On the surface, Tulsi Gabbard is one of the oddest, most contradictory figures in American politics. Before she resigned from the DNC in 2016, claiming the election was rigged against Bernie Sanders, she had all the attributes that would have made her the darling of the Democratic Party establishment. A young, attractive military veteran, she was the perfect “national security liberal.”
Soon, however, she alienated not only supporters of Hillary Clinton, but supporters of Bernie Sanders. Her ties to far right-wing figures like Benjamin Netenyahu and Narendra Modi, her homophobic past, and statements in support of torture were not likely to endear her to democratic socialists who wanted to scale back the military budget to finance Medicare for All.
Yet in spite of her outspoken support for Israel, the left was the least of her problems. When she declared her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President, the neoconservative right was determined the keep her out of the race. The problem was her opposition to regime change in Syria, and her limited conception of the “war on terror.” For Tulsi Gabbard, the “war on terror” means hunting down, killing, and even torturing Islamic extremists, but it does not mean breaking up nation states like Syria, Iraq, and most importantly of all, Iran.
While Gabbard did not qualify for the December 19th debate, her run benefited Bernie Sanders. She effectively neutered Kamala Harris’s campaign in the second debate by focusing attention on her past as a California prosecutor. “Kamala Harris is a cop” is a popular slogan on the left. In the MSNBC debate on November 20th, she absorbed most of the red baiting that might have otherwise been directed against Sanders, again and again brushing back charges from Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg that she was a “pro-Assad” Russian puppet. Sanders, unfortunately, did not take advantage of the opening. Except for a brief declaration that Palestinians were human beings and deserved human rights, he largely avoided foreign policy to focus on his popular domestic agenda.
While Tulsi Gabbard is effectively out of the Democratic primaries, she’s managed to keep attention on herself, and engender new hostility on the social democratic left. While Bernie/Warren supporters like Young Turks Network reporter Emma Vigeland, quoted above, have criticized the impeachment process against Donald Trump for being too narrowly focused on Trump’s attempt to coerce the Ukrainian government into giving him damaging information on Joe Biden, they still support the impeachment process. Gabbard’s decision to abstain, to vote “present” instead of “yes” not only came off like grandstanding, but also forced them to confront their own political contradictions. For the mainstream left, full-throated support for Pelosi’s narrowly defined articles of impeachment not only means an alliance with Russiagate and the neoliberal establishment, it’s also tacit support for her decision not to impeach George W. Bush. Yet Donald Trump is a vicious white supremacist, criminal President who needs to be impeached.
I think Emma Vigeland is a good reporter. Her interviews with Trump supporters at Make America Great Again rallies demonstrate an ability to get out of the way and let them hang themselves with their own extremist opinions. Her interview with the man who admits that he’s sick and needs public healthcare and would support Medicare for All if only he could be guaranteed that the “illegals” wouldn’t get it is a master class in how to get white, working-class, Middle Americans to say what they really think.
As a commentator, however, Vigeland is all over the map, unable to choose between Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and making predictions, like the idea that Kamala Harris would be the Democratic Party front runner, that are quickly proven to be not much more than a restatement of that week’s conventional wisdom. At 25, and feel free to say “OK Boomer” in the comments if you like, she’s simply too young to have developed a coherent worldview grounded in experience. Often she seems to be “thinking out loud’ on the Internet. Last week, for example, she criticized feminists for their disingenuous attacks on Cenk Uygur, her former employer. This week she’s rediscovered her inner white feminist and started ragging on “incels.”
Youth, inexperience, and “thinking out loud’ on the internet are not necessarily bad things. Often they allow us to see political and economic contradictions that we wouldn’t observe in the writing of older, more experience, more polished writers. Vigeland’s sudden urge to rediscover her inner white feminists and blame “white incels” — and for a very obviously upper-middle-class WASP, Vigeland really seems to have it in for white people — for Tulsi Gabbard’s self-aggrandizing decision to break party ranks and vote “present” on Trump’s impeachment raises an interesting question.
What exactly do “incels” have to do with Tulsi Gabbard?
While I’m sure that more sexually frustrated young men have masturbated thinking about Gabbard then, I don’t know, Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden, I do not think it’s a good explanation for Gabbard’s lack of support from women. A better explanation might be how Gabbard’s, and in light of her abstention on the Trump impeachment vote consciously manufactured, position as an “outsider” appeals to the kind of “edgy” young man on 8Chan who’s taken to calling her “mommy.”
