Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
The ‘post left’ grift is as lucrative as it is unpersuasive

The ‘post left’ grift is as lucrative as it is unpersuasive


As the American right has become dangerously radicalized, there is a small number of people who insist that Democrats are the real extremists.

These arguments are absurd on their face given that disgraced ex-president Donald Trump openly talks about “suspending the Constitution” and becoming a dictator three years after an armed mob of his supporters tried for the first time in American history to stop the peaceful transition of presidential power.

But it isn’t just 90-year-old Fox addicts who are saying things like this. There are also more than a few self-described progressive commentators who claim this as well, people like Tulsi Gabbard, Glenn Greenwald, or Matt Taibbi.

These fake leftists who never criticize Republicans are unserious people who refuse to debate the things they claim to believe with serious progressive commentators. One thing they are, however, is rich. There’s a lot of money to be made telling right-wingers that they are the real liberals, and claiming reactionary policies are actually pro-worker.

Were these people even on the left to begin with? Is there any truth to “horsehoe theory,” the idea that far-right and far-left ideologies converge? Is it possible or even desirable to find common ground with people who have extreme religious viewpoints but who are somewhat skeptical of capitalism?

These are questions worth asking and they are explored at length in a report co-written by my guest in this episode, Kathryn Joyce. She is the investigations editor at In These Times and also the author of “Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement.”

Scroll down to view the audio transcript of this episode. The video of the conversation is available as well. It was recorded December 21, 2023.

Related Episodes

(Cover image: Former U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard speaking with attendees at the AmericaFest conference sponsored by the Christian nationalist group Turning Point USA. December 18, 2023. Photo by Gage Skidmore)

Audio Chapters

00:00 — Introduction

03:11 — Compact Magazine and right-wing market skepticism

07:32 — Catholic Integralism, another form of Christian nationalism

10:41 — The political spectrum isn't just about left and right

12:14 — Why Compact's token leftist joined and then quit

19:12 — Why “finding common ground” with right-wing elites is almost impossible

28:28 — The impact of conversion stories in politics

34:33 — Left-of-center people patronize the right instead of making them confront their own ideas

41:19 — How the covid pandemic caused some libertarians embrace their right-wing views

47:05 — Final thoughts


The transcript of the audio is below. It is automatically generated and is provided for convenience purposes only.

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: And joining me now is Kathryn Joyce. Welcome to Theory of Change, Kathryn.

KATHRYN JOYCE: Thank you so much for having me, Matthew.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. So this article that you and Jeff Sharlet published over in In These Times, it's a very important one. And it's important because as the Republican party has become so much more radical, a lot of people who are kind of not really paying attention, and are vaguely apolitical or vaguely centrist have been sort of drifting over to the right, not really understanding that they have been doing that.

It's an interesting thing [00:03:00] that does seem to kind of happen in kind of politically uncertain times that not just right now, but we've seen this in other moments where there's been some sort of cross pollination between the sides.

But I want to start off with the you guys talked about a publication that was started called Compact. For people who don't know about Compact, what is it and how did it get started? Who's running it?

JOYCE: Sure. Sure. So Compact Magazine, it's one of a number of publications that I think generally group themselves under the heading of heterodox or kind of pushing for what they would call a Republican realignment or a political realignment. These are publications, Compact is probably the most prominent of them, that are making the argument that both Republicans and Democrats have failed, some new sort of fusion is needed. And in particular drawing together somewhat more [00:04:00] liberal economic policies, somewhat more concern for the working class with substantially conservative social policies I've been reporting on.

Some of the people in these orbits for the last couple of years some of them have been associated with right wing movements like National Conservatism or the Catholic Integralist movement, and they're coming from a place of critiquing liberalism, not as in progressivism, but classical liberalism, the political philosophy that united both the Republican and Democratic parties generally for the past many decades, with a shared emphasis on free markets, pluralism, generally support for individual rights, and making a critique that liberalism has failed people on all of these different levels that it has immiserated the middle class and the working class. And also that on the [00:05:00] social side having social free expression, social liberalism, and individual rights has really undercut the traditions that hold up society, and so that this should be abandoned, something new should come in its place.

And so these magazines or these publications, online only mostly, I should say, they are part of this larger project to, you to sort of peel people away from the left with this promise of softer forms of capitalism. Not as kind of hard, libertarian laissez faire. 'We're just not going to talk about the social issues.' That's sort of the compromise they offer is, if we focus on the material issues, maybe all of these social issues can kind of go to the wayside.

