No, they don't support Trump: Smeared left-wing writers debunk the myth

James Kirchick claims the following left-wing journalists and scholars are Trump fans. They told us why he is wrong

Published August 17, 2016 7:00PM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (AP/Salon)
Donald Trump (AP/Salon)

For the last time: No, leftists are not supporting Donald Trump.

There has been no dearth of lies spread about left-wingers who refuse to obediently march behind Hillary Clinton in this election cycle, from the ludicrous "Bernie bro" trope to the McCarthyite "Kremlin shill" smear and beyond.

The myth that leftists are planning to support the far-right, demagogic GOP candidate to "heighten the contradictions" in society is precisely that — a myth. It is not just an intentional misreading of Lenin; it is a bold-faced lie.

But it just won't die.

Clinton-supporting neoconservative pundit James Kirchick published an article in The Daily Beast this week titled "Beware the Hillary Clinton-Loathing, Donald Trump-Loving Useful Idiots of the Left."

"There may be no weirder phenomenon than the rise of the progressive Donald Trump supporter," Kirchick began the piece.

He proceeded to name more than a dozen left-wing writers, journalists and scholars who criticize the militaristic U.S. foreign policy he and Clinton share, falsely calling them "Trump’s left-wing admirers."

Salon reached out to everyone targeted in the piece. Not a single one "loves" Trump, despite the headline, nor do any "admire" him.

(The writers' responses to Kirchick's hit piece follow in full below.)

Fourteen writers were singled out as supposed Trump aficionados. Thirteen of them told Salon they do not support Trump.

Many of the writers said they were "smeared." Historian Jeremy Kuzmarov called Kirchick's article "an atrocious, McCarthy-type smear job."

Russia scholar Stephen Cohen accused Kirchick of using "McCarthy-like slurs" in order "to shut off any substantial debate about foreign policy."

Washington Post reporter Ishaan Tharoor described "Kirchick’s smear" as "pathetic and laughable."

Journalist Rania Khalek added, "The suggestion that I harbor admiration for Trump is an incredible smear." She noted that she has written at length how "Trump is an unhinged and dangerous demagogue who is whipping up fascist sentiments that should concern us all."

Kirchick is just the latest in a long line of pundits in this election cycle who have (maliciously or not) conflated criticism of Clinton with support for Trump.

Many of the individuals Kirchick cited have voiced legitimate grievances with Clinton's extremely hawkish foreign policy, and, in some cases, have even agreed with Trump on a specific issue or two — although certainly not with the bulk of his policies. But Kirchick has unfairly used these few points of agreement to tar them with the blanket label of Trump "fans," "admirers" and "defenders" — a characterization they disavow with near-uniformity.

In fact, just one of the 14 writers mentioned in the article, Christopher Ketcham, said he will vote for Trump — and not because he "loves" or "admires" him, but precisely because he says the GOP nominee "is an ignorant, vicious, narcissistic, racist, capitalist scumbag, and thus an accurate representative of the United States."

The other 13 disagreed with Ketcham. Journalist Stephen Kinzer called Trump one of "the most destructive politicians to emerge in the modern United States, although the competition is stiff."

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald said Trump opposes everything he has devoted his career to defending, such as "civil rights for Muslims and adherence to the laws of war."

The Nation publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel likewise stressed that the U.S. needs a new foreign policy, but called Trump "the worst messenger for that alternative foreign policy."

Kirchick did not reach out to any of these writers for comment.

To be clear, Kirchick is by no means neutral in this debate; he has an axe to grind. In June, Kirchick penned another column in The Daily Beast in which he endorsed hyper-hawkish Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Kirchick favorably called Clinton "the clear conservative choice" and "the candidate of the status quo, something that conservatives, by definition, are supposed to uphold."

Several of the people attacked in his latest article told Salon they think the piece by Kirchick, whom one called "a professional liar," is clearly politically motivated — part of a "concerted media campaign to advance Hillary Clinton to the White House" by using "the obviously false premise that anyone who criticizes Clinton is pro-Trump."

