This past Sunday, conservative writer and podcaster Ben Shapiro released an interview he did with the Vox co-founder and prominent leftist Matthew Yglesias. To his credit, Yglesias distinguished himself from the majority of leftist intellectuals and public figures by agreeing to interview with a known conservative. To Shapiro’s credit, he was a gracious and respectful to Yglesias, giving him time to speak and explain his positions without drawing him into a debate.
And while a debate would have been entertaining—and even necessary, considering the ongoing violence and threats of more violence after picking a replacement for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—the interview was much more natural and relevant to conservatives who have these conversations with the other side. In most cases, the problem with these talks is not that they devolve into shouting sessions (although they can), but that they don’t really go too deep. What was really on display in the surprisingly breezy interview between Shapiro and Yglesias was the way leftists wriggle out of serious discussions. It showed that what lies at the heart of the right-left divide is not stubbornness, unbridled angst, or tribalism, but a profound ignorance that has taken root in educated liberal Americans.
Hear No Evil, See No Evil
If the listener can make it through Yglesias’s annoying uptalk and occasional vocal fry, he will immediately notice the hollowness of his responses to pressing issues. In most cases, he simply denies controversy even exists. Despite signing the now infamous Harper’s Magazine Letter that called for free speech and open debate, he somehow refused to acknowledge cancel culture, replying “I don’t like that term.” Shapiro gently reminded him of the many people who were fired, boycotted, or calumniated because of their views, and Yglesias lamely said that hate speech from Nazis should be condemned—a bit like Democrats condemn “all forms of violence” as though there is no pattern or agency clearly demonstrated.
Concerning the overt threats made by Democrats about contesting the election results and the explicit endorsement of mob violence, Ygleisas seemed unperturbed. Not only did he believe Biden would faithfully concede the election if he lost and would maintain the status quo if he won, but that the real threat was right-wing vigilantes crossing state lines with their guns to stop peaceful protesters. This was likely a reference to Kyle Rittenhouse, a teenager who shot three attackers in self-defense while attempting to help first responders in Kenosha. Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, Ygleisias parrots the company line about right-wing violence and peaceful protests without a second thought.
When asked about identity politics, Yglesias again had little to say for it except the obvious: people identify by their race, sex, or ethnicity, and have a right to participate in public discourse. He seemed befuddled that politicians and activists would exploit identity as a way to advance or silence a particular cause. For his part, he remarks that on 9/11 (which was when the interview was recorded) that he sympathizes with Muslims who experienced Islamaphobia after the attack on the World Trade Centers. As a virtue signal, this remark worked; as a clear response to identity politics, these words meant nothing.
What the Left Thinks About
So if these issues don’t faze Yglesias, what does he spend his time thinking about? Apparently population growth. At least half the interview was devoted to his new book, One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger in which he proposes ways to reverse the fertility decline and increase immigration.
When asked why America should have a billion people, he glibly remarked that larger populations can do more and that America is a great place. When asked how this the population would grow, he proposed providing more welfare for families and immigrants.
When told that large populations do not actually lead to more productivity, or that social welfare doesn’t result in more families, or that religious communities and morality have far more to do with having children, Yglesias basically shrugged and said he could at least start some important conversations.
Overall, no one can really accuse Yglesias of rudeness or hostility. Nothing he states outright is offensive, just banal and mostly predictable. The real problem instead lies in the assumptions he makes. Underneath his rhetoric are the beliefs that Trump is a racist and fascist, his supporters are intolerant and uneducated, white supremacy and capitalism are serious problems, and the left does no wrong. These things can’t be refuted because they are never stated—although Shapiro does speak up to correct Yglesias who thought that many conservatives approve of genocide against Native Americans.
Half of America Is Completely Missing the Point
It’s this combination of a friendly facade hiding profoundly misinformed prejudices that make Yglesias a good representative of most leftists. The conversation Shapiro has with him is repeated all over the country and they go about the same way. While most conservatives are genuinely interested in coming to a conclusion on issues and staying true to facts, most leftists have long since dismissed the opposition as deplorable and feel little need to explain themselves. Like Yglesias, they have no clue about what the issues even are, but they will always pat themselves on the back for their supposed civility and open-mindedness.
This results in a society in which one group is marginalized and silenced while the other is completely out-of-touch and largely misinformed. A genuine dialogue between the two sides would fix the problem, but the media, academic, and political elites have poisoned the well by continually suggesting that conservatives cannot be trusted. Whatever fact or argument—if it’s even heard—will be subject to suspicion. And, because conservative institutions are effectively relegated to the margins (conservative ghettos), few leftists will take them seriously.
This leaves only one tactic for conservatives trying to reach those on the other side: they must follow Ben Shapiro’s example (which really draws from Socrates’ example more than two millennia earlier) and ask questions. The left knows how to attack, and they do this often, but they do not know how to explain themselves. Like Yglesias, they will fumble, deny, and deflect, hoping to save face. The weakness of their assumptions will come out, and they will have to confront their own ignorance on the matter sooner or later. With a little luck and patience, they will no longer take their arguments on faith and feelings, but on reason and fact.
Many conservatives know this feeling well. They have to explain themselves to everyone, and they usually become good at it. Leftists almost never experience this. They need to, not just for themselves but for the country at large. Only then will consensus be reached, trust be possible, and healing begin. If not, it is all too like that the country will continue falling apart.
Photo Credit: Human Events