Adam Serwer

American journalist

Adam Serwer (born 1982) is an American journalist and author. He is a staff writer at The Atlantic where his work focuses on race, politics, and social justice.


  • It is important for non-Jews to understand that the Israeli prime minister is not the pope of the Jews. He is not a religious leader to whom global Jewry looks for guidance. He is a secular politician...
  • The outcome of all this is a seedy transactional relationship, in which Netanyahu empowers anti-Semitism against diaspora Jews while shoring up support for Israel. But this approach is hardly unique to him; the right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro once said of the far-right pundit Ann Coulter that he does not “lose sleep” over remarks she made about Jews because she supports Israel. This is more or less the bargain offered: You can be as anti-Semitic as you like as long as you are also a Zionist...the interests of the Jewish people and the interests of the state of Israel are not necessarily the same. Indeed, the more the Israeli government sees anti-Semitic Zionism as useful to its cause, the more they diverge.
  • Two states or one, my preference is for both Israelis and Palestinians to be able to live freely and in peace and equality, in whatever arrangement allows them to do so. Nevertheless, it is a cruel absurdity to demand of Palestinians that they not only acquiesce to Israel’s existence, but also actively support the idea of an ethnically defined state that excludes them from equal citizenship, one that was made possible only by the flight and expulsion of 700,000 of their forebears in the Nakba of 1948. It is not anti-Semitic to want equal rights in the land you share with others, and to oppose a political arrangement that has resulted in what Israeli human-rights groups justifiably describe as a form of apartheid.
  • The effect of equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is to silence the criticism of the Israeli government by Palestinians and their advocates. Characterizing all such criticism as an inherent form of bigotry is used to justify the exclusion of such critics from mainstream society, to suspend them from their schools, or to fire them from their jobs. But it is not anti-Semitic to want equal rights for all in Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, in Gaza, in Ramallah. That is, after all, what generations of Americans have sought in their own home.
  • The Nazi Holocaust in Europe and slavery and Jim Crow in the United States are outgrowths of the same ideology—the belief that human beings can be delineated into categories that share immutable biological traits distinguishing them from one another and determining their potential and behavior...The “racial” distinctions between master and slave may be more familiar to Americans, but they were and are no more real than those between Gentile and Jew.
  • Race allows humanity to keep inventing, in language that can bend the most rational minds, groups of people whose supposed characteristics justify whatever cruelty we might wish to indulge.
  • Yesterday's assault on the Capitol was an attack on multiracial American democracy, a fragile experiment younger than most US senators.
    • 1/7/2021 on Twitter
  • 'Blue Lives Matter' was always an expression of the belief that the role of police is to defend America's traditional racial order, not an actual statement about the value of human life
    • 1/7/2021 on Twitter
  • People were upset about Trump's win in 2016 because he ran a campaign promising to implement policies that targeted racial and ethnic minorities with state violence (and he did not simply because he was mean or rude. In no sense is Biden's campaign comparable. Sorry! Biden won't be banning Christians, arbitrarily revoking the status of white immigrants here because of natural disasters, trying to sell off white populated parts of the country or encouraging police brutality against white people. Your disappointment is not oppression.
    • 11/9/2020 on Twitter
  • the anti-political correctness types are really just trying to enforce their own standards of acceptable discourse and are furious at their inability to do so
    • 6/5/2020 on Twitter
  • The subtext of a lot of the "how to be a good ally" stuff is that a lot of liberal white folks still have pretty segregated social circles and the truth is if they started tugging on that thread they'd find some questions that lead to the answers they're looking for.
    • 6/4/2020 on Twitter
  • If editors made writers define what they mean by "woke" in pieces before using it derisively I suspect we wouldn't see it used very much.
    • Apr 10, 2020 on Twitter
  • "Woke capital" doesn't exist, only capital, and those obsesses with the former are not at all opposed to the power of the latter
    • May 26, 2022 on Twitter
  • They would rather not have democracy than have to share it with people who are different from them
    • Jan 6 2021 on Twitter
  • I hope people who should have known better then, understand now that Giuliani succeeding Dinkins was an outcome of similar forces that led to Trump succeeding Obama.
    • 11/24/2020 on Twitter
  • Trump and Barr let the biggest drug dealers in America off with a slap on the wrist. Law and Order indeed.
    • 11/18/2020 on Twitter, responding to story about "the $8.3 billion settlement between the Justice Dept. and Purdue Pharma over its marketing of Oxycontin and other addictive opioids. Under the deal, the Sackler family will admit no wrongdoing and face no criminal charges."
  • The subtext of a lot of the "how to be a good ally" stuff is that a lot of liberal white folks still have pretty segregated social circles and the truth is if they started tugging on that thread they'd find some questions that lead to the answers they're looking for.
    • 6/4/2020 on Twitter
  • On the one hand it's a lovely symbolism that the Dem slate in Georgia represents the old school civil rights coalition between black people and Jews. On the other, it's telling that the exact same tropes from then are being used by the gop in 2020
    • 11/18/20 on Twitter, responding to Newt Gingrich saying "Reverend Warnock is an extraordinarily radical candidate and essentially Ossoff is a product of Hollywood and Silicon Valley."
  • You see, when only white men are hired, it's just a question of competence and merit. But when white men are not hired, it's prejudice. Don't ever let anyone tell you conservatives don't understand systemic racism! They just think it only exists for them.
    • Responding on Twitter Dec 1, 2020 to Greg Gutfield saying "When you pick an all women team, what you're saying quite clearly--it's about gender and not competence. You're meaning to tell me you couldn't find one dude, one dude in DC?"
  • I will never write anything as concise and explanatory about race in America as this.
    • 1/2/2021 oin Twitter, about this

