Right-wing media pundit Ben Shapiro recently challenged 28-year old newly-elected Democratic Socialist politician Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to a debate in return for a ten thousand dollar campaign contribution. Twitter, and with it mainstream media, erupted as a result of the back-and-forth that ensued.
But who is Shapiro?
Shapiro is a right-wing media personality with over 1.5 million followers on Twitter. He serves as editor-in-chief for The Daily Wire, hosts The Ben Shapiro Show, a daily political podcast, and was the editor at large of Breitbart News from 2012-2016 (Wikipedia).
Shapiro is also an Islamophobe who bends the truth to promote hatred.
Here's Ben Shapiro admitting he cherrypicks evidence to make bad faith arguments and an example of him doing so. pic.twitter.com/XI5lfYAQuW
— Nathan Bernard (@nathanTbernard) August 10, 2018
So, should Ocasio-Cortez debate Shapiro? What could possibly be the harm of an exchange of ideas?
The media soap opera that Shapiro instigated has a broader significance beyond the particular personalities involved. It highlights the dangers of right-entryism; i.e., the gradual introduction and acceptance of far-right fascistic staples such as white supremacy, misogyny, unfettered capitalism, and other forms of oppression. Once these ideas are deemed legitimate enough to debate and thus enter the public sphere, a regression of existent human rights, as well as the introduction of new oppressive policies, is likely, especially with the current atmosphere in Washington D.C.
But how does right-entryism actually happen?
First, it is initiated from within the ruling establishment. President Donald Trump consistently stretches the moral fabric of American society by using trial balloons and comparing right and left extremes, even though the former seeks oppression and promotes discrimination while the latter pursues equality and justice for all. The false equation of political extremes serves to specifically delegitimize the left, for the far right is illegitimate due to its inherent xenophobia but is unaffected as it is already in power as Trump’s racist base.
Second, right-entryism is facilitated by external forces vying for power on both left and right; so-called leftists opportunistically engage with the extreme right and even encourage collaboration with white supremacists – aka a ‘red-brown alliance’. The legitimization of unapologetic racists on any topic, regardless of relevance, renders right-wing bigotry up for debate and promotes their platforms. Notably, lefties who promote such collaborations are often plagued by white privilege and fragility.
Democratic Socialist victories and Ocasio-Cortez’s only possible response
Democratic Socialists have made real gains during recent elections. In fact, nothing frightens the far right, amongst whom are Trump acolytes like Ben Shapiro, more than powerful socialist women of color like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Shapiro knows well that her charisma and the appeal of her ideas inspires new voters. In fact, he is jealous.
As such, nowadays perhaps more than ever, it is essential to be aware of the dangers of providing any legitimacy for far-right racists like Shapiro, who seek to thwart the energy of Democratic Socialist victories by trolling and bullying up-and-coming stars like Ocasio-Cortez.
Just like catcalling, I don’t owe a response to unsolicited requests from men with bad intentions.
And also like catcalling, for some reason they feel entitled to one. pic.twitter.com/rsD17Oq9qe
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@Ocasio2018) August 10, 2018
Ocasio-Cortez is a newly elected politician who rose from the ground up; an impressive young woman of color inspired by the progressive wave of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Why would she waste her time debating and thus legitimizing a privileged and opportunistic racist brat like Shapiro, who trolled her as a means of bullying a woman of color and spewing his propaganda?
Shapiro is exactly the type of far-right pundit who seeks legitimization and affirmation from the left. Placing him on an equal platform with Ocasio-Cortez only serves to elevate him from the xenophobic swamp he inhabits. And it does not matter if there were one million or one billion dollars up for grabs, Ocasio-Cortez’s brilliant rejection of Shapiro’s challenge was the only possible and dignified response.
Her refusal to engage, together with her correct identification of Shapiro’s inherent misogyny demonstrates her sharp instincts and remarkable savviness as a young politician.