“When I look across America and see people who hungered and rallied behind the cry to make America great again, I don’t think they just hungered for a single man. … Part of what we hungered for is the unapologetic pursuit of excellence itself, because that is part of what it means to be American,” says Vivek Ramaswamy, author of “Woke, Inc.: Inside Corporate America’s Social Justice Scam.”
In this episode, filmed at the National Conservatism Conference in Orlando, Florida, we sat down with Ramaswamy and talk show host Dave Rubin, founder of Locals, to discuss their fight against big tech censorship and woke ideology and their vision for the future.
Jan Jekielek: Vivek Ramaswamy, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Vivek Ramaswamy: Good to see you in person this time, Jan.
Mr. Jekielek: Yes. It’s wonderful to do it outside of the magical Zoom World, so to speak, right?
Mr. Ramaswamy: Yes, indeed. Good to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: I was really interested. You were on this Woke Capitalism panel here, and I thought you were talking about something really interesting. Something very important to me, and excellence as a way to rebuild American identity, perhaps.
Mr. Ramaswamy: Exactly. I think America is going through an identity crisis right now. We don’t have a good answer to the question of what it means to be American. One of the things that I think we miss and hunger for as a people, is the idea of pursuing excellence as being at the heart of what it means to be American.
I say this as a kid of immigrants who came to this country for the pursuit of excellence. They wanted us to be excellent in the classroom, taught us to pursue excellence in whatever way we know how. That’s what we’ve lost as a country where now, second generation kids, even Asian American kids, are being taught to do the opposite.
Hide the outward pursuit of excellence in the classroom to think of themselves, instead, as victims. As victims instead of victors. As persons of color or whatever narrative of disempowerment they come up with. That’s what they do today instead of playing the violin or being good at math, or being good at sports.
Jan, what I think when I look across America and see people who hungered and rallied behind the cry to make America great again, I don’t think they just hungered for a single man. I don’t think we hungered for a single man. I think part of what we hungered for is the unapologetic pursuit of excellence itself, because that is part of what it means to be American.
Mr. Jekielek: Very much so. My parents, as I think you know, came from communist Poland in the ’70s, ended up in Canada. They could have come to the US, but it was faster to go to Canada, actually, because of merit-based immigration.
Mr. Ramaswamy: Yes, which I’m a fan of.
Mr. Jekielek: That was the reality, right?
Mr. Ramaswamy: Here, Jan, is part of the grand bargain of merit-based immigration. I think the US and Canada ought to share this in common, that there’s a trade. All right. We will select people who are meritorious and we believe are going to contribute to our culture. Come here legally through the front door. I, personally, believe we should make it easier for them to come through the front door legally, but there’s a trade in return.
The number one most important thing those immigrants can give back to this country is to keep that fire of excellence alive to people who may have inherited this country. You don’t value something that you inherit. You value something that you had a choice in making your own.
I think that is the obligation of an immigrant, of a first generation American like myself. To be able to contribute to keeping that fire alive in people who may—five, six, seven generations down—have forgotten that. That’s actually what this country was all about.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to get you to recap briefly for me, one of the main thesis of “Woke Inc.” I thought it was an incredibly important book because it shows how American large corporations are using wokeism, so to speak, to their advantage. To let themselves off the hook to do things they couldn’t get away with if they were purely motivated by profit or fiduciary responsibility. Just briefly tell me this.
Mr. Ramaswamy: It’s about beyond profit. It’s about power. The basic thesis at the start of the book is that today in corporate America, you pretend like you care about something other than profit and power, precisely to gain more of each.
That’s a good way of deflecting accountability from the public. Deflecting accountability from consumers, competitors, from regulators to, ultimately, create this new lexicon, this new epicenter of power in America. [It] isn’t even just private enterprise alone, but this new marriage of big government and big business, that’s far more powerful than either one alone.
What the old left wanted to do was to view corporate America as its enemy and take money from those wealthy corporate fat cats to redistribute it to poor people. That left actually realized, and what big business realized, is that they could actually enter a truce. Not even a truce, but an arranged marriage with one another where big business would agree to now serve as the vehicle for advancing certain of the new left’s agenda.
