Dirtbag left

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The dirtbag left is a style of left-wing politics that eschews civility in order to convey a left-wing populist message using subversive vulgarity. It is most closely associated with American left-wing media that emerged in the mid-2010s, such as the podcast Chapo Trap House. Despite the term's connotations, its use is not typically considered derogatory.


Vulgarity is the language of the people, and so it should be among the grammars of the left, just as it has been historically, to wield righteously against the corrupt and the powerful.

— Amber A'Lee Frost,
"The Necessity of Political Vulgarity"[1]

The term was coined by Amber A'Lee Frost and is associated with her essay "The Necessity of Political Vulgarity", published in Current Affairs in 2016.[2][3] While the essay does not directly use the term dirtbag left, it mounts a defense of politics that utilize "vulgarity as a tool for fighting the powerful", citing libelles used to slander Marie Antoinette, Cohen v. California, and N.W.A's protest song "Fuck tha Police", among others.[1] While Frost notes that vulgarity in itself is not "inherently subversive", she argues that the left must reclaim vulgarity "from the Trumps of the world", lest it be "handicapped by [its] own civility."[1]

The dirtbag left is most closely associated with the American politics podcast Chapo Trap House, of which Frost is a co-host. Chapo emerged in 2016 in the context of the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primaries and subsequent presidential election.[2] The podcast combines political analysis and punditry from a socialist perspective with elements of comedy and irony.[4] Chapo gained attention for its criticism of both the Republican and Democratic parties, particularly what the podcast claimed was the Democratic Party's complicity with a conservative agenda.[3]

Beyond Chapo, media outlets that have been alternately linked to or described as dirtbag left include the podcasts Street Fight Radio,[5] TrueAnon,[6] Red Scare,[7][8] and Cum Town,[9] and the publications The Baffler and Current Affairs.[5] These outlets are noted as presenting comedy as "applied to an ideological reading of the news of the day, with a particular focus on political feeling or style."[7]

Tenets and rhetorical style[edit]

The dirtbag left has been described as an anti-fascist, anti-conservative, anti-centrist, and anti-liberal ideology.[10] It has been linked to a variety of political stances, including anti-political correctness;[10] anti-inequality;[11] a disregard for civility;[10] opposition to the wealthy and support for redistributive economic policies;[12][11] and support for both the 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns of Bernie Sanders.[11]

The Iraq War and 2008 financial crisis have been cited as particular radicalizing events for the dirtbag left.[13]

Rhetorically, the dirtbag left is noted as a vulgar, "bawdy offensive balance to cautious mainstream liberal politics",[11] with "a dismissive attitude towards the niceties of liberal political correctness"[12] that frequently direct insults and attacks through social media at specific public figures with political or economic power.[3] The Times (London) cited the rise of this rhetorical style as evidence of "the limitations of wokeness as a political force", and an example of the changing nature of politics on the internet.[12]

Despite the connotations of the term "dirtbag left", its use is not typically considered derogatory, with The New York Times describing the term as "a defense mechanism that doubles as a nickname."[11] Self-identification with the term is indicative of the dirtbag left's tendency towards irony and self-deprecation, with Frost noting that the term "speaks to a lot of people who have been dismissed or chided by liberals for embracing vulgarity, eschewing sanctimony or piety, and refusing to be civil to the right wing," adding that the term "says something positive about what we do believe, and what we’re willing to ruthlessly fight for, regardless of established etiquette."[10] Chapo co-host Will Menaker joked that "if you sleep on a mattress on the floor and fuck in a sleeping bag, then you just might be the dirtbag left",[2] before explaining that he sees the dirtbag left as a "scurrilous and funny approach to left-wing politics" that contrasts "utterly humorless and bloodless" liberalism.[14]


The dirtbag left has been widely criticized by liberal commentators, with liberal feminist writer Amanda Marcotte stating that the ideology is linked to "that male privilege of intimidating people into assuming you're cool" and comparing it to the television series Jackass.[11] Liberal writer Jeet Heer described the dirtbag left as a form of "doomed to fail" dominance politics, arguing that "derision is useful for one half of politics—defeating the opposing party—but has nothing to say to the crucial other half of forming alliances that can govern effectively for the people."[5] Among conservative commentators, the dirtbag left was cited as an example of "the deep provincialism endemic to the modern Left" by John Daniel Davidson in The Federalist.[15]


  1. ^ a b c Frost, Amber A'Lee (August 25, 2016). "The Necessity of Political Vulgarity". Current Affairs. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Tolentino, Jia (November 18, 2016). "What Will Become of the Dirtbag Left?". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Jones, Sarah (Fall 2018). "The Dirtbag Manifesto". Dissent. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  4. ^ Beauchamp, Zac (March 9, 2020). "The raging controversy over "Bernie Bros" and the so-called dirtbag left, explained". Vox. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c Heer, Jeet (July 19, 2017). "The Dirtbag Left and the Problem of Dominance Politics". The New Republic. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  6. ^ Beckwith, Caleb (March 3, 2020). "Epstein Brain is for the People". San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved April 30, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Malone, Noreen (October 25, 2018). "Red Scare Leans Into Nothing". New York. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  8. ^ Power, Nina (March 7, 2020). "Oracles, perverts and the Dirtbag Left". The Spectator. London. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  9. ^ North, Anna; Stein, Jeff (October 24, 2017). "Listen to what socialist women are saying about misogyny on the left". Vox. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c d Semley, John (July 5, 2017). "The rise of the internet's 'dirtbag left'". Maclean's. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Bowles, Nellie (March 1, 2020). "The Pied Pipers of the Dirtbag Left Want to Lead Everyone to Bernie Sanders". The New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2020.
  12. ^ a b c Marriott, James (April 21, 2020). "Goodbye woke liberals, hello dirtbag left". The Times. London. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  13. ^ Koshy, Yohann (June 3, 2019). "'The Voice of the Dirtbag Left': socialist US comics Chapo Trap House". The Guardian. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  14. ^ Rhode, Jason (July 29, 2016). "Chapo Trap House are the Vulgar, Brilliant Demigods of the New Progressive Left". Paste. Retrieved May 15, 2020.
  15. ^ Davidson, John Daniel (November 22, 2016). "Meet The Intolerant Vulgarians Of The Dirtbag Left". The Federalist. Retrieved May 5, 2020.

Further reading[edit]