Cenk Uygur is a left wing, Turkish American journalist and political activist. Over the past two decades, he’s worked for Al Gore’s Air America, which failed, Current TV, which also failed, and organized the Young Turks Network, which succeeded. He’s a familiar, if controversial figure on the American left. As a radio and TV host who broke into the business in the late 1990s and early 2000s, he began in the “shock jock” style made familiar by figures like Howard Stern and Joe Rogan, and, as such, has a long electronic trail of “problematic” comments on sex and race. As a Turkish American, he was, until fairly recently, “skeptical” of the Armenian genocide.
All of this was bound to cause him difficulties when he attempted to make the transition from journalism to politics. A co-founder along with Kyle Kulinski of the pro-Bernie-Sanders “Justice Democrats” he was forced to resign in 2017 after blog posts from the early 2000s, when he was both a Republican and a miserable 20-something who was frustrated because he couldn’t get laid, surfaced. In 2019, after he declared his intention to run for the Congressional seat in Southern California vacated by Katie Hill, who was forced out of office after an ex-boyfriend published photos of her participating in group sex with campaign staffers. When a California Assemblywoman named Christy Smith declared for the same seat, Clinton loyalists on Twitter, not wanting to see another “Bernie Bro” get any political traction, reignited the debate on Cenk Uygur, ex-Republican, miserable 20-something who made sexist remarks because he couldn’t get laid, and Turkish American with “problematic” views on the Armenian Genocide.
Then the New York Times got into the game.
David Duke is an elderly Nazi who’s had more plastic surgery than Michael Jackson. While he did pioneer the idea that white supremacists should take off the brown shirts and white sheets, put on suits and ties and cultivate a relationship with the mainstream corporate media and the Republican Party, he hasn’t been politically relevant since the 1990s. The only time you’ll ever hear about him these days is when some Zionist wants to brand the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement as “antisemitic.” Hey David Duke supports the Palestinians. So everybody else who does must be a Nazi, right? The only time Duke gets into the media is when some mainstream, or progressive journalist wants to score good guy points by yelling at him on the air. When Cenk Uygur interviewed him in 2015 it all went pretty much as expected. Uygur mocked the creepy old racist for an hour, and scored his good guy points. Duke sat there for an hour, and seemed grateful for all the attention.
Considering how badly Turkish guest workers get treated in Germany and how viciously Islamophobic conservative Americans tend to be, the idea of a Turkish American Muslim, secular Muslim in Uygur’s case, being sympathetic to David Duke is about as far fetched as the idea that Bernie Sanders, a descendant of Polish Jews who died in the Holocaust, could be antisemitic. Yet that’s exactly the impression Jennifer Medina of the New York Times tried to create, taking a clearly sarcastic comment out of context to make it appear that Uygur agreed with Duke when Duke tried to argue he wasn’t “racist.”
Mr. Uygur, a longtime supporter of Mr. Sanders, has also disparaged former President Barack Obama on his show, argued that bestiality should be legal and hosted white supremacist figures, including David Duke. In one clip that circulated on Twitter, Mr. Duke ends an interview by saying, “I am not, what you call a racist,” to which Mr. Uygur replies “No, of course not.”
(Note: The online edition of the New York times edited to passage to read “sarcastically replies.” I put in the original quote, which only reads “replies.”)
In other words, instead of attacking Cenk Uygur for what he is, a “problematic” Bernie Bro with a history of sexist remarks, they tried to paint him as something he isn’t, a supporter of David Duke. The only question is “why?” They had to know that Uygur, a popular figure on YouTube and social media with hundreds of thousands of subscribers and a well-developed network of supporters, would be able to hit back, to eventually make them issue a retraction, which they eventually did on December 16.
I suppose the first explanation would be that Jennifer Medina never tried to paint Uygur as a supporter of David Duke, that Uygur’s supporters took one badly written passage from Medina’s article and played it up in order to discredit the more legitimate criticisms Democrats have of Uygur’s campaign. I think that’s part of it. Cenk Uyghur’s supporters are probably better at the game of cancel culture than a neophyte reporter like Jennifer Medina, the sucker given the unpleasant task of writing the hit piece her more experienced colleagues would have probably rejected. But I also think we’re going to see Jennifer Medina again, and my guess is that she’s going to be assigned to cover Bernie Sanders. In other words, Cenk Uygur, who probably doesn’t have much of a chance of winning a Congressional election in a far-right-wing district in the Simi Valley anyway, wasn’t the real target. The real target was Bernie Sanders, who has since retracted his endorsement of Uygur’s campaign. And I think the New York Times found their range.