But that's really frankly, disingenuous the people at the helm of this publication and these movements are, are very far right socially they have made their names [00:06:00] calling--

SHEFFIELD: Or like specifically, can you talk about,

JOYCE: Sohrab Amari is one of the founding editors of Compact and he is, he's himself somebody who's kind of been politically all over the map, but he really became a national figure in 2019 when he wrote this absolute broadside against this conservative writer and lawyer, David French saying that, David French was basically a sellout to the conservative cause because he defended the existence of things like drag queen story hour on the grounds of free expression and Sohrab Amari wrote this piece called "Against David Frenchism" that went wildly viral and it became this kind of rallying cry for the new, new right. The people who are really kind of rejecting this, this idea of classical liberalism and looking for new ways to formulate their politics. By saying we have to prosecute the culture wars with the idea of winning and enjoying the [00:07:00] spoils. And it's, it's this movement that believes in, transforming government power to be used to enforce their own culture war positions.

So for them to now kind of turn around and argue for this political realignment, and can we just put all the social issues to the side it really kind of, It's, it's disingenuous.

SHEFFIELD: It's a subterfuge, yeah.

JOYCE: It's, it's ignoring the fact that they have that platform for having made that argument.

SHEFFIELD: Well, and it's also, yeah, and just as a historical matter, it's important, I think, for Americans, who are used to kind of this more market fundamentalist dominated right to understand that, outside of the United States, this type of, of conservatism and reactionism is very common, and nobody has any illusions that it's on the left or is centrist of any kind.

But can you talk about the idea, and, and, and certainly [00:08:00] Sohrab Amari is an example of this, this, this idea of integralism. What is that for people who don't know what that is?

JOYCE: Sure. Yeah. Integralism is well, it's a very small movement it's a Catholic right movement that, that basically believes that society should be reordered along the lines of the doctrine of the Catholic Church or the conservative interpretation of Catholic Church doctrines.

And it, it, it matches up with a lot of what we were just talking about. I mean, it would include policies that are, somewhat. more, friendly to the middle class or, or the working class than current Republican parties. It certainly would be following kind of all of the social positions conservatively interpreted of, of the Catholic church.

It, it. It started in, in a way as, or it's gained kind of a lot of [00:09:00] prominence through the writing of a Harvard law professor named Adrian Vermeule, who has made an argument that, The conservative legal movement should, should go beyond originalism which is kind of famous, the, the, the, the philosophy of a lot of most conservative members of the Supreme Court now and they should move towards an idea of, the law being reordered.

Toward the common good or they would say sometimes the highest good and so it's it's this argument basically for a Catholic version of theocracy It is again a very small movement, you know overwhelmingly most Catholics in the United States, if they've even heard of it would almost certainly be opposed to it.

But it's, it's nonetheless been very influential because a lot of the people talking about these ideas are professors from prominent [00:10:00] universities Harvard or Notre Dame.

SHEFFIELD: And they're lavishly funded.

JOYCE: Lavishly funded as well, well-represented in Christian right and Catholic right media. First Things magazine is a very right wing, I guess pan-Christian magazine but very Catholic in orientation.

And, it has been making and advancing some of these arguments and the people who are reading it are pretty influential people. So it's, it's sort of got this outsized footprint.

SHEFFIELD: And the other thing about this idea of a market-skeptical religious right wing viewpoint, it's unfamiliar to a lot of Americans and but it's still very real.

And I want to put up on the screen a chart that, that I made a little while ago that kind of talks about that politics shouldn't, in my view, be thought of as a left and right thing. It should be thought of as a X and Y graph kind of thing. And one of the things to notice when you do that is that [00:11:00] ideologies overlap pretty significantly.

If we think of politics as a matter of epistemology, that we have believing that everything you think is pure reason, that's Marxism by its own self description. And then all tradition, of course, being the furthest right viewpoint as well.

And of course, whether they're correct in any of that is their opinion, not ours, we don't have to get into that. But then also in terms of who do you trust, and whether you should trust society, or institutions, or you should trust the individual. Then the thing about a religious market skeptic viewpoint is that if you look in the, in the middle of the chart and for those who are listening, you'll definitely have to click the link for the chart to see this, so sorry about that. But in the, in the middle of the chart, we have religious democracy, which can be kind of a centrist philosophy in many ways, and certainly is outside of the United States. And it exists that way for many, Christian [00:12:00] Americans as well, but it also has some significant overlaps with conservatism, with libertarianism and some with reactionism and fascism.

And that I think is the real concern about this viewpoint and you talked about how with Compact, they did initially manage to recruit somebody who had a more left wing background and they've paid, paid off a bunch of socialist writers to write content for them. But that at what the editor that was a co founding editor, he's left the publication.

Can you talk about him and why why he did that?

