This week on High Noon, Inez Stepman interviews Aaron Sibarium, associate editor at Washington Free Beacon and the reporter behind breaking the latest Yale Law School controversies. Stepman questions Sibarium about his focus on the bureaucratic mechanisms of implementing wokeness in institutions, how it became as ubiquitous as it seems to be, and what his reporting suggests about how it might be deinstitutionalized.

Aaron and Inez also discuss potential unintended consequences of the Civil Rights Act and the right’s uneasy relationship with two of the potential roadblocks to increasing woke bureaucratic power: meritocracy and democracy.

High Noon is an intellectual download featuring conversations that make possible a free society. Inviting interesting thinkers from all parts of the political spectrum to discuss the most controversial subjects of the day in a way that hopes to advance our common American future. Hosted by Inez Stepman of Independent Women’s Forum.


TRANSCRIPT

Inez Stepman:

Welcome to High Noon where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. And my guest this week is Aaron Sibarium, who is an associate editor with the Washington Free Beacon, but he’s published all over, and you’ve probably seen his both reporting and his analysis in all kinds of places. But I would really characterize his beat, so to speak, as much more important and interesting than the typical sort of reporting on wokeness or woke beat, not because reporting on increasingly outrageous examples of wokeness is not an important sort of line of reporting but because I think Aaron is really digging into the mechanisms of, one, how this ideology has been institutionalized and then how it’s operationalized within institutions in a way that really kind of somehow drains the ideological character of it while still being very, very political. But I should say, it appears to drain some of that character and becomes just sort of part of the bureaucratic existence of these institutions which I think is really interesting. So Aaron, welcome to High Noon, it’s really great to have you.

Aaron Sibarium:

Thank you for having me.

Inez Stepman:

First, for folks who haven’t read — and they really should read — you’ve done a series of sort of deep-dive reporting on kind of seemingly different institutions that don’t have any ties to each other. So here I’m thinking of Yale University and then K-12 private school accreditation organizations, the American Bar Association, medical associations. For folks who haven’t read Aaron’s reporting on that I really highly recommend, again, that you go and read that. But let’s start with the Yale flap that it seems to be somewhat ongoing, I think a lot of people have probably heard the basics of the original story here but could you lay out the basics and then we’ll talk about how the institution responded?

Aaron Sibarium:

Sure. Yale it never gives me a break, I mean, it gave me a solid month and a half of content which was wonderful but it also meant that I had much less time than I normally do because every time I thought the story was over they just kept digging themselves deeper into a hole and I have to cover it. But they began digging on September 15th when a Native American law student at Yale Law School sent an email inviting his classmates to his, quote, trap house. The student was a joint member of the Native American student group and the Federalist Society at Yale. So he sends out an email advertising a mixer hosted by the two groups like, hey, come hang out at our trap house, which is how he’s been referring to his apartment for months, we’ll have basic bitch American eating snacks like Popeyes fried chicken and cocktails, whatever. And within 12 hours this email elicits nine in counting discrimination and harassment complaints focused mostly on his use of the term trap house which allegedly had racial connotations and on his advertising fried chicken which supposedly compounded the racial connotations.

So two Yale Law School administrators haul him into a meeting where they explained to him why his email was racist, they tell him that part of what made it triggering to people was the mere fact that he was in the Federalist Society. And then they proceed to pressure him into writing, or they try to pressure him into writing an apology for his original email, and they strongly imply that if he does not write an apology and send it out he could have trouble with the bar exam or face some kind of further punishment. When he hasn’t sent out the email by that evening they email all of his classmates in the 2L class to say that this email he sent out was deeply pejorative and racist and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms. And essentially what happens is for nearly a month he is going to these meetings and is left hanging and is worried that disciplinary action is on the table.

Finally, shortly before my story broke, they told him, oh, actually we were never going to punish you, you may have been confused, don’t worry about it at all. But I think any reasonable person in that situation would have gotten the impression that they were being strong-armed and that they could have faced disciplinary sanction. So anyway the student recorded all these meetings which is why we know about this and once it went public Yale was kind of put on the defensive and a lot of I think even pretty liberal people like Ruth Marcus at The Washington Post, Greg Lukianoff at FIRE, others, really gave Yale a lot of grief for this. And there have been other scandals this year involving Yale Law School but this I think really was an especially embarrassing one so that’s the long and short of it.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I think, again, the thing that separates this from some of the other sort of woke student outrage type situations across the country was the reaction of the administration, right? So the administration pretty clearly, first of all, wrote this guy an apology, wrote that they wanted him to sign. The administration wrote an apology which is, I mean, really hard to avoid making the Soviet parallel there in terms of signing the confession that is pre-written for you, right? But the administration also directly sitting a student down, a law student, I went to law school, I understand what this means, right? When the administration sits you down and says, well, there’s a character reference part of the bar exam, there’s a character piece of this, you really don’t want to jeopardize your actual career in the future, would you? I mean, those are really serious threats coming directly from the administration.

