Noah Rothman spoke on Feb. 19 to students about his first book, “Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America.” Rothman is an associate editor for Commentary Magazine and a contributor for MSNBC/NBC News. He also contributes various opinion pieces to other news outlets including The New York Times and The Atlantic.
Why political journalism?
I cringe when people call me a journalist, because I’m not a journalist. I make no pretense towards objectivity. I have an opinion and a point of view, and I freely and readily express it. That doesn’t give me license to be dishonest. I try very hard to be honest and forthright and to acknowledge when my biases or predilections or points of view have been challenged in a way that is valuable for people with whom I am predisposed to disagree. But, journalists in my view should at least attempt to be objective, and I’m not objective.
If you’re not a journalist, what are you?
I’m an opinion writer. I’m a political analyst.
How did you get involved in this world of political analysis?
I came out of the entertainment world. I went to college on a performing arts scholarship. I was theatre actor when I was in high school. I was a sophomore when 9/11 happened. I was already conservative and interested in news and entertainment on conservative talk radio. I took an internship at WABC in New York. I hated it and I wasn’t good at it. Through a lot of twists and turns, I got out of radio, got a graduate degree in international affairs, and then started writing about politics professionally after grad school. I consumed a lot of editorial opinion and that’s what I eventually gravitated towards. That was something that entertained me and kept me engaged.
You’ve written your first book called “Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America.” What is it about?
People who might not have a lot of exposure to social media advocates might think that this is a pretty unobjectionable concept to which anybody would appeal.
Social justice in the abstract is just a really unobjectionable way of thinking about fairness and equality in a just society, righting historical wrongs. What could be more American than that?
In its current form, however, it has become the opposite of all that. It is the antithesis of the blind, objective justice we’d see in a courtroom. Its activists have embraced ideas that are antithetical to the American experience. The notion that meritocracy, for example, is a myth or that individual person agency is a lie that your actions in life place you on a course in life that is in many ways predestined. When I talk to social justice advocates on the left and tell them that white supremacists believe all this too, they sort of look at you like that’s sort of outside their paradigm. But it’s true. The social justice activists on the right and the left have become so similar that their distinctions are blurred to the point where I refuse to make them. They are increasingly intolerant totalitarian moments that are, in my view, incompatible with the American experiment. That is the case I make in this book.
Do you have any advice for students wishing to enter the world of political analysis or politics in general?
If you want to write about political opinions and analysis, you have to have something to say, in order to have something to say, you have to have a life. You have to lead a life, first. People that want to begin their careers as writers are, unfortunately, at a disadvantage, because they just simply do not have the experience requisite to opine on issues with the kind of authority that you would have. Not because they haven’t had a life per se, although that is part of it, but because you haven’t had enough time to read. The only way to be a good writer is to read and read extensively. You only get better at writing by writing and by having editors who review your writing, publishing, trial and error. All in all, it’s experience like anything in life.