I usually defend a high degree of license verging on irresponsibility when it comes to Tweets—I think its fine for them to be half-baked, ironical, whimsical, the first drafts of ideas, or one’s most cranky and maybe not most-well-informed opinions. I also think people can expose their preoccupations and mental tics and reflexes through them. Tweets do tend after awhile to demonstrate how a writer routinely thinks and approaches things. Sometimes they can even typify an entire sensibility or tendency of thought. I think the one above has that virtue, if you want to call it that.
In this case the tendency of thought is really a tendency to not think at all. And to not observe or seek out any information either. In short, a total lack of intellectual curiosity. I mean, why bother to find out anything when there’s a pre-existing framework, “wokeness” or its opposite, which explains every phenomenon of culture or politics? I once wrote that there was a totalitarian tendency in the putatively anti-totalitarian politics of anti-wokeness, which collapses every issue into that issue. That may have been a bit excessive, but it is certainly an ideology, and as an ideology it has a fairly pre-determined answer about everything that takes place under the sun. You plug in the issue, it spits out the answer.
Is there a political aspect to the disappointment with the situation at The New Republic? Certainly. Have some of the things written online about Michael Tomasky been uncharitable to him, not even giving him a chance before he gets started? Also, certainly. But the reality of the situation is not some grand ideological clash, the constant invocation of which is growing monotonous, to say the least. The fact is, first of all, people are worried about their jobs. It’s that simple. Some are having an emotional reaction, which might appear excessive, but it’s ultimately about their livelihoods, after all. Second, many people just really liked and respected what The New Republic was doing. TNR was trying to do something intellectually bold and also not doctrinairely “woke” at all, whatever that even means.
The willful stupidity of this tweet is thorough and complete, but I think it’s particularly galling because it shows no interest or familiarity with what’s actually in the magazine. If you pick up an issue of TNR, like, say, the March issue, you’ll see features by Melissa Gira-Grant, Michael Kazin, Christopher Caldwell, Alexander Zaitchik, and James Robins. Chris Caldwell is a man of the right, and some might even say the hard right. His ideas sometimes make me quite uncomfortable; I think I detect in his writing something not quite wholesome. I’m not even sure I would have the stones to publish him if I was the editor, but this is why I’m not the editor of a major magazine. But I can recognize he’s a talented writer and reporter and I appreciate the chance to read an actually smart, articulate exponent of the opposition. I understand why he’s there. The author of a book about how the Civil Rights Act ruined America, Caldwell is in no way shape or form “woke.” Michael Kazin comes from an older school of progressivism that’s sometimes uncomfortable about or unsure what to do with identity politics. No one would say Kazin is “woke.” Turn the page, you’ll see there’s a column by Adolph Reed Jr., a dogged, even sometimes ferocious, critic of identity politics. Again, someone I don’t frequently agree with, but also someone I think everyone can read with profit. On alternating months, the space where Reed’s column goes is given to Kimberlé Crenshaw, who pretty much has the opposite analysis of race and class as Reed.
What was happening at TNR is exactly what anti-woke culture warriors say they miss in media and magazines: ideological and perspectival diversity. Sure, the magazine had a certain political slant, but it was not in any way monolithic. Even its politics were eclectically left-of-center: TNR gave a cover to Bernie and A.O.C., but it also gave the cover to Warren and Biden, and still features quite friendly coverage of the latter from Walter Shapiro—with much respect to him, also not exactly a young woke snot of the journalism trade.
After Trump won, there were those left of center who believed the catastrophe required a renovation and critique of the assumptions of American liberalism from the ground up. TNR was dedicated for a time to that proposition. All of the writers I mentioned earlier, and many of the writers TNR brought on or commissioned, despite their differing ideological orientations and sensibilities, try to accomplish a systemic critique of American politics and society, whether it’s on issues of race and class, or identity politics, or how liberals view conservatives, or the liberal consensus about American history. It’s that level of intellectual ambition and boldness that I’d be sad to see leave the magazine; I’m not concerned about its precise ideological coordinates. But again, still hoping for and wishing the best to everyone at the magazine.
Anyway, from my perspective, the attitude in that Tweet is just an example of anti-intellectualism, a total lack of interest in the world, an unwillingness to care about or engage with anything but one’s pet issues, myopia, laziness, hopeless decadence and corruption of the mind etc. Whatever you want to call it, it’s just bullshit. I’m getting pretty tired of it.