Despite his wannabe symphony orchestra conducting pretensions, Dennis Prager is one of the more discordant and less thoughtful of the morality police on the right. Which is to say he is – at his best, when hitting the high notes – an unsophisticated scold.
But Prager is worth tracking anyway. He has for two decades been a fixture of the Salem Media Group’s low-rent network of right-wing, Christian print, radio, and digital content properties (Salem owns a slew of radio stations, along with Trumpy websites Townhall, Red State, and Twitchy). His Prager University website has skillfully navigated the fault lines of academic political correctness to disparage the progressive left and to harness support for his brand of cultural conservatism.
Dennis Prager writes, talks, and lectures incessantly, on pretty much any topic that strikes his fancy. He also operates an unaccredited online “university” called (modestly) Prager University, that offers video lectures and talk shows hosted by irksome right-wing luminaries such as Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, Candace Owens, Michelle Malkin, Tucker Carlson and, of course, Dennis Prager.
Prager University can claim 2.2 million YouTube subscribers and its punchy 5-minute videos have accumulated more than 2.3 billion views, including 20 videos with at least 5 million views. Popular topics have included Make Men Masculine Again, War on Boys, The Top 5 Issues Facing Black Americans, Are 1 in 5 Women Raped at College?, and Dangerous People Are Teaching Your Kids. Some of these videos are anodyne. Others – the Jordan Peterson Dangerous People video, in particular – are idiotic.
The Campus Rape and Masculinity videos were among about 20 Prager University videos apparently “restricted” by YouTube, although what this designation means in practice remains unclear. At any rate, meaningful or not, Prager University seems to have effectively exploited YouTube’s restricted designation to its own advantage in the debate about censorship of conservative perspectives on social media.
“The Left Ruins Everything It Touches”
Returning to Dennis Prager, his most recent column, syndicated to a wide range of right-wing publications, including National Review and Daily Signal, is a lame but irony-rich takedown of Megan Rapinoe, the most celebrated women’s soccer player in the world. Oddly, the column has been published on different websites with two very different titles, one disarming (We All Wanted to Love the Women’s Soccer Team) and the other fully arming (Women’s Soccer Team More Proof the Left Ruins Everything It Touches).
I get that Rapinoe has taken sides in the polarizing narrative about sports and politics that has its origins in Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem before football games to protest police violence against African-Americans. Rapinoe was one of the first (and to date pretty much only) prominent white athletes to kneel with her black counterparts. She has also been outspoken about LBGTQ rights and pay inequality between male and female soccer players. She is thoughtful, confident, and fearless.
So Megan Rapinoe was already teed up for both acclaim from the left and abuse from the right when the American women’s national soccer team annihilated the competition in the Women’s World Cup. Dennis Prager’s take on Rapinoe’s performance therefore does speak for a large swath of the nation. Let’s take a peek inside the weird, sputtering brain of Dennis Prager to behold the essence of his animus toward Megan Rapinoe. I paraphrase.
Megan Rapinoe, foul-mouthed star of the American women’s national soccer team, has disgraced herself by attacking the president, referring to the White House as the “fucking White House,” refusing since 2016 to participate in the national anthem, and during the team’s parade in New York City repeatedly shouting, “New York, you’re the motherfucking best!”
While a great soccer player, Rapinoe otherwise comes across as an arrogant fool and lowlife. She is arrogant and foolish because she thinks she has something important to say to the American people and that we need to hear it because she is a great soccer player. There is no reason to assume that people who excel in anything (other than wisdom) are wiser than anybody else. People who think they are wise because they excel at something unrelated to wisdom are fools. She is a lowlife because she has constantly used the F-word in public (especially during events when children are expected to be present or watching).
With their politicization of their victory, their expletive-filled speech, and their publicly expressed contempt for half their fellow citizens, the women of the U.S. women’s soccer team succeeded in endearing themselves to America’s left. But they earned the rest of the country’s disdain. What we have here is yet another example of perhaps the most important fact in the contemporary world: Everything the left touches it ruins.
Megan Rapinoe’s “Foolish Arrogance”The big picture here is of course the deeply rooted instinct of paleoconservatives to project on to political and cultural enemies their own proclivities. Prager is a genial windbag who assumes he is wise (perhaps because he is old, perhaps because he excels at nothing) and so therefore entitled to speak with the sonorous authority of a pater familias on all matters without exclusion – morality, virtue, affairs of state.