JOYCE: Yeah. Yeah. That was really interesting. This was a guy named Edwin Aponte, who described himself as a Marxist or a labor Marxist, and he had joined Compact pretty early on, when it was, first in its kind of idea stage in early 2022, I guess it is.[00:13:00] And, just a few months in roadblocks started to appear. He described that he had joined it because, he was very disillusioned after the, the loss of Bernie Sanders in the 2020 primary. He began feeling he was a member of this kind of very small group of people called the post left who believed, there is no left anymore. The left has failed.

And in order to achieve, some of our goals in, in terms of materialist politics we might want to make some different sorts of alliances. And so they were open to working with people on the right who were expressing the same sort of economic policies. And this was kind of the other side of that proposed realignment.

I think, if there's one hand reaching out from the right, these were some of the people they were reaching out to people who were disillusioned, maybe even a stronger word for, for some [00:14:00] of them in, in despair about kind of the, the prospects of what they believed in ever coming to pass.

And they, they responded to these sorts of overtures. In Aponte's case, he ended up joining Compact as it was launching. In his telling of the story, there was an agreement that they weren't really going to be relitigating settled issues like abortion. That this was not going to be a publication where that was going to play a huge role. I ended up speaking to Compaq's other co founders while I was reporting on this this year and last year and, they had a different interpretation of that. They said, we never said we weren't going to talk about social issues, but that we would talk about them through this material lens.

But this, things really kind of came to a head when the early draft of the Dobbs decision was leaked in in the spring of 2022, and Compact published a piece that Aponte felt was triumphalist in his [00:15:00] words that wasn't anymore talking about, What are we going to do about abortion?

Because now they thought, okay, this is settled. What do we do next? And the answer in that piece that was published in Compact was we should look to Hungary. I, which I was thinking of looking at your graph just now in terms of. Religious democracy. I like that, in, in those various Venn diagrams, you can see that overlapping with all of these different sorts of tendencies.

But I think when we are talking about Hungary we're definitely seeing the strong overlap with conservatism and, I think a lot of people would argue strongly there in terms of reaction and, fascism or on the way to that anyway. So Aponte told me that he started to have this realization after, after that Dobbs leak and after the piece that Compact published, thinking that, we're coming at this from from really different directions. We might all sincerely [00:16:00] have a desire to have better economic policies that are more supportive of of working people that are less kind of rah rah rapacious capitalism, but that they were coming at it from really different motivations.

And what he came to believe was that his fellow editors at Compact were coming at it from a position where they saw this sort of as a means to an ends.

That they saw ultimately this is going to inform the sort of moral governance system, moral kind of order in the country that they wanted to create, and that that was the primary goal. Everything else was really secondary or was a part of getting there.

And so he realized this is a really the the strongly different position to be coming at this from, to be aiming at these shared economic objectives [00:17:00] from.

And it really does matter. Those social issues can't just be put entirely to the side. They can't really be put to the side at all, because if, you're talking about better economic policies so that they can support the formation of more traditional families and the enforcement of that as the moral order of a society. That, that's suddenly not secondary at all. And, and, they ended up parting ways within a couple of months.

SHEFFIELD: And one of the other, just to go back to the chart again, and I'm sorry to keep doing that, but one of the other aspects to understand with the, with the chart idea is that that everything wraps around as well.

And that's, I think. What Compact kind of is an example of that. With a sort of traditional Marxist viewpoint, everything is about economics. Everything is reduced to that. And so, the idea being that if you have somebody, if you see [00:18:00] somebody who is anti capitalist, for somebody who has a more traditional Marxist viewpoint, that's going to be a very attractive to them on a certain level.

And in this piece that you wrote, it's not just about Compact. So I want to make that clear for people. But that seems to be the motivation that of, of a lot of the people that you talk about, that they kind of believe that there is a, that they can somehow collaborate with these far right people because they're anti capitalist, not understanding that injustice is like the, the elephant in the Indian fable of, that it has many different parts of it and that if you only can see one part of it, then you're not, you're not understanding the totality of the situation.

And that does seem like that's what what the lesson that he ended up learning, Aponte.

JOYCE: Yeah, I, I think that's, that, that's, that's a, a very accurate [00:19:00] summary. He said, for them, these material politics were just a means to an end, not the end in itself, and the end that they have in mind was not something that he thought was just or good.

SHEFFIELD: Mm hmm. So there is something there that's legitimate, I think, in the desire to, because a lot of, and this is a pretty common thing that progressives have talked about and written about for many years that a lot of Republican voters do not share the economic policy agenda of welfare for billionaires, basically that the Republican Party that's their primary objective. So there's a lot of frustration on the left of saying, well, how can we save these people from being taken advantage of, or supporting ideas that are harmful to them.

I think that's, that's also where some of this originates, but the reality that I think a lot of people have to understand is that [00:20:00] the leaders of the right wing, you will never come out in a beneficial manner by working with them. You can save individuals, but you cannot save the right, because they're not in it for the same thing that you are, despite having some occasional agreements. What's your take?