Ever since 2016, Bernie Sanders, who was an early supporter of the Civil Rights movement, feminism, and gay liberation, has been attacked by mainstream Democrats for being “problematic” on the issues of feminism and anti-racism. It’s not that anybody outside of the most rabid, pro-Clinton trolls on social media has out and said that Bernie himself is a racist or a sexist, but there has been a long running narrative in the mainstream, corporate media that his supporters are predominantly white frat boys in their 20s. There have also been suggestions that Sanders, who has a rough, working-class manner of carrying himself, is disrespectful, pointing or talking over his female colleagues in a way that a slick Ivy Leaguer like Barack Obama or Pete Buttigieg wouldn’t. In other words, Uighur, the ex-Republican frat boy with a history of “problematic” remarks is proof that the long running Clinton Democrat story of Bernie Sanders as the leader of a gang of sexists and racists who derailed Hillary Clinton’s Presidential run has been vindicated.
Bernie Sanders has a fatal weakness, a weakness he partly shares with Barack Obama. Whenever a smear campaign is framed in terms of social liberalism, fronted by people who claim to be feminists or anti-racists, he always backs down. In the Summer of 2015, when he was scheduled to speak at an event organized by Seattle socialist politician Kshama Sawant, he was pushed off the stage by a pair of far-right-wing provocateurs later, revealed to be supporters of Sarah Palin. All Sanders saw were two younger black women he dare not confront. Later that year, when he was attacked by Clinton supporter and long-time Democratic Party activist Dolores Huerta attacked Sanders as being anti-immigrant and anti-Latino, he was unable to mount an effective response. It seems that to completely paralyze the Sanders campaign, all you need is an iconic sellout from the Baby Boomer generation like Huerta or John Lewis.
Note: In ten years when I run for political office, this “problematic” blog post where I refer to John Lewis as a “sellout” will almost certainly force me to withdraw.
In 2020, when YouTube personality Matt Oraflea made an incredibly effective video demonstrating mainstream media bias against the Sanders campaign, Sanders hired and then almost just as quickly fired him after the “problematic” videos from the past predictably surfaced. So there’s no sign that any of this is going to end anytime soon. In fact, the effective smear campaign in the United Kingdom against Jeremy Corbyn for his alleged “antisemitism” has emboldened the center right in the United States and will almost certainly be imported to the United States in time to smear Bernie Sanders. It’s doubtful that outside of the most rabid, right-wing Zionist circles (all of whom are already in the tank for Donald Trump) will accuse Sanders directly of being antisemitic or “self-hating.” Rather, more mainstream and liberal politicians and media figures will accuse him of being “soft on antisemitism,” of tolerating supporters like Linda Sarsour .
So the question is why is Sanders so vulnerable to attacks from the cultural left? The first and probably the least important reason is Sanders’s age.
As an early Generation Xer, born in 1965, I can still remember when there was almost no left in the United States. To be a leftist in your teens or twenties the 1980s was to be a freak so outlandish that people rarely even bothered to attack you. Back in the 1980s, a Central American Solidarity or Anti-Apartheid rally in New York City was more of a curiosity than a threat. There was no massive police presence or interlocking metal barricades. All the NYPD did was send a few patrolmen to keep an eye on the protest and these patrolmen were, more often than not, more amused than anything else.
“Hey kids Woodstock’s over,” I remember one cop saying. “You missed the 60s. Deal with it.”
All through those dark years, Bernie Sanders worked to build a broad based, multi-racial working-class movement, facing attacks by racist white supporters after he campaigned for Jesse Jackson in Northern New England. I think sometimes that people forget just how openly sexist, racist and homophobic the Reagan Administration was. His spokesmen and reporters would actually tell AIDS jokes at press conferences. Isolated and beleaguered on all sides, therefore, the cultural and economic left were unified. Bernie, a gifted politician, came to each and every person who spoke in the name of feminism or anti-racism as a natural ally. For the left, the 1990s were almost as dark as the 1980s, but in the 2000s, after George W. Bush stole the election from Al Gore and exploited our grief over 9/11 to push us into invading Iraq, the American left went mainstream. During the Bush years, the communist far left, groups like Answer and United For Peace and Justice, staged ant-war rallies that sometimes topped 100,000 people, and the more moderate left, Democratic activists, feminists, and mainstream gay activists, followed their lead. George W. Bush was indeed a “uniter not a divider.” Everybody left of center hated him.