Incels, low-status, unattractive young men not likely to get married or have children, are probably more unpopular on the left than on the right. For a conservative, a 20-year-old virgin who whines that girls don’t like him presents no real ideological conundrum. Neither conservative men nor conservative women deny that looks, social status, wealth, or traditional masculine virility determine who gets a mate and who doesn’t. For conservatives, incels are just “losers,” not really anything to worry your mind about. Leftists and liberals, on the other hand, are reluctant to admit that the mating game also involves a good deal of essential conflict between the sexes. Men are biologically programmed to want sex from as many women as they can find. Women are genetically programmed to chose a high-status man who will be a good provider for their children. For women, a young man without social status is a threat. He wants, needs, sex, but he lacks the money, status, or social skill that would make him a desirable husband. Many socialists and many feminists, therefore, are horrified that their egalitarian ideals just might not be compatible with human nature. While conservatives will exploit “incels” for money — how many “pickup artists” have gotten rich playing this game? — liberals, socialists, and feminists just want them to go away.
The problem is “incels” won’t just go away. Even if we get Medicare for all, free college, and even if we guillotine all the bankers, some men are simply going to be more attractive than others. What’s more we socialists will never be able to integrate “incels” into mainstream society. Gays, transgender people, lesbians, blacks, Hispanics, Jews, pretty much every oppressed minority, all gain with the left in power. Assimilating undocumented immigrants would be the easiest thing in the world if we had a politician with even a basic amount of political courage. If President Sanders or President Warren decides to an amnesty bill the way President Reagan did, that solves the “problem of illegal immigration” overnight. The undocumented will be able to vote, join unions, and raise their families free from the terror of ICE and the police state. Incels are simply men women don’t find attractive. Short of a totalitarian state that represses all inequality and forces women to marry against their will, incels will always be with us.
Incels, sadly, are an invention, not of Boomers or Millennials, but of my own generation, Generation X. “Now how can that be,” you ask? “Didn’t you just say that incels will always be with us? That incels are simply unattractive men? How could the smallest, most insignificant, most apolitical generation in American history have invented something that will always be with us?
Let me explain.
For Boomers, for my father’s generation, there were incels, but there was no “incel problem.” Before 1973, American society had an institution that could make good use of low-status, unattractive men who couldn’t get laid, the draft. In the 1960s and 1970s, low-status men went into the army, and got shipped off to Vietnam. Once “in country,” they not only got to shoot people, sex was cheap and easily available. Nobody stayed an incel very long in the United States Marine Corps. After a double shift murdering Vietnamese peasants, and racking up that body count for Robert McNamara, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, you went to a whore house, paid a few dollars, and got laid. If you didn’t, you were probably a fag and nobody in the United States military wanted to be a fag. So you went along. You did your time on top some women driven into prostitution by poverty, desperation and American imperialism, and got over your neurotic inability to talk to girls. Your more privileged, better educated, better connected peers, on the other hand, were in Berkley, Madison, or Ann Arbor smoking pot and getting laid by hippie girls. Sure you hated them. But you didn’t hate the because they were getting laid more than you. You hated them because they weren’t getting their legs blown off and coming home in a wheelchair like half your friends from high-school.
In 1973, the United States government abolished the draft. I was 8 years old. By the time I got to high-school in the 1980s, an urban school just outside of Newark, New Jersey where being on the far left was perfectly normal, nobody wanted to bring back the draft. We all hated the military. Millennials have no idea just how much different this country was before 9/11. In my high school, nobody would have batted an eye over Colin Kaepernick. On the contrary, anybody who stood for the “pledge” was probably an kisser who couldn’t get laid.
(Note: I always stood for the “pledge.”)
At the same time as we hated the military, however, Generation X also hated “fags.” If the typical millennial has no idea just how mainstream it was in the 1980s to hate the military, also has no idea just how homophobic and sexist “my generation.” The mere hint that you were a “fag” in my far left high school inevitably meant a beat down. And it wasn’t only boys. When I was in the 9th and 10th grade, girls would occasionally approach me in between classes, their boyfriends lurking suspiciously around the corner, to ask me if I had ever had sex. “Are you a virgin?” Answering “no” meant a beat down for being a fag. Answering “yes” meant a beat down for being a liar. Fortunately, I was big enough and athletic enough to be able to fight back. I was on the football team. I took karate lessons. I spent time in the weight room. Eventually the popular crowd, the sex police, decided that it just wasn’t worth their time. Setting me up for a beat down by accusing me of being a virgin and therefore a fag just might mean losing a few teeth. There was no question in their minds, however, that I was a virgin, and, of course they were right. I was a virgin well into my 20s.