It also bears mentioning that Kirchick, for whom "anti-imperialist" is a dirty word, is paid by the U.S. government. He is included in the USASpending database, which says he received $10,000 from the Broadcasting Board of Governors in 2015. After this article was published, however, Kirchick told Salon that he was paid $1,000, not $10,000, adding, "I imagine USASpending reports payments in increments, and that $10,000 is the lowest."

The Broadcasting Board of Governors is an independent propaganda agency of the U.S. government that says its goal is to pursue a "mission vital to U.S. national interests: inform, engage, and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy." It oversees Voice of America, where Kirchick writes columns that vilify left-wing leaders Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, condemn Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and applaud NATO.

Salon reached out to Kirchick for comment. He replied, "I’m just going to quote my own article to you, as it appears you haven’t read it."

He cited a passage from his article: "Unlike the aforementioned wannabe revolutionaries, most of these progressives haven’t endorsed Trump. But they nonetheless embrace the radical departure in American foreign policy that his presidency promises."

Salon asked Kirchick numerous detailed questions, pointing out that 13 of the 14 writers he named oppose Trump.

"The piece stands for itself," Kirchick said, refusing to answer. Salon asked if he could comment any further. "Nope," he wrote back.

Salon also reached out to The Daily Beast with a request for comment. Harry Siegel, a senior editor, replied, "The Daily Beast’s columnists run the gamut from liberal to libertarian."

He cited the exact same two-sentence passage highlighted by Kirchick, adding, "We understand that the figures whose comments are quoted in his column find it controversial; readers can judge for themselves."

The article is not as nuanced as Kirchick and The Daily Beast implied in their statements, however. In fact, in the very same paragraph Kirchick and Siegel cited to Salon, Kirchick falsely described the left-wing writers he criticized as "progressive Trump fans, subtler in their sympathies."

After briefly and very weakly conceding that these writers have not actually endorsed Trump, Kirchick still went on to misrepresent their views, calling them "Trump’s left-wing admirers" and "the candidate’s progressive fans" a few paragraphs later. Kirchick later continued to dub them "progressive Trump defenders" and "the Republican nominee’s left-wing sympathizers."

In his piece, Kirchick loosely delineated two groups: "wannabe revolutionaries" who supposedly will vote for Trump, and "progressive Trump fans" who have not endorsed him.

Three people were named in the first group. Just one of these, freelancer Christopher Ketcham, who penned the piece "Anarchists for Donald Trump—Let the Empire Burn," is actually going to vote for Trump — and not because he likes him in any way, but rather because, with a Trump presidency, "the veil would be off the monstrousness of the empire."

Writer Walker Bragman, another of the three ostensible Trump endorsers (whom Kirchick also misidentified as "Walter"), in fact strongly opposes Trump. Bragman told Salon he is voting for Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, and pointed out that, in an interview on CNN, he called Trump an "intolerable" choice.

The third person Kirchick named is not a writer, journalist or scholar; it is actress Susan Sarandon, the 15th person targeted in the piece. Salon was unable to reach Sarandon for comment, yet she has publicly stressed multiple times, "I’m absolutely not voting for Trump."

"I said some people think Trump would bring revolution faster," Sarandon explained on Twitter, referencing her now infamous MSNBC interview, which Kirchick cited. "I am not voting Trump."

In fact, when Bernie Sanders was running, Sarandon constantly emphasized that one of the best reasons to support him was because poll after poll showed he would beat Trump by a much bigger margin than Hillary Clinton.

Twelve more writers are named in the what Kirchick calls the "subtler" group of "progressive Trump fans." Not a single person in this group is a "fan," nevertheless.

The Intercept reporter Zaid Jilani, whom Kirchick dubbed one of the "progressive Trump defenders," bluntly told Salon, "I am not a Trump supporter," and characterized the GOP leader as a bigoted troll.

Salon columnist Patrick Lawrence (who sometimes writes under the name Patrick L. Smith) stressed, "James Kirchick gets no further than labels and name-calling."

Sherle Schwenninger, of the New America Foundation, said, "I do not support Trump or Clinton." He also pointed out that his think tank, which Kirchick incorrectly described as "left-wing," is actually non-partisan.

