Could You Ever Have Trusted At All? Jamming, 06/03/2017

When I first read the story of Juan Thompson, I wanted to be surprised, but I just couldn’t.

And I'd like to check out her films. They seem interesting – the kinds of
stories that build from where Lena Dunham left us.
One of the voices I came across on Twitter put the point better than I could. The start of Erika Heidewald’s tweet storm is on the right.

I’m writing a longer reflection about this. As someone who puts in time volunteering to put diverse voices and stories into my city’s cultural conversation, I know where I stand in the politics of our generation. The existence of the misogynist left-winger is something I didn’t want to have to face.

But it’s there. Through all the rise of the alt-right – the idea of white genocide going mainstream, daily streams of harassment campaigns across social media – I thought of this sexism as a creature of the reactionary, conservative, nationalist streams of our society.

I knew it wasn’t true. If only from my own experience as a much younger man, I knew the left had plenty of misogyny, sexism, obsession, harassment, and violence against women. Our political goal was to identify and end it, but it doesn’t mean the attitude didn’t persist.

Thompson is an extreme example, and a peculiar outlier. He isn’t just an obsessed ex-boyfriend – he was a fabulist, liar, and con artist for years. His lying to his own bosses about where his sources came from – and that they were even real – was the reason for his dismissal. And he’d lied to The Intercept for years, publishing many different stories that turned out to be utter fabrications.

Juan Thompson may have played a noticeable, if small, role in shaping our political culture. With his lies.

So don’t let this wretch break your spirit. But let his example keep your eye critical. Glenn Greenwald is not a stupid man – Robinson may be a beast, but he was at least smart enough to keep a historically important investigative reporter from catching on to his con for about two years.

I've been skeptical of a lot of Greenwald's reporting for quite a while,
though The Intercept is generally very reliable about dimensions of
American news that doesn't make it into mainstream discussions.
What vulnerability could Thompson have exploited in Greenwald to keep up the charade as long as he did?

Aside from the fact that not every story he wrote was a total concoction of lies and falsehoods, I mean.

I first discovered Glenn Greenwald when everyone else did – when he reported on Edward Snowden’s leaks of secret National Security Agency wiretapping and mass data collection. Greenwald shepherded Snowden’s revelations to the wider world. The notoriety he gained from that not only made his career, it made him a historic figure.

Those were important revelations – that kind of surveillance on a mass scale is a dangerous activity for any government or institution to do, rendering literally billions of people vulnerable in ways we’ve never been before. Yet as I watch Greenwald’s public behaviour in the Trump era, it unnerves me.

I feel like Greenwald’s opposition to the Democratic Party that vilified him and prosecuted Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and other leakers has hardened. In a recent interview with Democracy Now, Greenwald focussed his energy on calling out the Democratic Party leadership for their hypocrisy and worse.

Greenwald cares more about critiquing and somehow dismantling the American intelligence and security agencies who he sees as the biggest threat to democracy. And his position is complicated, because he has, from one important perspective an important point.

The 2016 election was Clinton's to lose from the beginning, and her
margin was small enough – 70-80,000 votes across three states Trump
narrowly won and a huge total popular vote victory – that I can actually
say that the campaign and DNC's arrogance was enough to cost her.
Greenwald is right that the Democratic Party has collapsed – no serious
control of any elected body in the federal government and the
governments of more than half the states. They need to rebuild their
party and I've honestly seen no sign that this is a priority at all.
Because it is very dangerous to empower a country’s intelligence and security agencies to undermine elected leaders. The heads of such agencies have led actual coups in countries around the world, overthrowing elected officials and junking citizens’ democratic rights. So we have to eye them with suspicion.

And we have to hold our elected officials and political party administrators to account in this regard. We can’t have them abiding by policies that give intelligence agencies immense secret powers over the population.

Greenwald is right that this was a serious mistake of Obama’s Presidency, and that Hillary Clinton was an even more aggressive advocate for intelligence agencies’ priorities. But the danger of Donald Trump exists on a totally different vector.

Trump is the figurehead of a white nationalist political movement – American radical racists and nihilists. And he’s the President of the United States.

So democrats in the United States are stuck in a very bad space. It’s immensely dangerous to enable intelligence agencies to undermine and tip elected officials out of office. But it’s also immensely dangerous to have a democratic country’s executive branch run by anti-democratic radicals.

Even the people who seemed like liberators only a few years ago can, at their best, only fall into opposing one of these sides while the other slides away. So was it even worth believing them in the first place?

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