The Liberals’ New Passion for Snobbery and Censorship: An Interview + Review of The War on Populism and Trumpocalypse by C.J. Hopkins
Yves here. At the end of the post, we’ve embedded C.J Hopkins’ talk with John Siman. We’re launching this post on a Friday in the hope that some of you might find the time today or over the weekend to listen to it as an antidote to election cray-cray, particularly the liberals’ version.
By John Siman
I’ve been reading C.J. Hopkins for about three years, but it’s a secret which, until now, I’ve kept pretty much to myself. For I had wanted to put some kind of a limit on the number of liberal acquaintances I was alienating by my ongoing enthusiasm for free speech and free inquiry. But in just the past few months things have come to such a disquieting pass that I think it’s come time to introduce intelligent liberals — or at least the liberal-adjacent readers of Naked Capitalism— to the essays which Hopkins has been publishing for over four years now, beginning in the annus miserabiliswhich was 2016.
Hopkins writes from the penetralia of what he calls the Consent Factory, which is located, he told me, somewhere inder Stadt Berlin. Matt Taibbi has fittingly described Hopkins as a post-Soviet version of a самиздат writer, fearlessly self-publishing critiques of unclothed little emperors which are so insightful that they will, quite likely, sooner or later, cause both the writer and his readers to be sent to prison. A very high compliment indeed!
I, unfortunately, missed this first year of Hopkins’s Consent Factory essays, which, he told me, he, then an established fifty-five-year-old playwright, felt drawn to start writing as he observed the unexpectedly potent outbursts of angry populist “resistance” (sic!) — including Brexit and Sanders and Trump — to the inexorable global corporate capitalist Conquest of Everything.
But soon enough I came across his searing review of the year 2017, the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, which Hopkins declared to have been “The Year of the Headless Liberal Chicken.” Here is an excerpt:
“Look,” Hopkins wrote three years ago, “I know what you’re probably thinking, but it isn’t like liberals don’t actually care about fundamental liberal values like freedom of the press and speech and all that. It’s just that they desperately need the Democrats to take back the House and the Senate next year, so they can get on with impeaching Trump, and if they have to stand by while the corporations suppress a little leftist dissent, or, you know, transform the entire Internet into a massive, mind-numbing echo chamber of neo-McCarthyite corporate conformity … well, sacrifices have to be made” (from The Year of the Headless Liberal Chicken, which first appeared in CounterPunch in December of 2017).
When I first read it almost three years ago, I savored this essay as delightfully ferocious satire. And I give credit to Hopkins and to a very few other independent writers for having helped me to become increasingly conscious notof the predictably spectacular failure of Donald Trump as President — I am old enough to remember how, going back thirty-five years, the cool kids at Spy Magazineused to tease the pompous blowhard douchebag on a weekly basis, tease him savagely — but rather of the ongoing collective decision by the so-called liberal media to enforce a policy of national censorship, a policy of, as Hopkins put it three years ago, “neo-McCarthyite corporate conformity.”
* * *
As I begin explaining the work of Hopkins to my (remaining) well-educated liberal friends and neighbors, it startles me again and again that they are serenely oblivious to what to me is so balefully obvious: the rise of censorship in the USA — censorship by liberals! So let me review for their benefit (and for that of readers like them) what I consider to be the three most egregious recent examples of media censorship:
First, the memory-holing of the sudden outbreak of unprecedentedly destructive riots in dozens of cities throughout the United States. The neo-Orwellian terminology here has been “peaceful protests.” Only Michael Tracey, an independent journalist whose Tweets over the past year or so have been, in my opinion, our single best source by far of national news, has covered the riots as an actual eye-witness, no-nonsense, on-the-ground reporter.
“[It’s] clear,” Tracey wrote in July, “that the severe ramifications of these riots have been widely ignored — if not consciously obfuscated — by a media class that was near-unanimous in its approval of the accompanying protest movement. That they could have so quickly ‘moved on,’ particularly from the wreckage of Minneapolis/St. Paul — where residents commonly told me that their lives are still in “agony” — is galling…. [I]t doesn’t take some kind of profound journalistic acuity to walk around riot-affected areas, talk to citizens, record their stories and impressions, take some photos and record some video, and compose some tweets. And yet, I heard from hundreds of people across the United States and world who were shocked that they’d have never been aware of what happened in Minneapolis/St. Paul if not for my dinky little Twitter thread.”
