The Great New Schism on the Left
Blue Liberals and Palestine Leftists occupy two distinct universes
Twitter, now known as X, still exists, and that means I’ll float through there at least once a day. The social media platform cannot impact the culture like it once did, but it is remarkable how many users, particularly on the left, still regularly post there, despite how much they openly revile Elon Musk. This is a testament, in part, to inertia—old habits are hard to break—and the reality that a fading Twitter is still far more relevant than Threads, Bluesky, Mastadon, or any other would-be replacement. Twitter, whether under Musk’s thumb or not, will slowly wither. What this does not mean is that another similar service will replace what it used to be or what it still is. Americans are not desperate for new ways to micro-blog.
My Twitter, these days, is not a hellscape. It is rather boring, most of the time. Perhaps reflecting my own biases, it is left-inflected, though some right-wing influencers break through from time to time. What’s notable, in my own left bubble, is the digital schism opening up. It reflects a real schism because these are all real people posting and they are migrating into meatspace—staging protests, writing postcards, yelling at their co-workers—at a strong clip. These people are having two conversations, but not with each other. It feels, in certain moments, like they are inhabiting parallels universes.
The first universe concerns Joe Biden and his age. Since Robert K. Hur, the special counsel who investigated Biden’s handling of classified documents, released his report exonerating the 81-year-old president but characterizing him as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” Democratic officials and prominent liberal pundits have been leading a remarkable charge against Hur and the report itself. The pundits have aggressively promoted the Biden campaign’s talking points, strongly criticizing Hur for including his views on Biden’s faulty memory in a legal report. If Biden didn’t break the law, why does it matter that he struggled to remember key dates, like when he was vice president or when his son Beau died? These pundits and writers, including Molly Jong-Fast, Greg Sargent, Josh Marshall and Brooklyn Dad Defiant, could be called MSNBC liberals, but what I’ve realized, since I used the term myself, is that some members of this faction are revolting against MSNBC, accusing at least two of its anchors, Katy Tur and Andrea Mitchell, of covering Biden too negatively. In the 2010s, I might have called these pundits “resistance” liberals too but Donald Trump is not president and Democrats control the White House and the Senate. These liberals believe the New York Times and Washington Post extensively reporting on Biden’s age and memory—and amplifying Hur’s report—are not responding to tangible voter concerns but are merely aiding Republicans, the greatest of all sins. And Tur, once a resistance star herself, will not be held sacred any longer.
Meet the Blue Liberals. They are like the left-liberals of the taxonomy I developed in 2021, but I want to be a bit more precise here.
Blue Liberals care most deeply about the 2024 presidential election and the control of Congress. They are almost entirely focused on electoral politics. They believe Donald Trump poses an existential threat to American democracy. After calling 2016 and 2020 the most important elections of our lifetimes, they have made 2024 the new Rubicon—if Trump wins, we won’t have a free republic anymore. Since the stakes of the election are so high, the mainstream media must behave accordingly. Conservatives are still much more hostile to the media—many live in their own ecosystem, still helmed by Fox News—but Blue Liberals are increasingly furious at many of the news organizations they supported wholeheartedly in the 2010s. CNN’s slow pivot away from daily anti-Trump content has disturbed them. They still subscribe to the Times, but they disdain the Paper of Record’s Biden coverage and mock the op-ed offerings. The Blue Liberal’s favorite media critics are Jay Rosen and Margaret Sullivan, one of the last public editors the Times employed. Rosen, who is a colleague of mine at NYU, has long decried false balance and the “view from nowhere” in the mainstream media; he would like to jettison the twentieth century conception of objectivity and urges reporters to forcefully cover the “stakes” of 2024—make it clear, to readers everywhere, Trump poses a unique threat to democracy’s future. In a conversation with Ross Douthat, the right-leaning Times columnist, Rosen floated the idea of news organizations embracing an “urgency index” similar to the Doomsday clock that would tell their audience how close American democracy is to collapsing. In addition to pushing a pro-Biden tilt, Blue Liberals believe strongly in the regulation of speech on social media and online platforms. Even the Substack Nazi panic, in part, could be seen as a manifestation of Blue Liberal anxiety.