And then what’s further interesting, I guess I’d like to get your take on this because there was a little bit of back and forth between other people following this story as to the response of the dean. And you just reported just a few days ago, I think, that she absolutely signed off on this kind of condemnation of this student but then ended up walking it back and sending, if not an apologetic email, an email with a very different tone where she reaffirms that something so basic as the Federalist Society is welcome in Yale Law School on campus, right? What is the role of the dean here? And not just her personally but how she’s navigated as somebody representing the institution of the university, how she navigated this.

Aaron Sibarium:

Well, we can’t be totally sure of her role because the report that contains the details on it has not been made public and we only know about it through kind of secondhand reports of people who have had to go to the deputy dean’s office to have the report read out loud to them, I mean, clearly there’s stuff in here that they don’t want people to know or have easy access to. But it has essentially been confirmed that she signed off on the email condemning Trent Colbert, the student. And right, she’s the dean of the law school. To sanction this email is for the law school to take the institutional position that the term “trap house” used in this way is pejorative and racist.

And furthermore, something that I didn’t mention earlier but I think it’s actually quite important is that the initial meeting was hosted under the auspices of the discrimination and harassment coordinators of the university, and they were the ones who sent out this email with the go-ahead from Dean Gerken. So what the law school essentially said was not just that we object to this speech, but this speech may have been discrimination, harassment, and thus this speech may have been illegal under the Civil Rights Act. That is a pretty radical position for a law school to take, and especially a law school that is headed by a dean who as recently as 2017 was writing, “Oh, there are all these ugly incidents where speakers get shouted down on campus, for example at Middlebury with Charles Murray, but it’s great that law schools don’t have that because we here in law schools believe in free speech and it’s so great.”

And then four years later, kind of as the rot just worked its way up from undergrads, suddenly she is signing off on the idea not just that the term “trap house” is racist because a few Black students ridiculously claimed it was, but is suggesting that it might actually be illegal to send an email saying this or at least sort of subject to civil liability. That’s really insane and I mean, the cravenness, right? The fact that she could go switch so far from 2017 to now, I mean, I think goes to show how rapidly the sort of institutionalization of wokeness has occurred in just the past few years. I mean, it’s always been there, but it did not command quite the same power, I think, prior to at Yale Law School probably in 2018 and then certainly not prior to 2020.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I mean, you’ve really looked at that sort of institutional angle and how it interacts with the preexisting wokeness. I hate the word wokeness just because I think it’s imprecise, not because I think it’s problematic or whatever, I just think it’s imprecise, but I really can’t come up with a better term so I’m going to keep using it. You’ve looked at how, for example, in K-12 schools and private schools, the accreditation and best practices of an umbrella organization that it credits a lot of a certain type of private school includes this DEI, diversity, equity, and inclusion, plank in its accreditation and how that interacts with, there are schools that definitely they want to go woke anyway and this provides a cover for it.

But you also wrote about how it can be kind of homogenizing, I think the thing I’m touching on is so many of us feel like this ideology has really gotten into everything, there’s no way to escape it, every sort of unrelated private institution seems to have made contact with it in some way and grabbed ahold of it. I mean, can you talk a little bit about your reporting on the accreditation organizations and then how that kind of soft power of the accreditation industry accelerates the institutionalization of the ideology?

Aaron Sibarium:

Sure. So let me start actually with law school accreditation because it’s a good example. The American Bar association accredits every law school in the United States or almost every law school. It has not formally done this yet, but it is in the process of finalizing new accreditation standards that would basically require all law schools to teach some sort of class on racism and racial bias in the law and teach students that they have a professional obligation to remedy bias in the legal system which of course is basically code for teaching a left-wing activist a critical race theory class. And that requirement, it hasn’t even been adopted, but it seems to already be influencing schools because a lot of law schools including Cardozo Law School, UC Irvine, Boston College Law School, and now, this has not been reported yet, but it will be reported, Georgetown Law School even have all agreed to do this.

And there are I’m sure others that kind of partly in anticipation of this accreditation requirement coming down they’ve announced that they’re going to make all 1L students take some kind of basically critical race theory class which goes to show that these standards do have power. And you see it also with private secondary schools where one of the big kind of accreditation bodies, the National Association of Independent Schools, as you say, it lays out best practices that it wants schools to adopt and if schools don’t adopt them they might get in trouble with their accreditors and thus lose access to some of the resources their accreditors provide, including, say, market data that they kind of need to compete with other schools.

