The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The view from the other side of the spectrum


Before his talk last Thursday, The Mac Weekly sat down with conservative blogger Reihan Salam.

TMW: Could you tell us a little bit about your background and influences?

Reihan Salam: I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, my parents are immigrants from Bangladesh.I was born right at the end of 1979. I went to public schools, I was a big reader and got interested in politics and economics and related issues pretty early on. It was the kind of house where we had a lot of magazines and books around. I guess my interest in reading magazines stemmed from my interest in reading comic books before that, and because I read a fair bit I kind of knew all of these personalities, writers and thinkers who were familiar to me.It never occurred to me as a thing to do professionally, but I guess by the time my senior year [of college at Harvard] rolled around, it seemed like something to at least try, partly because I had a favorite writer, Andrew Sullivan, who I got to know by emailing him, and so then I went to write for the magazine he was working for at the time, “The New Republic,” and then I’ve just had a series of media jobs since then. But in terms of other influences, it’s hard to say. I feel like I’ve tried to draw on a really wide range of ideas. I used to be very interested, and still am, in intellectual history and just the idea of the genealogy of what we think now. One thing that I often find neat is the way in which we often imagine there to be some narrative line through the beliefs that we have, but the way in which actually people used to see it very differently. For example, if you look at Ronald Reagan in 1976, he said things that were very different from what he said in 1980, and so the Reagan who connected with the public and who has come to define certain contours of American conservatism actually himself believed things that contemporary conservatives would strenuously reject.

TMW: Would you characterize yourself more as a journalist or pundit? And how do you feel about the way that political opinion is presented in the media?

RS: I always describe myself as a one ever thinks of themselves as a pundit I don’t think. [.] What I do like doing is trying to bring perspectives from one world to another world. And you could say that’s a journalistic function but it’s also something a lot of different writers do. So, there’s a conversation people are having in the technology world that maybe a lot of people who are politics junkies aren’t aware of, and so, well let me bring that idea to you. Or there are a lot of conservatives who are not really familiar with a lot of the ideas that are coming from the world of, say, ethnic studies. And there are a lot of liberals who aren’t accustomed to reading the business press and kind of celebrating the virtues of entrepreneurs. So, it’s just trying to talk to as many different groups of people as possible and trying to challenge them a little bit by saying that, “Well, maybe we agree on this thing, and we think we disagree about this thing, but let’s see what you think if I present this idea to you in a different way.” So, part of it’s also being a cultural translator to some degree.

In terms of how political ideas are presented, I gotta say, it goes back to this idea of how it’s really hard to persuade people. I think most political media, it’s not really about persuading people, it’s about getting people revved up, and about meeting a market niche. And I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with that. It’s just part of how the world works, and I think that it works that way because that’s what people are demanding, with their dollars and with their eyeballs. [.] I wouldn’t slam journalists at places like “The Nation” for really trying to speak to their audience and arm them with the kind of arguments that will help them win a debate or win a political fight. That’s not my cup of tea, I guess, but I definitely see the point of it.

TMW: Could you give us some thoughts on the state of journalism today? Is there a crisis in journalism?

RS: I think that the state of journalism is extremely bright. I’m actually constantly surprised by the kind of jobs I hear young people getting. But I think that a very particular kind of journalism is in crisis. A lot of people talk about the example of Belle, California, where you had public officials pretty much looting the public. They were paying themselves incredibly exorbitant salaries, and nobody noticed. Basically, if everyone in the town had chipped in a couple bucks.they could have hired a private eye to go through these public records and then they could have gotten to the bottom of it a lot earlier. So that kind of journalism doesn’t happen quite as much, particularly in towns where, well it’s not a very affluent town, it’s not a very affluent demographic, you don’t have a lot of advertising dollars flowing to people who are doing muckraking journalism. That’s a real problem. But, on the other hand, you now have people who are professional videographers for food blogs in New York City. In fact, you don’t just have some, you have tons of them. And the thing is that food blogs didn’t exist as a category ten years ago.Those niche brands can create pretty decent middle class jobs for a small number of people. [.] To that problem with the journalism that is really citizenship-oriented, that’s trying to tackle corruption, muckraking that’s trying to keep public officials and also corporate-types to account, that’s probably gonna require non-profit journalism, at least at first. We will eventually find ways of creating for-profit models that work in that space, but I think that you’re gonna have to see more of what we’ve seen, groups like Pro Publica, which are funded by very wealthy people that are supporting investigative journalists to do that kind of work.

