I get a lot of emails like this:
“Dear Katie, I enjoyed your article about X. I’m a lifelong Democrat, but the left’s craziness around X, Y, and Z has made me reconsider my position and I’m voting a straight Republican ticket this year for the first time ever.”
The writers of these emails come to me because they are fed up with leftist intolerance and they know from my writing on these issues that I am as well. They are sick of liberals’ attempts to deplatform controversial speakers, they are worried about the left abandoning the principles of free speech and due process, and they are tired of being scared to admit that they sometimes agree with (gasp) Bari Weiss. They’ve watched with concern when someone—be it a celebrity recommending a conservative thinker or a teenager wearing a culturally-appropriated prom dress—makes the slightest miscalculation and a wave of liberals and leftists rise up on social media to declare that the offender (that trash, that garbage, that literal Nazi fuck) has been canceled for good.
The purity politics of the American left are driving people towards the right, and there’s a growing industry of people capitalizing on this phenomenon. One of the most prominent of those voices is Dave Rubin, the host of the popular podcast and YouTube series The Rubin Report. Rubin—who frequently rails against identity politics while simultaneously reminding the audience that he is gay every chance he gets—mostly uses his platform to criticize the left. He’s tightly connected to Jordan Peterson, and regularly interviews so-called Intellectual Dark Webbers like Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro, and the Weinstein brothers, as well as actual conservatives like Tucker Carlson and Candace Owens. He rarely, if ever, interviews people who are well-loved by the current American left, and you will never see a Bernie Sanders on his show, much less a writer for Vox.
Rubin’s interview style is not to push back. He rarely challenges his guests, and while they may be scattered across the political spectrum, what they all have in common as of late is that they see the purity politics of the American left as a serious problem. And I tend to agree with them on this. The world is becoming increasingly destabilized and yet it can feel like large swaths of my fellow liberals and leftists are more concerned with policing other peoples’ language, food, and Halloween costumes than actually winning elections, much less fixing things on this planet. You could call this, to borrow a phrase, “problematic.”
To Dave Rubin, the appropriate response to leftist intolerance is to turn right. In a livestream posted on YouTube the day before the election, Rubin said that while he still “begrudgingly” considers himself a liberal, the left has been completely taken over by “identity politics” and “Democratic Socialists.”
He’s wrong about this. For one, Donald Trump himself is a master of identity politics. Watch him on the campaign trail and you will notice that he paints a false narrative that the country is being besieged by immigrants from the Middle East and the South, as though what is essential about this nation will be challenged by letting non-white refugees and immigrants make the U.S. their home. Trump is lying, of course: From its very founding, the United States has been a nation of immigrants, (who, contrary to Trump’s rhetoric, tend to work harder, save more, and commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans). But, as Rubin notes, identity politics are all about judging people not as individuals, but according to the particular categories under which they fall. And when Trump calls Mexican immigrants “criminals” or “rapists,” or when he says a judge can’t be impartial based on his ethnicity, he is engaging in exactly that, but Dave Rubin seems to forget that identity politics is not just for those on the left.
When it comes to Rubin’s idea that the left has been run over by “socialists,” he’s wrong about that too. The Democratic Socialists of America certainly saw a surge in popularity after the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016, and a handful of socialists have won primaries in the U.S., but Bernie Sanders isn’t exactly the leader of the left. In fact, he lost the presidential primary in part because he had no institutional support from the party itself. And, two years later, the Democratic Socialists of America has just 50,000 members—out of a country of with over 235 million people eligible to vote. That’s about .0002 percent. Besides, while the Democrats might be far to the left of Donald Trump and Paul Ryan, they still have a pro-market, neoliberal agenda. The number of Marxists running the DNC is approximately none.
Rubin also claims that the American left thinks that “Big Government is the answer to everything,” although he doesn’t say who exactly is running on that platform. (Maybe because no one actually is.) Not only would “Bigger Government” make a terrible campaign slogan, what progressives actually value is a great deal of individual freedom (e.g., the freedoms to smoke weed, marry who you want, or have an abortion) along with reasonable regulation of industry. Progressive policies are not about growing bureaucracy for the sake of growing bureaucracy; they are about preventing corporations and industries from exploiting workers, consumers, and public resources, as well as figuring out what’s best for the most number of people. It is not, like Rubin claims, about just handing over rights and responsibilities to Big Government. In fact, that’s not progressive at all; it’s authoritarian.
Rubin, however, is not interested in the details, which he actually said in his live broadcast the day before the election. “To talk about the minutiae of day to day issues isn’t that interesting to me, but what I believe is that… the left needs to stop playing identity politics,” Rubin said. “It needs to stop calling everyone racist and bigoted and homophobic and transphobic and Islamophobic and all the rest of it, because all of your intellectual opponents are not evil, they just aren’t.”
On this, I agree. A number of people on the left are far too trigger happy when it comes to smearing those who don’t agree with them. And, like Rubin, I think more engagement across the political spectrum is better than less. If you want to change someone’s opinion or even attempt to bring the country together, the worst thing we can do is close our ranks and kick those who disagree with us out of the club. While I understand the impulse to disinvite your Trump-supporting uncle from Thanksgiving, in the end, segregating into our own tribes will just make this national division even worse. But Rubin is so consumed with the failures of the left that he ignores the actual policy positions of the right, and it is policy, not these ungovernable fights on social media, that we vote about.
You cannot vote the left out of being self-righteous on social media. You can, however, vote for candidates who promise sensible action on climate change; improved access to education, healthcare, and jobs; and who fight for higher taxes on the rich instead of the poor. You can vote for candidates who want to protect public lands, who want to rebuild our infrastructure, who want to move towards renewable sources of energy, who want to help refugees and the homeless and parents and kids and who want to institute evidence-based reforms on immigration, gun control, criminal justice, and campaign finance. Those are the issues we vote on.
Dave Rubin doesn’t mention this, but outside of stocking the federal and Supreme Courts with partisan conservative judges, Donald Trump and the party in power have accomplished very little in past two years. What they have done is largely negative, from Trump’s trade war, which is costing American consumers and industries billions, to his completely unnecessary but hugely destructive border wall—which will cost taxpayers $145 million to complete just six miles. Trump and his administration have also increased the federal deficit to over a trillion dollars, lost nearly 1,500 refugee children, separated thousands more kids from their parents, and he has given up whatever legitimacy the United States had as a moral arbiter on the world stage. Trump sucks up to despots, reaps wealth from his position in the Oval Office, and lies without question or consequence. When this is all over, he will be remembered as (hopefully) the most unqualified, corrupt, and incompetent man who managed to sneak into the White House in modern history. That, when it comes to the ballot box, is the thing that matters: public policy, not how intolerant today’s social justice warriors are being on Twitter.
Leftist intolerance is, to be sure, a problem. But the other problems facing this country and the world right now are much, much bigger. These are catastrophic, destabilizing, war-causing issues, and yet, Dave Rubin chooses to ignore all that. Instead, he thinks that Democrats need to be “destroyed in this election” so that “true liberalism” will rise from the ashes of its defeat, as he said on his broadcast. Well, he’s wrong about this, too. If Democrats are destroyed in this election, what we will get is untethered Donald Trump, and if Dave Rubin thinks that Trump unleashed is going to make identity politics disappear, he hasn’t been paying attention to either the right or the left.
The rational response to the problems plaguing the American left is not to turn right. It’s to speak up against leftist intolerance where you can and make your own voice as loud as those who would try to silence it. The answer is not to give up. It’s to stay left, to fight, and to vote.