But in return, get the old left to look the other way when it came to leaving their own power structures intact. That is what I call the woke industrial complex. It is far more powerful than either big government or big business because it can do what either one can’t do on its own.
Business can capture government to gain competitive favors for itself, as Wall Street banks do, and get favorable regulations that make the members of a small oligopoly that get to decide which companies get to go public. In return, they get to say that actually, when we decide which companies go public.
If you’re Goldman Sachs or NASDAQ, you say that you won’t take a company public or allow a company to be public if it doesn’t have a sufficiently diverse board where diversity is defined on the basis of the woke left’s version of diversity—skin deep attributes, rather than true diversity of thought.
Actually a funny story recently is NASDAQ adopted rules that said they would de-list a company if its board was insufficiently diverse along axis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. Well, so they got a suggestion from the outside that said, “Actually, why don’t you add a couple more metrics to that list?
Like veteran status or disability status, because you’ve said, NASDAQ, that you want diversity of thought and experience. Wouldn’t that select for greater diversity of thought and experience?” Well actually, they came back and said, “Counterintuitively, adding more indices of diversity to the metrics of diversity would have the effect of reducing the desired forms of diversity.”
The reality is they’re just lying about diversity of thought or experience. That’s not what they care about. This is about advancing a monolithic social agenda using their market power to do it, but effectively getting the old left, which used to control government as a source of regulation, by deterring them in return for advancing their values through the system of capitalism itself.
There’s a final piece to it, Jan, which is also then big government coming back for the final coup, which is to be able to use those private companies to do through the back door, what government couldn’t ever do through the front door under the Constitution.
That’s a big part of what we’re seeing, for example, with big tech censorship today, where government and the party in power would love to silence political opposition, but we have this pesky thing in this country called the First Amendment and the Constitution that prevents them from doing it.
Well, now we’ve realized there’s a fourth branch of government that operates outside the system of checks and balances. A fourth branch that operates outside of Silicon Valley, that’s able to do the government’s dirty work because they threaten those companies with regulation. They induce those companies with Section 230.
They coordinate with those companies to take down misinformation as defined by the White House, and Jen Psaki will boast about it in the White House Press Conference room. Well, one of the things I argue is that we, as conservatives, need to wake up to the fact that yes, it’s true that private companies ought to be free to decide what does and doesn’t show up on their website. That’s classical conservative dogma.
But when these companies are doing the bidding of the state, when they’re working hand in glove with the party in power, that’s just state action in disguise. When it is state action in disguise, then the Constitution still applies.
When these companies do the dirty work of the government, they ought to be bound by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Those are the kinds of conservative solutions for the new century that we need to wake up to rather than just reciting slogans that we memorized in 1980.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s not just even the American state who’s bidding they’re doing. This is something outlined very well in this reality where it’s shareholder capitalism, not stakeholder. Somehow the shareholders are a little bit hidden, or at least not officially on the books, and the Chinese communist party comes in the back door.
Mr. Ramaswamy: They do it, sometimes, not even as a shareholder, but as a, ultimately, gatekeeper to the Chinese market. What China has realized is that they can effectively deny market access to any company that criticizes the CCP, but they will roll out the red carpet to the same companies when they criticize the United States. What that does is it creates a false moral equivalence between the CCP’s behavior and what you see in America.
Xi Jinping gets to deflect questions about the Uyghur human rights crisis in Xinjiang, where there’s over a million Uyghurs enslaved in concentration camps, subject to forced sterilization and worse.
What he says is that actually Black Lives Matter shows the United States is no better, but guess what? The people who lend him the implicit credibility to say that are Disney, Nike, BlackRock. The NBA that relentlessly criticize the United States without saying a peep about actual human rights atrocities in China.
That’s where they have turned our own corporations into Trojan horses that undermine us from within. You have to remember the old Trojan war. The other side, the Greeks in that war, could have never won militarily through the front door. The walls of Troy prevented it. What they did is they gave the gift of the Trojan horse that ultimately weakened the society and burned the society from within.