JOYCE: Yeah, I, I think that's true. I mean, and I think, what we're talking about with Compact and Aponte is, it's, It's one, one entry point of, of a larger phenomenon. I, I don't think it is just one thing happening. But for the people from, the so called post left who ended up making these alliances whether because, they really felt that they were going to have an effective partner to achieve, the, the sort of, economic policy advocacy that they wanted or, or for other reasons some of them both in the post left or, or kind [00:21:00] of from, from other political factions drawn there because they were frustrated about what, so called identity politics or so called cancel culture sorry to keep saying so, so called, but I mean, they, these are politics, such manipulative phrases that I kind of just want to highlight that.

But I think for the people who were drawn there for, quasi idealistic reasons yeah, I mean, I think it's, it's a really hard lesson to learn that. In a lot of cases, you've, gotten in bed with some people who are coming at things from an extremely different perspective and also that are, are open to or allied with in very real ways, people who are pushing some really scary politics.

The, the same broad new right that the conservative co founders of Compact are from is, also the place where Peter Thiel has [00:22:00] been kind of dumping all of his money to prop up very far right candidates like Blake Masters who wasn't successful, or Julie Vance who was successful.

They have been in the same universe, even as they sometimes bicker and fight with the people in the national conservatism movement, which is doing its very best to rehabilitate the term nationalism, I think they've been pretty successful at that within conservative circles by now, to the point actually where, what I started hearing at NatCon conferences last year that we as conservatives should just reclaim the, the title Christian Nationalism with pride.

I think that is now more or less a mainstream Republican position. These aren't people who are eschewing the culture war. These aren't people who are putting social issues to one side. They're coming down, very hard on one side of them. And they are kind of as, as a separate side project, [00:23:00] they are making this outreach to disaffected people on the left for a variety of reasons.

I mean, I think including that the presence of people on the left gives them the ability to, to claim that they are a different sort of thing, that they are a new thing, that, this is as they like to say the transformation of the Republican party into the new party of the multiracial working class.

No matter how little that has to do with reality, I think the presence of leftists helps them make that claim.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And this is something that historically the right has always sought to do. And then it's important to note also that, reactionism and fascism there, they are very closely related, but they're not necessarily the same.

And I think maybe some of the difficulty that people have had in using fascism as a word is that they don't know that they think of it as just, uniquely something affiliated with Mussolini or Hitler [00:24:00] and, and don't understand that. And that's why actually I, I generally encourage people to use the word reactionism rather than fascism because the F word gets stuck in people's head too much. And they don't understand that this is a tradition that's much, much older than Nazism or Italian fascism.

But the thing is though, reactionism as an idea set, it doesn't really have policies. It's about will to power rather than anything else, that's what it is primarily. And I think that that fact can be confusing to, to leftists who don't understand the history of reactionism and fascism. What do you think?

JOYCE: Yeah, I, I think that's all true. Yeah, I, I use the F word these days myself. Um, I, I recognize that there's a long debate that, you know. It goes well beyond me [00:25:00] about when it's appropriate to use that. And that a lot of smart people have come down on different sides. Um, you know, just not to say that everybody I'm talking about certainly I would refer to as a fascist, but rather that I do think that we are seeing strong elements of that today. I think it certainly applies to a number of the political candidates and the movements behind them. Today on the right.

And also, I just think it's important to point out that we are seeing this slide in, in so many different ways. Jeff and I wrote this article about the slide of individual people towards the right and then often towards the far right. But I think just also on a societal level, we are sliding, it feels like daily sometimes, towards the normalization of a lot of things that are, are really very frightening. So I, I use the word, but I, I respect where you're coming from. And I think--

SHEFFIELD: Oh, yeah, well, I'm only saying in a limited, [00:26:00] in a limited context, there, there's some contexts where I think it's, it's definitely okay to use the word fascism. But just to describe the larger historical phenomenon, that's what I'm saying is different. But let's talk about some of these other people that you guys wrote about.

So, I think, one of the other problems, and this is a real huge problem in the American left is that I think a lot of the, both the audience and the leaders, they're very rightfully worried about being propagandized and sort of a mob mentality the way that, I mean, you could, you turn on Fox News and all the shows say the same thing, have the exact same line on the same story of the day.

And that's how it is on Newsmax. They're all talking about the same thing and they're all saying the same thing. And that's how it is on these innumerable channels that exist now on the right. And, but then when you look, there are no competitors to MSNBC that have [00:27:00] been launched recently, not one.

And so it's created this political economy where a lot of people who are journalists who would like to make a living as a political commentator or pundit on the left, they can't because no one wants to pay for it. The audience doesn't want to pay, and the founders and the funders don't want to pay.

