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Big Sister Is Watching You

Progressphiles struggle session signals ideological self-sabotage inside Democratic Party
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Here’s a story about how Social Justice Warriors are marching through the institutions of the Democratic Party — and stomping dissenters into the mud.

Earlier this month, David Shor, a highly regarded young Democratic data analyst who once worked for President Obama made a problematic tweet. Citing historical research by the black Princeton social scientist Omar Wasow, Shor contended that protesting racism nonviolently helps Democratic candidates, but doing so violently helps Republicans. This was based on 1960s data. According to an account by liberal New York magazine writer Jonathan Chait, one of Shor’s professional colleagues within the world of elite Democratic Party campaign workers, Ari Trujillo Wesler, tweeted that Shor’s tweet “reeks of anti-blackness” (she took down her tweet later).  Shor, whose job it is to figure out the mathematics of getting Democratic voters to come out in greater numbers than Republican voters, responded by pointing out that news coverage of riots drives Republican turnout.


The next day, David Shor was fired.

Well. There is an e-mail list called Progressphiles, made up of about 1,000 Democratic Party professionals like David Shor and Ari Trujillo Wesler. Today Chait follows up with the scoop on the Shor meltdown at Progressphiles. Someone has provided him with a log of all the conversation about it on the site. He does not name names (that’s not important anyway, Chait says), but it does show how fanatically some progressives try to police discourse, even among progressives. It’s like peering into a Maoist struggle session — but these are professional political staffers who work within the Democratic Party universe.

As it happens, I had a conversation the other day with someone who participates on the Progressphiles list, and who gave me background on the controversy from his perspective, including a trove of e-mails from the list. His only request was that I not identify him. Keep in mind that this is one insider’s view. Unlike Chait, I have not seen the entire collection of e-mails from the list, but my source did send screenshots of a number of them. I’ll include some of them in the narrative below, but I will not identify the authors of each comment (though I have their names). As Chait said, their names don’t really matter. For ease of reading, I’m going to call the Democratic operative who is my source “Walter,” as in “Walter Mondale”; his real name, of course, is not Walter.

“David Shor is considered to be one of the absolute best in the business,” Walter said. “He’s a guy who can see every tree in the forest. He’s a tactician. It’s his job to see voters and figure out which combinations will work and which will not. He’s one of the best quantitative guys we have. But like in an Army, the quantitative guys are not the generals.”

What he means is that Shor has been getting out over his skis on analysis. According to Walter, Shor has been arguing for some time that Democrats should not behave in public in ways that help Republicans, and make it harder for Democrats to appeal to middle of the road voters. This is controversial within the progressive community, said Walter, because arguments that happen behind closed doors “privileges those who hold the power.”

Walter is a number-cruncher. In his view, the Shor interpretation of Wasow’s work is seriously flawed. “Dr. Wasow’s work is absolutely fantastic,” he said, “but the uses to which his work has been put, the work doesn’t necessary support it.”

Nevertheless, the “rioting helps Republicans” take was popularized on May 29 by the progressive journalist Zaid Jilani, who wrote a piece that appeared in National Review arguing it emphatically, based on Wasow’s paper.

Walter said, “Shor a very visible polling analyst who did this in a specific political context, and was saying dumb things about polling. This is something that benefits Republicans. It gives them a chance to say, ‘Hey look, here’s a Democrat saying this protesters are off the wall.'”

Therefore, said Walter, Shor “was not fired because he offended some snowflake. He was not fired because leftists do not tolerate dissent. He was fired for good reasons.”

Here’s where things get really bad.

After Ari Wesler sent that “come get your boy” tweet about Shor, a lot of people came after her. The initial Chait story ramped this up. She was doxxed, and the threats were so specific that she took measures to hide her location.

This was really happening, and it was really horrible, said Walter. And it played into the poisonous power dynamics that had been dominating Progressphiles since the Trump victory — more on which momentarily.

But first: What is Progressphiles? According to Walter, a longtime member, it has been a way for people who work in Democratic politics in Washington and around the country — specifically for those doing technology and analytics work — to get to know each other via e-mail. It was mostly a social list, he said, along the lines of, “Hey, I’m coming to town this weekend, who wants to have beers?” There was some work discussion on the list, but it was carefully moderated to not cross the line into campaign collusion.

After Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, said Walter, some of the women on the Progressphiles list became very assertive and authoritarian. To disagree with them as a male was to set yourself up for an accusation of sexism.

“These people started complaining that they were being undermined by the patriarchy, and demanded that the list’s leadership be given to women exclusively, without term — meaning that they would be able to govern the list like they wanted, without end,” alleged Walter.

“Under their tenure, this list has become more terrifying to be on,” he continued. “There are sublists now formed where people get together and plan what they are going to say on this list, who they’re going to attack. There are Facebook groups where people do this. There are people on the list saying things like ‘cis white males should not apply for this job.'”

(That really happened, in 2017, at the Democratic National Committee.)

So, when the David Shor controversy arose, the administrators of the list sent out an e-mail on the morning of June 15, announcing that they were going to remove Shor for promoting racism and inciting harassment against Ari Wesler. Walter provided me with a screenshot of the e-mail that went out to the list. Excerpt:

The moderators invited anyone on the list who experiences “harassment” to write to them. They added:

Here was the so-called “racist tweet” that Shor sent out:

His “bullying” of Ari Wesler was in disagreeing with her. The moderators also held Shor responsible for what vile people on the Internet said to and about Wesler.

Said Walter:

If they had said that they were removing him for making bad arguments that help Republicans, a lot of us would have grumbled about it, but we could have said it made sense. But they didn’t say that. They accused him of inciting a mob. They have libeled him on this list. It did not happen that David Shor called up Jonathan Chait and said this happened to me and you should write a blog post about it. That did not happen.

(Since my conversation with Walter, Jonathan Chait has publicly stated that Shor did not contact him, and continues to refuse to talk to him.)

Kicking Shor off the list, and doing so on the grounds that he is a racist and a harasser, is not only groundless, said Walter, but is going to cause tremendous harm to his professional reputation. In the collection of Progressphiles e-mails that Walter sent, someone echoes this theme:

In the stack of Progressphiles e-mails Walter provided, contributors defending Shor’s exile repeatedly bring up how BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) people feel by having their perspectives questioned. In other words, to do anything other than accept without question what BIPOC people on the list say is a sign of “white fragility” (this, even though one of the moderator-skeptical contributors in the documents I saw has an Indian name). An example of this manipulative discourse — this from a state data director of a major national progressive get-out-the-vote organization:

This person is a data director (and is white — I looked her up)! Mind you, all this is happening among people whose profession is it to analyze data and figure out how to use it to help Democratic candidates win power. These ideologues are silencing voices from within their own circles who are saying things that they don’t want to hear. This is straight-up Soviet. Is this person suppressing data, or her own analysis, to suit woke ideological goals? Remember, Hillary Clinton lost the election to Donald Trump in part because of her flawed data analysis.

Another example — this from a contributor who is a very high-profile Democratic tech staffer who has been in Time magazine, and who now works for a labor advocacy organization:


Check out this excerpt from one of the contributors:

Get that? Data itself is racist, and logic itself is racist, if they produce results that offend certain people. What in the Carville days was a war room has under the Social Justice Warriors become a star chamber.

Here’s something from a male Progressphiles contributor to the Shor discussion, demonstrating how the language and ideology of trauma has penetrated the Democratic Party professional class:

Can you imagine a grown man talking about “working through [his] own trauma” about the news? Can you imagine James Carville talking this way? This is not someone who has been deployed in a war zone, or was the victim of a violent crime, or witnessed a natural disaster. This is someone who reads the newspaper and cannot handle it.

Check this out. The author is a white Bernie Bro:

Rioters burned down 66 businesses in Minneapolis alone. But that’s not violence, according to this Bernie Bro who is a data and tech guy working for the Democrats. If you were a Democratic campaign, would you trust an analyst who thinks that way to provide you with solid data on how the rioting and civil unrest of the spring is affecting the voter mood?