Well, the Trojan horse China has given us is the model and the fruits of global capitalism by accessing the Chinese market, but that has become a Trojan horse that undermines the US from within by creating capitalist actors here in the United States that actually do the geopolitical bidding of China in disguise. That’s day in and day out what’s happening.
The future of the conservative movement requires recognizing that while we defended the castle of capitalism from the front door, that castle was invaded through the back door by forces ranging from the Woke Progressive Movement to the Chinese Communist Party. I think the defining challenge for the future of conservatism is how we sterilize that castle, but without burning the whole thing down.
It’s easy for somebody to stand at the front door and recite the slogan from 1980, pretending like there is no real problem. It’s easy for somebody else to come up and say, “Burn the whole thing down.” Much like Bernie Sanders might. The hard part, and the hard challenge for the future of conservatism is how we clean up that castle without burning the whole thing down.
That’s going to require new solutions. That’s what motivated me to write the book that I did. Hopefully, we’ll be doing more on that front going forward too.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, it’s very interesting. Something that you mentioned during the panel was, and by the way, I’m exactly the same way. You’re conflicted with the idea of using force to fight force, or to use cancellation to fight cancel culture, and so forth. This is a profound question because it’s hard to deal with that kind of, let’s call it assault, right?
Mr. Ramaswamy: Yes, it is. Jan, we could go on for two hours about this. We’ll wrap up on this question because I’ve got to go catch my flight to Ohio, but you hit the nail on the head with respect to the struggle, I think, in both of our hearts.
We ultimately care about having a country left at the end of it, not just winning some sort of culture war for the sake of winning that war. I don’t want to see two economies. I don’t want to see two versions of America. I don’t want to see two versions of the private sector.
But there are 75 million people or more who have been systematically excluded from an economy and from a culture, from institutional elite culture for the last 10 years. I think it’s going to be table stakes to be able to welcome them back in for credible platforms, companies, movie studios, banks, whatever it is.
To welcome them back into the economy in ways that allow us to create a true culture of inclusion that then, hopefully, causes the rest of corporate America to wake up and say that, “Wait, that’s a big part of the economy we’ve left it behind. We screwed up,” and swing the pendulum back and then restore normalcy that way.
There are no easy solutions. That’s the hard thing about a hard thing like this one. There are no easy answers, as the saying goes, but I think that that may be the right next step. I hope to do whatever I can as an entrepreneur, as a citizen. More importantly, to play a role in that, so thank you.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, this is Vaclav Havel’s model, isn’t it? It’s building parallel structures that then you can transition into a future.
Mr. Ramaswamy: As long as the transitions [are] in the right direction, I’m on board with it. Exactly.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Vivek Ramaswamy, such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Ramaswamy: Thank you, Jan. Good seeing you as always.
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[Jan Jekielek/Narration]: Next up, I sit down with Dave Rubin to discuss the growing free speech oriented tech ecosystem, including Rumble’s recent acquisition of locals.com.
Jan Jekielek: Dave Rubin, such a pleasure to have you back on American Thought Leaders.
Dave Rubin: God, it’s good to be with you. I bump into you at all of these things, and I said to you right before we started, “Let’s see if we can cover some new ground here today.”
Mr. Jekielek: Well, you have some fantastic new ground to cover actually. Locals has joined with Rumble. I think it’s a fantastic, almost obvious, development partnership. My theory is [it’s] going to be, perhaps, a challenge to Substack. I’m curious. I’m looking for competition in this blue sea ecosystem right now. Tell me what you’re doing.
Mr. Rubin: Yes, I started Locals. It was just under three years ago. It started in, basically, December 2018. It started with this idea of how could I free myself from so much of the big tech control? We thought, “Okay, I need a subscription model. I want a video player and an audio player. I want to have a slick app and be able to send push notifications out to my audience. I want to have live chat, video chat, text chat, and a bunch of other things.”