What this meant, however, is that even though I’m straight, and even though, had their been an Internet back in the 1980s, I would have been vulnerable to have been recruited by the “incel community,” I tended to sympathize with gays and with feminists. Gays were my fellow sexual outsiders. When I was in college, moreover, it wasn’t women hating on loser virgins who couldn’t get laid. Oddly enough, it was the popular guys, the frat boys, the Brett Kavanaughs and Donald Trumps who got all the best looking girls, the lecherous tenured English professor who successfully delivered the leering double entendres to 19-year-old sorority girls, the Chads who seemed to get the most angry at the idea that there were other guys who weren’t getting laid as much as they were. To this day I honestly have no idea why the young men of my generation who got all the sex were also so angry, filled with so much murderous rage, but it was undoubtedly true. I suspect it had something to do with how easy it was for so many of them.
As I grew older, and got laid occasionally, I lost my sense of detachment. When I was a 20-year-old, all I wanted to do was be a virgin loser who never got laid in peace, to sit in the university library on a Friday night chatting with the homeless guy who was surreptitiously living in the basement and who seemed to have an encyclopedic knowledge knowledge of French New Wave cinema. I had no desire to be some preppy jock trying to slip something into a local high school girl’s drink up at the frat so he could take her upstairs and prove he wasn’t a fag. After the age of 25, I decided I wanted to be “normal,” and almost just as quickly realized I would never be normal, that I had wasted my college years acting like a pompous fool who read too many books and didn’t go to enough keg parties. Every radio host back then seemed to be a misogynistic and a pickup artist, and it wasn’t only men. Popular right wing sex experts like Dr. Laura preached traditional morality day and night. I don’t think I ever hated women more than when I was in my late 20s and early 30s, when I started to realize that the odds of my settling down to a normal middle-class life with a normal middle class family were next to nothing.
Sure, you millennials say, OK Boomer, whine on Gen Xer. The economy was great back then. How dare you complain? And I will concede your point. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Tulsi Gabbard was serving as a medic in Iraq, and Emma Vigeland was in grade school, if you had any kind of training in IT or coding, you could probably get a six figure job right out of college. The problem is that unless you were part of the corporate elite on the fast track to upper-management, that job wasn’t going to last. You’d probably have to find another one in six months when your startup went out of business. Indeed, the world of the late 1990s was economically prosperous but something about it felt so unstable that when 9/11 came in 2001, it all somehow all seemed inevitable.
9/11 restored the traditional dominance of the Christian, heterosexual, American white male. Suddenly it made sense to me why all those popular frat jocks back in the 1980s who got laid so much more than I did were all so much angrier than I was. During the post-Vietnam malaise, they lacked purpose. Their lives, a four years getting all the pussy they wanted up at the frat followed by 50 years as a Vice President of an insurance company married to some social climbing sorority girl with a few whiny brats, didn’t have much of a purpose. Suddenly, after 9/11, they were back on center stage. George W. Bush, a right wing evangelical Christian, was President. Everybody loved soldiers, cops,and firemen. America had a mission, to defeat “evil,” evil in the form of brown skinned Muslims in the third world. What a glorious time it was to be a right wing, racist, sexist frat jock asshole. Praise the lord and pass the ammunition. Let’s go stomp some camel jockeys and when it’s all over, come home, read our Bibles and beat up some fags for Jesus.
Then George W. Bush lost the war in Iraq.
For most liberals and leftists the narrative looks something like this. George W. Bush proved himself to be an incompetent, an illegitimate President. Life would have been so much better had Al Gore won. There was no need, however, to impeach Bush in 2007. Either Hillary Clinton, or this new guy Barack Obama would simply win the election in 2008 and bring back the glorious days of the 1990s when Bill Clinton was President in real life and Jed Bartlett was President on TV. After Obama won the election in 2008, Clinton supporters were disappointed but felt confident that we’d have a woman in the White House in 2016. After the Republicans won victory after victory, destroying ACORN, forcing Barack Obama to drop the public option from healthcare plan, and finally retaking Congress, it only reinforced the liberal narrative. Middle America “wasn’t ready” for a black President. Conservatives lost their minds and gave way to “white fragility.” All of it would end in 2016 when Hillary Clinton carried on Obama’s legacy, when the first woman President completed what the first black President started.
