Disaffected Liberal Thinkers and Their Followers Form the Dissident Left
Some Dissident Leftists are scientists who have built large followings by critiquing identity politics, religion, and political correctness.
Sarah Sheppard always votes Democrat. She used to rely on CNN, MSNBC, and the New York Times for the news. The pandemic changed that.
The 45-year-old hair stylist, who lives in Manhattan with her husband and two teenage sons, said her “breaking point” was during the lockdown period, “when I was seeing my kids doing Zoom school and I was also hearing the crap that the schools were pushing.”
Unwilling to tune in to Fox News, Ms. Sheppard turned to a group of other liberals who are questioning the leftist orthodoxy. She subscribed to Bari Weiss’s “Common Sense” Substack and started listening to podcasts by Sam Harris, Jesse Singal, and Katie Herzog, and others.
She is not alone in doing so.
In our highly polarized political climate, Americans often don’t trust media outlets that represent the so-called other side. Disaffected liberals have been seeking out alternative voices from the left, and high-profile names like Ms. Weiss, Mathew Yglesias, Mr. Singal, and Ms. Herzog have exited legacy media in favor of the freedom and independence offered by Substacks and podcasts.
While at traditional media outlets, these journalists “weren’t able to write about what they wanted to write,” Maghan Daum, a former Los Angeles Times columnist, author, and now host of “The Unspeakable” podcast, told the Sun.
Now, they answer only to their subscribers, and they’re leading the charge in discussing third-rail subjects legacy media is seemingly afraid to touch. In doing so, they’re making an impact.
These left-wing thinkers don’t identify themselves as being part of a group, and there are certainly disagreements among them. Most of the high-profile ones were signatories to the well-known Harper’s letter on justice and debate. Some are associated with the “Intellectual Dark Web,” though that term has passed out of fashion.
“I always wanted to call it ‘The Cognitive Dissidents,’” Ms. Daum joked. Perhaps the best term, for now, is The Dissident Left.
Some Dissident Leftists, like Sam Harris, Brett Weinstein, and Heather Heying, are scientists who have built large followings by critiquing identity politics, religion, and political correctness. Others, like comedian Bill Maher, are leveraging their existing platforms to critique the most extreme elements of the left.
“Let’s get this straight: It’s not me who’s changed, it’s the left, who is now made up of a small contingent who’ve gone mental,” Mr. Maher declared on a recent episode of his HBO show, “Real Time.”
Regarding Covid policy, Ms. Weiss has led the charge. In January, a clip of her appearance on Mr. Maher’s show went viral after she declared herself “done” with Covid, chastised politicians for the harms Covid policies are having on children, and said that her liberal and progressive friends are “with me on this but do not want to say it out loud because they are scared to be called anti-vax or to be called ‘science denial’ or to be smeared as a Trumper.”
Two weeks later, several Democrat governors announced they were lifting mask mandates, and even requirements for masks in schools. Did Ms. Weiss’s indignation help cause this shift? Or was she simply predicting an inevitable policy change?
At a minimum, her words “have a downstream effect,” according to Ms. Daum. After listening to Ms. Weiss, Sarah Sheppard said she wrote to her congresswoman, City Council member, and governor demanding school mask mandates be lifted. We’ve seen parents demand changes in red and purple states, and now it’s happening in blue states, too.
Last week, San Franciscans recalled three progressive school board members over a range of issues, from extended pandemic school closures and scrapping merit-based admissions to the renaming of 44 public schools in honor of historical figures like Abraham Lincoln. This last effort garnered national attention and mockery even from the left.
“I suspect that the regular San Francisco liberals caught on to just how out of step some of this progressivism has become because they increasingly have other points of view from podcasts or Substacks or whatever,” Ms. Daum said.
Angel Eduardo, a Dominican leftist who writes critically of identity politics and made a name for himself supporting the Harper’s letter, told the Sun he thinks this move to Substacks is a good sign that “independent journalism is flourishing.” But he cautions that the rise of these “one-person media empires is blinding us to the terrible fact that we either can’t or won’t trust many of our institutions anymore. That’s a real loss.”
For regular people like Ms. Sheppard, though, finding independent news sources on the left has made her feel less alone. After her son’s public middle school divided the Zoom PTA meetings into racially segregated “affinity groups,” she finally spoke up.
“Because I had heard Sam Harris and Bari Weiss and Katie Herzog even poke fun and laugh at the ridiculousness of what’s happening, I felt more courageous in stepping out and letting my feelings be known,” she said.
Ms. McCaughey is a native New Yorker now based in New Hampshire. Her interests include politics, drug policy, and counterculture.