Political scientist Corey Robin characterized Kirchick as a dishonest inventor of stories.

The New Republic editor Jeet Heer told Salon Kirchick's piece is "built on the obviously false premise that anyone who criticizes Clinton is pro-Trump."

To review, then, 14 of the 15 people smeared in Kirchick's article as Trump "fans" actually oppose Trump.

Yet The Daily Beast has helped spread the myth. On social media, the publication describes the Trump opposers as "Trump supporters."

The Daily Beast, the home of Kirchick's misleading article, came under fire earlier this month for questionable editorial standards regarding a controversial piece that outed several LGBT Olympic athletes whose lives could potentially be threatened in their home countries. The Daily Beast later retracted the article, in the midst of widespread public backlash.

In many ways, Kirchick's anti-leftist screed serves a larger ideological purpose, like much of the neoconservative foreign-policy coverage in The Daily Beast. His hit piece stigmatizes critics of U.S. militarism as "supporters," "admirers" and "defenders" of fascistic billionaire Donald Trump and tools of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Given Kirchick did not allow the writers, journalists and scholars he falsely accused of being Trump fans to respond to the smears, their own words follow.

Glenn Greenwald

"I've devoted my entire career in journalism to defending the precise political values Trump is assaulting, beginning with civil rights for Muslims and adherence to the laws of war.

"Almost six months ago, I wrote an article urging the US media to abandon their feigned neutrality constraints to more aggressively and overtly denounce Trump's extremism.

"What The Daily Beast published is an outright lie in stating or implying that I'm a Trump supporter, but because it's The Daily Beast, nobody expects them to retract or even correct it because that's what they are."

Ishaan Tharoor

"Kirchick quoted one tweet of mine where I expressed joking appreciation of Trump’s rejection of the concept of 'American exceptionalism' — something Trump has clearly not even thought through properly. He then twisted it to try to suggest I support the Republican nominee.

"You don’t even need to read a year’s worth of my articles — just look at other tweets — to know how a pathetic and laughable Kirchick’s smear is."

On Twitter, Tharoor added, "how I can be labeled a Trump admirer is beyond me," and called out Kirchick and The Daily Beast for printing a "baseless smear."

Katrina vanden Heuvel

"I believe -- as does The Nation which I edit and publish -- that Trump's bigotry, his visceral contempt for immigrants, Muslims, women and facts, his trafficking in insults rather than ideas, make him unfit for office.

"Kirchik has for several years now smeared those, including my husband -- an esteemed Professor of Russian & Soviet Studies for five decades -- who warn of a new Cold War and argue that we need a serious debate about America's role in the world.

"My interest is in seeing a serious challenge to a failed bipartisan foreign policy establishment and the development of an alternative foreign policy.

"But Trump is just about the worst messenger for that alternative foreign policy. And tragically he may make it less likely that genuine alternatives will get a fair hearing."

Stephen Kinzer

"Trump is among the most destructive politicians to emerge in the modern United States, although the competition is stiff.

"Nonetheless it has been an utter delight to watch the screams of outrage he elicits from the encrusted foreign policy establishment.

"Common-sense ideas like fighting ISIS rather than the Assad regime in Syria, reducing our subsidy for European security, recognizing Russia as a potential partner rather than an enemy, and treating Palestinians and Israelis equally have never been pronounced by a person in Trump's position.

"Warmongers consider this heresy unforgivable, and are flocking to the Democratic side."

Zaid Jilani

"Donald Trump's quote-unquote 'campaign' seems designed to be like one long internet comment thread, designed to shout obscenities and absurd accusations at the loudest volume simply to get attention.

"He sometimes says reasonable things, and because he's a major party presidential candidate, that merits some attention — but that doesn't make his overall effort any less nihilist.

"I am not a Trump supporter."

Sherle Schwenninger

"Kirchick is correct that I have not endorsed Trump, and as a non-partisan analyst of U.S. foreign policy and as a convener of thinkers on the world economy, I try to steer away from taking partisan positions, and as such I do not support Trump or Clinton.