And so some of them seem to have gravitated over to the right just as a matter of maybe not even deliberately financial calculation, but they saw that there is so much more money and support on the right. And let's talk about that. I mean, the, some of the people that you guys looked at that have seen seemingly had some of those concerns.

JOYCE: Yeah, I mean, preface this by saying nobody knows what is in anybody's hearts, nobody knows the truth of anybody's specific motivations. And I certainly think that there aren't many people who would acknowledge [00:28:00] I, I moved right. Because I could just get a much bigger paycheck there.

We, we do talk about that in general terms. As we note in the piece there, there is money to be made in saying I was blind, but now I see, I see how terrible the left is. And, and let me tell you that. And I think there's always, this isn't even really that new of a phenomenon, I think everybody loves a conversion story.

I, I know, as somebody who's been reporting on the right for a long time pretty much every movement that, that I've ever reported on had people who liked to hype up what they presented as their former left or liberal or democratic or feminist credentials in order to explain how they had the inside story on how bad they are over there and what they made them leave and how right everybody, all of their new friends on the right are.

So I think that [00:29:00] that is that that's just kind of an old media story and an old, probably human story is, is that we, we gravitate towards converts who promise to give us an inside look into the other side. What we talk about in the piece is that, yeah, I think it is undeniable that there is for some people that kind of element of what people call grift or I think Ryan Cooper is who I heard in a report that he did about Matt Taibbi talking about the term like hop on the wingnut welfare train that there is money to be made by, by going over to the other side.

Our position was there's, there is likely always some of that, but it's not just that it's, it's that, yes, that, and also something else, because even if it starts out that way, by making this transformation something transforms within you as well, it might be transactional at first, but it ends [00:30:00] up being transformative.

SHEFFIELD: So you mentioned Matt Taibbi and there's something that is interesting with a lot of People that, that you, you guys talk about in your article that is different from people like me who, went from right to left people like me, we actually said that we changed our ideas and we have different ideas. And we realized the left was correct. Whereas people like Matt Taibbi and, let's say, Tulsi Gabbard or, any of these other people that you guys discuss, they actually still insist that they're on the left and that their ideas have not changed and I, and I think that that's, it's an important distinction in that, I sometimes gets lost in, in talking about these people.

And, it's, oh, go ahead.

JOYCE: Oh, no, please.

SHEFFIELD: Okay, yeah, and I was going to say that, it's, When you look at the way that both left and right are kind of viewed in a generic sense, that the left is viewed [00:31:00] as kind of having a broadly speaking, having more moral authority, and then the right is viewed as having more sort of that you should feel sorry for them in some sense, that you should understand them.

 And it's given rise to this dynamic that of what I call right privilege that while people might agree that left wingers are more compassionate or whatever, no one really tries to understand that position, and understand, well, where are these viewpoints coming from in the mass media, mainstream press.

Whereas on the right, you constantly see this right privilege which is, it's, it kind of flows that the further right you are, the more we should try to understand you, and the more we should allow you to say your viewpoints and not really question them and not really debate them because there's this subtle implication that you can't.

And I think it's true that they can't. And, but people who have more of a, center [00:32:00] to left, center left perspective, they don't understand that that's, you really need to, to, to make them do that. And, and, and so as a result, we've got this media ecosystem now where, you turn on CNN or any of these Sunday morning shows and they will have, or, read the New York times opinion page and they've got these people who they are presented as sort of speaking for conservatives.

But they have no credibility in the right wing world. Everyone in the right hates them, as a matter of fact. But, but there's just this, total affirmative action for them. That people with no constituency are just allowed to, to talk about things as if their views represent anyone. And they don't.

JOYCE: That's, yeah, that's really interesting, I feel. Like that. I have so many thoughts in response to that. But first I, I just, I really appreciate your anecdote and your perspective about, your own kind of [00:33:00] political transformation moving left. Because I've spoken, in my reporting over the years to a lot of particularly young people, but not only young adults who have left evangelical or fundamentalist Christian upbringings and overwhelmingly have moved left.

I mean, for many of them, the only direction to move would have been left for the most part. But you know, many of them moved really substantially to the left. And yeah, I, I. I think that I could safely say that that seems like their experiences, as they described it to me, is similar to what you were saying, that they changed their ideas that, that they had a realization.

It wasn't like, oh, the right left me. It wasn't, it wasn't kind of the inverse of what we're seeing today in terms of, of people on the left who have moved right in terms of the wonderful way to put it, the affirmative action for, for right wing [00:34:00] people in, in the mainstream press. Yeah, I think I, I agree with what you're saying.

I, I also I feel like. It, it comes and I guess this is kind of what you were saying as well, or at least how I heard it, it comes from a place of, lack of familiarity and ultimately I, I think lack of respect that kind of disguises itself as, this over solicitousness.