Second, the memory-holing of the Hunter Biden laptop story and Twitter’s lock-out of The New York Post. “We saw incredible abuses before the election,” writes George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley in an article entitled Biden Aide Signals Push for Greater Censorship on the Internet — “in Twitter barring access to a true story in The New York Postabout Hunter Biden and his alleged global influence peddling scheme. Notably, no one in the Biden camp (including Biden himself) thought that it was a threat to our democracy to have Twitter block the story (while later admitting that it was a mistake)…. What is most disturbing is how liberals have embraced censorship and even declared that ‘China was right’ on Internet controls.”
Greenwald himself describes the utterly “fraudulent” state of our national media in an excellent interview with Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper: in this excerpt from it Greenwald becomes so impassioned and energized that he begins hitting the same analytical and satirical notes that C.J. Hopkins does when he describes the transformation of the entire Internet into a massive, mind-numbing echo chamber of neo-McCarthyite corporate conformity:
“There’s no question,” Greenwald says at 1:01:50, “that the white-supremacist white-nationalist fascist dictator Nazi-Hitler got more non-white votes — more votes from people of color in the United States by percentage — than any Republican candidate since 1960 — that’s … sixty years ago. How is it that you can reconcile this narrative that was manufactured by very wealthy, privileged, Ivy League-educated members of the national media — many of whom are African-American or Latino or LGBT or white liberals — how is it that you can reconcile the narrative that they shove down everybody’s throat about who supports Donald Trump and what the ideology of his movement is with the fact that huge numbers — huge numbers! — of voters who voted for him are not white or white males at all? In fact the majority of Trump voters are either women or people of color. And the obvious answer is that these people in the media — white liberals, African-American liberals, Latino liberals, LGBT liberals — have concocted this perspective, this theory of the Trump presidency for their own benefit … [which] completely excludes what predominately shapes people’s lives and the crucial prism through which they navigate the world: which is class, socio-economic status, and career prospects. And so you have this tiny number of people, these hyper-partisan elites, purporting to speak for an entire group of people with whom they have almost nothing in common — except these kinds of superficial demographics….”
Hopkins tells me that he saw all this coming four years ago, and his essays do bear him out. I would therefore urge readers to approach his work as being even more urgently prophetic than it is boldly satiric. Here, for example, is what he wrote on January 13, 2017, that is, seven days beforeTrump was inaugurated:
“The point of all this propaganda [especially concerning Russian hacking] is to delegitimize Donald Trump,” Hopkins observed almost four years ago, “and to prophylactically reassert the neoliberal ruling classes’ monopoly on power, ‘reality,’ and ‘truth.’ In case this wasn’t already abundantly clear, the neoliberal ruling classes have no intention of giving up control of the global capitalist pseudo-empire they’ve been working to establish these last sixty years. They’re going to delegitimize and stigmatize Trump (and any other symbol of nationalist backlash or resistance to transnational Capitalism), bide their time for the next four years, and then install another of their loyal servants … after which life will go back to ‘normal,’ and liberals will do their best to forget this unfortunate period where they pretended to believe this insipid neo-McCarthyite nonsense” (from Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works, first published in CounterPunch, January 13, 2017).
“So, according to the corporate media,” Hopkins wrote on October 27, 2020, “this is it for Russian-backed Hitler. Game over. The walls are closing in. It’s the last days of the Trumpian Reich. Get those vuvuzelas ready! Yes, apparently, the American people, who were all a bunch of Putin-worshipping, white-supremacist neo-Nazis when they elected Trump in 2016, have come to their senses…” (from The Last Days of the Trumpian Reich, first published by Consent Factory, Inc.).
Hopkins, however, is only tangentially interested in the absurdly fantastical smearing of Trump: his deeper investigative project is to show us the pitiless means by which those unexpectedly potent outbursts of angry populist “resistance” (yes!) that began in 2016 are being systematically suppressed.
Hopkins’s real theme, simply put, is what he calls the War on Populism. And this War on Populism is the most recent iteration of the ongoing global conquest of capitalist ideology. What we are witnessing in the larger perspective, what we have been witnessing on a global scale for over three decades now, is the triumphal onward march of global capitalism, which, as Hopkins emphasized in our conversations, has been essentially unopposed since the fall of the Berlin Wall, since the casting off of the yoke of communism by the nations of the Eastern Bloc, and, ultimately, since the utter implosion of the USSR. Global capitalism, or “GloboCap,” as Hopkins nicknames it, has thus been, for three decades now, expanding methodically, even logically, to capture every square inch of the planet.