"I view it to be my responsibility to analyze as honestly as I can underlying political and economic trends and the likely effects of different policies on the broad public interest. As a relatively insignificant figure in the political world, that is the only value I can offer. As an analyst, there are aspects of both Clinton’s and Trump’s international policies that I would be critical of and aspects that I believe are or could be made to be in the public interest.

"In this respect, the quote from my short contribution to a Nation forum should be seen as an unremarkable analytical statement — I think that even Kirchick would agree that Trump’s economic nationalism would bring an end to the globalist agenda that has guided US foreign policy and international economic policy for the last 25-30 years. That is his real complaint.

"Do I believe that the muscular interventionism associated with the globalist agenda has caused serious damage to the international order and to the interests of middle class America? I certainly do.

"Do I think it is important to re-think certain aspects of the foreign policy orthodoxy of the past 20 years? I certainly do.

"There is one thing Kirchick wrote I would like to correct. New America is not a left-wing foundation. It is a non-partisan think-tank and civic enterprise. On most issues, it has a variety of viewpoints, including on issues of foreign policy and international economic policy as anyone familiar with New America would know."

Jeet Heer

"James Kirchick's article is absurd, basically built on the obviously false premise that anyone who criticizes Clinton is pro-Trump.

"I've been criticizing Trump's racism going back to his birther days in 2011 -- and criticized the Republicans for embracing him in 2012.

"I would say that James Kirchick misrepresents not just me but almost everyone he writes about in this article."

Rania Khalek

"The suggestion that I harbor admiration for Trump is an incredible smear.

"As I’ve stated repeatedly and written about at length, Trump is an unhinged and dangerous demagogue who is whipping up fascist sentiments that should concern us all.

"But I expect nothing less from neoconservative propagandist Jamie Kirchick, a professional liar who seeks to liberate the world through American bombs and perpetual warfare, much like Hillary Clinton, the candidate he’s endorsed for president.

"If anything, Trump is a disaster for the left. Fear of his incoherently isolationist posturing has led to a convergence of the various pro-war factions in Washington, DC. They’re all backing Hillary Clinton, which means that regardless of how dangerous Trump is, we have to push back against her disastrous foreign policy agenda.

"That's not pro-Trump. It's pro-peace."

Corey Robin

"All I have to say about Jamie Kirchick and his article I said right here," Robin said, linking to the following tweet:

"All the rest is commentary," Robin added.

Walker Bragman

"The piece James Kirchick is referring to argues that the hysteria over Trump is overblown because he and Clinton are both awful.

"It says something that people like Kirchick — people who characterize American interventionism over the past half-century as 'America using its power for good' — are backing Clinton so fervently.

"I think ultimately what we're seeing is a realignment — the GOP fading and the Democratic Party rushing to swallow up its voters —which will split the party.

"And one more thing: the first Clinton presidency was awful for the poor and minority communities. There's no guarantee, given her record, that the second will be any different.

"He totally missed the point."

Bragman pointed to an interview he did on CNN in which he discussed why he supports Jill Stein.

"Jill Stein represents my values. I don't think Hillary Clinton does. I definitely don't think Donald Trump does," Bragman said in the interview.

He called both Clinton and Trump "intolerable."

Patrick Lawrence

"James Kirchick gets no further than labels and name-calling.

"This piece is at bottom sheer politics. Kirchick here take his place in the concerted media campaign to advance Hillary Clinton to the White House. There’s little more to it.

"He has nothing to contribute otherwise apart from an implicit assertion that things must remain as they because they are as they are. It’s not a position.

"The consistent point in my pieces is simply to urge that we get beyond all hyperbole, listen with open ears, and think for ourselves. Hillary Clinton has a few good things to say and a lot of bad. It is the same for Trump."

Lawrence also pointed out that the line Kirchick quoted — “Trump opposed Iraq. Hillary voted for war: Let’s take his foreign policy vision seriously” — was not something that he wrote. Rather, it was the headline of the article, and he did not choose that headline.

Christopher Ketcham (the lone Trump voter)

"Trump, who I’ll still vote for, is an ignorant, vicious, narcissistic, racist, capitalist scumbag, and thus an accurate representative of the United States.

"With him as president, the veil would be off the monstrousness of the empire. Let’s have a real asshole run an asshole of a country."

