A new political marriage

Image: Lio Voo


In the Ukraine debate, the neoconservative right and “woke” progressivism go hand in hand

Elon Musk once again got into trouble on Twitter. Earlier this month, Musk proposed a peace deal to end the war in Ukraine, for which he was denounced as a pro-Putin puppet by the crowd that formed on Twitter to patrol speech about anything Ukraine-related.

Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has accused Elon Musk of supporting Russia, even though Musk's company, SpaceX, has made the Starlink satellite system available to the Ukrainian war effort, at a cost of $80 million. , which Ukrainians do not have to pay. (Before you accuse me of conflict of interest, I explain: Elon Musk is my friend and I am a SpaceX investor). The Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andrj Melnyk, was less subtle, telling Elon Musk to "go fuck himself," while David Frum tweeted with no evidence that "Russian sources" used Elon Musk to inflate a "trial balloon" of a peace proposal, because they are afraid of losing the Crimea. A huge number of certified accounts (not muzzle) on Twitter followed his example, telling Elon Musk to stay in his square.

What matters in this story is not that Elon Musk got his ears slammed, but that a certain thought collective on Twitter is using the same bigoted cancel tactics that are used to end debates on American domestic political issues, right now. for the purpose of shaping the country's policy towards Ukraine. This is done by demonizing dissent, slandering opponents and declaring any peace or even de-escalation alternative as ideologically unacceptable.

The crowd online decided that any support for a negotiated settlement – ​​even proposals that Volodymyr Zelensky himself appeared to support at the start of the war – amounts to siding with Russia, denouncing voices of compromise and contention as apologists for Vladimir Putin. This removes them from acceptable discourse and narrows the overton window only for those who advocate the total defeat of Russia and the end of the Putin regime – even if it means risking World War III.

We've seen this before: "awakened multitudes" (woke mobs)[1] on Twitter they routinely demonize and vilify their political opponents, impugn the motives of anyone who questions their goals or tactics, and stifle dissent even within their own ranks, declaring debate on certain topics closed.

What makes the “I stand with Ukraine” version of the Twitter crowd unique is that it brings together two forces that used to be sworn enemies of each other: progressivism. Woke and the neoconservative right. As it turns out, they share many of the same unsavory ideological and personality traits, and have a similar “slash and burn” approach to political engagement. It is a new political marriage.

A little over a decade ago, former President Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary to become president, elected largely because of his opposition to the Iraq War. At the time, progressive liberals despised the neoconservative hawks for promoting the Bush-Cheney administration's disastrous eternal wars in the Middle East. Furthermore, these progressives supported Barack Obama in his policy toward Ukraine when he refused to escalate with Russia on the Crimea issue, indicating that the United States does not have vital security interests in Ukraine, even though Russia does. As a result, Russia could inevitably maintain “increasing dominance” in the region, as Barack Obama put it. "This case is an example where we have to be very clear about what our main interests are and what we are willing to go to war for."

However, since neoconservatives left the Republican Party en masse for Donald Trump and repudiated all their conservative views on domestic politics to become MSNBC commentators, progressives have discovered a new love for interventionist foreign policy. , as long as it serves “democracy” and opposes “autocracy” – an increasingly malleable term that both “awakenings” and neocons alike now use to define not only Vladimir Putin, but also democratically elected leaders who do not like Viktor Orban in Hungary, Giorgia Meloni in Italy and Donald Trump in the United States.

Despite voting for Barack Obama because he promised to break with neoconservative foreign policy, progressives have now joined neoconservatives in opposing Obama's measured foreign policy in Ukraine.

This change is disconcerting, but on a purely tactical level it makes some sense. Neocons invented the cancel game before there was even a Twitter forum to play it. Neocons have always arrogantly dismissed the other side's point of view on the charge of bad faith argument, which is not worth considering, and label anyone who dares to question their cause as a heretic or traitor.

David Frum set the neoconservative standard for this tactic when he branded the small number of pundits on the right who opposed the Iraq War as “unpatriotic conservatives” early on in this strategic disaster. Fast forward to today and we are faced with the situation that anyone suggesting that NATO expansion could have been a contributing factor to the current crisis in Ukraine, or that the sanctions imposed on Russia are not working and have backfired in a Europe on the verge of shaking, or even if the United States should prioritize the precaution of a world war against a Russia with nuclear weapons… whoever does so will be denounced as a puppet of Vladimir Putin.

Warping the debate in this way allows delusional and contradictory thinking to go unchallenged. So we have the argument that Vladimir Putin is a madman who will kill indiscriminately to achieve his goals. But on the other hand, he would also, in some way, definitely be bluffing about using nuclear weapons. And he's only calling that bluff because he's losing the war. Still, if he is not stopped in Ukraine, he will conquer the rest of Europe. Vladimir Putin's regime must fall because he killed or arrested all the liberal reformers and joined a radical extreme right, but, it is not known how, he will be replaced by a liberal reformer when his regime collapses.

Does not make sense. A real debate would expose the illusions of this kind of thinking. But we can't have one.

As long as this alliance between awakening progressives and neoconservatives is allowed to define the terms of the debate, we will remain faced with a one-way ratchet towards a greater and more dangerous escalation of this conflict.

There will be no peaceful resolution to this conflict if the United States does not at least have a hand in the negotiation, and we should be leading the effort. Instead, we are putting off the Ukrainians and their maximalist demands, increasing sanctions on Russia, while Vladimir Putin ramps up his tirade against the West. “Someone” blew up the Nord Stream pipeline in case another major nation, like Germany, thought of getting on the negotiating table. And now we're playing achicken game” nuclear with a Russian leader who, if his “War against the West” speech of last September 30 is any indication, has already definitely set the course, not to stray from it anymore.

A regional war turned into World War I because all parties made maximalist demands and assumed the others were bluffing. It could happen again, especially if the media, social media and the foreign policy elite join forces and use cancel tactics. Woke to prevent debate of any alternative. Right now, we're stuck on an escalating path, and the destination ahead is the Woke War III.

*David Sacks holds a doctor of law from the University of Chicago, a former PayPal executive. Co-author, with Peter Thiel, of The Diversity Myth: Multiculturalism and Political Intolerance on Campus (The Independent Institute).

Translation: Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel.

Originally published in the magazine Newsweek.

Translator's note

[1] the idea of ​​“awakening”, applied to politics in the United States, often with the intonation of a millenarian perspective – as in the slogan “Great Awakening” – goes back to the 60s, to the civil rights movement and to a discursive inspiration with an evangelical religious background (especially from Baptist churches in black communities), which imbued it with a semantic load of “enlightenment”, “conscience” and “indignation”. Over time, however, it also acquired a connotation of sectarianism, exceptionalism and divisiveness, and in more recent times it ended up being adopted by the movement Black Lives Matter, when it became, definitively, the most radical stamp of identityist discourses, conforming what some already call “awakeningism”. The new movement of the “awakened ones”, however, is more commonly called the “movement Woke”. He tends to underline the religious-ritualistic aspects of a “conversion”, allied to an ideal of (historical) “atonement”, always translated in terms of very strongly prescriptive individual behavior and a notable intolerance towards any kind of “dissidence”. . “Cancel culture” thus became its direct correlate in terms of social attitude.

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