In the e-mails Walter forwarded to me, there were some good one pushing back against the woke politburo. An Asian-American contributor waylaid David Shor’s analysis, and said he should have gotten fired for the mistakes in it, but also said that Shor was railroaded out of Progressphiles:

Another male participant who works for a labor union, and who had argued against the moderators sliming David Shor, said he had had enough, and was leaving the list. This is racist too, according to a female contributor who works at a big national progressive organization identifying and training leaders — and according to her, it’s also racist for Democratic strategists to prioritize how to help Democratic candidates win elections. The union guy’s lines are in purple:

To me, an outsider, this looks like a shark crazed by a feeding frenzy eating its own entrails. To Walter, who makes his living trying to get Democrats elected, it’s worse than that.

Remember, Progressphiles isn’t just a list of Democratic Party randos; these are the people who make the party and its institutional allies work. Since Jonathan Chait first started writing about the Shor controversy, Walter said, a number of Democratic Party donors and campaign managers have begun inundating campaign professionals with e-mails and phone calls. They are afraid that the accurate numbers and analysis that they’re paying for, and that they depend on, are being distorted for ideological reasons.

“This is all happening because these hard left women have taken over the list,” said Walter.

Why did Walter reach out to me, of all people? He reads this blog, and said he wanted me to see that there are people on that list who do not falsify numbers to suit political goals, and who pushed back on the list against fellow Democrats who want to ignore or dismiss data that challenge their biases. “I also want to reassure you and your readers that not all progressives are like this, that many of us are fair minded liberals and social democrats,” he said. “Even if we disagree on some things, we are not the political officers coming to take you to reeducation camps.”

Walter thinks this controversy, and what it signifies, is going to affect the Democratic Party’s performance in the fall.

“This list not functioning now is indicative of a big problem: we don’t trust each other right now,” he said.
“This particular group of people is supposed to be the statistical, scientific wing of the Democratic Party. To have this turn into a struggle session is insane.”

Walter repeated that David Shor is one of the best in the business at data analysis. He could probably go to Amazon and make half a million dollars a year, but he has chosen to work in Democratic politics because he is a progressive, and believes in the cause.

“But the list moderators having put out in his [professional] community that this man has incited a racial mob, his reputation has been destroyed,” Walter said. “I can’t imagine him coming back from this. I can’t imagine him wanting to.”

Think of it: the woke mob within Democratic institutions may have professionally destroyed one of the best data analysts the party has. This is exactly what happened in the Soviet bloc: totalitarianism’s requirement of loyalty to the ideology and the party’s figures over basic competence and truth-telling caused the system to rot from within.

Walter went on:

I do believe that racism is real, I do believe that sexism is real, I do believe that homophobia is a real thing. I really do believe they should be combatted. But I also believe that there are people who hide under a false flag and use this to accrue power.

I mentioned to Walter that a few months after Hillary Clinton’s defeat, a progressive reader of this blog with whom I had corresponded in the past, and who worked in Washington in the Democratic Party arena, e-mailed to say that he was thinking of getting out of politics. He said that women around Hillary were convinced that sexism was the reason she lost, and that they were allowing their rage to guide them. The reader, who is male, told me in 2017 that these ideological ragebots were taking over the party, and it was becoming a miserable place to work. That reader eventually did leave politics.

Walter agreed that the apparatchik furies are in control, and it scares him for the future of the Democrats:

They have wormed their way into middle management. Nobody ever took them seriously. None of us ever thought these administrative positions were anything to really think about. But they have completely taken over the middle management of the party. They have taken over all the social institutions. It’s crazy. They’re using these institutions as punching bags for their rage rather than allowing their rage to be constructive.

As of this writing, Joe Biden is set up for a blowout victory this November. If the Democrats fail to deliver, remember this episode, and know that the cancer of wokeness ate the party alive from within.

UPDATE: Well, things have gotten interesting on the Progressphiles list today. Seth, who commented here already, told his confrères:

Whoever went to Rod freaking Dreher of all people, you gave a right-wing narcissist the opportunity to make light of my personal experiences, while using your power as a white man to get your perspective picked up at the expense of others in our community. Whoever you are, whether you are my friend or not, this was a profoundly cowardly act. I believe in forgiveness and am willing to forgive it with an apology, but please know that it was deeply shitty (and I’m pretty far down the list of people who are harmed by this nonsense).