The split came in 2006, after the Democrats took both the House and the Senate from the Republicans and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid quickly moved to distance themselves from the antiwar movement and protect George W. Bush from impeachment. You could actually see it in real time. I still remember watching John Stewart on the Daily Show mocking Cindy Sheehan for giving a speech in support of Hugo Chavez, his face twisted in a smug, sarcastic expression of dismay as he declared “you’re not helping.”
The sea change came in the Fall of 2008, after Barack Obama won the Presidency under a false pretense, running as a progressive by appealing to the broad, unified left that had grown in opposition to George W. Bush, and taking the nomination away from Hillary Clinton, largely because she had voted for the invasion of Iraq. Her pleas that she was fooled by the intelligence that was presented by the Bush administration have of course been revealed as a fraud by Nancy Pelosi’s recent admission that everybody always knew that Bush had been lying about weapons of mass destruction, but it’s still bitterly ironic that to this day Clinton has been the only major political or media figure that has ever paid any price for supporting the war. Of course the price she paid wasn’t particularly high. Indeed, as soon as he beat John McCain, Obama dismantled the grass roots political organization that Sanders has subsequently rebuilt, stacked his cabinet with Wall Streeters, appointed Clinton Secretary of State, and allowed Nancy Pelosi to oversee the destruction of the grassroots political organization ACORN in collusion with the far right.
Barack Obama’s hard right turn in 2008 in fact was so sharp and so abrupt, it was difficult to understand everything that was going on.
But it’s clear now that Obama quickly and successfully moved to consolidate corporate control over the Democratic Party and to suppress the huge antiwar movement that had grown so dangerous to the establishment over the years. Key to Obama’s strategy was his own skin color. Obama raised identity politics to an art. Obama was a master at political Jiu Jitsu. He basked in liberal and leftist sympathy generated by the white supremacist Tea Party and Birther attacks against the first African American President even while he largely adopted the Tea Party’s radical, right-wing economic platform. It all culminated in an attempt to cut Social Security as part of a “grand bargain” with the Republican controlled House in 2012, the event that initially pushed Bernie Sanders in the Presidential arena when he threatened to run against Obama in the Democratic primaries.
The Obama years were the best of times and the worst of times. They were the best of times for upper-middle-class people of all races and every one of however many genders there are these days. The Obama years were glory years for rich, cultural liberals. Gay marriage was legalized in almost every state. Feminism became so mainstream that edgy young radicals quickly began to see feminists as the enemy, as “Terfs” or “rich white women.” Federal legalization of marijuana began to look like a reality. But the Obama years were the worst of times for the working class, not only the black and Hispanic working class, who lost a record amount of wealth after the Wall Street bailouts, but also for the “white working class,” which actually experienced a decline in life expectancy. Tuition prices and student debt exploded, even as more women and people of color were moving into the technocratic elite.
In other words, a gigantic crevasse suddenly appeared between economic and social liberals, the same people who had once been so united against the Christian fundamentalist George W. Bush, a divide so deep that social and economic leftists began to hate each other more than they hated the right. Indeed, these days, for liberal, upper-class feminists, a miserable 20-year-old virgin who makes sexist remarks is the devil incarnate. George W. Bush, a bloodstained war criminal with the deaths of millions of Iraqis on his hands, is just a nice old man who paints dogs. For the economic left, Hillary Clinton is as hated as Donald Trump. What’s more, because the far right in the form of Ron Paul moved into the antiwar vacuum created in 2007 by the Democratic Party’s withdrawal, there’s no guarantee these days that a leftist will be any more anti-imperialist and anti-war than a conservative. That anarchist who masks up during protests and fights Nazis in Berkeley and Charlottesville might also support US military intervention in Syria. That Nazi who thinks the Jews control Washington might also be against “American wars for Israel.” The political world has turned upside down and has shaken itself out in all directions. Nobody knows anymore who believe, or who to trust. We are in what former CIA James Jesus Angleton called the wilderness of mirrors. Nobody seems to have political compass. Americans have no idea where we’re going.
The appeal of Bernie Sander, therefore, his relentless focus on economic issues and his willingness to compromise with anybody on the cultural left who catches his ear, is also his weakness, a weakness the corporate media and the Democratic Party establishment well knows how to exploit. For all I know, Bernie is perfectly sincere, but he seems to be playing the same role in 2020 that Barack Obama did in 2008, “sheepdogging” the left into the Democratic Party where they can be neutered and then demobilized. The cancellation of Cenk Uygur is the canary in the coal mine. I see more of it in the future. And the master himself, Barack Obama, hasn’t even gotten into the game yet.