Democratic front-runner Bernie Sanders recently received a significant endorsement for his campaign. Except, it was hardly an endorsement at all. Recently, Joe Rogan, a well-known internet comedian and podcast show host, was asked what candidate he would endorse for the 2020 elections. His answer was Bernie Sanders. Subsequently, the Sanders campaign decided to share this endorsement by tweeting out the clip.
This seemingly small gesture is arguably a big deal due to Rogan’s immense popularity and influence over his apolitical young audience. As clips of this moment spread through social media like a wildfire, the consensus was a win for Sanders and his campaign. But as one could expect from the hellish dimension of Twitter discourse, many people vehemently criticized this endorsement because of Joe Rogan’s long history of controversial comments and questionable guests belonging to the “intellectual dark web” that have appeared on his show. Many felt this was not a “victory” for Sanders to be celebrated, but rather a cosigning that should be disavowed as to protect the moral integrity of his campaign.
I have many issues with this view and anyone hoping a progressive candidate will win the presidential election should as well. Yes, Joe Rogan is a problematic figure with problematic attitudes. However, winning the elections is going to require the left to win over everyone they can — including the problematic people.
In my observation, many young Americans are peripherally attentive to politics and relatively unaware of systematic injustice and their relation to it. As a result, their ideologies can clash at times, for instance, mixing indifference towards conservative social values and reactionary “anti-SJW” sentiments. Joe Rogan and his fanbase are representative of this politically inconsistent crowd. It is easy to refuse to interact with individuals like these based on their willful ignorance. It is easy to observe their actions and determine they are, in fact, bad people, and bad people have no place in a morally righteous cause, right?
This sort of dichotomy is a form of essentialism directed at the morality of individual actors. Person Y says something racist. Racism is “bad.” Therefore, person Y is “bad,” and if you are “good,” you will not associate with person Y. The issue with this is not whether person Y is indeed bad or good. Instead, when it comes to collectivized action to destroy the systems which perpetuate bigotry, the morality of person Y is unimportant. It does not make their vote any more or less effective. Effectively dismantling these oppressive systems requires the acknowledgement and understanding it is the systems that oppress people, not individual bad actors.
Now, I am not suggesting every Bernie Sanders supporter is required to befriend someone with whom they are ideologically or morally at odds. Additionally, there is little point in engaging in heated debates with those who are extremely opposed to your platform, to begin with. But as American philosopher Dr. Cornel West suggested on Joe Rogan’s program, “it is important to meet people where they are.”
This suggestion does not mean compromising the values of a movement for respectability’s sake, but rather presenting them as applicable and accessible to average people. Likewise, it could even mean bringing your message to unlikely audiences. If you are unconvinced about the efficacy of this philosophy, consider the fact Bernie Sanders himself has exercised it. Throughout his campaign, he has taken his message onto an interview with Fox News. He has even made an appearance on Joe Rogan’s show himself. Many of those audience members may have never given his ideas any serious consideration, and may not have heard him defend his beliefs against common subjects of opposition. Now they have. And maybe, just maybe, they will have their interests piqued enough not to write him off as a possibility. If the goal is to win this election, then reaching the Joe Rogan’s and political moderates gets us one step closer.