And it’s framed as best practices, it’s totally neutral, best practices, well, you should always maybe give parents clear and transparent information in the enrollment contract or something and you need to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion into all aspects of the curriculum which of course means that the schools will hire lots of DEI consultants. And the DEI consultants will tell the school that they’re racist and tell the kids that their school is racist so there will be a survey that the school does to gauge how racist it is. And under the influence of the DEI consultants, of course the responses will be or will be spun as, the school is racist.

So the accreditation report will be like, oh whoa, kids think the school is racist or someone didn’t think that the school was maximally inclusive, ah, well then, our advice to the school is to be even more inclusive, and how do you that? Well, you hire more inclusion officers who perpetuate the exact same memes. And so it’s a self-perpetuating cycle that effectively just functions as a job program for DEI consultants who are themselves often very closely aligned with the accreditation agencies. So yeah, on one side of this is just it exerts a centralized pressure on schools to adopt this stuff which is part of why you see it happening everywhere and on the other side of it there’s also an economic pressure where the diversity consultants have an incentive in kind of capturing this accreditation bureaucracy and using it to enrich themselves. So those are sort of the two things that are happening simultaneously.

Inez Stepman:

So in this case you’re not only talking about the institution, you’re talking about almost a growing class of people whose primary credential is being able to speak this language, right? How do you think that that intertwines with, I mean, I sound like a Marxist here but, class issues, right? Because it strikes me that you’re creating even the language, even laying aside the ideology, let’s say for a moment, which I think would be actually much better than the situation we have, but let’s say that nobody actually believes this stuff that is too ridiculous to be believed. But there’s a sort of self-interest in credentialing yourself and being able to speak this language so that you can get one of these DEI positions that usually pay six figures, they’re respectable upper middle-class positions, how does that feed into inequality in terms of class structure in the United States?

Aaron Sibarium:

Well, yeah, so a couple of things. It can certainly make people’s employment more precarious because it’s much easier to lose your job when you simultaneously have a class of people whose job it is to find racism in every little thing and you have a kind of sprawling system that imposes liability on institutions for allowing any kind of racism. This sort of combination of civil rights law with increasingly radical DEI officers is I think going to make employment more precarious for a lot of people in part because, and this is not a unique observation, but there is a kind of court ritual dynamic to wokeness where it’s difficult to keep track of all the little changing etiquette rules that are just invented on the fly. And indeed they kind of have to be invented on the fly in order for there to be any plausible claim that racial etiquette rules aren’t being met and thus further to be racism for the bureaucrats to expunge.

I do want to maybe push back against, not necessarily your framing, but the framing that I think a lot of people come at this with which is that wokeness is really the ruling class deciding to keep the working class down with culture war stuff. And I think it can have that effect, but I don’t really think that that’s, A, the reason for it primarily and, B, I don’t think that’s really actually a good genealogy of how it came about. I’d say a better genealogy was offered by my friend Charles Lehman in City Journal and basically it’s that, look, when the Civil Rights Act got passed in ’64 it did not define discrimination very clearly at all and so there was this huge scramble among corporations to figure out, shit we can’t discriminate, but what does that even mean?

And so they kind of start hiring all these personnel managers which then morph into modern day DEI offices and the problems that once those things get entrenched in order to comply with civil rights law, they suddenly develop their own set of incentives, right? Because the bureaucrats need to dare to be some kind of racism to root out and they need to show that they’re doing something otherwise what’s the point. And so once it gets kind of institutionalized as a form of compliance, it takes on its own logic that goes well beyond compliance and you see universities and other institutions restricting all sorts of speech that probably most courts even today would not consider to be a violation of any civil rights law. But that they worry, well, if there’s a complaint, we’re going to have to litigate it and there’ll be bad press and just there’s now simultaneously this incentive for the people who companies have hired to find racism and everything and an incentive for the companies to try to avoid any accusation of racism, and those two things together, right? Create kind of a constant churn of censorship.

And so I don’t mean to suggest that it’s all about the law, I also don’t mean to suggest that there’s any easy legal solution, I think because this stuff is now entrenched if you just, not that we would do this, but if you totally tore up all civil rights laws tomorrow, I don’t actually think it would do very much. But I do think it’s important to recognize that this was not just greedy, rapacious capitalists scheming up ways of oppressing the working class, it was actually in part the kind of unintended consequence of government interference in the economy, which to be clear, I think was in many ways called for just in some form. And just because a policy has bad unintended consequences doesn’t necessarily mean the policy was all things considered bad.

