“You can’t even discuss the fact that certain races demonstrate low IQ,” Joe Rogan lamented in 2018. On that show he was celebrating Sam Harris’s support for Charles Murray’s claims that people of color are dumber than whites.
In 2019, in response to a guest’s proposed hypothetical, “Let’s imagine that you actually believe that males and females are equal in intelligence,” Rogan responded, “LOL.” Rogan’s position was obvious: Women, he believes, aren’t as smart as men.
Rogan has routinely attacked people of color, trans people, women, and queer people as part of his public life for decades. His attacks on trans people are particularly vicious. Almost weekly on his popular podcast, Rogan excoriates trans folks using language like, “What are you?” and “She used to be a man,” and attacking trans individuals for wanting to play in sports, transitioning as teens, and asking people to address them respectfully.
In 2018, he told frequent guest Gavin McInnes, founder of the violent white supremacist and misogynist gang known as the Proud Boys, that people often become gay or lesbian because of “molestation at an early age.… it seems to be a real factor.”
And Rogan, who has reveled in using the N-word, said that going to a black neighborhood made him feel like he was visiting “the Planet of the Apes.” He likes to use the word “faggot,” has announced that queer women “don’t have the lower back muscles” to give other women “a proper fuck,” and says campuses are being too aggressive in prosecuting sexual assaults. He also claims that “feminism is sexist.”
All of this is why I felt so hurt and angry when I saw my favorite candidate, Bernie Sanders, trumpet Rogan’s endorsement in a campaign commercial released on Twitter.
As a passionate lifelong socialist, I’ve adored and supported Bernie since the 1980s, when he was mayor of Burlington, Vermont. I was beyond thrilled to be able to vote for him and contribute money to his campaign in 2016. I’ve been ecstatic to see a new flourishing generation of openly socialist candidates in the Democratic Party like AOC, and the growth of a movement of young socialist activists backing them.
But the question at the heart of the controversy around Sanders celebrating Rogan’s endorsement is what solidarity means.
As Shevek, the hero of Ursula K. Le Guin’s anarchist novel The Dispossessed puts it, solidarity “begins in shared pain.” Solidarity means taking on another’s pain and responding to it as though it were your own. Or, as the Industrial Workers of the World had it, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” Solidarity is at the heart of socialism, but Bernie Sanders’s decision to embrace the backing of someone like Rogan is the opposite of sharing the pain of all. It is the opposite of “the union makes us strong.” In particular, his campaign’s decision to double down on the Rogan ad and not even to acknowledge the pain of trans, African American, Latinx, gay, and female critics is a disturbing signal that for Sanders adherents, cisgender straight white men are the only people whose suffering seems to matter.
Sanders’s Rogan ad is not a side issue. It cuts to the heart of the danger facing the American left—in fact, this entire country—at this terrifying political moment. Far-right populists the world over are mobilizing whiteness and maleness as though they were actually the true emblems of working-class identity.
Trump won the last election by explicitly referencing capitalist inequality and telling whites and straight cis men that they were its only victims. Fascists here and abroad say baldly that the solution to capitalist inequality is to attack brown people and sexual minorities.
Walking that path, however unknowingly, is the wrong move—for both practical reasons and moral ones. Besides his personal volleys of hate against these groups, Rogan has used his show to host white nationalists and fascists including McInnes, Alex Jones (whom Rogan calls a good friend), Milo Yiannopoulos, and Stefan Molyneux. He delights in defending misogynists and gay-bashers like Jordan Peterson and Stephen Crowder.
Writing in The Guardian, Bhaskar Sunkara, the founder of Jacobin, called Rogan’s show “pretty good” and said the podcaster’s fans “are a group of people we can’t afford to cede to Trump.”
I wonder if he thinks “we” can afford to cede the votes of people of color, women, trans people, and queer folks to the seductions of staying at home rather than vote for someone not prepared to have our back. More importantly, I wonder if he thinks “we” can afford to jettison these groups’ claims to protection, solidarity, and mutual aid from the rest of the left.
If we’re going to say that socialism is compatible with racism, transphobia, and misogyny, then we’ve already ceded the most important battle of our times. Many incarnations of fascism and white nationalism already incorporate a perverse kind of socialism whose benefits are to be restricted to white and cis straight males. Hey, Richard Spencer already believes in universal health care for white people—why not get him to join the campaign, too?
The reason why not is, as Le Guin also wrote, that “the means are the end.” I expected better from Sanders. I will be voting for someone else in the primary.