So how and why has unchecked global capitalism resulted in this War on Populism? Hopkins has no enthusiasm for Marxist analysis; in fact, he celebrates the, well, populist victories that capitalism won in its early stages: the overthrow of the tyranny of kings and priests and the subsequent establishment of modern democracies above all. But capitalism is a universal solvent, Hopkins points out, and just as it unvalued the values of aristocracy and theocracy almost 250 years ago (to the people’s delight), it now proceeds to unvalue all remaining values, for its logical object is the establishment of a single universal value: exchange value.
For the triumph of exchange value, of market value, commodifies … everything, absolutely everything. As well as everyone.
So what will global capitalism’s Conquest of Absolutely Everything look like? A world of atomized consumers, stripped of their rights and of any allegiances to family or clan or nation or religion or even interesting tastes. Nevertheless, such a global capitalist world will be, for the few who can grow immensely wealthy in it, a place of uncountable, perhaps eternal, brute satisfactions. For the many, on the other hand, the global capitalist world will be a place of glorified slavery, lived in deserts of social isolation. To the extent that some of the many have seen what global capitalism has in store for them, and don’t like it, and have started to oppose it, they have become what Hopkins calls populists, that is to say, a real problem for the few:
“The problem is … well, the problem is people,” Hopkins writes in “The Last Days of the Trumpian Reich.” “Not rich and powerful people like themselves, or the people they need to continue working, consuming, and servicing the interest on their loans, but … you know, all those other people. Uneducated, un-woke, working-class people. Gun-toting, fanatically religious people. Racist, conspiracy-theorizing people. Deplorable people. Populist people. People they don’t need anymore. These people have been a problem recently. Not only are they a drag on the system, they have been actively interfering with it, voting for Brexit, electing Donald Trump, refusing to abandon their traditional values and outmoded ideas (e.g., national sovereignty, freedom of speech, and mammalian biology) and get on board with global capitalist ideology, and have been otherwise being a real pain in the ass.”
This paragraph both illuminates and is illuminated by the work of Thomas Frank, who has so brilliantly shown — above all in his masterpiece Listen, Liberal— just how, since the election of our first Neoliberal president in 1992 (which was, significantly, the year after the collapse of the USSR), the Democrats have reinvented themselves as the party of the Liberal Learning Creative Professional Managerial Class, the party of the credentialed meritocracy, the party of, above all, the winners. So, yes, as a matter of course, the Democrats have been taught to be openly hostile to working-class “deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton officially named them, to see them as “being a real pain in the ass,” as Hopkins writes.
And the deplorables really are a drag on the global capitalist system. (Most of them want free health care, for Pete’s sake!) A lot of them voted for the socialist Bernie Sanders, and, far, far worse, even more of them voted for the “white-supremacist white-nationalist fascist dictator Nazi-Hitler” (as Glenn Greenwald said!), i.e. Trump. They really are, bottom line here, losers with a big L.
The liberals, the bien pensants(as Thomas Frank has called them) — the winners, that is — who read The New York Timesand The Washington Post and listen to NPR and watch MSNBC and CNN, who went to good colleges and got all kinds of professional credentials, are certainly well-informed enough to know that the future is all about global capitalism. And they know that, if they play by the rules, global capitalism has a place for them. Furthermore, they know (or could easily figure it out) that global capitalism does not have a place for life’s losers. But that’s just tough shit, isn’t it?
Plus elite liberal winners have their own special problems now so they couldn’t possibly worry about deplorable racist losers even if they wanted to. Apparently, for example, their foundational meritocracy is being refurbished into some kind of a super-woke moralocracy, and it might be just a matter of time until all academic testing is abolished in the name of Kendian Anti-Racism. So how the heck are you supposed to get your kid into Harvard if she’s white or, heaven forbid, Asian? Paying a woke surgeon (or maybe insurance will cover?) to cut her breasts off when she turns sixteen is looking like a good option to some — Abigail Shrier writes about this in her new book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. Shrier, however, is being systematically censored by liberals because she is a reactionary transphobic monster who dares question the female genital mutilation of non-African bodies. Because, come on, Abigail, white and trans might at least get you wait-listed at Harvard, while white and cis is, when you come down to it, repulsively Trump-adjacent. (Other promising options for non-black bodies in the emerging moralocracy: missing limbs or really conspicuous birth defects.)