Of the right wing viewpoint.

SHEFFIELD: It's like a patronizing respect is what it is.

JOYCE: It is, yeah. It's it's kind of not Not grappling with the ideas on their face. It is looking for The same sort of stock characters In diners all over the heartland. to say something folksy. It's It's kind of not giving [00:35:00] people the, the respect to, to hold them accountable for the movements that they are supporting and, holding them accountable for the, the sort of order that would result from, the election of their candidates or kind of the realization of the movement that they are pushing for.

And I, I tend to think that a lot of times with the really mainstream media, it comes from a place of being so unfamiliar and so removed from, people with these viewpoints. That, yeah, I guess that patronizing approach feels respectful. I actually think it's, it's the opposite of it. I think it's more respectful to kind of take people and their arguments and, and grapple with them sincerely, even if that means being extremely critical.

Because yeah, there's serious movements

SHEFFIELD: there. Yeah. And as a result, yeah. And as a result of this kind [00:36:00] of patronizing disengagement, there are the, the average Republican voter really doesn't even know what their party stands for and what their leaders want. And so, they, they think that.

Donald Trump, his policies are better for the middle class or, and, or they think that he helped them out with tax cuts or, like, and, and they, and they, and they really have no idea because nobody actually is going out there and telling them, no, this is how it really is. And your people have lied to you.

And, and some of that, a large part of that is the fault of Democrats, I feel like. Because, there was this after the Barry Goldwater people came in and took over the Republican party and turned it from being a conservative party to a reactionary party a lot of people left the Republican party, particularly in the the Eastern seaboard, the Acela corridor, as it's sometimes referred to, and they kind of, you know, and they were welcomed into the Democratic party.[00:37:00]

As sort of refugees in a sense and, but they never were required to change any of their viewpoints. Or to even consider them. And, and, and we're seeing that I think to some degree with, some of the people who have come, who were kind of thrown out of the Republican party under Trump, some of these political consultants and writers that they come over and, and they, and they basically, and.

I mean, it's a bit odd for me to be talking about this, I suppose, given my own movement, but it's maybe I can say that I can see it because, I made this movement, now the Democratic Party is filled with people who are saying, Oh, be careful, don't go too far to the left. Be careful. Don't.

And the people who are saying that are Republicans. So it's like, it's just this very weird situation and nothing like that exists over, with these. Migrants from left to right, the, the Taibes of the world. And the uh, [00:38:00] uh, the various, other people like sorry, I just forgot her name.

Oh, Naomi Wolf and, various people like Max Blumenthal. They don't, they don't tell the Republicans who are their new friends. You guys should be careful about going too far to the right. They never say that to them. And again, it's just this whole right privilege that no one ever really takes, the Republicans are assumed not to have any agency.

That they're assumed to have this, deranged base that's crazy and full of, lunatic Christian supremacists and they just have to manage them and, I'm sorry. That's they, they just, that's just the way it is. We can't do anything about it. And so as a result, there's no center right media.

And no one ever stands up for themselves on the right or at the center right. And, and then, the, the So called liberal media is filled with people like Atlantic magazine editors or New York times op ed editors who, are [00:39:00] conservative, but they don't have a dialogue with the Republican party.

And they're not engaging with them in any way. And so as a result, the Republican party just becomes more and more right wing. And then, also is having some gravitational effect to, sort of get people to flip over from the far left as well. That's a lot. I'm sorry.

JOYCE: No it's, it's all really interesting.

I mean, you know, all of this of course follows decades of kind of just the increasingly constricted. News ecosystem that so much of the Republican base finds itself in where while maybe Fox for some of them is becoming, the liberal fake news media, but, where something like Fox or Newsmax or one American news or epoch times, like become the only sources of information they get.

And, that. Going back decades there has been this simultaneous message [00:40:00] alongside all of the, propaganda or disinformation that is frequently appearing on those channels or outlets along with that is this message that you can't trust anything you hear that's not from us, everything outside, as Rush Limbaugh said, is a universe of lies and we're the universe of truth.

So basically don't look outside, don't get any information from outside. It's, it's really, it's really hard to deal with the fact that there is such an effectively propagandized population in this country that is a third of the country almost, that is really getting their news from a place that is so radically divorced from the rest of the news media ecosystem and if the alternative to that, I mean, in, in the kind of the, the regular media ecosystem, if you have places like the Atlantic that are functioning as [00:41:00] conservative media, but are still perceived as liberal media not just by the right, but often also from people, kind of within the center broadly, that's really, it's kind of a confounding problem. I think, yeah, there's a lot of good points there.