If you have an issue with something someone has done, be an adult and deal with it directly. Don’t anonymously go to the press just because you’re a coward. Plenty of people have voiced opinions similar to “Walter’s” here, and you’ll notice that none of those people have been canceled or excommunicated or whatever other fear you convinced yourself was legitimate. I know “Walter” is supposed to refer to Mondale but all I can think of is Walter Sobchak, whose entire character is premised on his being a confident asshole whether he is right or wrong.

He adds:

Also what’s extra fucked up is I’m going to get more sympathy for this than our colleague who was harassed by Chait’s followers, and that person needs and deserves our love and compassion and support a whole lot more than I do.

I don’t know what Seth’s “personal experiences” are, and if he’s in emotional pain, I hope he is getting the help he needs. You can see what I said above. The whole “trauma” mentality on that list — the idea that feelings matter more than data — is driving the self-destructive ideological insanity.

Another person on the list — a female data scientist who recently worked for a Democratic presidential primary candidate, and who has been very critical of the way the moderators handled it wrote back when this first broke (emphasis in original):

Genuinely, to everyone on this list, I hope you’re holding up okay and caring for yourselves and each other with everything going on.

I moderate and care for several communities with varying levels of security concerns at scales far larger than Progressphiles. In all of them, defamation is seen as an abuse of power and is not tolerated.

Progressphile’s moderators have the right to make the individual determination whether or not David Shor’s tweet was racist, and have the authority to remove him. Accusing David Shor of going to a reporter to undermine a member of this community with the additional intention of creating conditions for them to receive death threats however is not only slander, it is libel.

It is horrifying any member of this community receives death threats. It should be taken seriously – and members of this community with the relevant skills should mobilize every time this happens to help with fears of doxxing and other digital safety concerns. But the continued public statements by the moderators – and their private statements to members of this group – asserting David Shor went “cap in hand” to a magazine in follow through of his plan to put someone’s life in danger without proof is clear defamation.

To make serious claims like this against someone without evidence makes this community unsafe, for everyone. It tells each of us that rumor will have more power than truth. And in a community that already has enough of that dynamic on its own, to signal to this list its moderators will uphold hearsay over facts in the way they have is only encouraging more harm.

When someone is put on administrative leave or fired, they sign NDAs. What do NDAs bar them from doing? Talking to reporters.

Please, as one person who protects and cares for communities engaged in politics and activist movements to another, retract the accusation. Do not set a precedent which sets the stage for worse in the future.

Yesterday, as I wrote above, Chait published a second piece denying that David Shor came to him with any of this. Chait wrote (as you’ve seen) that Shor was, and remains, “extremely uncooperative and fearful,” and that he (Chait) learned of the exchange between Shor and Trujillo Wesler by looking at Twitter himself. Yesterday on the list, the female data scientist commenter who wrote the above post earlier, quoted Chait’s new piece, and added (again, emphasis in the original):

(Big, exasperated sigh)

After several weeks of seeing others speak truth to power, I thank the mods for wanting to do the same on behalf of this community and its extended network. Such actions call for will power and acceptance of risk.

Yet this was not truth to power, this was libel.

Power asserted through defamation is toxic. And unwelcome. Fabricating claims and selling them as truth from a position of authority doesn’t simply hurt “white men,” it hurts victims of abuse. The mods’ actions have, instead of nurturing a safer space, made it harder for people to come forward. And made it easier for people with vendetta’s to target others. For these consequences alone, the mods owe us an explanation.

To the moderators:

In networks where individuals put themselves in legal jeopardy and physical harm in the name of justice and progress, your behavior would be flagged as high risk to the safety of their members.

You have undermined the trust of this group required for the agenda you have outlined to take hold and succeed. But, as someone who believes that agenda aims to positively transform this community, I hope you take the actions necessary to mend that trust and realize those goals.

Retract the accusation, respond with an explanation, or resign as moderators. Admitting mistakes, no matter how morally motivated or noxious, is leadership. Avoidance is not.