But if you’re not willing to talk about the government’s role in setting some of this stuff in motion, I think you’re just not going to get very far because the more you dig into the literature on this, the more clear it becomes that some version of the Chris Caldwell genealogy is actually basically right. He may not have spelled it out as clearly as he could have in the book, but if you go and just read enough of the civil rights cases and look at the history of HR compliance departments it’s pretty clear that just none of this really would’ve happened in the same way without ’64 and then without all the kind of early Supreme Court cases that built on it.

Inez Stepman:

So I guess my question, both to that and to Chris Caldwell’s line of thinking generally, has always been an objection to the inevitability of it because I think what you have are two kind of separate strains running and then colliding in the 1960s, right? One is America’s very real, I don’t even want to say, very real problem or struggle with race, I want to say something much more specific which is how Black Americans have been treated in the American system. Because I don’t even like to broaden it to race because I think for example the various immigration stories, it’s quite different. But this has always been the great Achilles heel of the American system and so on the one hand there is that track running all the way I would say certainly from the founding, I’m sure Nikole Hannah-Jones would say since 1619, right? But with regard to the American system something that certainly has vexed us since the founding, right?

And then on the other this collision with I think the strain of American thought that starts in the Progressive Era, right? Which is when America really does bureaucratize and becomes much more of a modern technocracy than it had been in the past. Of course there have always been executive departments, right? Famously, Jefferson was writing complaints about Hamilton’s bloated treasury department of 26 people, right? So there’s always some amount of bureaucracy in implementation but I think in the Progressive Era you really get this idea of the professionalized bureaucracy only separated from the democratic process by right, right? That there was such a thing as a political administration of government and I think those two things kind of collided in the 1960s, right?

Aaron Sibarium:

Yes.

Inez Stepman:

And so the way that Caldwell tells that story, I think, is sort of over-emphasizing the racial aspect of the story, and under it I almost feel this kind of proliferation could have happened on some other issue but because the issue, particularly with regard to race and even more specifically with regard to the status of Black Americans, I don’t know, there is something sort of I wonder sometimes if it isn’t a little bit more, there’s something of Arc of Justice about this, right? If America really is brought down, not in the way that the left thinks it is because it’s an evil society but because this great failure of America to extend the promises of America to a large category of its own citizens ends up bringing it down in this convoluted way, there’s a certain amount of poetry to it.

Aaron Sibarium:

No. Actually I think that’s a very good point, it’s something I’ve thought of and you put it very well. And I’m happy to sort of accept your characterization of it as these two forces colliding and say, it wasn’t just the race thing, it was this professionalization thing that kind of interacted with the race thing, I think that’s broadly right. I also would say people like Caldwell and others, look, including me who are sort of sympathetic to this genealogy need to realize though that it doesn’t just imply a critique of the civil rights movement, it implies a critique of all that led up to it, right? Because it was clear that we were going to do something and we kind of had to do something. And maybe this sort of “second constitution” that Caldwell talks about was really destructive but there would not really have been such a push for it if we had not had over 100 years of slavery and then another nearly 100 years of Jim Crow, right? So yeah, I think it would be poetic justice in a sense, maybe not justice but it would be-

Inez Stepman:

I don’t want it to happen. Yeah, I don’t want to use the word justice.

Aaron Sibarium:

I don’t want it to happen but it would be poetic. And I think that also fundamentally there does need to be an answer to, what do we do about this? Because if the answer is just, well, we tried something and it was really bad, if only we hadn’t done that thing. I mean, okay, but the status quo ante was not great either and indeed, as much as I spend my life complaining about wokeness, yeah, if you put a gun to my head and you’re like, well, I mean, what do you think is a more just society, America 2021 or Jim Crow America? I’d be like, yeah, probably America 2021. And I think there’s this issue where conservatives sometimes feel like if they concede that they’re giving up the game because they’re conceding the left’s narrative of progress. The problem is that if you don’t concede that you are effectively saying that things are as bad or worse overall than they were under a regime of de facto and even de jure oppression and segregation.

And even the really hard-edged kind of tack writers, even they will not say that quite so bluntly out loud and there’s a reason they don’t. And I think, ultimately, it’s somewhat intellectually dishonest to not grapple with the question of, well, if the Civil Rights Act was part of the problem, what else were we supposed to do? Because yeah, I mean, I don’t think that just accepting White supremacist racial hierarchy is a good answer here. I mean, look, maybe the best answer, to be as charitable as possible to kind of this other side, is to say, well, maybe this stuff would’ve kind of resolved on its own to some extent without civil rights, probably just in some contexts some of it but overall yeah, it’s not that plausible. I mean, the stuff was very entrenched. It’s hard to imagine people just organically getting less racist and deciding, oh, actually would we have gotten to this point without the Civil Rights Act? It’s probably not, I don’t really think so, it’s hard to tell a counterfactual where that would happen.

