Critics of the YouTube star overlook his anti-establishment appeal
The US is perhaps the most polarised democracy in the world. Since 2016, the level of animosity between liberals and conservatives has deepened and there is little to suggest that that the tide will turn any time soon. Which is why it can seem strange when some of the country’s prominent cultural figures depart from the party line and start enthusing about the other side.
First, there was Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson coming out in support of Elizabeth Warren’s economic platform and now, YouTube star Joe Rogan has given his (informal) endorsement to Bernie Sanders for the 2020 presidential election. Here’s what he said on his show, The Joe Rogan Experience:
The Joe Rogan Experience has been the No. 2 most-downloaded podcast on iTunes for two years running and his YouTube channel, Powerful JRE, has over 7 million subscribers. Couple that with the million+ views each episode gets and it’s easy to see why this is a significant moment in the Sanders campaign. There is less than three weeks to go until the Iowa primary — the first major test for the Democratic nominees — with a new poll showing that Sanders is now leading the pack (just).
But what of Rogan? A ferocious defender of free speech who takes a dim view of Left-wing identity politics, the podcaster’s endorsement of Sanders might seem peculiar. As this illuminating Atlantic article notes, while Rogan likes to trumpet his progressive credentials, saying that he is ‘almost a socialist’ and has voted for Democrats at nearly every election, he seems to prefer the company of Right-wingers, be it Douglas Murray, Jordan Peterson or even Alex Jones on his show.
To his detractors, Rogan’s platforming of these figures will point towards his own political inconsistencies, or worse yet, outright dishonesty. But to dismiss Rogan in this way is missing the point. More revealing is who he doesn’t platform: the sparsity of establishment figures and orthodox thinkers on his show offers the best glimpse into the Rogan philosophy, namely his predilection for weird and wonderful, rather than the party-political. That is why, out of the Democrat nominees, he’s had Bernie Sanders, Andrew Yang and Tulsi Gabbard on the show, all of whom would be considered the radicals in the race.
It is Rogan’s relative lack of interest in pandering to one political side or the other that makes him appealing and, from a politician’s perspective, so valuable. That he reaches so many people in an era of low political engagement is evidence that there is an appetite for a post-partisan perspective. This is a big win for Bernie.