The liberals embrace anti-Trump Trumpism

Liberals are increasingly adopting Trumpist rhetoric and strategies in their reaction to Donald Trump.

Electoral College Protest
Protesters hold signs during a demonstration to protest against the National Electoral College's selection of President-elect Donald Trump, outside the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston [EPA]

“The nation and all of our freedoms hang by a thread and the military apparatus of this country is about to be handed over to scum! Who are beholden to scum! … Those who ignore these elemental, existential facts – Democrats or Republicans – are traitors to this country and will immediately and forever after be held accountable.”

The passage above comes from a clip recorded for GQ magazine by former MSNBC presenter Keith Olbermann. It’s a case study in what we might call “anti-Trump Trumpism”.

Railing against the incoming administration, Olbermann apes the distinctive tics associated with Donald Trump’s media supporters. The steely gaze directly into the camera; the emotional oscillation between chest-puffing bravery and lachrymose despair; the enraged thumps on the table: The whole performance eerily channels Infowars’ Alex Jones, the doyen of the “alt right”.

The resemblance isn’t merely stylistic. When Olbermann insists that a “bloodless coup” has taken place, with conspirators in the political elite jeopardising America’s very existence, he’s arguing against Trump with rhetoric identical to that used by Infowars and to make the case for Trump.

The response to the intelligence dossier released by Buzzfeed illustrates the same phenomenon. The claims by a former spy remain entirely unverified, in a document commissioned by political opponents and riddled with obvious errors. Editor Ben Smith himself acknowledges that “there is serious reason to doubt the allegations”.

Nevertheless, Buzzfeed justifies publication by insisting that Americans should “make up their own minds” – which, for better or for worse, is precisely the rationale that Infowars gives when it covers FEMA camps and chemtrails.

Liberal conspiracies

Indeed, the uncritical embrace of such a dubious artefact by anti-Trump liberals recalls the enthusiasm of Trump’s supporters for the equally lurid “Pizzagate” conspiracy, with progressives revelling in prurient allegations about Trump’s sexual peccadilloes with just as much glee as conservatives once showed for equally fanciful exposes about DNC involvement in “spirit cooking”. 

During the Bush years, the comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” for assertions that could be accepted without facts or evidence simply because they felt true “in the gut”. He was parodying the Right – but truthiness has become integral to liberals embracing anti-Trump Trumpism.

Millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump, one of the most odious candidates of modern times, not because they were hypnotised by Putin but because they thought (wrongly) that the billionaire represented their interests.


According to an Economist/YouGov poll, 50 percent of Clinton voters believe that the Russians somehow manipulated voting tallies – an almost exact replication of the pre-election Trumpite fantasy that widespread voter fraud would deliver the presidency to the Democrats.

In reality there’s precisely zero evidence of Russian ballot tampering. Nevertheless, the truthy notion that Vladimir Putin “hacked the vote” continues to circulate throughout both mainstream and social media, in a curious liberal echo of the “fake news” widely blamed for Trump’s victory.

Olbermann’s feverish rhetoric about a coup rests on intelligence reports about Russian involvement in the election – reports that, as Masha Gessen shows in the New York Review of Books, contain far less than meets the eye. Traditionally, progressives denounced the CIA and other agencies of the Deep State not just because of their role in (to borrow William Blum’s phrase) “killing hope” around the world through assassinations, blackmail, torture and similar methods, but because of their pernicious influence on democracy in the US. 

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In the 1960s, for instance, the FBI circulated a dossier on Martin Luther King’s sex life in an attempt to shame the civil rights leader into suicide (though, in those pre-Buzzfeed times, the press refused to publish it).

Today, liberals laud what they call the “intelligence community” and denounce anyone who questions the agencies’ motives and honesty. What kind of political climate does this create, in an era in which the Deep State has become larger and far more powerful than ever? 

Anti-democratic logic

Anti-Trump Trumpism drives progressives to embrace a militarised nationalism: Think of Olbermann’s hysterical calls for “traitors” to be held to account, a rhetoric reminiscent of the John Birch Society.

In 2003, anti-war progressives were consistently slurred as unwitting agents of Saddam. Back then, though, those hurling charges of treason were still inhibited by the backlash against McCarthyism. What will happen during the next war, now that so many liberals have normalised accusations of disloyalty? 

The most credible allegations about a Putin-Trump nexus pertain to the supposed role of Russian intelligence in providing Wikileaks with emails from John Podesta, the chairman of the Clinton campaign.  

Again, as the Intercept’s Sam Biddle explains, the available evidence on this remains perilously thin. 

In any case, whatever Russian hackers did or didn’t do, their efforts pall next to the NSA’s global intercept programme, which, as well as sweeping up the private information of millions of citizens, allowed the US to monitor the personal calls of world leaders.

As Juan Cole reminds us, George W Bush once had German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s phone hacked so as to check his position on the Iraq war.

More importantly, the Podesta files aren’t fakes or forgeries. The argument that the publication of genuine emails cost the Democrats the White House thus amounts to an assertion that Clinton lost because the voters learned too much about her.

To put it another way, those claiming that Russia stole the election are arguing that the Democrats were robbed because they were prevented from concealing the difference between what their candidate said and what she truly believed.

It’s an extraordinary argument for so-called progressives. But it’s indicative of the fundamentally anti-democratic logic underpinning anti-Trump Trumpism.  

Millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump, one of the most odious candidates of modern times, not because they were hypnotised by Putin but because they thought (wrongly) that the billionaire represented their interests.

That’s why there’s a desperate need to build a mass constituency for progressive, anti-racist and anti-sexist ideas. Anti-Trump Trumpism represents a refusal to face that reality, an attempt to sidestep the hard work necessary to rebuild the Left.  

Rather than offering a genuine alternative to the Right, the anti-Trump Trumpists are helping to entrench conservatism’s authoritarian, conspiratorial nationalism within the US mainstream.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Keith Olbermann as a former CNN presenter. He is in fact a former CNN correspondent and former MSNBC presenter. 

Jeff Sparrow is a writer, editor and broadcaster, and an Honorary Fellow at Victoria University, Melbourne.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.