Blue Liberals care selectively about foreign policy. They were, largely, horrified by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They decried Trump’s denigration of NATO and his willingness to praise Vladimir Putin. They have become more internationalist in outlook since Trump singlehandedly wrenched the Republican Party in an isolationist direction—hawks like Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton notwithstanding—and they’ve developed a reverence for the CIA and FBI that would have been unthinkable in the Bush years. Hur and the man who appointed him, Merrick Garland, could start to reverse this trend, but Trump’s ongoing verbal spat with the “Deep State” will probably keep Blue Liberals aligned with federal law enforcement and international espionage for a while yet. Political polarization is, of course, the elephant (or titanic donkey) in the room. Without Trump and Russiagate, it’s harder to imagine Blue Liberals becoming so incensed at Putin. A decade ago, Barack Obama’s attempt at a “Russian reset” drew condemnation from Mitt Romney and other mainstream Republicans as most conventional liberals urged a rethinking of hostilities that had lingered since the Cold War. Since the counteroffensive in Ukraine has stalled and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is suspending the next presidential election, Blue Liberals have turned their attention back to domestic affairs. But if Ukraine, against the odds, manages a breakthrough in the future, they will elevate Zelensky in their pantheon again. It’s not an accident that neoconservatives like David Frum and Bill Kristol have been seamlessly integrated into the Blue Liberal fold. A revulsion of Trump is enough to mask all sorts of foreign policy failures.
Blue Liberals, of course, loathe Trump Republicans. Many also hate Bernie Sanders-style leftists, though Sanders’ decision, at 82, to forego another presidential bid has quieted down an internecine struggle that defined the late 2010s. What’s most intriguing about the left right now is that the second emergent faction, the Palestine Left, is not necessarily framing itself in opposition to the Blue Liberals. Or, more accurately, the Blue Liberals aren’t shouting at the Palestine Left but past them, as if they weren’t there at all or didn’t, at the very minimum, present a deeply divergent Weltanschauung. If Blue Liberals hate Trumpers, they really despise third party voters, reserving a special place in hell for Americans who voted for Ralph Nader, Jill Stein, or anyone who was viewed as a threat to siphon votes from the Democratic ticket. Of late, they’re deeply worried about Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and are cheering on the Democratic National Committee effort’s to boot the anti-vax political celebrity from state ballots. Part of the Blue Liberal posture, come August or September, will be attempting to persuade—and eventually berate—as many leftists as possible to vote for Biden. They will dredge up 2000 and 2016 and warn the Bernie Bros (in their view, white men of a certain vintage who exercise their privilege by not supporting democracy-saving Democratic presidential candidates) they are imperiling the future of the country. After Kennedy, they will loudly denounce Stein and maybe Cornel West, and blame leftist selfishness on Biden’s struggles in the Midwest or in the Sun Belt.
What the Blue Liberals, to a degree, aren’t doing yet is targeting the Palestine Left. The Palestine Left is absolutely threatening to sit out 2024. Some—a very small number—are warning they might, out of spite, vote for Trump. The Palestine Left does not care about the Red v. Blue binary, rebutting the Hur report, stopping national abortion bans, policing Katy Tur’s MSNBC show, or warning against a 2016 repeat, when the media’s fixation on Hillary Clinton’s email server was blamed for her loss to Trump.
The Blue Liberals want to save Joe Biden. The Palestine Left calls him Genocide Joe.
The cause of the chasm, of course, is Israel. The Blue Liberals aren’t really sure what to do. Follow their Twitter feeds and op-eds and you won’t see very much about the carnage in Gaza. Jay Rosen’s media critiques never extend that far. Biden, in Rosen’s implicit view, must win, but his administration’s enabling of a far-right Netanyahu government can’t quite factor into his analyses of the mainstream media’s inability to properly account for the fascist threat of the Trump-worshipping Republican Party. Whether Robert K. Hur acted in good faith or not has nothing to do with 27,000 dead Gazans. The bloody Palestinian children don’t care about the Senate race in Montana. Fixing false balance at the New York Times cannot halt mass starvation on the Gaza Strip. The Blue Liberals obsess most over the macroculture. On TikTok, the Palestine Left blooms in the micro.
In my recent magazine piece on the divide in the Democratic Party over Israel, I gestured at some of these currents. Here, I’ll probe further. Due to space constraints, I wasn’t able to include one particular quote from a Palestinian activist that, in my view, properly summarized where the Palestine Left in America has situated itself in 2024.
