Joe Rogan endorsed Bernie Sanders and immediately a certain section of the left went ballistic. Then, of course, neo-liberals and corporatists jumped on the outrage bandwagon – and the media happily ate up the controversy. I’m not a Rogan fan, far from it. The only episode I’d seen before Sanders was with Sean Carrol, the theoretical physicist – I tuned in to see Carrol, not Rogan. Later, I watched Dr. Cornel West and a few others, so I’ve seen a few episodes, and I’ve seen some clips of the stuff that section of the left is flipping out over.

I agree with what they’re saying about Rogan – he believes, says, and does racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and other odious stuff. Like a lot of people. He also has one of the top-rated podcasts in the world. This is the world we live in. Do I like the fact someone with racist and misogynistic views reaches that many people? No, of course not. Do I like the fact that Rogan reaches that many people? Yes, actually, I do.

Rogan has hosted Alex Jones, Tulsi Gabbard, Ben Shapiro, Abby Martin, Andrew Yang, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Cenk Uygur, and Killer Mike. Progressives and liberals, conspiracists and right-wingers, intellectuals and moderates. What does that range of guests tell us about him and his audience? It tells us that they’re reachable. Not necessarily the Jones or Shapiro superfans, but millions of others, many of them young white men who aren’t Jones or Shapiro superfans, but who watch or listen to Rogan’s podcast. Rogan is willing to listen to Edward Snowden, Bernie Sanders, and Cornel West among others who make strong arguments for progressive positions. And his fans are listening.

The Sanders episode of Rogan’s podcast has 11 million views on YouTube, 421,000 comments, 90% of them positive. By going on Rogan’s podcast, Sanders is moving the needle in a positive direction on social and economic justice. With one of the most difficult demographics to reach with those messages. He’s doing it because he’s gained Rogan’s trust, and tweeting about it shows Rogan’s audience he’s not guilty or ashamed of it.

The 378,000 positive comments on the Sanders episode of the podcast are real, substantive, positive results for social and economic justice, multiplied by the people who read them, and amplified by Sanders tweeting Rogan’s endorsement. Sanders isn’t amplifying Rogan’s awful behavior by tweeting about the endorsement. Sanders is amplifying his own message, platform, and policies to Rogan’s audience – who have demonstrated they’re willing to hear what Sanders has to say, and by an overwhelming margin, respond positively to his message of social and economic justice.

Some in the social justice community would rather sacrifice the progress Sanders is making on the altar of virtue signaling, than show any amount of respect for people who may be far from our position, but are willing to listen and hear what we have to say.

If we want to bring those folks over to our side on more issues, we have to talk to them. If we want them to hear us, we have to talk to them through someone they trust, and we have to show that person respect – otherwise, their audience will feel our disrespect, and stop listening.

Showing respect doesn’t mean compromising or downplaying our values. Showing respect doesn’t mean letting odious behavior pass without challenge. Showing respect at least means we can have a conversation with them without guilt or shame for having had it

When we show guilt for having had a conversation, we’re saying it was a mistake to have that conversation. Why should anyone give us the time of day if our attitude is that even talking with them is a mistake? 

When we show shame for having had a conversation with someone, or for receiving a kind word from them, we’re saying their taint is so bad, it rubs off and sticks to anyone who associates with them. Why should anyone care what we have to say, if that’s our attitude towards them? If we treat them as a caste of the unclean?

If we can’t have conversations like these without guilt or shame, we’re not making progress. If you’re not in favor of conversations between people like Joe Rogan, Rogan’s audience, and Cornel West, Abby Martin, Tulsi Gabbard, Cenk Uygur, Bernie Sanders, and Killer Mike, you’re not advocating progress.

I’m not at all diminishing the racist, misogynist, transphobic, and other awful things Rogan has done or said. I’m saying that’s a facet of who he is, and we should call him out for it. I’m saying that’s not the only facet of who he is; we should acknowledge those facets that do or might align with our goals and values as well as those that don’t. To do less is dishonest. It erases part of him no less than the “Bernie bro” canard erases the many women and people of color who are a significant majority of Sanders supporters. No single story about a people or a person is ever the whole story.

Why did Rogan endorse Sanders? In his own words,

I think I’ll probably vote for Bernie. Him as a human being when I was hanging out with him, I believe in him. I like him, I like him a lot. Look, you could dig up dirt on every single human being that’s ever existed if you catch them in their worst moment and you magnify those moments and you cut out everything else and you only display those worst moments. That said, you can’t find very many with Bernie. He’s been insanely consistent his entire life. He’s basically been saying the same thing, been for the same thing his whole life. And that in and of itself is a very powerful structure to operate from.

Those sentiments could easily have come from any number of solid social justice advocates. Sanders didn’t change one iota of his platform or positions to get Rogan’s endorsement. If he had, based on the criteria Rogan cites, Rogan wouldn’t have endorsed him. Rogan didn’t change Sanders, Sanders changed Rogan. Rogan is modeling that change to his audience, bringing many of them along with him. Rogan knows he has that kind of influence. He’s using it to further our agenda, the social and economic justice agenda. We shouldn’t shame Sanders into a retraction. We should acknowledge the new and potential members of our coalition among his audience, and welcome them to the discussion.

If we won’t talk with and show some respect for people who are willing to listen and are persuadable, we’re not really interested in progress by persuasion.

We have the better arguments.
When people are willing to listen, we win.

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