SHEFFIELD: We've talked about the idea of the American right, sort of the, the leadership class being heavily libertarian or, or market oriented, but at the same time, one of the other things that a lot of these people that we're talking about here, they have themselves also a libertarian bent. Many of them in the case of like Glenn Greenwald, he worked for the Cato Institute earlier in his career and some of them, became kind of outraged at institutions and the government during the COVID pandemic from a, a libertarian kind of framework. And I'm going to put it, this is the last time I'm going to put the chart on, guys but libertarianism, if you look [00:42:00] in the chart here, it's underneath, but it has a lot of overlap. And there is some, there is some framework under which you can be a libertarian and be on the left in some sense.

And, but the problem is of course, libertarianism can also be connected to many other things, including reactionism and fascism and conspiracism, which is the belief that no institutions are telling you the truth, that everything is a lie. And that seems to have also played a role for some of these people that you guys talked about.

Do you want to talk about some specific examples here, if you could?

JOYCE: Yeah, sure. I mean, I think Naomi Wolf certainly seems to fit in that category of conspiracism playing a strong role. And, of course Naomi Klein's recent book, Doppelganger goes into this in, in great depth. It's not a book explicitly about Wolf but is looking at kind of the political transformation of Wolf from being, not really on the left, but being, [00:43:00] just a, a sort of, Steady centrist liberal and, a pop feminist icon who wrote these sort of big ideas books to somebody who is now like Steve Bannon's favorite guest going on all the time, first to talk about COVID and then just increasingly to talk about all kinds of things that Bannon wants her perspective on.

But Klein talks a lot about how the, just the explosion of conspiracism around the first couple of years of the COVID 19 pandemic kind of served as this vehicle for a lot of people to, in her words, end up falling down the rabbit hole and a rabbit hole that seems to just go kind of in one direction towards the right.

And Klein's book also popularized this, this competing theory To the idea of horseshoe theory, which we haven't talked about, but you know, it's, it is this sort of pop [00:44:00] explanation of what happens that some people who are on the left end up going to the right. And it's, I mean, I remember a middle school social studies teacher kind of first outlining this to to my class as though it was a fact that if you go too far left, you're going to fall off the other side that the political extremes meet when they bend around to touch each other.

A lot of people have argued, very convincingly against that as not being a really good explanation for this and this, I, and just to kind of put a nail in that coffin, some of the people that we spoke to said, it's, it's not horseshoe theory because these people, they are not going so far left that they turn right it's often aside from any other cases of kind of resentment or Perhaps grifting or anything like that.

It can be just selecting one element of leftist politics and dropping everything else, saying I'm only going to focus on economics [00:45:00] and everything else. Every other kind of justice movement is just extraneous. I'm dropping them. And that is how you end up making common cause with people on the right who are making those same arguments.

Anyway, sorry, tangent but diagonalism, which is this sort of counter theory that Naomi Klein popularized in, in her book this past year it's an alternate explanation and it's It came out of observations of some sort of COVID era protests in Germany, actually, where there was this weird kind of eclectic group that was coming together that didn't have, very clearly defined politics except that they, they were conspiratorial.

They were suspicious of kind of all institutional power in general. They drew together people who were sort of lifestyle liberals with people who, were kind of hardcore ideologues and, and that again, it just seemed to go in one [00:46:00] direction. seems to go rightward, even though it's it's drawing together people from a lot of different political perspectives, but also people who weren't particularly political to begin with and then pulls them in this one direction.

And I, I mean, I think a lot of us saw this in 2020, 2021. I mean, I know I, saw people in New York City that I knew suddenly talking a lot about 5G and COVID or kind of, how they would never get a vaccine because all of the things that might be in it, from microchips to sterilization agents, so that Bill Gates himself can control the population of the world.

I just think, this was, you said at the beginning of the show one of those radical moments of change, this period of really intense radical change when a lot of people end up kind of falling into or jumping into these really different ideologies or onto these bandwagons [00:47:00] that are, whether they know it or not, taking them in the direction of, of a really specific ideology.

SHEFFIELD: so let's maybe wrap up here with you, you guys. You, you, after talking about all these different people many of them, podcasters that, you get to the end and I have to say, like, I'm not sure what was the takeaway that you wanted people to have from it.

Let's talk about that. And like, what is. Because the it comes down to the question, well, what is to be done? Understanding that you guys provided a great, documentation that this thing is happening, but can anything be done about it or should it?

JOYCE: Yeah. I mean, I think part of, part of the motivation for writing the piece was In These Times is a. not a liberal magazine but a left magazine and kind of doing this entire issue about the special, the special issue about the far right, the first time that [00:48:00] in these times in its nearly 50 year history has done a special issue about the right. I think the idea was speaking to An audience of really committed people on the left and, and arguing that this is something that you need to take very seriously.