“A lot of people will sit out this election,” predicted Sandra Tamari, the director of the Adalah Justice Project, a Palestinian advocacy organization. “Of course, people will blame progressives and blame the Palestine movement, maybe, for the return of a Trump presidency.”
“When we’re looking at it, well, it’s a choice between genocide or fascism. There’s not much of a choice.”
This is the kind of sentiment, if expressed by a white DSA volunteer or a Bernie-adjacent internet personality, that would come in for a Blue Liberal-approved drubbing. A choice between genocide or fascism? Check your privilege! But Tamari and others have family in Gaza. Their relatives are blockaded or dead. They are being bombed and starved out. They see Biden, like every other American president, tolerating the occupation of the West Bank and now the immiseration of Gaza. They see it all and wonder how Trump was worse. If the Blue Liberal wants to engage—and some, occasionally, do—they might point out Trump moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, clung close to Benjamin Netanyahu, and sanctioned every bit of slaughter. Whatever Biden fails to do for the Palestinians, Trump will only be worse. Trump, who has said relatively little about Israel on the campaign trail, was the Jewish State’s greatest modern champion, and many Orthodox Jews revere him. Netanyahu’s whole military strategy seems predicated on dragging out the war on Hamas through November, when he’ll know the outcome of the presidential election. If Trump wins, the obliteration of Gaza will continue apace.
Some parts of the Palestine Left care more about Biden’s fate than others. Waleed Shahid, the former Justice Democrats spokesman who has become a mainstream messenger for the Palestinian cause, wants to elect Democrats and is chiefly focused on pressuring the Biden administration to change their approach. The upcoming Democratic primary in Michigan has become an opportunity, for many Arab American leaders, to voice their discontent by voting “uncommitted.” The race is noncompetitive, so Biden will win no matter how Arab Americans in Dearborn vote. But the hope is that enough uncommitted votes will send a message to Biden that he needs to sweat these voters in November, particularly in Michigan. Shahid and other leftist Democratic strategists will not tell young voters and Arab Americans to sit out the general election or vote for Trump. They’ll still, with limited enthusiasm, urge a Biden vote.
DSA and Jewish Voice for Peace both belong to the Palestine Left; their goal, ultimately, is to elect their kinds of Democrats to Congress, state legislatures, and municipal governments. Other Palestine Left organizations like Within Our Lifetime and Palestinian Youth Movement disdain the Blue Liberal’s thirst for electoral politics and believe even DSA cares far too much about infiltrating a Democratic Party that they see as irredeemable. If nihilistic, this view is not grounded in fantasy; Israel hawks hold the leadership posts in the Democratic Party and agonized Biden administration officials aren’t changing the course of Israel’s war on Hamas. The WOL and PYM leftists aren’t changing anything, either, but JVP and DSA can’t claim to have swayed Chuck Schumer.
Larger segments of the Palestine Left will probably not vote for Trump. But turnout will drop. The 2020 election saw the highest turnout in the modern history of the United States. There is no chance 2024 matches that level of engagement which was made possible, in part, by the Blue Liberal playbook: enough voters believed, with the pandemic raging and Trump in the White House, that democracy hung in the balance, and they propelled Biden, at age 78, to the presidency. The Biden campaign and the DNC argues this playbook can be run a second time. Trump, indicted four times, might be noxious enough for it all to work. But the risk of failure is real. Very few have any clear idea of what Biden wants to do with another four years as president, when he will be as old as 86.
Are Blue Liberals and the Palestine Left on a collision course? In one sense, they’ve already collided. Palestinian activism is overwhelmingly popular among today’s undergraduates and college administrators, many of them Blue Liberals who took easily to the Great Awokening but drew a firm line after Oct. 7, have cracked down on dissent. Columbia University, one-time hotbed of the New Left, has effectively banned most public protests on campus. It’s also plausible, in other contexts, the Blue Liberals and Palestine Leftists keep marching past each other. Brooklyn Dad Defiant doesn’t have to say anything about Gaza. Neither does Jeffrey Goldberg’s special democracy editions of the Atlantic. Palestine TikToks aren’t going to suddenly incorporate the stakes of high profile House races in New York and California. Digital life ensures a comfortable separation, a continual cocooning. If a Blue Liberal starts chiding the Adalah Justice Project to organize a caravan for Biden, you’ll know the breach is here.
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