Prager’s characterization of Megan Rapinoe’s “foolish arrogance” and her “contempt for half” of her fellow citizens is far closer to a description of himself than of Rapinoe. His column reminded me that Rapinoe uses the “F” word somewhat promiscuously. But that leap from her insouciant use of profanity to the claim that she thinks she is wiser than anybody else or contemptuous of her fellow Americans is both silly and lacking in any foundation in reality. The essay more convincingly persuaded me that Prager believes he is wiser than anybody else and that Prager is contemptuous of his fellow Americans.
A recent study of voting behavior in Europe concluded that anti-establishment populists on the right and the left – but especially on the right – routinely overstated their knowledge of the matters on which they were voting. Indeed, the more dramatically confident populists were about their knowledge on any given topic, the more mistaken and limited their knowledge on that topic actually tended to be.
Prager’s essay illustrates this pattern. The global references to the “politicization of their victory, their expletive-filled speech, and their publicly expressed contempt for half their fellow citizens” caricatures the U.S. women’s soccer team beyond recognition. Prager then labels as “fact” his conclusion from these false claims, these “non-facts,” which is that “Everything the left touches it ruins.” Indeed, he tells us, this ruinous influence of the left is “the most important fact in the contemporary world.” Might we term this casual and sloppy attribution of facticity itself as a form of foolish arrogance?
Oddly, Dennis Prager is thus left with the “fact” of Megan Rapinoe’s profanity as the vanishingly thin reed on which to hang his claim that she is a lowlife, arrogant fool. Illustrating a larger point. Which is that a “fact” or a “text” without “context” means almost nothing. Because Rapinoe was born into a generation for which flamboyant fuck-flinging signifies almost nothing. As The Thrillist tells us, based on surveys of cursing in the workplace, “compared with the Listerine-washed mouth of your older, hiring manager from the cast of Happy Days, millennials curse a fuckton.”
Dennis Prager has also recently proposed (based on a few years he spent in graduate school at Columbia nearly 50 years ago) that leftist ideology makes Americans “meaner.” We might assume he associates Megan Rapinoe’s fuck-bombs as a form of meanness toward Donald Trump and the Americans with whom she disagrees on matters of racial justice and LBGTQ equality. But once again, context matters. Prager himself reports that most of Rapinoe’s curses are not slurs, but adjectival hosannas (also generally common among millennials). And in a massive LivePerson study of customer service interactions, we learn that many of the states in which customers more frequently curse at customer service reps are among the group of states in which customers more frequently use terms of praise, affirmation, and gratitude in their interactions.
What Is Left Unsaid By Dennis Prager (But Not By His Minions)
Let’s get real. A hidebound, mythic and visceral disgust with homosexuality has for nearly three decades rocketed Dennis Prager out of bed in the morning. A culturally conservative Jewish “St. George” deeply influenced by Catholic convert and First Things magazine founder, Richard John Neuhaus, Prager has made it his life’s work to defend Israel and Western Christendom from the poisonous coils of serpentine Islam.
But the heart of Prager’s defense of Western civilization and Western values has been the preservation of the conventional Christian definition of marriage as the sexually exclusive union, for purposes of procreation, of one man and one woman. In 1996, Prager testified in support of The Defense of Marriage Act alongside fellow Trump enabler (and Messianic Jew) Jay Sekulow. On a continuum of sexual sinfulness, his 1990 essay, “Judaism, Homosexuality, and Civilization,” ranked homosexuality just before bestiality and incest. While Dennis Prager does not explicitly refer to Megan Rapinoe’s sexuality in his column, her lesbian lifestyle is a subtext fully textualized by his supporters in the Disqus comment threads for the essay (the corrosive social damage of Disqus is another topic, one insufficiently explored).
Prager’s Rapinoe column, and the sulfurous subterranean fumes it unleashed, reminds me a lot of the reaction in 2013 to Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman’s primal response to his team’s playoff victory over the San Francisco Forty-Niners. The blowback Sherman took for this moment, about which I wrote extensively at the time, fully disclosed the casual emotional violence that spumes the racial fault lines of our nation. Dennis Prager’s column allows us to explore the similar dynamics at work in the contextually impoverished and emotionally toxic responses of religious conservatives to the sexual iconoclasm of nonbinary Americans.