TMW: You’re here as part of an effort by Macalester to increase political diversity at the school. Do you see this goal, and the goal of diversity, as worthwhile?

RS: I do think so. Now as you guys know, there are a lot of campuses that place a heavy emphasis on diversity in a lot of different domains, because the idea is that it’s a better way to train you for a world that is gonna be different and surprising and maybe even hard to handle, when you’re used to being in a very homogeneous kind of environment. It helps to know, “Well, gee, there are people who disagree with me really really strongly,” or “There are Muslims and Sikhs and Hindus who have very different religious beliefs,” and if we’re all gonna share the planet together, we’ve gotta figure out how to work with them, how to figure them out, how to have some level of empathy. And I think that similarly, when you look at politics, it gets really easy to demonize people, when you think about where your own livelihood comes from. [.] I think that that is really important, to have some context, and to have that gut-check of, “Well, if everyone around me agrees about this stuff, maybe I’m missing something.

TMW: Do you think then that encouraging political diversity definitely makes for a better educational experience?

RS: Yeah, I would agree with that. I’d also say that part of diversity and part of understanding the real diversity of political beliefs is also understanding that there are some things we’re not gonna be able to see past. There are some disagreements that are really very deep, and the ability to have a civilized conversation is important. Now, I think that one of the things is that we often feel like, “Oh, if only we were trying to persuade each other more,” and one thing I want to get across is that it’s really hard to persuade people, because our beliefs come from everything about who we are and who we’re loyal to. [.] It’s one of those things where if you really believe that you’re gonna change people’s minds right off the bat, I think that you’re fooling yourself. And if you believe that, you know, “Oh, this person is closed-minded because I haven’t been able to persuade him even thou
gh I have all of these charts and data,” well that takes a long time, you have to build trust with people. And that’s the kind of thing that frankly only happens when you actually are meeting and interacting and getting to know people. It’s not the kind of thing that’s gonna happen through a campaign ad.

TMW: Do you think that there are places where the left and right can find common ground in a productive way?

RS: Well, I guess there are, partly because.left and right are moving targets. They’ve meant different things and they’re gonna mean different things in the future. So that creates some hope. For example, you definitely do have a lot of Republican governors who think of themselves as tightwads who are saying, “Well, you know what, we can’t put this many people in jail, because we’re wasting a lot of human potential, and also it’s really expensive to put people in jail.” So that’s a scenario where people who are fiscal conservatives might find common ground with people who think that putting tons of people in prison is inhumane. And I think that there are a few other places like that as well, but I think that one of the things I’d want to encourage is for people to think beyond the conventional categories of left and right and think a little bit more about, you know, where do you come from? And how does that shape your beliefs, and how do your experiences shape your beliefs, and how are they inclining you to see and receive other people’s arguments? I know it sounds very na’ve, but I think that idea of empathy is just a really powerful one, because it could lead you to surprising corners. A lot of the kids who are at Macalester right now, they’re going to wind up in Chicago, New York, L.A., they’re gonna wind up in big cities, and they’re gonna be around a lot of other people who also went to really good schools, and they’re gonna wind up in these bubbles, where they’ll look back at the people from back home and think “Boy, it’s a good thing I got outta there, you know what I mean? Imagine what would have happened to me otherwise, had I not gone to this terrific school.” I just think that that’s a dangerous way to think, because it leads you to be a lot less nimble, and I think that’s certainly a really good reason to want more ideological diversity.

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  • J

    Jake BondSep 11, 2019 at 1:31 am

    Very good site you have here but I was curious if you knew of any discussion boards that cover the same topics talked about here? I’d really love to be a part of online community where I can get comments from other experienced people that share the same interest. If you have any recommendations, please let me know. Thank you!

  • T

    Trevor DuncanSep 4, 2019 at 11:35 pm

    What a pleasant YouTube video it is! Amazing, I liked it, and I am sharing this YouTube film with all my friends.