So it’s no cakewalk being a newly-woke post-meritocratic member of the Liberal Learning Creative Professional Managerial Class, and Hopkins, a genuinely kind man, is sympathetic to the plight of these liberals — especially because of the vast amounts of sloppily-designed propaganda which they must ingest in order to (1) genuinely come to fear and hate the deplorables (Matt Taibbi’s book Hate, Inc. is essential for understanding this process) and (2) parrot the official narratives of global capitalism, which, because they are founded on a rejection of the very existence of truth, are quite difficult to embrace consciously or without daily intakes of heavy-duty prescription anti-depressant meds. So let’s consider another passage from “The Year of the Headless Liberal Chicken,” just to affirm Hopkins’s compassionate nature:
“[B]y January [of 2017],” Hopkins wrote, “the media were playing down the Hitler stuff and going balls-out on the ‘Russiagate’ story. According to The Washington Post(which, let’s remember, is a serious newspaper, as opposed to a propaganda organ of the so-called US ‘Intelligence Community’), not only had the Russians ‘hacked’ the election, but they had hacked the Vermont power grid! Editorialists at The New York Timeswere declaring that Trump ‘had been appointed by Putin,’ and that the USA was now ‘at war’ with Russia…. This nonsense was reported completely straight-faced, and thus liberals were forced to take it seriously. Imagine the cognitive dissonance they suffered. It was like that scene in 1984when the Party abruptly switches enemies, and the war with Eurasia becomes the war with Eastasia.”
George Orwell — oh hell yeah! And Hopkins: “This nonsense was reported completely straight-faced, and thus liberals were forced to take it seriously.” So it all really does come down to intellectual obedience to official narratives, that is, obedience to propaganda. The War on Populism is an Orwellian propaganda war, and its object is the furthering of the Conquest of Everything by global capitalism.
Hopkins’s understanding of this propaganda is so profound that it makes him, I would argue, at this chilling moment in our nation’s history, perhaps the single most necessary writer for us to start reading. So let us conclude this essay with a summary of his analysis of propaganda in process:
“Chief among the common misconceptions about the way official propaganda works,” Hopkins wrote almost four years ago in his essay “Why Ridiculous Official Propaganda Still Works,” — “is the notion that its goal is to deceive the public into believing things that are not ‘the truth’ (that Trump is a Russian agent, for example, or that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, or that the terrorists hate us for our freedom, et cetera). However, while official propagandists are definitely pleased if anyone actually believes whatever lies they are selling, deception is not their primary aim. The primary aim of official propaganda is to generate an ‘official narrative’ that can be mindlessly repeated by the ruling classes and those who support and identify with them. This official narrative does not have to make sense, or to stand up to any sort of serious scrutiny. Its factualness is not the point.”
Factualness, a.k.a. truth, let me add here, is not merely old-fashioned and outmoded: it is woke-phobic, that is to say, a violent and reactionary challenge to the triumph of narrative. Incorrigible deplorables and other troublemakers (like me and C.J. Hopkins) will persist in groping for truth, but all successful members of Liberal Learning Creative Professional Managerial Class know that their success is in large part made possible by their enthusiasm for official narratives, and their collective hope is that narrative provides them with an enduring safe space. Thus Hopkins concludes his analysis:
“The point is to draw a Maginot line, a defensive ideological boundary, between ‘the truth’ as defined by the ruling classes and any other ‘truth’ that contradicts their narrative. Imagine this Maginot line as a circular wall surrounded by inhospitable territory. Inside the wall is ‘normal’ society, gainful employment, career advancement, and all the other considerable benefits of cooperating with the ruling classes. Outside the wall is poverty, anxiety, social and professional stigmatization, and various other forms of suffering. Which side of the wall do you want to be on? Every day, in countless ways, each of us are asked and have to answer this question. Conform, and there’s a place for you inside. Refuse, and … well, good luck out there.”
And here, dear reader, as the promised bonus, is a link to and embed of an interview I did with C.J. Hopkins for Naked Capitalism — we discuss his wonderful essay “Bernie the Magic Socialist” among many other topics: