Artwork courtesy of Luke Maeli
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The boundaries between “entertainer” and “intellectual” are blurring. Too many entertainers in the conservative ecosystem pass as intellectuals. What is believed to be uncomfortable truths is merely affirming and riling up the audience. One of the biggest culprits is none other than “cool kids philosopher,” Ben Shapiro.
Shapiro is an entertainer, just like any late night talk-show or radio host. Yet many young conservatives – his most passionate fan base – view him as an intellectual heavyweight. His quick-witted debate style, and simplification of complex issues attracts many a young conservative viewer. Fans point to a few instances where Shapiro talks philosophy and theory as evidence of his profound intellectual capabilities. He graduated from Harvard Law School. Further proof, fans add.
But an intellectual he is not. Call him an entertainer. Watch and appreciate him within those boundaries, if you want. But his witty comebacks, aggressive debating, and name-calling isn’t thought-provoking. His routine isn’t well-rounded intellectual analysis. It is theater.
Shapiro excels at the “comeback game” that’s so popular with young conservatives. When someone’s offended at his tweets, articles, videos, or public speaking events, he revels in “triggering” their “liberal tears.” His opponents are social justice warriors or mindless college students in need of a “safe space.” This “owning the libs” persona is such a core part of his brand that one of the items sold through his store is a cup to hold liberal tears.
This isn’t to say that Ben can only play the comeback game and nothing else. When he needs to, Shapiro can gracefully navigate the line between petty mockery and seemingly intelligent responses. He even has moments of clarity and civility, including a fair share of “hitting the nail on the head” moments. But he is not a conservative intellectual. Conflating a snarky political commentator with an intellectual is the equivalent of building a house on sand, sooner or later the house will collapse.
From butchering the definition of fascism to paint it as left-wing, to playing the “what about” card every chance it suits his partisan narrative, Shapiro has shown his intellectual ineptitude time and time again.
In his writing, Shapiro makes no attempt at diving into philosophical and abstract discussions, opting for black and white declarations. He thrives on generalizations, and nuance is foreign to him. Weapons like mockery, red herrings, whataboutism, stereotyping, dehumanization, straw man fallacies, and hyper-partisanship make up his arsenal.
An example of a piece that is characteristic of Shapiro is an abysmally titled article published in Townhall: “‘Raising Awareness’ Isn’t Helping Much.” In it, Shapiro criticizes those “raising awareness” of sexual assault, because their efforts lack “real action.” That action being, “naming names.”
Ben’s entire argument can be reduced down to two over-simplified potential reasons: moral superiority and burden of proof.
“Perhaps it’s our innate drive toward establishing a feeling of moral superiority. You don’t get to feel morally superior when you name someone who acts in criminal fashion; you’re just a witness, and witnesses are useful members of society, bettering society actively rather than criticizing it from the outside.”
“Or perhaps it’s the burden that comes along with evidence. It’s much easier to gain sympathy by telling a story about victimization without naming names — a story nobody can contradict, since you’re not getting specific.”
Not only does he conveniently leave out the hundreds of women who named their assaulters, he also dismisses the real reasons women don’t name names (fear, self-blame, gaslighting, etc).
Instead of addressing this in his piece, Ben demonizes the victims. He automatically assumes exaggeration and ulterior motives. When a woman describes assault, he implies that they strategically make up or leave out key details for personal gain. To him, an assault isn’t a painful memory for women telling their stories, it’s an attempt at publicity. At the end of his piece we finally discover why Shapiro dislikes “raising awareness” so much. By drawing attention to an apparent failure in the system, these women create distrust in a system Shapiro claims is not inherently problematic.
“It may be useful to ‘raise awareness’ among police officers about being careful in their procedures so as not to be accused of racism, for example. It may be useful to ‘raise awareness’ among men in offices about being careful around female employees so as not to be accused of harassment. But it may also be counterproductive to rage against the system generally because it leads to false and widespread perceptions that all police officers are cursed with the original sin of racism, or that all men are cursed with ‘toxic masculinity.’”
Shapiro does not believe the system is flawed, so he fights against any movements that attempt to prove it is. His faith in the process means that any challenge is more dangerous than the abuse that challenge alleges. Not only is this intellectually dishonest, but Shapiro ends up throwing victims under the bus to accomplish it.
Shapiro is no stranger to bending reality to fit his narrative.
Gaslighting victims might be one of Ben’s favorite tactics, but it’s hardly the only intellectually dishonest argument he employs. His famous “facts don’t care about your feelings” quip implies that he is a truth teller, even when it makes others uncomfortable. In truth, facts would be inconvenient for Shapiro’s arguments, which is why he ignores or manipulates those that don’t fit his narrative.
Listen to him define fascism, and it becomes obvious he either has no idea what he’s talking about, or he’s cherry picking to make a point. His September 2017 speech at UC Berkeley (video here) saw him transition from a profanity-filled tirade against Antifa into a definition of fascism that fit his view of Antifa. Before sharing his ideologically dishonest description, Shapiro asserts that the term “fascism” is thrown around by people who have never “read a book.” Fascism, he says, is…
“…the phenomenon whereby people believe that they have the capacity to ram their beliefs down your throat at the point of a gun, or say the point of a baton, or by throwing Molotov cocktails. That’s what fascism truly is. Fascism is even more of a tactic than it is an ideology. It’s sort of vague in terms of ideology; you’ve had people on the Left who are fascist, people like Stalin, and then you’ve had people who are on the European right like Hitler who are fascist.”
What Shapiro references here is what is commonly referred to as the “forcible suppression of opposition.” It’s a facet of any fascist regime; just like authoritarianism, economic militarization, state-worship, and one-party rule are a part of any fascist regime. Suppression of opposing views is a tactic; Shapiro is right about that. However, Shapiro is wrong when he says Fascism’s ideology is unclear. It’s clear as day. Fascism is more than a collection of authoritarian tactics. It involves personality cults, corporatism, opposition to both capitalism and communism, and ultranationalism, to name a few. The only reason why this wouldn’t be clear is because of competing narratives. Even throwing Stalin in with Fascism was meant to push his narrative. “See! Even the communist is a fascist!” By doing this he morphs fascism from an ideology to a loose set of tactics that can fit any ideology he desires.
Shapiro calls Antifa the real fascists. That’s his competing narrative. He doesn’t expand critique the ideological failings of Antifa, evaluating why their ideology is wrong. No. He has to incorrectly flip the game so he can gleefully accuse the anti-fascists of being the real fascists. In short, he uses the same tactic that sneeringly insists Antifa uses, calling anyone who doesn’t agree with him a Nazi. He’s done this numerous times: government redistribution and welfare is fascism, political action is fascism, criticizing Taylor Swift for not joining the Women’s March is fascism, Google firing James Damore was fascism, and Obama personifies a fascist leader.
It is this back-on-you, “got you!” game that is the true skill of conservatism’s young “intellectual.” The twisted definitions, exaggerated analogies, and generalizations have fooled many a conservative to believe his guise of being a skilled debater, instead of recognizing he’s a quick talker with an above-average wit. His arguments might effectively shut a discussion down, but that isn’t the same thing as calling them persuasive.
When a student questioned his position on transgender people, during a Q&A at Ferris State University, Shapiro fielded a barrage of arguments that could only be categorized as ridiculous:
Shapiro: I’m saying that the Boy Scouts have a standard. You must be a biological boy to be a Boy Scout. You have to be a boy to be a Boy Scout.
Young woman: Where is that written, though?
Shapiro: In the name, “Boy Scouts.” Because for all of human history, boy meant boy and girl meant girl. Boy did not mean girl.
Did you catch the fallacy? This interaction took place on February 6th, 2017. On January 30th 2017, The Boy Scouts of America removed its prohibition on transgender boys. The first transgender boy joined The Boy Scouts the day after Shapiro’s speech. The facts aren’t on his side, so Shapiro hopes to convince you that an organization’s standards come from the gender pronoun they use in their name.
Building on that already shaky argument, Shapiro continued by throwing this “got you!” question out to the student:
Shapiro: If I call you a moose, are you suddenly a moose? If I redefine our terms –
Young woman: That’s a completely different thing.
Shapiro: Yes, that’s right. Men and women are a completely different things. This is true. Have you ever met a man or a woman? They are completely different.
He grabs an exaggerated scenario, confuses the student, and then uses that confusion as proof he’s right. He grabs three words from her, acting as if she proved his point, when in reality she rightfully dismissed it as irrelevant.
That false comparison and reaction probably doesn’t bother Shapiro, though. Along with the mischaracterizations, he also peddles below-the-surface racist rhetoric. An example of this is a tweet of his (from February 2016) where he says “Trayvon Martin would have turned 21 today if he hadn’t taken a man’s head and beaten it on the pavement before being shot.” Or this one from March, 2015 mocking Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign, where he calls people to ask their baristas why Ferguson, Missouri doesn’t have a Starbucks store; ending it by telling said baristas to “enjoy a hot cup of STFU.” Or this one from September, 2010:
Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage. This is not a difficult issue. #settlementsrock
Shapiro tried to clear up this tweet in a longer post, saying it “was clearly talking about Israeli and Arab leadership, as well as terror-supporting people in the Arab world.” As proof of this, he presents several tweets following the initial tweet that clarify who he is referring to. According to one tweet, “just [Palestinians] and their allies” like open sewage, not all Arabs. He has also written that“the Palestinian Arab population is rotten to the core.” To Ben, clarifying that he only meant some Arabs and not all of them makes his statement less offensive. It doesn’t, but it’s also not the only time he has used “Arab” as a slur.
In September of 2011, he compares Libyan rebels rounding up blacks to the “long legacy of Arab slave trading,” and wonders where the NAACP is. In a tweet from October, 2011 Shapiro compares Occupy Wall Street to Arabs who don’t shower.
Ben uses a similar tactic to dismiss movements that hope to raise awareness about racial discrimination. He claims the “philosophy of Black Lives Matter” has led to more black deaths than police officers have (August 2015). In a Townhall article published in 2009, titled “The Racism of the Black Community,” Shapiro argues Obama is loved by African-Americans because he’s black, is not having sex with a white woman, and is a liberal. He lays the majority of the blame for America’s racial tension on the black community:
“This is a country still torn apart by racial tensions. But those tensions largely spring from the black community these days, not from the white community. It is approval for President Obama that evidences greater racial animosity these days than opposition to President Obama’s policies.”
“No one fears the dictator who shows his human side. We view those who violate our rights as nefarious members of an evil cabal, lurking in the night while cackling. We don’t view them as highly attuned, sensitive people — after all, the logic goes, if they were that sensitive, they’d stop before violating the rights of others.”
He described Barack’s tears as those of a dictator, crocodile tears, and having the power to cure cancer and gun control (an attempt to make fun of leftists who took the president’s crying a sign of empathy instead of the political opportunism Shapiro claimed they were). He mocked a picture of Obama shaking hands with African-Americans by saying “When the King enters to the applause of all his subjects in parliament, the skies shall cry tears of joy.” Alongside this image of Obama was a picture of the Siamese embassy to Louis XIV of France, in 1686, a completely random image to put alongside that of Obama shaking hands. It shows the Siam diplomats kneeling before the French king; I’m assuming the monarchical aspect of the image is signaling the reference to the king in Ben’s tweet.
He couldn’t even avoid mocking Obama’s Presidential Library design plans. Describing the building as “inspired by opened Chinese food takeout boxes and/or Gonk from Star Wars: Episode IV.” He wrapped up the petty dig piece with saying Obama’s admitted love of architecture and hands-on approach to the library’s plans as proof that “he thinks he’s a better architect than his architects.” Where he got this idea is beyond me. Shapiro is no stranger to making random illogical connections.
In a National Review article, from 2016, Shapiro argues Obama hates Israel because he “despises the traditional Judeo-Christian underpinning of Western civilization.” Shapiro reaches this conclusion thanks to Obama’s affinity toward the African-American church, attendance at Jeremiah Wright’s church, and Obama’s statement at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan that “no religion has been spared from believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill.” Obama, Ben argues, believes Jews use their faith to justify the oppression of Palestinians. Ironically enough, Shapiro argued in a 2003 Townhall article, that Israel needed to become more Jewish, leaving behind its secularism. “God’s road map,” Shapiro wrote, “requires the Jews to kill those who seek to kill them.”
In a Daily Wire article of his, titled “Every Day, Barack Obama Says The Dumbest Thing You’ve Ever Heard. Wait Until You Hear Today’s” Shapiro makes the most absurd connections in an effort to disprove Obama and Biden. According to Shapiro, Biden saying America wins by refusing to compromise on its fundamental values is like saying the US didn’t “win during World War II when we interned Japanese Americans, rationed supplies, and insisted that ‘loose lips sink ships.’” If only Americans had taken Biden’s advice then, he argues, “Hitler would have surrendered forthwith.” Shapiro insinuates military utilitarianism not only won us the war, but is an acceptable strategy; abandoning our principles is preferable to dying with them. Interning innocent Americans based on unsubstantiated fears is an acceptable and effective military move, for Shapiro.
Shapiro tweeted in June 2014, on how Obama brings all Americans home except for Christian and Jewish children, and Marines. Although meant to demonize Obama as prejudiced and cold, it illuminates Shapiro’s priorities: minorities and the needy are pawns in a smear game. In June 2016, Shapiro tweeted that Obama was more upset about Trump than radical Muslims killing Americans. Shapiro made a list of who went to jail and who didn’t:
Went to jail: Kim Davis, “Innocence of Muslims” video maker, D’Souza.
Didn’t: Hillary, Lois Lerner, Obama, sanctuary city mayors. (Tweeted, September, 2015)
To Ben, those who go to jail happen to be “conservatives.” In contrast the real criminals (who all happen to be democrats) get away free.
Shapiro’s penchant for sloppy arguments and dog whistling are part of his larger act as an entertainer. Like many actors, he’s adept at manipulating the truth or lying to help his audience visualize the scene he wants.
During his September, 2017 speech at Berkeley, Shapiro claimed that Antifa’s foundational view is that “America is a terrible horrible no good very bad place,” and argued it is wrong simply because America is the “greatest place in the history of the world. It is the freest, most prosperous country, most tolerant country in the history of planet Earth. This country is an incredible place full of opportunity.”
The crowd cheered immediately. Apparently, Berkeley college republicans are as susceptible to hyper-partisan rhetoric as their leftist peers are, who they critique so much. A simple Google search is all it takes to question Shapiro’s framing. According to the conservative advocacy group Heritage’s 2017 Index of Economic Freedom, the United States doesn’t even make it to the top fifteen economically free countries. America comes in at number eighteen, behind Sweden, Canada, the UK, and others. It takes thirty seconds of research to find this information from a conservative source. Either Ben doesn’t bother to verify his facts, or he hopes that his listeners never will.
Ben Shapiro doesn’t always get the facts wrong, but even when he’s factually correct his partisanship can undercut his arguments. Intellectualism means resisting the urge to repeat your political tribes worst catch phrases, and this something Ben often fails at. During that same Berkeley address, he made the iconic “if you don’t commit a crime you’re not going to be arrested” argument; a favorite among conservatives. This argument makes for a good soundbite, but it’s not true. Even if you’re skeptical about the claims of movement like Black Lives Matter, instances of wrongful conviction and arrest are not hard to find.
In a Townhall article, Shapiro ranted about America’s lost manliness. He placed said blame on the “eight years of Barack Obama’s passive-aggressive emasculation of Americans.” In the piece, Shapiro insisted that Men have been made obsolete by Feminists who saw them as too dangerous. “Republicans have self-castrated,” Shapiro argued (Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, and John Boehner are among his “castrated” list). Even George W. Bush gets thrown in because he ran on “compassionate conservatism.” Shapiro says this implied “that traditional conservatism was too musky for metrosexual America.”
Keeping on the sexuality train, Shapiro wrote in another Townhall article, how the left and the gay-rights movement were attempting to replace God with the government in order to destroy any “God-based institutions.” This would have the effect, he argued, of “destroying the social capital and fabric that holds together the nation.” This article was aptly titled, “The Real Goal of the Same-Sex Marriage Movement.” This is indicative of a warped viewpoint many conservatives held pre-same-sex-marriage-legalization.
During the 2016 Western Conservative Summit (alongside conservative intellectual stalwarts such as Dennis Prager, Tom Cotton, Donald Trump, Erick Erickson, and Sarah Palin), Shapiro said Hillary Clinton was “going to tear down our churches,” and “she’ll be the second worst president of all time, after the current jackass who runs the place.”
Reaching deeper into his drama-filled hyper-partisan bag, Shapiro said the left wants to destroy America’s families, churches, and unity. “The left is a ceaseless, heedless monstrosity, it’s our job to hold that wall,” he said. The left is so dangerous, they’re worse than ISIS…
“Of course ISIS is our enemy; but here’s the truth: the left is more dangerous than ISIS. The reason the left is more dangerous than ISIS is because ISIS can’t succeed without their appeasement and help … They can’t destroy us without the left helping them along, without the left pretending radical Islam doesn’t exist…”
The ending of Shapiro’s speech sounded like an excerpt out of Braveheart:
“We’re an empire of liberty; we’re a nation conceived in freedom. Our mission is to carry that freedom forward, in the face of all odds, and that mission doesn’t change, that mission is eternal. That mission calls to us from the end of history – it’s God’s mission, it’s the founders’ mission, it’s a mission that has to be fulfilled at all costs. The mission calls us forward, it urges us forward; the heroes of days past – Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln, Reagan, our fathers, our mothers, our ancestors who fought to bring us to these shores and then make these shores free and give their kids a chance — they’re cheering us on; they are. I believe in an afterlife, and they’re cheering us on, begging us to stumble forward, because nobody else is going to carry the torch.”
The last paragraph being a juicy piece of political drama:
“We’re the guardians of limited government and individual liberty, we’re the guardians of Judeo-Christian Western civilization. There is no one else left. We’re the last line of defense.”
He routinely criticizes the left for degrading absolute truth. “We don’t just dislike the left because they’re the left,” Shapiro clarifies, “It’s because the left believes that the truth is relative. You become a member of the left when you say that truth is not a value.” This statement is so dishonest and perverted it breaches the wall of sanity. It is comparable to saying all republicans are racist.
What Shapiro sees as the relativism of the truth is merely the questioning of what was once sacred and is now being called into question. Shapiro’s blend of religious and political absolutism prevents him from appreciating criticism, questioning, or the rational discourse of ideas. (I should mention that neither relativism or absolutism are intellectual, but that the extremes of both are anti-intellectual).
Thanks to a combination of internet tactics (eerily reminiscent of Milo Yiannopoulos’s trollish behavior), Shapiro is never too far from a controversy. The “intellectual stalwart” of modern-day conservatism has sparred with numerous Twitter personalities and celebrities. However, his scuffles are anything but intellectual; made up of “got you” moments, witty comebacks, and mockery, it’s like watching a freshman in high-school “own” a classmate. These “owns” include celebrities like Patton Oswalt – he traded sophisticated insults with the actor, accusing Oswalt of anti-semitism for a reference to Irving Kristol – and Chelsea Clinton, a favorite target for conservatives looking for an easy viral tweet. He has done his fair share of odd tweets to Meghan McCain.
Another target was the comedian Rosie O’Donnell, a twitter scuffle that escalated into an experiment on hypocrisy after Shapiro reported O’Donnell for harassment after an expletive laced tweet. Shapiro showed his true motives after responding to O’Donnell with the #MeToo hashtag, and phrases like “No means no, Rosie,” and “All victims deserve to be believed.” By using those phrases Shapiro knew he would get the much needed attention he craves. It was all for theatrical effect. It’s all a joke for his right wing audience, who already question the motives & effectiveness of the #MeToo movement. Joking about sexual harassment and assault in relation to a petty Twitter fight you had is inappropriate.
Adding to the list of people he’s not afraid to contemptuously poke fun at, Shapiro has no problem mocking transgender people to their faces. During an appearance on Dr. Drew on Call, Shapiro referred to transgender activist Zoey Tur in male terms. Tur put her arm around his neck and told him to “cut that out now, or you’ll be going home in an ambulance.” Shapiro knows referring to transgender people by their non-identified gender is offensive, and it is not difficult to conclude that he did it on purpose as a jab. Afterwards, Shapiro publicly announced he had filed a police report alleging Tur assaulted him. As always, Shapiro worded the filing as a lesson for the left, saying “Just because the left has designated someone a member of the victim class does not mean that that person gets to infringe the rights of others.” He makes it out to be an issue of identity politics, and not Tur’s refusal to tolerate an asshole. Shapiro believes he should be able to get away with misgendering Tur to her face, without so much as a verbal reprisal.
When Shapiro isn’t participating in useless cat fights, and petty mockery, he’s publishing extremely offensive content, like this video The Daily Wire posted on Columbus Day. The trashy cartoon mocked Indigenous People’s Day by portraying Native Americans as cannibals, saved by Christopher Columbus, who apparently taught them to farm, use nails, and eat with utensils. The video ends with a list of contributions before and after Columbus; Native Americans only get dreamcatchers, cannibalism, and tomahawks.
After twenty-four hours of leaving the video up, Shapiro decided to take it down due to it its “bad satire,” failure to meet editorial standards, and whitewashing of atrocities against Native Americans. In response to a twitter user asking if he would take action to make sure this doesn’t happen again, he said “You bet your ass I will.”
What is telling is how the video got published in the first place. Shapiro claimed he had no say in its production or publication, and at first thought it best to leave it up to give his employees the benefit of the doubt. As the editor-in-chief, you would expect Shapiro to instill a set of standards and expectations in his employees, presumably so mistakes like the Indigenous People’s Day video don’t happen. If we believe Shapiro, we should expect him to find the problem and fix it. I haven’t seen any evidence of an editorial change. The Daily Wire is still the same old “Watch so-and-so liberal get owned by so-and-so conservative” clickbait, doubling as a promotion platform for Shapiro’s myriad of pseudo-intellectual content. Headlines like “Ben Shapiro Triggers Students At College He’s Never Visited, 100 Protest,” “Fox News Sunday Features Ben Shapiro As ‘Power Player Of The Week’,” “TIME Completely Mischaracterizes What Ben Shapiro Actually Said Regarding Allegations Of H.W. Bush’s Groping,” and “Ben Shapiro Hilariously Mocks Neil DeGrasse Tyson Over Cow Tweet,” litter the site.
Yes, it is Shapiro’s site, and he is free to use it how he sees fit. But these headlines highlight a fatal piece of the puzzle in Shapiro’s intellectually vapid approach to conservatism. The writing is subpar, the opinions are rehashed conservative positions mixed with the same old facts and examples, and the focus is toward “owning” liberals, hopefully capturing it all on video so young conservatives can get an ideologically high off of it. Some argue Shapiro’s writing and speaking style is designed to effectively communicate complex ideas in an easily digestible format. Many intellectuals communicate in a highly compact academic prose, they say, making it difficult for most non-academics to understand, much less read. Yet, Shapiro is not explaining complex philosophical ideas and worldviews in an easily chewable format. He is pushing perverted versions of philosophy and ideology, while playing partisan “gotcha!” games.
Even his attempts to defend his past writings and tweets fall far below intellectual standards. In July, 2018, Shapiro published a listicle of all the “dumb stuff” he’s said in an effort to correct the record. He mentioned a handful of offensive things he’s said, and apologized. The majority of the piece, however, was focused on things he’s said that the left doesn’t like because they took it out of context, disagree, or because its true. He completely misses the point that how he communicates opinions and facts is a big part of the problem. If it is true, then that’s that, end of discussion.
Unsurprisingly, Shapiro failed to address one of his biggest violations: his flip-flopping on Trump. In a March 2016 article, Shapiro argues that saying “no” to Trump is paramount if we are going to stop drifting further left and diluting conservatism. If conservatives do not oppose Trump, they will become the “crypto-racist, pseudo-strong, quasi-tyrannical, toxic brew leftists have always accused” them of being. He writes:
“I stand against the Republican Party that insists that victory matters more than principle, because victory without principle isn’t just meaningless, it’s counterproductive to my belief system.”
But Shapiro’s disdain of victory no matter what has not been a constant. In a 2011 Townhall article, titled The Magic of Donald Trump, Shapiro argued Trump was the only potential candidate who could defeat Obama. Thanks to his steamrolling behavior, wealth, and “no-nonsense businessmen” acumen, Trump would bring the fight to Obama. It would be a “knockdown drag-out brawl,” according to Shapiro. Shapiro even praised Trump’s use of Obama’s birth certificate conspiracy, a conspiracy theory he criticized the mainstream media of not covering. “Someone asked yesterday if Trump is principled,” Shapiro tweeted in 2011, “I said he shares one principle with me: kicking Obama’s ass.”
Where Shapiro once referred to Trump as dangerous to conservatism, he is now “much more apt” to vote for Trump in 2020. Trump’s governing style has been overall very conservative, said Shapiro in an August 2018 interview. Shapiro dismissed Trump’s toxic behavior and political strife as expected. Apparently Shapiro’s principled stand against Trump was not as serious as he led us to believe. Perhaps Shapiro’s made an erroneous judgment call on Trump. Maybe Shapiro is slowly sliding into a pro-Trump position at the behest of his audience and financial supporters.
Shapiro’s Never Trump stance was not the only stance he has flipped on. He has also shifted the blame for Trump’s election. In that same March 2016 article, Shapiro says conservatives will be complicit in Trump’s election if they do not say “no.” Nowadays, Shapiro finds it easier to place all the blame of Trump’s election on the left calling out racists, the media, Barack Obama, Kevin Williamson’s firing from The Atlantic, and Roseanne Barr’s fall from grace. Blame-shifting is more effective to garnering attention than being honest about who is responsible for Trump’s rise.
This combo of ideological perversion and hyper-partisanship are front in center in a 2015 speech of his, in which he labels social justice an “actual evil.” If that was not ridiculous enough, Shapiro goes on to argue that ‘Anytime you put a modifier in front of a term that is inherently good, you turn it into a perversion of itself.” As some have pointed out, this deeply flawed argument ironically applies to terms like religious freedom. Social justice is not, as Shapiro would love young conservatives to believe, some form of guilt association, or “group justice.”
Shapiro’s books push the same old rhetorical fear mongering and dehumanization that pervades his speeches. In “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences Americans,” Shapiro argues that “the left is the greatest purveyor of bullying in modern American history.” He argues “so-called higher education continues to sink lower and lower into the depths of liberal madness as close-minded professors turn their students into socialists, atheists, race-baiters, and sex-crazed narcissists,” in “Brainwash: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth.” The book features praise from the likes of Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, and David Horowitz. Another book, “Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV,” is just what you would think by reading the title.
Shapiro even wrote some fiction, titled True Allegiance: an end-times approach to America’s possible collapse, full of race wars in Detroit (how contrived), an illegal immigration crisis, a legacy-consumed president, and a young US Army general who is trying to save his country. A four-star review described it as “too much propaganda with too many deaths.” Again: more showmanship, more sensationalism, and more preaching to the choir.
Like the myriad of pundits with book deals, True Allegiance reeks of the same old niche-partisan-topic wrapped in cherry picked details. If you are looking for your ideological ego to be stroked, Shapiro’s books are just what the doctor ordered.
We could spend hours on an in-depth discussion of intellectualism itself. Suffice it to say, Shapiro’s widely recognized tactics of showy insult-battles and his intrinsic holy war against the Left are the very antithesis of intellectual debate, thought, and worldview. Being an intellectual necessitates that things like partisanship must not interfere with objective research and deep understanding of viewpoints that might make you personally uncomfortable. Shapiro is too flagrantly partisan to even attempt to understand other viewpoints; instead, he creates his own one-dimensional version of legitimate problems and then wittily and disrespectfully squishes the shadow of the thing-itself.
This intellectually lackluster approach to ideological honesty pervades everything Shpario touches. At times, Shapiro fails to accurately describe his own faith. “Virtually every major Jewish halakhist of the modern era has barred abortion except when the life of the mother is threatened,” Shapiro replied to a Twitter user, “Don’t try quoting the Talmud at me. You just don’t know enough.” This scuffle set off numerous reactions from rabbis and Jewish academics, who adamantly asserted the nuance of the Orthodox Community’s approach to abortion. Writing in the Haaretz, Avraham Bronstein summed up their position as such:
“…the sensibility of the Orthodox community may accurately be described as ‘pro-life,’ as abortion is assumed to be prohibited unless ‘permitted.’ At the same time, though, the actual mechanics of a woman making an intensely personal, fraught decision with the support and guidance of her family, doctor, and rabbinic mentor is closer to what the ‘pro-choice’ community has long described as the ideal context for legal abortion.”
Shapiro’s position, argues Bronstein and others resembles that of evangelical white Christians and Catholics. Perhaps someone should point Shapiro to Israel’s liberal abortion policies as an example of the Orthodox Community’s nuanced position. Better yet, point out Israel’s universal healthcare. In Israel, healthcare is considered a human right. Shapiro’s stance on healthcare is to describe it as a commodity similar to furniture buying. One would hope Shapiro would avoid intellectual lazy comparisons between inanimate objects unrelated to life or death with that which can improve and save your life. It should have been obvious to him, as someone immersed in the realm of debate and politics, that the comparison would offend and frustrate people.
The resemblance between Shapiro’s religious stances and Evangelical Christianity are further seen on the issue of gay marriage. On a September, 2018 appearance on Dave Rubin’s show, Shapiro said he would not bake Dave (who is gay and married) a cake for his anniversary. According to his religious beliefs, gay marriage is sinful, and he does not participate in activities he believes are sinful. The problem is that even Orthodox Jewish beliefs on homosexuality and gay marriage are more nuanced than that. Although numerous views exist on what is exactly prohibited in the Orthodox community, most authorities recognize it is the community’s duty to treat those with homosexual tendencies with love, compassion, and respect, and cannot be prohibited from all community functions (see the 2010 “Statement of Principles on the Place of Jews with a Homosexual Orientation in Our Community,” and a 2016 edict signed by dozens of Israeli Orthodox rabbis).