The Cruelty Is the Point: The Past, Present, and Future of Trump's America (2021) Template:Page number needed

  • Win or lose, the dust Trump was kicking up would linger in the lungs. I started poring over old texts about racism, immigration, and nativism, like John Higham's Strangers in the Land. I found disturbing echoes of Trump's rhetorical style in Hannah Arendt's description of Stalinist and Nazi apparatchiks in The Origins of Totalitarianism and had epiphanies about the fragility of American democracy reading W.E.B. Du Bois's Black Reconstruction in America. (p xiv "Introduction")
  • Memorial Day has the tendency to conjure up old arguments about the Civil War. That’s understandable; it was created to mourn the dead of a war in which the Union was nearly destroyed, when half the country rose up in rebellion in defense of slavery. (p20 "The Myth of Kindly General Lee")
  • There are former Confederates who sought to redeem themselves—one thinks of James Longstreet, wrongly blamed by Lost Causers for Lee’s disastrous defeat at Gettysburg, who went from fighting the Union army to leading New Orleans’s integrated police force in battle against white-supremacist paramilitaries. But there are no statues of Longstreet in New Orleans.* Lee was devoted to defending the principle of white supremacy; Longstreet was not. This, perhaps, is why Lee was placed atop the largest Confederate monument at Gettysburg in 1917, but the 6-foot-2-inch Longstreet had to wait until 1998 to receive a smaller-scale statue hidden in the woods that makes him look like a hobbit riding a donkey. It’s why Lee is remembered as a hero, and Longstreet is remembered as a disgrace. (p28 "The Myth of Kindly General Lee")
  • Multiracial democracy is hard and messy and sometimes rude, but it is preferable to the alternatives (p 77)
  • The artifacts that persist in my memory are the photographs of lynchings. But it’s not the burned, mutilated bodies that stick with me. It’s the faces of the white men in the crowd. There’s the photo of the lynching of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Indiana in 1930, in which a white man can be seen grinning at the camera as he tenderly holds the hand of his wife or girlfriend. (p 100)
  • Their cruelty made them feel good, it made them feel proud, it made them feel happy. And it made them feel closer to one another…Their shared laughter at the suffering of others is an adhesive that binds them to one another, and to Trump. (p 101)
  • What made Trump unusual was his administration's commitment to barbarism as an end rather than a means, with few of the redeeming features that tempered other presidents' approaches to immigration. (p 135-6)
  • white supremacy in America is a history of conspiracies. The Middle Passage was a conspiracy to use black people as forced labor; the Confederacy was a conspiracy to keep black people as chattel; the end of Reconstruction was a conspiracy to overturn black citizenship; Jim Crow was a conspiracy to maintain black people as a subservient labor caste; the Tuskegee medical experiment on black men was a conspiracy; redlining was a conspiracy; the exclusion of most black people from many of the benefits of the New Deal was the result of a conspiracy; the theft of Henrietta Lacks's cells was a conspiracy; lending discrimination is a conspiracy; and so on and so forth. And for the most part, black Americans must go about their lives every day with knowledge of such conspiracies as most white Americans deny they exist, or that they have been of any significance in shaping modern life whatsoever. (p 163)
  • A constant of the Trump years was that counting on Trump supporters to reach the limit of their commitment to him was a losing bet. (229)
  • The invention of the police is like the invention of race; memory and history have conspired to make the recent seem eternal. And yet both are recent innovations. (p 254 "Abolish Police Unions")
  • The Civil-Rights movement was a rebellion against the law. It had to be. And the police were called upon to crush it. From marches to sit-ins to protests, many of the most iconic images of the era were representations of police brutality: the Birmingham police siccing dogs on protesters, Alabama state troopers beating marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Atlanta cops manhandling Martin Luther King Jr. after an arrest at a sit-in. These images showed white Americans who had averted their eyes from the realities of segregation-from their restaurants to their schools to their neighborhoods that it was enforced at the point of a gun in their name. (p 259 "Abolish Police Unions")
  • In the aftermath of the Ferguson protests, it was fashionable to speak of a "new civil-rights movement." But it is perhaps more illuminating to see Black Lives Matter as a new banner raised on the same field of battle, stained by the blood of generations who came before. The fighters are new, but the conflict is the same one that Frederick Douglass and George Ruby fought, one that goes far beyond policing. (p 302 "The New Reconstruction")

