins with a clear mind.

Taibbi never considers that these societal trends could be a result of a backlash to Trump. This context offers a more nuanced understanding of it all. If a charlatan rises on the power of white resentment, there’s bound to be an opposite reaction. So this trend on the Left shouldn’t shock any observer, even if they find much of it troubling.

The Right created Donald Trump and any ensuing liberal backlash since both stem from extremism, which accelerated on the Right during the Obama-era. The Tea Party rise joined forces with right-wing propaganda to create Trump. And his election, followed by the Republican corruption it exposed, sparked a response that not only pushed the Democratic Party left but also increased sensitivity around social issues.

Failing to recognize the root cause of our political divide — or failing to distinguish between an extreme that exists outside the party vs. inside — is key to casting equal blame on both sides of the political spectrum. And it’s wrong.

Challenge cultural pathologies and push back on extremism, but don’t frame the argument as Left vs. Right. They’re not equal — and such lazy thinking masks the larger picture.

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