Democratic presidential candidates who survive the first primary contests will soon face fraught decisions about whether to embrace support from controversial endorsers, as Bernie Sanders did when the comedian Joe Rogan announced that he would likely vote for him, or to maintain their distance to avoid running afoul of the Great Awokening. As some progressives tell it, Democrats are divided between consequentialists, who favor accepting endorsements that expand their coalition, and deontologists, who think it is always wrong to accept a bigot’s endorsement.
But the more consequential disagreement concerns what renders someone verboten. Most agree that, say, Richard Spencer—a white supremacist—warrants stigma and exclusion from polite company, even if he would expand the coalition. Controversy over the Rogan endorsement revealed stark disagreements about who counts as a bigot, how this standard is set, and why.
Some believe that Rogan, a public figure in his 50s, should be judged based on his prevailing beliefs, characteristic actions, and overall comportment across his career. They perceive in Rogan a general commitment to equal rights, to the proposition that all groups deserve equal dignity, to encouraging tolerance, and to discouraging hatefulness. And they note guests on his program as mainstream and varied as Robert Downey Jr., Cornel West, Chelsea Handler, Malcolm Gladwell, Dr. Phil, Elon Musk, Lawrence Lessig, and Neil deGrasse Tyson. If associating with him is now verboten, then standards have suddenly and radically changed.