"The Jewish Divide"

  • It is not American Jews who have betrayed their Israeli cousins. It is the Netanyahu-led Israeli government that has betrayed Jews outside Israel, by aligning itself with nationalist parties in countries like Poland and Hungary, who are hostile to the ideals that make it possible for Jews in the diaspora to live free of persecution. (p 205)
  • Donald Trump, whose uncritical support for Israel and belief that America is fundamentally a nation for white Christians exacerbates a divide between the two largest Jewish populations in the world. (p 205)
  • Since the Civil War, American Jews have built a place for themselves here much the way other minorities have-by holding the United States accountable to its own principles (p 210)
  • American religious pluralism, however imperfectly practiced, is centuries older than the European commitment to purging anti-Semitism, which is younger than Israel itself. (p 222)

Interview with Colorlines (2021)

  • I think the phrase merely described a phenomenon we had all observed, but the proximate inspiration for it was when the president mocked Christine Blasey Ford. What struck me about the hearing was that she had said the thing she remembered the most was the laughter of Kavanaugh and his friend, and Trump seemed to zero in on that and he was intent on mocking her for coming forward and making the audience laugh at her. He viewed her words as an emotional weakness he could exploit. For that, that’s what crystalized in my mind. But even before then, the phenomenon was clear, I just didn’t have a sure way to describe it.
    • On the phrase "the cruelty is the point"
  • Even as an opinion journalist, I try to give the facts as best as I see them, but I think in political journalism, you often get some version of "one side says the sky is green and the other side says it’s blue." I think that is in part a product of longstanding journalistic traditions regarding objectivity but also a lack of diversity in the newsroom that has led to certain ideas of what is considered objective is unchallenged.
  • there are more axes of difference beyond the Left-Right worth exploring, and in some ways, political journalism does not always acknowledge those.
  • The critical race theory scare is a reaction to the re-evaluation of history sparked during the Obama presidency and the Ferguson protests. They sparked an inquiry into how we have a Black president but still have glaring racial inequalities that have not been resolved. That process was accelerated by the election of Donald Trump because he was so overtly running on the politics of white identity, and then it culminated in the George Floyd protests. That recognition frightened conservatives because the knowledge that racial disparities were caused through public policy, that implies the state should step in and fix it. If you are conservative and you believe that these inequalities are actually the result of in-born natural ability then you don’t want the state to do that. So I think there’s a recognition on their part that this re-evaluation of history would cause people to understand the lingering effects of racism in American life, and to prevent that, they want to make it difficult to teach history that includes the extent that discriminatory policies shaped racial disparities in America.
  • History is not a thing that operates on its own. It’s written by human hands and interpreted by human beings, and that interpretation is substantially mediated by power. For example, after Reconstruction, Democrats in the South saw Reconstruction as a mistake and saw Jim Crow as restoring the proper order of things. That interpretation was challenged by W.E.B. Du Bois and others but it did not begin to be overturned in American public memory until the around Civil Rights era. My book is an attempt to put down a historical record of the Trump administration to show it as I believe it really was; to prevent this kind of manipulation of history from taking place (although, I’m just one person). But the public memory of the Trump administration will be determined substantially by who holds power in the future.