Jeremy Kuzmarov

"What an atrocious, McCarthy-type smear job.

"In that essay I said right up front that Trump 'may be a bigot' — my point was that his invocation of the unfairly maligned America First organization was not part of his bigotry.

"The America First committee was the largest antiwar organization in American history with support from dozens of congressmen and celebrities, famous writers, and even former and future presidents and was supported by midwestern socialists and isolationists.

"As I explained in the article, it grew out of the post world war I environment in which much of the public felt they had been lied to into a war that yielded great destruction and suffering, and only exacerbated the divisions among the European powers in the face of the flawed settlement at Versailles, which blamed Germany for everything and fueled German nationalism and desire for revenge. The organization also warned that in the effort to destroy totalitarianism through violence, America would become totalitarian itself.

"The organization was smeared because of a speech given by Charles Lindbergh that did have some anti-Semitic undertones in his insinuation of Jewish ownership and influence in the media and government. However that speech was condemned by the America First leadership and Lindbergh did not speak for the whole organization.

"After Pearl Harbor, it should be noted, the organization disbanded and some of its members became liberal internationalists. At this particular historical moment, I don't think America First is a bad tradition to invoke, and Trump is tapping into deep discontent with current American wars. This does not mean I support Trump in any way.

"I advocated at the end for progressives to try and reach out and educate Trump's supporters rather than simply ridiculing them or anything Trump says, when there is a deep discontent with pervading policies he is tapping into and not everything he says is terrible (only perhaps 60 to 70 percent of what he says maybe; free trade he has made some sense too even if his own company exports jobs).

"In a later column, I suggested that Trump's use of neocon Zalmay Khalilzad to introduce him for a big speech showed the inconsistency and double standards of his rhetoric."

Stephen Cohen

"Since mid-2000s I have been warning we were drifting into new and more dangerous Cold War with Russia due largely (not only) to U.S. policy. This has certainly been in play since Georgia in 2008 and very dangerously since the Ukraine confrontation began in 2014.

"The mainstream media — NYT, WP, WJS, cable and broadcast TV have deleted, refused to discuss, this fateful and exceeding dangerous development. Those of us who understand it and want a different US policy have had to resort to alternative media, such as they are on foreign policy.

"Then, unexpectedly, along came Trump, a most imperfect messenger but one who seems to be proposing an end or diminishing of the new cold war with Russia (eg, in Syria, possibly in Ukraine).

"I am not a Trump supporter and have no ties to his campaign (or to Clinton’s), but I have seen Trump’s remarks, properly formulated, as a way to instigate media/elite discussion of 25-years of unwise bipartisan DC policy toward post-Soviet Russia. (I have two books on this.)

"Instead, we get McCarthy-like slurs hurled at people like me — 'Putin apologist,' etc. — and Trump himself ('Putin’s puppet,' etc.) all meant, it seems, to shut off any substantial debate about foreign policy, even in a presidential election year.

"Kirchick has been in the forefront of this slurring (certainly versus me) since 2014, so am not surprised he is at it again versus everyone. Only somewhat different in his new Daily Beast piece is his full-throated defense of the basic canons of that bipartisan consensus: e.g., democracy promotion, nation building, military intervention, boundless NATO expansion, American 'exceptionalism' in world affairs, etc.

"Fine, let us debate these principles and their policy record since the 1990s, but instead Kirchick (not only) slurs those of us who think our nation needs and has democratic right to such a full public debate, and by the candidates.

"He wants to intimidate and marginalize us, and in the latter he and the others have succeeded to a large degree. What he and the others do is undemocratic and if we are a democracy, un-American."

Cohen added that, while he has published in The Nation for many years, and long before Katrina vanden Heuvel became an editor, "This does not mean I am a 'left-wing' scholar or media presence."

"Substantial parts of my thinking are not comfortably 'left-wing,' whatever that means. But this is another label Kirchik and others throw around for their own political purposes," he added.

"My bottom line is factology, not ideology."


(This article was updated after it was published with Kirchick's statement on the money from the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors.)

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Hillary Clinton James Kirchick The Daily Beast