We all know how that ended.
The problem with the conventional liberal narrative about the Presidency of Barack Obama is what while it was substantially true, it’s also complete. Yes, conservative America did lose it’s mind when Obama became President. Yes, the Tea Party was a white supremacist organization astro-turfed by the Koch Brothers to drive the discontent over the Wall Street bailout to the far right. Yes, legalizing gay marriage was a great victory over George W. Bush’s evangelical Christian coalition and needs to be celebrated. Yes, Donald Trump is a white supremacist criminal who probably collaborated with the Russians to cheat Hillary out of the White House and yes he created a phony immigration crisis to rile up his fascist base. He also deserves to be impeached, removed from office, and locked up in Jeffrey Epstein’s cell in lower Manhattan.
What it leaves out is that from 2008 to 2016, Obama rebranded American imperialism. During the Bush Presidency not only was the left united in opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, conservative America lost. There was no draft, no mass mobilization. Fighting a large scale war in the Middle East with an all volunteer army was impossible. Mobilizing the national guard created its own problems, like the inability of the Louisiana state government to deal with Hurricane Katrina. George W. Bush’s coalition of evangelical Christians and fascist Baby Boomers still nursing their resentment over America’s loss in Vietnam wasn’t enough to defeat the “axis of evil.” The American ruling class had to admit new blood.
American imperialism had to become “woke.”
If you’ve spent any time on social media criticizing American imperialism you will, almost inevitably, like Tulsi Gabbard, get accused of being “pro-Assad.” While Barack Obama did get rid of the color coded, terror alert system, thank God, he kept the idea of the “axis of evil.” The same liberals and mainstream leftists who spent the Bush Presidency mocking the idea that the United States could serve as the world’s policeman, now spent their days trying to get people kicked off Twitter for arguing, like Tulsi Gabbard that, while yes Assad might be a very bad man indeed, it’s not really our business to try to tell the Syrian people who they can have as their rotten government. You were either for regime change or you are “pro-Assad.” There was no middle-ground. Unlike the gigantic antiwar movement that hit the streets in 2003 to oppose the invasion of Iraq, there was almost no opposition on the left to Obama and Hillary’s coup in Libya. Somehow it all became a right-wing circus about “Benghazi.” What’s more, many leftists began to see the idea of breaking up Syria as the Spanish Civil War of the millennial generation, that they could build a socialist Kurdistan under the protection of an American no fly zone. Anybody who opposed the idea of a CIA built anarchist republic squatting on someone else’s land was, once again, like Tulsi Gabbard, “pro-Assad.”
Then there was Ukraine. I have to admit I originally fell for the propaganda about Euromaidan. Later, after everybody realized that while maybe not actual Nazis the way supporters of Vladimir Putin contended, the Ukrainian government was still a far right-wing, neoliberal coup government that at least tolerated Nazis on the margins. Even people, like myself, who have no love for Putin or the Russian government, people who think the Chinese government is authoritarian and anti-working-class but who still balk at the idea of a conflict with the second and third most powerful countries in the world are often labeled closet Republicans and right-wing reactionaries. Many liberals and people on the mainstream left seem to want something that would not only be foolish, but absolutely suicidal.
World War 3, only woke.
That brings us back to our incel problem. Woke imperialism came about when George W. Bush found out he couldn’t wage a general war in the Middle East with an all volunteer army. Yet now, liberals and people on the mainstream left not only want to take take out Assad in Syria and break up Iran for Israel, they want to take on Russia and China. They want to wage a general conflict in the Middle East and in South Central Asia against one nuclear power of 150,000 million people, and another nuclear power of a billion people. But they don’t want to admit the obvious.
It will require a draft.
I do not believe that most “incels” think in these terms but I do believe that they have an innate sense of who the canon fodder would be if the woke imperialists got their way and we went all out to “liberate” Crimea and Ukraine, Syria and Kurdistan, Iran and Hong Kong from the Russian and Chinese menace. Useless, low-status young men with no chance at ever getting married and raising a family make perfect soldiers. A good drill instructor could turn a 20-year-old virgin into a stone cold killer in a matter of months. Young men with no social skills and no social connections also have little or no ability to resist the kind of brainwashing that would transform them from gamers living in mommy’s and daddy’s basement into loyal servants of the empire.
Whatever her right-wing politics, Tulsi Gabbard, who served as a medic in Iraq, has seen the endgame of all this folly. Incels for Tulsi? Yeah. That’s a cause I can get behind.