Inez Stepman:

I agree, I don’t think we would’ve gotten to the same point. And actually I think maybe this is a sort of productive analogy to start looking for something that might be a solution, because if you take out for a moment this particular racial history, the problem that Blacks in the south under Jim Crow were confronting was a kind of, even if you had gotten rid of the de jure laws which was the sort of soft version of the Civil Rights Act, right? And it was pretty clear that that wasn’t going to be enough because there was a certain amount of cultural coordination, cultural collusion, whatever you want to call it, there was a monoculture that would’ve excluded Black customers from not just a business but all businesses in a given area, not just one hotel but all the hotels along an entire highway, there was the need for the Green Book, right?

And in that sense, I’ve been wondering more and more recently if the solution is not to push through and continue to create these categories under the civil rights law which I never would’ve said would be a good solution even a couple years ago. But it strikes me that some of the problems that the right has now, the so-called woke capitalism is of a similar type where you don’t have de jure sort of discrimination, what you have is cultural coordination between all of the companies in a given sector and practically all the sectors, right?

Where you have essentially wokeness as the court ideology of all of these different industries, all of these different institutions, and to the point where your “legal rights” matter very little in terms of the actual practical experience of navigating the landscape now. And I wonder, I mean, what do you think about some of the ways that for example, Victor Hugo talks about the CRT law, right? Aggressively sue under the Civil Rights Act, to an extent that wokeness violates it and then maybe even create categories to try to protect other parts, try to insulate ourselves in the same way.

Aaron Sibarium:

Right. I think the first part is sort of suing under it could work especially given that there’s probably more judges now who are sympathetic to that, so I think that could mitigate some of the worst excesses. Creating new categories, what worries me about this is that, A, I mean, there’s a worry about just sort of over-bureaucratizing society, just the more categories you create the more possible grievances there are, and that can have its own unintended consequences, so I worry a bit about trying to fight fire with fire in that way. But the other thing I would say too is that in practice, what I think will happen precisely because, as you said, this stuff has been drained of its overtly ideological content. It’s just seen as best practices and not a political thing.

I think what would end up happening is you’d say, oh well, yeah, you can be a conservative, that’s fine, that’s protected under the Civil Rights Act, but just not a racist conservative, and what would a racist conservative be? Well, that would be being against affirmative action or something. That’s the kind of worry I have where it may in theory sure, maybe political ideology should be a protected class, but because you have all these other protected classes what I think will end up happening is you’ll just kind of have bureaucrats say, well, there’s the legitimate form of the political ideology and the illegitimate form.

And the illegitimate form will be basically anything that’s not just sort of milk-toast center, right, free market type libertarianism. And look, it’s nothing against milk toast center, right, free market libertarians, some of my best friends are center, right, milk-toast free market libertarians. But some of my best friends are also Catholic monarchists and I don’t think that that’s going to be covered under this new dispensation, I mean, if it could be, that might be a good solution. But it’s a bit like the old joke or the way economists solve problems is opens a can on a desert island is assume the can is open, it’s like, yeah, we could solve this problem by assuming that civil rights laws would apply to political ideologies in a sane and consistent way but probably they won’t so that’s kind of my worry about it.

Inez Stepman:

If we were applying these ideologies in a sane and consistent way we probably wouldn’t be in the position that we are in in the first place.

Aaron Sibarium:

Right. Exactly. Right. Because of course, it’s pretty obvious to me that a lot of what Robin DiAngelo does is just essentially straight up anti-White racism but that’s not the way that the Biden DOJ probably sees it so that’s kind of the issue.

Inez Stepman:

If we think about this as a problem of kind of technocratic institutions rather than… And I think it’s both to be clear, I think the place we’re at is very much a consequence of the actual ideology and not some abstract, as you say, where rapacious capitalists who are kind of mouthing platitudes in order to screw the working class. I mean, I think there are elements of that happening but I think there are a lot of true believers and actually this ideology is very powerful. But for a moment, speaking about it in a fully institutional way rather than the way I would combat ideas, right? Directly because I haven’t found that to be particularly productive. I think McWhorter is right when he says this is essentially a religion or at least a bad religion.

And there’s very little way to argue with people especially when it is institutionalized, as you say, it just doesn’t get recognized as something you can even question, right? Because it’s on the bureaucratic form, you have to increase diversity, equity and inclusion. And what do you mean you’re debating that these are maybe not good things too? It doesn’t seem to be something that we can contradictory debate in the marketplace of ideas very effectively. But if we think about it as an institutional problem, I mean, it seems to me that the alternatives, laying aside Catholic monarchy for a moment, the alternatives to those kind of institutionalization are two concepts that the right has very, depending on what part of the right you’re on, right? Has a very, not divorced but a strained relationship with and that’s meritocracy and democracy, right?

I mean, you can fight this in one or two ways, you can essentially say, okay, the people are much less woke than the elite in the institutions therefore we need a heavy dose of democracy to correct for the over wokeness of the elites or two, we need to make sure that the people who are in these institutions are selected only on meritocratic criteria and thereby exclude because of the tendency of ideology to also make incompetence, right? When you’re judging people and, I mean, that’s been the story of the US for I think the last couple years has really been full on display, right? How incompetent these institutions become when they’re selecting only on ideology.

Aaron Sibarium:

Yeah. No. And look, I mean, I think you’re right that those are two concepts that the right has a strained relationship with now and that is a problem. When it comes to meritocracy, what I would say is that different institutions are more or less kind of befitting of meritocratic selection criteria. I don’t really mind if politicians do not all maybe go to the same schools, we don’t have to have our entire political class be educated at the Ivy League, there’s a lot of places where meritocracy doesn’t actually seem to have produced great results. In the medical system though, for example, just intuitively, maybe there isn’t a strong correlation between IQ and how good your doctor is, but I kind of find that hard to believe and you really don’t want an incompetent person doing your surgery, I mean, there are certain institutions where meritocratic principles are just more appropriate than others.

And I think that’s something that often a lot of the right-wing critiques from say Helen Andrews or Ross Douthat, I wouldn’t say that they deny this, but they don’t really make this distinction. And I think it’s an important distinction that when you have a kind of just broad ruling class and the broad ruling class is effectively kind of an IQ based hereditary and elite that doesn’t recognize it’s hereditary in character that’s a big problem. But I don’t think it’s such a big problem if just doctors are the people who get the highest MCAT scores, and I do think it should be possible in theory to make certain institutions less meritocratic while making others more.

I want to make that distinction because I think for all its faults, I like a lot of things about meritocracy, and I like a lot of things about democracy too but I actually think that the rights fraught relationship with democracy is actually a pretty valuable thing to have. There’s always been a real danger of the tyranny of the majority and I think one of the best aspects of conservative thought is that it recognizes that danger and that kind of inherent potential for tyranny. It seems to me that the Trump era made the right somewhat a bit too comfortable with democracy insofar it kind of made them want to come up with all these sort of populist justifications for Trump and whatever. And there’s things Trump did that I liked and things he did I didn’t like, I’m not a big fan of him, but whatever.

But my point is that there are a lot of very good reasons to be skeptical of the excesses of democracy so while I support maybe making school board elections more democratic by having them on cycle and giving more parents more say in what their kids learn in schools, and there’s a lot of other contexts where I’m not sure that what we really need is more democracy, right? Actually looking at the primary process for example, I don’t think it’s obvious that letting kind of both parties activists have so much of a say in who gets nominated, I don’t think that that’s been great on either side in a lot of ways. And not just because I want some kind of old stuffy establishment consensus but because the actual people who tend to be empowered by the vocal activists they’re often people who have some problems and the vocal activists are often kind of unhinged much more so than the vast majority of voters on either side, right?

I think Trump’s rabid base and the kind of woke rabid base of the Democratic Party, neither of these is particularly representative of a lot of your just average voters in the United States on either side. So that’s a long-winded answer but just I would say I’m a little more sympathetic to the kind of meritocracy pushback to wokeness than the democracy pushback just because I think the democracy stuff there are so many things that large majorities want or say or you can get them to say that are terrible and stupid that I’m like, we don’t want to just go full in on democracy, right? It’s important that we have democratic accountability, it’s also important that we have some safeguards on the democratic accountability.

Inez Stepman:

So I guess I’m probably maybe the opposite or maybe I’m much more comfortable and it’s not that I disregard the right’s traditional warnings about the tyranny of the majority or about democracy, it’s just that I think our democracy has been curtailed so aggressively by, on the one hand, a technocratic administrative state and on the other hand the courts. That at this moment in time I find myself very comfortable with a hardy dose of democracy whereas I don’t think that’s always the answer but it seems to me that our moment has too little democracy and not too much. But I wanted to ask you actually, [crosstalk 00:43:52]. Sure.

Aaron Sibarium:

I was just going to say, yeah. And so actually I think in many ways you’re right that our moment does not have enough democracy but even if it doesn’t have enough democracy and we want to interject more of it the question is, where does it not have enough democracy? And the other thing I would say is that, public health is a good example where I think the public health establishment is ridiculously incompetent and terrible but the solution there is really not that we make public health more democratic I think, it’s that we get just better public health technocrats. There’re certain decisions that just shouldn’t be up to them maybe, certain tradeoffs, right? That are just inherently evaluating and I don’t think that Fauci or whatever, anyone in that situation is really prepared to adjudicate.

But you do actually need some government scientists who can read epidemiological models and make predictions and that’s just not something you can have democratically, right? And so, yes, I want the public health experts to be better but I also do want them to be experts and fully expect that a good public health establishment would have an IQ. If it were actually a good public health establishment, which ours isn’t, but if it were good I suspect it would have an average IQ that was not particularly representative of the country’s average IQ.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. I mean, you’re talking about the role of expertise and democratic accountability which I think is an important balance that we’ve lost, I think that’s the problem. I mean, I think both are important obviously, I’m not suggesting that every scientific or technical question should be left to a straight up club or site or.

Aaron Sibarium:

Right. Oh yeah, sure.

Inez Stepman:

But is the real problem here that we’ve lost, then, a left, right? If I consider myself on the right and for most things I think you’re sort of right of center but you’re definitely ideologically heterodox on certain things. Maybe correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think you would characterize yourself as sort of firmly in any kind of the right.

Aaron Sibarium:

Not really. No.

Inez Stepman:

We’re both sort of right of center at this juncture. So it’s a problem that we have an absence of a real left, right? Isn’t it kind of their job, maybe it’s our job, to be skeptical of democracy and meritocracy and their job to be sort of on the vanguard of the people’s movement and that there’s actually perhaps a healthy balance between these things in sort of a Jordan Peterson-esque away?

Aaron Sibarium:

No, I think that’s true. Yeah, I basically agree with that. If the left were actually leftist we would be in a better place. And look, I mean, this is sort of cliché, but everyone says critical race theory is Marxist, but if you actually look at the true Marxist professors, they don’t like this stuff because they think it all distracts from the class struggle. And you know what? Those true Marxists are often much more interesting and fun to talk to and a lot less easily offended and insane than the kind of woke Elizabeth Warren neo-libs who run our institutions. So yeah, I don’t want America to actually be a debate between Marxist professors and reactionaries but if there were maybe a little more Marxism on the left and less wokeness, that would probably be healthier for the country given where we are right now.

Inez Stepman:

Yeah. You’re actually anticipating something I really wanted to ask you which is, do you think that socialism, sort of what Marcuse I think called vulgar socialism or vulgar communism, I can’t remember, but basically what he was referencing though was traditional Marxist economic analysis and class analysis, right? Do you think that that has completely peaked and receded in the Democratic Party? Because I’m trying to think back to 2016, obviously 2016 was not just the year of Trump, it was the year of Bernie on the left. And yes, Bernie even in 2016 had become considerably more woke on certain questions, obviously he flipped his traditional position on immigration and a couple other things. But I would say, the heart of his appeal was still very economically based, very much close to what I would call more traditional socialism, right? What we’d be familiar with as socialist analysis and socialist solutions presenting.

And at that time being from a family from a communist country I was like, oh wow, that’s really scary, the Democratic Party is really embracing open socialism of the old type. But now it seems to me that the new vanguard of, haha vanguard, anyway, the new vanguard of the left even those who call themselves democratic socialists, I’m thinking here of AOC as the most prototypical example. I almost wonder how long they can keep blending the Marxist class analysis with the wokeism because they do, as you point out with these old Marxist professors, right? They do actually come into fundamental conflict and they have different solutions to advance whether you fix the primary problem. Yeah.

Aaron Sibarium:

Like the free college for all staff or the SALT cap, there’s a lot of things that obviously Democrats support because it helps college-educated people because that’s their base, right? And that is somewhat in conflict with the Marxist class struggle. I mean, look, I think in practice when people say they’re democratic socialists what they really just seem to mean is they want the United States to be more like Europe and I don’t think Europe, I mean, Scandinavia, these are not socialist countries in the sense that Venezuela, say, is a socialist country.

I don’t think that necessarily means that that’s a good direction, I just think realistically it seems to me that the bigger question is, do we try probably, somewhat incompetently, to make our very big and diverse society have about the economic system form of capitalism that Scandinavian social democracy has, or do we not do that? And it may well be that the best answer is no, we shouldn’t try to do that. At least I don’t think the economic stuff is going to turn us into Venezuela, I mean, I think it could hurt people’s standards of living and give us some of the same economic problems that Europe has while also potentially solving some of the problems America has, but yeah, I don’t know. There are authoritarian totalitarian threats I worry about, us turning into the actual Soviet Union, it’s not really one of them. Again, it’s not to say that the socialist stuff is good but I just think in practice what these people mean is within the realm of Western liberal democracies even if it’s maybe not ideal.

