When I saw the left give up everything I believe in, I changed politically. You can too.
or many years—most of my politically cognizant life, in fact—I felt secure in my politics. Truth and justice, I believed, leaned leftward. If you were some version of a decent human being, you cared about those less fortunate than you, which meant that you supported a whole host of measures designed to even the playing field a little. Sometimes, these measures had unintended consequences (see under: Stalin, Josef), but that wasn’t reason enough to despair of the long march to equality. Besides, there was hardly an alternative: On the other end of the political transom lurked despicable creeps, right-wing orcs who either cared for nothing but their own petty financial interests or, worse, pined for benighted isms that preached prejudice and hate. We were on the right side of history. We were the people. We were the ones giving peace a chance. And, no matter the present, we were always the future.
This belief carried me through high school, and a brief stint in a socialist youth movement. It accelerated me in college, sending me anywhere from joint marches with Palestinians to a two-week hunger strike in Jerusalem trying (and failing) to lower tuition for underprivileged students. It pulled me to New York, to Columbia University, to more left-wing politics and activism and raging against Republicans whose agenda, especially in the 2000s, seemed like nothing more than greed and war.
And it wasn’t just an ideology, some abstract set of convictions that were accessible only through cracking open dusty old books. It was the animating spirit of life itself: The dinner parties I attended on the Upper West Side required dismissive comments on President Bush just as much as they did a bit of wine to make the evening bright, and there was no faster or surer way to signal to a new acquaintance that you were a kindred spirit than praising the latest Times editorial. It wasn’t performative, exactly. At least, it felt real enough, the reverent rites of a good group of people protecting itself against the bad guys.
I embraced my people, and my people embraced me. They gave me everything I had always imagined I wanted: a Ph.D. from an Ivy League university; a professorship at NYU, complete with a roomy office overlooking Washington Square Park; book deals; columns in smart little publications; invitations to the sort of soirees where you could find yourself seated next to Salman Rushdie or Susan Sontag or any number of the men and women you grew up reading and admiring. The list goes on. Life was good. I was grateful.
And then came The Turn. If you’ve lived through it yourself, you know that The Turn doesn’t happen overnight, that it isn’t easily distilled into one dramatic breakdown moment, that it happens hazily and over time—first a twitch, then a few more, stretching into a gnawing discomfort and then, eventually, a sense of panic.
You may be among the increasing numbers of people going through The Turn right now. Having lived through the turmoil of the last half decade—through the years of MAGA and antifa and rampant identity politics and, most dramatically, the global turmoil caused by COVID-19—more and more of us feel absolutely and irreparably politically homeless. Instinctively, we looked to the Democratic Party, the only home we and our parents and their parents before them had ever known or seriously considered. But what we saw there—and in the newspapers we used to read, and in the schools whose admission letters once made us so proud—was terrifying. However we tried to explain what was happening on “the left,” it was hard to convince ourselves that it was right, or that it was something we still truly believed in. That is what The Turn is about.
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