Sanders trumpeted Rogan’s endorsement, generating backlash from the marginalized groups that Rogan had unapologetically mocked over the years. This led to a debate about whether Rogan’s transphobia and casual racism was something Democrats should tolerate in exchange for winning over the “non-woke” electorate, those elusive voters who resented #MeToo and “identity politics” but were open to UBI and Medicare For All. It’s the inverse of the supposed “economically conservative/socially liberal” voters, many of whom did end up backing Biden.
Much like AV Club’s Stephen Robinson, I’m always amazed by the people who take Joe Rogan seriously. However, I don’t recall this particular debate in the same way. I remember people closer to the liberal side of the Dem base framing it in these terms, but I don’t remember leftists claiming that we should tolerate Rogan’s transphobia and racism.
The argument, as I remember it (and as I would put it) was that people like Rogan and his supporters hold those beliefs for misguided reasons — they often feel marginalized, which leads them down shitty paths, identifying with IDW types like Rogan and Jordan Peterson who give them an explanation for what they’re feeling (e.g., they feel marginalized because of social justice gone mad or whatever). The argument was that Sanders, and the socialist project more broadly, provides an alternative explanation for what they’re feeling — i.e., the enemy isn’t critical race theory or social justice warriors, but capitalism’s stranglehold on society which works to exploit all but the top few percent — and that by reaching out to them rather than ignoring them, we might be able to change their beliefs instead of letting them fester and grow, which many on the left argue is what led to Trump’s election in the first place.
This isn’t to say that’s necessarily the best plan, and if you want to argue that this is bad strategy regardless, that’s fine. But I don’t think it’s accurate to claim that the left was arguing that we should tolerate transphobia and racism in exchange for votes.¹ I think it’s more accurate to describe the debate as being between (a) those who believe racism and transphobia (etc²) are inherently part of one’s identity, and as a result people like Rogan and his followers, as racists and transphobes (etc) are not welcome on the Dem side regardless of their other views, and (b) those who believe that racism and transphobia are often products of other external forces, ones that socialism seeks to correct, and thus by speaking to people whose beliefs might otherwise align with the left, we might also work to eradicate racism and transphobia (etc). I don’t foresee this debate being resolved in left/liberal circles anytime soon, but at the very least, we need to get the terms right.
¹ This isn’t to say that no one was arguing this — I’m sure some people on the left were — and this certainly isn’t to say that there aren’t transphobes and racists on the left. But the larger thrust of leftist politics is idealist, not practical — if we were practical people, we probably wouldn’t be leftists in the US. I’d argue that most leftists — and certainly from what I saw at the time — saw the Rogan endorsement as a potential opportunity to break through to IDW types rather than letting them continue down the IDW path.
² I’m referring to transphobia and racism here, but let this stand in for all other forms of intolerance that libertarian and IDW types hold, as well.