Inez Stepman:

I mean, I also just don’t see, and this is notoriously difficult to predict so I fully acknowledge that this could be totally off, right? But it seems to me that the way the coalitions are breaking apart and rearranging make it so unlikely that kind of Bernie-esque socialism to sort of win out in either party and as long as we still have a two-party system in the United States. Because I think frankly a lot of the people who found Bernie’s message really appealing are now migrating into the Republican Party where, and some of this might be positive, they might pull the center of the Republican Party more in favor of say tax credits for families or less limited government economic policies, but it’s really difficult to imagine the current apparatus of Republican Party becoming socialist, right?

Aaron Sibarium:

Yeah. No. Yeah.

Inez Stepman:

And so they’ll become more of an influence on the party than its leadership. And then on the flip side, as you say, it really seems like the core constituency at the Democratic Party is essentially like a woke technocrats, right? People with college degrees. And so if I were a Marxist socialist I’m not sure I’d be very optimistic about the path forward in either one of the two parties and in America that’s kind of it for you, right? There have been a lot of attempts to break the two party system and they haven’t really been successful.

Aaron Sibarium:

Well, that’s maybe a reason for optimism though, right? That a truly damaging economic ideology that would entail sort of this full scale transformation of society. There’s not really an outlet for it, as you say, because the incentives just don’t really line up between the two parties. So look, I think wokeism can make our economy less efficient and poorer and also just make our culture more deranged and all sorts of things, but probably on its own is not really going to steward in massive breadlines and that’s good, right? Count your blessings. Doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight wokeness but it’s good to keep some perspective that it alone is unlikely to turn us into the 1950s Russia or whatever.

Inez Stepman:

I think what I fear more in terms of the concrete aside from, again, that I do think that we are headed to a system where we don’t need the Gulags, right? We’re like ’60s USSR in that regard of repression of thought and speech. I think we are not all that far off from ’60s or ’70s USSR where there are Gulags but they’re not that heavily in use. The primary way that you people’s thought and speech and debate is controlled is by the threat of social ostracization and losing your job and not being able to join in society or feed your family because you’ve been labeled an enemy of the party, right? And I don’t think we are that far off, I mean, we are still considerably different, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t think.

So I’m definitely worried about it from that angle but yeah, you’re right, I mean, breadlines probably not in our immediate future. But I mean, what I worry about with the ideological component is just the incompetence that comes with it. I don’t think slow decline is really in the cards for us as an option, I don’t think Scandinavian decline is in, it seems to me like it’s going to be way more spectacularly incompetent and planes are going to start falling out of the sky, right? Because if Delta really starts to hire on without regard to merit and starts to hire on a quota system, stuff is going to start something.

Aaron Sibarium:

The optimistic scenario is that the market pressures will kind of prevent them from doing the craziest stuff and they’ll just do a lot of ideological policing internally and create more of these kind of diversity sign cures to artificially inflate diversity but the actual maybe people who are engineering the planes will still be mostly hired on the basis of competence, that’s the optimistic scenario. You’re right that that may not come to pass and if it doesn’t, yeah, planes falling out the sky is going to be a problem. I suspect that in practice what will happen is areas of life where failure is very visible, like say crime, where it’s very tangible, you see it every day, that’s where there will be just more organic pushback that prevents this stuff from going as insane and so to the extent it survives it’ll be kind of co-opted and be more cosmetic maybe. In areas where, say, the medical system, there are real costs to doing away with meritocracy, but the costs aren’t always very visible, that’s where I think you could see this stuff go pretty far.

And really, I’ve heard from people that doctors are just not as competent these days as they used to be and everyone knows this but doesn’t say it because standards have been dumbed down, and they’ve been dumbed down largely for, frankly, affirmative action reasons. It may be that there’s some self-correction there eventually but I think it’s going to have to get pretty bad for those sorts of subtle and indirect costs to really be acutely felt. And by that point yeah, maybe planes don’t start falling out of the sky but there probably are going to be a lot of people who are dead or in worse health than they would’ve otherwise been if we hadn’t gone down this path. So yeah, I’m not maybe worried about total collapse but I agree with you that there is the potential for this to get quite bad.

Inez Stepman:

Well, on that optimistic note I think we should probably wrap things up, I know you have things to do. But Aaron Sibarium, thank you so much for coming on High Noon. Where can people find all of this great reporting that you’re doing?

Aaron Sibarium:

Go to the Free Beacon’s website or I’m on Twitter, just @aaronsibarium, all lowercase. Yeah.

Inez Stepman:

And thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected] Please help us out by hitting the subscribe button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcasts, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.