Also, and I should say probably most importantly, I wanted to own the user data. If someone subscribed to me, if someone said, “Hey Dave, I dig what you do, and I want to pay you a couple of bucks for it,” we wanted to make sure we had email addresses so that if I was ever kicked off of Twitter or Facebook or YouTube or whatever, we’d be able to contact people.
That was really the genesis of how we started Locals. In the last three years, we’ve built it quite well. We’ve got a great range of investors who not only helped us. Of course you need some money to build products, but also helped us on the intellectual side—the philosophy of what we were building, the tech side, the real nuts and bolts of the whole thing.
We built a really great product and over the last year, I would say especially since the events of January 6th when Parler got, basically, demolished by Amazon AWS. That’s the underbelly of the internet. They’re hosting all of these websites. That’s the part of the internet that you don’t see, but makes sure that when you go to a website, it’s there.
Amazon destroyed Parler. That was a rapid escalation of the censorship situation because, of course, maybe Twitter is shadow-banning you, or maybe Google is de-boosting you, or maybe your videos aren’t going out to your YouTube feed, but to actually demolish, really just remove a website from existence was a really serious escalation.
At that point, we started thinking about, okay, well, what else do we need to do to protect ourselves? Then Rumble started coming along, and they really had some great growth and we started to meet the team. They had great tech behind them and have great tech behind them, and are working on building that underbelly of the internet.
A lot of people think of Rumble simply as it’s a YouTube replacement. That’s not really just it. It really is an Amazon AWS replacement. To build this underbelly of the internet, to ensure that guys like you aren’t going to be taken out because you say something that’s politically incorrect, or someone like me, et cetera, so we merged. It was announced a week ago today.
I think the reaction to it’s been pretty phenomenal. I would say the goal, really, is not to destroy. I don’t need to destroy Google. I don’t need to destroy YouTube or Twitter. But what I would like to do is build a parallel ecosystem. They can have those things. By the way, we’ll be on those things, right?
I’m not just leading those things tomorrow, but I want to build a parallel ecosystem where I know my content is secure, where free speech is more fairly defended, and where people can say what they want.
You know what? If you threaten somebody, or you break the laws of the United States, or you put a snuff film up there, you have a much bigger problem than Locals and Dave Rubin. We’re going to build a parallel ecosystem, and I think we’re going to build better products and competition will rule the day.
Mr. Jekielek: Something that struck me. It’ll be interesting how this plays out because, for example, Glen Greenwald who I follow, I like what he does. He is on Rumble. He was invited to join. He’s also one of the leading publishers on Substack. Now Locals comes into mix. What do you think is going to happen there?
Mr. Rubin: Yes, well look. Substack and Locals, in some ways, are similar in that we’re both subscription-based solutions for creators. We’re doing video and audio. They’re primarily doing written word. I think there could be some synergies there. There, obviously, is some level of competition, but I like competition. Let’s keep building better products. If you don’t have competition, then you have no need to innovate. You have no need to build better things.
I like the idea that, at some level, people think that we’re competitive to them, even though we’re really not doing exactly the same thing. I would say a guy like Glen being on Rumble, and I believe he just opened a Locals account as well, I have some pretty severe political differences with Glen. We’ve gotten into it over the years. That’s just fine. I believe that he should be able to say what he wants to say. He believes that I should be able to say what I want to say.
That, really, is much more in the spirit of free speech that America is all about. We’re not creating content for Rumble to ensure that other people can’t speak. I’m sharing my message and I want people who disagree with me. If you want to get on Rumble and say, “Dave Rubin’s an idiot,” you can do that. I know you wouldn’t do that, but you know.
Mr. Jekielek: I was talking with a number of people here about this idea. People have been asking, “Why do you think Epoch Times has done well?” I feel a bit silly saying it, but it’s like when it comes to media, more conventional format media companies, a lot of media just went a little nuts about five, six years ago.
Mr. Rubin: That’s the understatement of the year, my friend.
Mr. Jekielek: So just not being nuts, just trying to do traditional journalism, roughly speaking, there’s a lot of interest in that. There’s this, as they say, the high school marketing class, blue ocean strategy. There just isn’t a lot of competition.
