Chapo Trap House is sometimes a reminder why the DSA will probably collapse on itself.
Don’t get me wrong. I like CTH and support the DSA, BUT I’m not so blinded by optimism that I’m unable to process reality.
The last episode was really, REALLY bad (it’s not the episode posted above. I posted some random one). I’ve been involved in a few podcasts over the years. Clearly I haven’t been successful, so take or leave my advice, but the episode should have been scrapped. I’ve taken down several blog posts here, despite hours and hours I spent on it, because they were simply bad or did a poor job at explaining what I meant.
That’s the case with Chapo: if you can convince me to vote against an issue I fully support, despite trying to convince me to do the opposite, you did godawful job. But the worst part was the “reading series” where host Will Menaker read some article from a New York Post journalist (just go listen to the episode yourself). Will and cohost Matt Christman laugh at the writer’s insistence that she understands working class Americans, even though she only speaks to small business owners in “middle America”. Will and Matt maintain that the author is only humoring herself by speaking with fellow upper-middle class WHITE Americans, and not venturing into some working class neighborhoods…or into places that might make her feel uncomfortable. And that’s true. But Chapo inadvertently came across another problem: pot meet kettle.
This criticism is mostly directed at Will Menaker, the driving force behind CTH. Will’s father, Daniel, is a famed writer and editor. In this very episode, Will stated that he has lived in New York City his entire life. Both he and Matt challenge the right-wing assertion that large cities are “bubbles” and posit that “middle America” is the actual bubble because it lacks diversity in general. Granted. No doubt Will has been exposed to greater diversity than most Americans. HOWEVER, I’m gonna take a shot in the dark and say that NYC has more millionaires than any other city in the US. Wealth inequality is probably staggering there, but with a moderately famous father, (presumably) educated from a school most of us can get into (which is why it was strange to hear him attack Harvard University), raised in one of the most elite cities in the world, and WHITE…I just found it odd listening to him make fun of another NYC writer over where to find the working class.
Mind you, everyone is rightfully pissed about ICE locking up children in abandoned Walmarts…especially Will. In fact, this is such a terrible problem that everyone should head for the Texas border and demand an end to this. Perhaps that explains some of Will’s strange comments.
But this leads me to the larger problem within the DSA. Mind you, Chapo Trap House is pretty controversial among DSA members. Everyone in my local group hates them or have never heard of them. Nevertheless, Chapo can be a pretty accurate representation of DSA members. I’m in my early 30’s, yet I’m one of the older ones. They’re all young, mostly attractive and heterosexual, white, and privately or very well educated. Many are students. Those that aren’t work for non-profits or in higher education. A few work in the service industry or are artists. To my knowledge, none have ever worked blue collar, warehouse, or even corporate jobs. That isn’t to say that they don’t deserve a word in political discussion, BUT there is something insincere when they mention the hardships of labor. There’s a degree of disdain and concern for the “working class” within the DSA ranks.
Although they want to be a representation of the working class, it’s seemingly difficult for the working class to take the DSA seriously. That would explain why there’s so few working class members within my group. There’s a large space between them and the so-called average American, both white and minority. For the vast majority, being working class can be demeaning. It’s soul-crushing to get fired, laid-off, or unable to pay the bills. It’s even worse to be working class AND a woman, immigrant, or African-American. In addition to not being able to pay the bills, they’re continually subjected to casual racism and sexism. Then along comes the DSA populated by young, white, and rich youths. So there’s an obvious disconnect.
But there’s also disdain for this class. These white rich kids grew up holding hatred for the things their Baby-Boomer/Gen X parents held dear: namely patriotism, careerism, desire for self-reliance, and love of frivolous things like sports, vintage cars, or anything Americana. Many within the working class distract themselves by focusing on sports, cars, movies, popular entertainment, etc. Patriotism is also a method of pacifying class angst. Now, frivolous Americana and patriotism can be used to distract the working class from their dire situation, NEVERTHELESS these things are important to the masses. It’s what allows people to bond with one another. Meanwhile, many DSA members (and those within Leftdom. Not Chapo Trap House btw) want to maintain an air of elite-ness by nerding out on obscure philosophical debates, abstract art, and high society. They fundamentally come from a different world than most working class Americans.
DSA, Chapo, and many Leftist make fun of liberals for their smugness, but as Will Menaker demonstrated, Leftists are equally capable of it. The fault that many Leftist make is by equating the concept of America with patriotism, or blind nationalism. It’s not difficult for most people to understand that blind patriotism can permit many evil things…Things like racism, destruction of other countries, and pacification of class anger. HOWEVER, because the US is a political body with a history and large population, an independent and distinct culture has arisen out of it. Chapo and the “Dirtbag Left” (which is really just one other podcast called Cum Town) did a pretty decent job of exposing Leftism/Marxism to everyday American thought despite Menaker’s bad habits. My suggestion for the DSA, if it wants to succeed, is it has to do a better job connecting with this sense of ‘America’ if it wants to reach out to the working class or disenfranchised groups.
Additionally I took issue with Menaker’s assertion that politics is about “domination” (paraphrasing, I think. Didn’t feel like re-listening to the episode). He was referencing this general rhetoric that writers deploy about the need to “come together” on political discourse. I don’t have a problem with blatant contrarianism. Maybe Will’s comments were an example of that. Again, maybe he was upset that we’re fucking imprisoning children. Everyone should be. But as cheesy and bland as “coming together” sounds…that is much closer to the democratic project than total political “domination” of other groups.
There’s a good reason why I’m a Marxist: I want to put an end to that form of domination. Marx merely put forth a method for equality. But “Marxism” is not a goal unto itself. It’s simply my vehicle of choice. There are no perfect “socialists” and such vocabulary needs to be eradicated from leftist thought. Equality and end of suffering are not ideologies. I’ll go one step further: ideologies don’t win. Purists deserve to lose every time. They’re only vehicles. We can compromise on vehicles, but we can’t compromise on the destination. And my destination, and indeed anyone else’s destination that isn’t a psychopath, is ending inequality, suffering, and “dominating” any and all peoples.
In our heated discourses, things get murky. Many times, we fail to answer the obvious question: is poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, and suffering altogether unacceptable? Or are they acceptable under certain conditions? What Menaker forgot is that we are not frozen in time. The decisions we make TODAY are going to effect some other group of people in the future, near and distant. If we have learned anything from history, it’s this: “dominating” people politically, economically, racially, socially, etc. NEVER ends well.
If “domination” is the game, I can’t support that.
And stop locking up children in abandoned Walmarts for fuck sake!