Interview with NPR (2021)

  • most people think of cruelty as an individual problem. And it is that, but what I'm focused on in the book is cruelty as a part of American politics, specifically the way that it is used to demonize certain groups so you can justify denying people their basic rights under the Constitution and exclude them from the political process, which is substantially what the Trump project was about, both as a means to power and also as a policy agenda.
  • We're always going to have disagreements in a democracy. That's what democracy is for. It's for reconciling disagreements. But what is not necessary is a politics where one side is trying to disenfranchise or exclude the other party's voters in order to maintain a grip on power. And that's what I mean when I talk about cruelty on a political level.
  • Trump is not essential to Trumpism. The politics of cruelty that Trump's employed are a product of a system that encourages a minority of the country to engineer the government so that they are no longer accountable to the public. And what - Trump's real innovation was showing how much of that the Republican Party can get away with. The only solution to this is for the Republican Party to have to reach out beyond the base that it currently has to serve a more diverse constituency so that it can no longer rely on fomenting the kind of intolerance represented by Trump's politics of cruelty.
  • While I was writing this book, I was inspired tremendously by the people who throughout American history have fought to expand the blessings of American democracy to everyone. And I think that what people need to understand is that America is the Declaration of Independence, and it's the three-fifths clause. These are both organic, authentic parts of the American tradition, and they're always going to both be a part of who we are as a country. And all we can do is try to hew as best we can to our best traditions rather than the ones that make us feel shame.

Quotes about Adam Serwer [citation needed]

  • while critics like Adam Serwer have rightly argued that when it comes to the bond between Trump and his supporters, "the cruelty is the point," my claim is that such cruelty is not only an experience of community and delight; it's fundamentally a return to a particular civic experience.
    • Cristina Beltrán p19 Cruelty as Citizenship: How Migrant Suffering Sustains White Democracy (2020)
  • No writer better demonstrates how American dreams are so often sabotaged by American history.
  • Serwer's writing has been indispensable to understanding the chaotic world around us. Incisive, elegant, and deeply anchored in history, The Cruelty Is the Point is an essential guide to a perilous time in American life.
  • For those of us trying to find our way through the fog of the Trump era, Adam Serwer's essays served as a constant source of illumination and inspiration.
  • Adam Serwer is the most incisive political writer of our time."
  • The essays in The Cruelty Is the Point combine an unsparing accounting of our history with an astute examination of our present."
  • Serwer's powerful truth-telling grabs us, shakes us, and warns us that as long as we wishfully forget the history of American cruelty, we will fail to see it coming for all that we hold dear.
  • No journalist has done more to advance our understanding of American power abuse in the age of Donald Trump than Adam Serwer.
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