Um, so, to that end, part of what we were trying to do with the piece is show where a lot of this stuff leads and some of the people that we spoke to who had kind of made this journey a little bit like Bilbo Baggins says, there and back again and then, went left to post left to dissident right and then kind of came back to just being maybe, maybe on the left, maybe being a squishy Democrat.

But their arguments that, this is really dangerous. You end up going down this path, for various reasons including that, the democratic party has really let [00:49:00] you down. That you feel like it's never going to take some of these issues seriously. And then finding themselves in the company of people Who were making, increasingly alarming arguments who were making alliances with, kind of increasingly dangerous movements.

One of the sort of scenes that we talked about a little bit in the piece as kind of an IRL in real life scene of Dimes Square in New York City, where, you know, a number of people who, would have once considered themselves on the left or even socialist, ended up joining this movement that within a couple of years went from just being sort of contrarian about, what they would call wokeness or about COVID precautions to talking about eugenics in a positive way to, praising kind of the ideas of white nationalists and ultra reactionaries or [00:50:00] neo reactionaries who believe that, we should have some sort of patriarchal Aryan warrior state or a monarchy, like really extreme ideas.

And then watching these people who maybe at first were just dabbling in this and then start to espouse real racism, real misogyny really extreme homophobia lots of other bigotry along the way. And I think, it is their point that people, who dipped their toe in this or went, part way down this path, and then realized they, they felt like they were getting into, some really dark areas of, of the political landscape and retreated from it. I think part of it, our intention was to show that, that as one of our sources said, this is a train that only goes in one direction.

And a lot of these people don't have any idea what that map looks like. And it is, people being ironic. about, George Wallace, and you could only do that for so [00:51:00] long before you start thinking these are good ideas. So I think part of our intention was to show that this is happening to show that this is serious, and like, people who once where fellow travelers are not just defecting from a political party, but defecting from kind of an entire shared, view of what is just and kind of what is equality and for.

Us to kind of, as, as the left generally, to, to think about that means and, what to do about it. And I don't think we have any silver bullet answers. Um, you know, I think we did want to grapple with it a little more than just saying good riddance. They were never ours they were never really with us but to look at what it means for these people to have left.

And what that means for the movement, what that means, kind of, as, everybody [00:52:00] from the left to a lot of places on the center and even some conservatives who are not on board the MAGA train. What does it mean? When we're facing that in 2024 and the really, really explicit plans that are being laid out by the far right for what they would do if, if they win power.

So I don't think a really concrete answer trying to raise this as an issue that I think we all need to think about and, and grapple with. Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: And it should be noted that these people who are making these authoritarian plans for Trump are overwhelmingly the National Conservatives, the very people who are doing this outreach to the further left.

JOYCE: Yeah, the new new right, going very far right and at the same time, kind of extending a hand to people on the left, we should be aware. Yeah.

SHEFFIELD: [00:53:00] Yeah. And I think, maybe that's at least one takeaway is that for me is that and it's part of why I started this podcast is to get people to understand that political ideologies and political philosophy, it might seem boring and dry, to have to understand, or to think about, Kierkegaard or Kant or, Nietzsche or whatever.

But this stuff matters, even if you can't see that it matters. Ideas matter, and they influence you whether you realize it or not. And I think it was John Kenneth Galbraith, I believe it was him who said that most people are animated by the ideas of some dead economist or philosopher and don't even realize it.

And so that's why it's important to know about them and important to know how they permeate the world that we live in and our political system. So, yeah. Oh, okay. I was gonna waiting to see if [00:54:00] you had any response to that or

JOYCE: No, I, I think that that is, that's, that's very true. I think, um.

There's, there's a lot of intentionality behind, these efforts to make this, this outreach. Behind the sort of organizations and outlets that are presenting themselves as, as heterodox as some new political formulation. And, they are part of this broader new right that is doing really alarming things.

And people, I think a lot of times aren't aware of it. I think for some people there's like a little bit of a contrarian cachet to dabbling in this stuff. But maybe. They don't know everything else that's behind it or they don't understand kind of what it would mean to to get, to get in bed with this, this movement and all of the people who are associated with it.

Yeah. [00:55:00]

SHEFFIELD: All right. Well, yeah, it's been a great discussion. So people who want to keep up with your work. What's the your recommendations for them?

JOYCE: Well, I'm an investigative editor at In These Times, so I'm editing there and sometimes writing there. I am a disappointing Twitter follow, but you can follow me there at kathrynajoyce. And I'm on Bluesky as well.

SHEFFIELD: Okay, cool. All right. Well, we'll have links to those in the show notes for everyone who wants to do that. And I'm glad you were able to join us today.

Thanks for being here.

JOYCE: Thank you so much for having me.

Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.