Another facet of Shapiro’s lackluster intellectualism is signaled in who he attacks the most. Shapiro is a member of the anti-elite train. Whether it’s the media, academia, or Hollywood, he has no love for who he sees as the establishment. He’s claimed the 2016 election exposed the media, claimed that the media is fake news, and has promoted Project Veritas’s project supposedly revealing MSM’s political bias. The media focuses on mass shootings only to mislead, he once argued. Colleges are indoctrinating the American youth, he warned, by pushing sexual perversion, atheism, and militant environmentalism. Shapiro used a University of Michigan English Class (about the makeup of male homosexual culture) as a thesis on how English departments have “become brainwashing centers for the militant gay movement.” Shapiro, true to his form, confused learning about gay pop culture with indoctrination and militancy. Let’s not forget he wrote a whole book on academia’s malicious campaign to turn your young kid over to the dark side. He also writes and shares articles on the leftist fascist takeover of the American campus.
Lastly, he peddles in unreflective instrumentalism: the dismissing and criticism of fields of learning that cannot easily be applied to a specific job or function. This shows itself in his mockery of students who major in gender studies, history, political science, art, etc. If someone has ever asked you what your major is only to follow up their question with “how will you apply that to a traditional job?” you’ve experienced unreflective instrumentalism. It’s a pervasive thought-pattern these days, one Shapiro participates in fully. In one Q&A, he mentions he doesn’t view sociology as an “expert field.” In another Q&A, Shapiro seems to think getting rid of “dumb majors” is a good way to reduce the cost of college. He called majoring in political science a complete waste of time.
The icing on the anti-intellectualism cake is The Daily Wire, and subsequent forms of commercialized entertainment Shapiro produces. The content Shapiro has a hand in producing is easily digestible, sprinkled with the rhetoric and inside jokes his audience will connect with, and lacking any sense of critical thinking.
If any intellectually worthy content has been published at The Daily Wire, it’s buried underneath so much clickbait and preaching to the choir that it is impossible to find.
When visiting The Daily Wire, you’re greeted by a popup of Shapiro’s smiling face, an offer to join his email list in the form of a free ebook. Titled “How to Debate Leftists and Destroy Them: 11 Rules for Winning the Argument,” this clickbait-structured headline gives us all we need to know about the petty agenda of this so-called intellectual. It’s all about beating leftists, fighting fire with fire, hitting hard and fast, and framing the debate on your own terms. If Shapiro were truly an intellectual by any standards, you would expect him to talk about challenging your own predilections, objectively searching for facts before jumping on a given bandwagon, and rationally recognizing that your experiences are not the only experiences a person could have. Shapiro sits comfortably on his side of the aisle and sells cheap tips for beating and verbally tricking people who don’t agree with him or his followers. Rationality and objectivity are bypassed in favor of sophistry and showmanship.
Shapiro lives in a world of hyper-partisanship, punditry, and “hot takes.” In fact, the “hot take” is the ideal word for where his content ranks in terms of sophistication: not offensive or callous enough to be shitposting, but not refined enough to lose the attention of the “socialism sucks” bumper sticker crowd. He employs pseudo-logic to areas of discussion, with little to no recognition to the depth of the issue. His waxing and wit seem intellectual only because his audience’s standards for what is intellectual are so low he can get away with a shallow understanding of economic or ideological issues without being questioned. His audience learned most of what they know from him and others like him. Why would they correct him?
Ben Shapiro is graced with a quick wit and a repertoire of comebacks to utilize against cocky college students. It is in this environment of campus debate where this “intellectual” thrives, mainly because his subgenre of intellectualism deals more in memes and retorts than in substantive nuance. Even his swearing lacks any comedic or communicative value; I’ve heard ten year olds with a better grasp of curse words. He is closer to the stereotypical debate club fanatic – an arrogantly argumentative logic-and-reason toting mouth-breather – than he is to any form of intellectualism. Occasionally, he makes a good point or pulls out a pertinent fact, but his overall presence is one of partisan hackery. He makes his living preaching to a choir of young conservatives. He speaks their language, knows all the trends, and can rack up the retweets to back it all up. He is a perfect fit for a punditry class that has become less intelligent and more hyperbolic with their opinions.
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