Mr. Rubin: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: I also, as you, do welcome competition. I think it helps you hone your game. It makes you need to do well, innovate, have something that’s interesting. This is just such a welcome addition to this. I think there’s room for a lot more players in this area.
Mr. Rubin: I welcome, I’m not just saying it, I truly do. If someone comes out and, let’s say, their video player is slicker than ours, or they figure out something related to live streaming that we haven’t quite figured out. Well, it’s either, we’ll figure it out too, and then make it better, or we’ll talk to them and see how we can integrate things. That’s what human ingenuity is all about. That’s what America’s all about. Build a better mousetrap and then see what happens.
I would say on the media side, look, you guys are here right now. This is a super interesting conference, politically on the idea side. Can religious conservatives and more libertarian-minded people, and traditional conservatives, and disaffected liberals, can they create a coalition that makes sense? What an interesting topic that is, relative to what’s going on in the world.
Why isn’t CNN here? Why isn’t MSNBC here, but you guys are here? That tells you, it’s not just that you’re doing a little bit better work, let’s say. It’s that they’re completely abdicating their responsibilities.
If anything, if they end up writing something about the conference, it’ll be that they’ll selectively edit a clip that someone said and make it sound like it was somehow a racist conference or something to that effect. But you guys are here on the ground to do actual journalism. That’s why I like talking to you.
Mr. Jekielek: I want to talk about this coalition. You described yourself as the disaffected liberal.
Mr. Rubin: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: You were up on the panel last night with conservatives, with Ram who runs this conference. I just had him on moments ago. Aside from free speech, obviously, where do you see the common ground in this coalition building?
Mr. Rubin: Yes. Well, I would say the main commonality, of course, is that we want the American experiment to continue. When you say that it’s not just something so flip, it’s actually, if you want the experiment to continue, you have to really understand why America is here. Where we came from, what our history is, and how truly extraordinary this country has been for so many people, and why we are still the jealousy of the world.
Why, right now, there are literally thousands of people on our Southern border trying to burst through the border. Basically being led in, at this point, by our, I would say almost derelict-at-his-duties president, but why is that? If America’s systemically racist, if capitalism is evil, if all of these things are true that we are told, you would think that people are trying to get out. But of course, no one is leaving.
No one is even going to Canada. Canadians are actually trying to get in here and now, Canada has another set of problems because you can’t leave without a vaccine, which is so draconian and authoritarian. It’s almost beyond imagination. I would say the connection here is that we want to save the goodness of America, but we have to figure out the differences. How do you mitigate those differences?
For example, what we talked about on the panel last night which I thought was quite profound actually. I think it was important that we did it, was if you’ve got religious conservatives who want some level of religion to be part of the state, because their belief … I’m roughly talking about what Yoram Hazony and Sohrab Ahmari were talking about.
Their belief is that if you completely disconnect religion from the state, which we have done in America, that you will, ultimately, end up with this out-of-control secular liberalism, where we don’t know genders, and two plus two equals five and everything else.
I’m very sympathetic to that argument, I really am. But in a state like that, if you were to do something that was a little more connected to belief, let’s say, or if you had prayer in school and we talked about having a carve-out for say, the non-believers or people of minority religions, things like that. Well then, do you have gay rights in such a state? We actually dove into that pretty intensely. I think it was a really worthwhile conversation.
I think the answer that we all came to was, yes. That you’d have a Judeo-Christian ethic that this country really is founded upon. Perhaps, there’s a way to put some of that back in the schools with respect for minorities and equality for all to defend the Constitution. But this is the stuff that we have to churn through. I think we’re trying to do it. Can it really work? Can it hold? Remains to be seen.
Mr. Jekielek: This keeps coming up again and again. I see this in people who identify themselves, for example, as former new atheists and so forth. There’s incredible value, tradition, and faith. You might not subscribe to a particular tradition or faith, but without it, something really dark comes in its place.
Mr. Rubin: Look, you end up being a believer either way. This is why I think the atheist project, the new atheist project failed. That’s not to say there aren’t individual good atheists. Of course there are, and of course I’m friends with some of them and all of that stuff. But a structure, a society cannot tether itself around lack of belief, plus, only logic, reason and science.
We are seeing what the end of a society that has no belief other than what the expert class says and what scientists say and the worship of bureaucrats, we’re seeing what it gives you. That is not disconnected from the atheist movement. They’ve done a tremendous damage, I think unintentionally, in a way, to society, to secularism. Which is why you see a guy like Bill Maher now, who’s a liberal, obviously, but he spends all day bashing his own side because they’ve gone crazy.
Now, Bill Maher also, he’s not only a liberal, he’s an atheist. He’s done a lot of criticism of religion. By the way, I think that’s just fine. Of course, you should be able to criticize whatever religion you want. That’s an important value to have as a free person in a free society. But I do think we are seeing, at the end of just secularism, something kind of nasty sits beneath it.
Then next thing you know, it’s two years later and you’ve been locked in your house, and you’re wearing a mask and you don’t know why, and you’re injecting your children with things. You’re being told that gender doesn’t matter and a whole series of other crazy things, and there’s nothing left to fall back on to fight it. I would say that Judeo-Christian ethic seems to be the best thing that we’ve got, and I would fall more on the liberal side of that.
Mr. Jekielek: A lot of people are talking about exactly this juxtaposition. There’s people who are very committed to this technocratic picture or direction, and there’s other people who are vehemently opposed. There are people talking about civil war.
Mr. Rubin: Yes.
Mr. Jekielek: Then there’s, of course, those of us who are talking about coalition building. Where is this going right now in your mind? I know you talk to a ton of people.
Mr. Rubin: Look, it’s hard to say. The last thing that I would want is for America not to be the United States of America. By the way, we were set up as a Federalist system so that the states would have as much autonomy as possible. If you were not in a state that you liked what they were doing, if you felt the taxes were too high or their laws around marijuana weren’t good, or you didn’t like what they were doing with education, you could pick up and go to another state.
Yet, we were still the United States. What I think, unfortunately, is happening now is we’re seeing the red-blue divide, seems to be escalating and becoming a deeper color. The problem is that the red states, in essence, they want to be left alone, so we’re here in Florida. It’s like Florida does not want anything out of California.
As a matter of fact, as the ships were sitting on the coast of California with all of the products that … We’re having all these supply chain problems. As the ships were sitting there, DeSantis said, “Hey, come to our ports and we’ll clean up the mess that you guys seem incapable of dealing with.”
The problem is that the red states want to be left alone. “Hey, we’re going to decide what we do related to mandates. We’re going to decide what we do in terms of our economic policy and everything else.” The blue states want the bailouts from the red states. California, which had really horrific lockdowns, destroyed our economy and everything else.
The only reason Newsom is still around is because the federal government bailed them out. But where does the federal government get their money? They get it from everybody. The guy in Texas who voted the right way, who works hard and everything else, some of his money went to bail out California. That’s an untenable situation.
I certainly don’t want any sort of civil war. I think it’s a dangerous thing to even start talking about. I think Abraham Lincoln was right. The union should stay together. That being said, the states should be empowered to do as much for themselves as they can.
Mr. Jekielek: Any final thoughts, Dave?
Mr. Rubin: We’ve got work to do. It’s exciting in a way. When I do my daily show, I try to make sure that people feel halfway decent about the world and everything else after. I try to crack some jokes and have a smile on my face, occasionally, as I’m often dealing with ridiculous and painful topics—things that seem too big to defeat, and the creep of authoritarianism that we all see. Humans have been through worse. We’ve been through worse.
My grandparents fought the Nazis. They won. We’ll get through this thing. I look forward to finding the people that want to solve it, because they’re out there. We’ve got to give them a little room to come out, so to speak, and join the party. The question always is how much destruction can happen before then? I suppose the job of people that try to communicate ideas is to make sure not too much happens before we can fix it.
Mr. Jekielek: Well, Dave Rubin, it’s such a pleasure to have you on and we look forward to working with you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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