Politics, it is said, is coalition building. Politics can also involve the equal and opposite to coalition building: identifying and undermining your opponent, or the opposing coalition.
If there are “pro” and “anti” coalitions on some issue, the “pro” side can work to build and fortify its strength while also undermining “anti” strength. It may not be able to convert “antis,” but it can effectively keep them contained by making sure many potential “antis” in a safe, “neutral” column. This happens all the time. It is even a fundamental political mechanism behind the way all our capitalist-liberal democracies work.
A recent “Covid” retrospective by Noah Rothman of Commentary magazine comes to my attention and gets me thinking about this and on how the Corona-Panic worked. The article is: “The Covid Reckoning is Coming,” August 12, 2022, Commentary. (Thanks to Peak Stupidity for this.)
That article inspired me to look into Rothman’s work. The end-product is what you are now reading, amounting to a short political biography of the man (Noah Rothman), an exploration of the role he occupies in U.S. politics and within the agenda-setting U.S. media-elite, with a focus on his shifting positions during and through and after the Corona-Panic of early 2020 to present [mid-2022]), in which he mostly stayed neutral.
The question of interest: what motivated the young media-elite neoconservative Noah Rothman towards staying with “Corona-Neutralism“?
By neutralism, I mean neither embracing the Panic enthusiastically nor opposing it consistently or forcefully. From this specific question we may ask what it means for the nature of power in the United States in our time, for power and the Corona-Panic were tied closely together.
The maybe-unsurprising conclusion is that Power influenced Noah Rothman’s decision to “decline to oppose” the Panic consistently or forcefully. Power influenced decision-making. Recognizing this is a useful complement to the school of theories on the Panic that focus on the social-phenomenon side including mass hysteria and some free-floating “Safetyism,” and exploring it can yield insights and help us understand the Corona-Panic and therefore understand how our 2020s-era politics works, for we all agree that the Panic could not have happened in 2000 or 2010, but it somehow happened in 2020, and we don’t fully understand why.
Corona-politics often involved a dual-track of keeping the coalition together and undermining the opposing coalition Seeing it in the form of a case-study can be useful, as we continue to refine our answers to why the Corona-Panic happened, how it was able to happen and sustain itself so long, why it turned so radical, and related questions.
There are also many non-‘Covid’-related insights, in this portrait of Noah Rothman, into the nature of the elite-media, how power works in the USA, with some glances behind the curtain of Neoconservative power and influence.
The idea in “The Covid Reckoning is Coming” is summarized well enough by the title, if the intended use of the word “Reckoning” is understood. (Merriam-Webster: “reckoning, [2.] a settling of accounts”; day or reckoning, “a time when the consequences of a course of mistakes or misdeeds are felt.”)
(See also: “A ‘wild’ Corona-Reckoning may be coming in 2022-2024, Matthew Peterson of the Claremont Institute predicts,” Hail To You, June 21, 2022).
Noah Rothman says there needs to be a “comprehensive retrospective” on the Corona-Panic and lists some of the possible problems that ought not be ignored. These are easy pins to set up and knock down in mid-2022. such talk was needed in 2020.
The “Covid Reckoning” column pushed me toward an investigation into Noah Rothman’s role as an agenda-setting media elite, his role in U.S. politics over the past five to ten years and his role during the Corona-Panic.
In Noah Rothman we have the portrait of a young media elite who sleepwalked into the Corona-Panic, becoming Pro-Panic early on but losing enthusiasm for the Panic over time. The most interesting thing is that he declined to ever fully join the Anti-Panic side. He could have made a difference when it mattered, but he stayed mostly neutral. Many of the positions he took at different decisive moments appear to have been politically calculated.
Looking at his place in U.S. politics since about the mid-2010s when he began to emerge as a young figure in the “neo-Neoconservative” world and within elite Jewish power-politics (his employer, Commentary magazine, is a self-affirming Jewish and neoconservative political magazine), his noncommittal positions during the Panic give us some insights into the role of power during the Corona-Panic. It was a big and puzzling question, why did people not defect from the Panic-supporting coalition? There are all kinds of reasons, but power-politics is one not to be fully neglected.
This essay therefore evolved into a kind of companion to the Daniel Uhlfelder one (“On Daniel Uhlfelder, Corona-activist and Panic-pusher; an exploration into ‘why’ some embraced the Panic,” Hail To You, Oct. 2021). Daniel Uhlfelder was the portrait of a Pro-Panic partisan; Noah Rothman took a neutral line and is mostly the portrait of a “Corona-Neutralist.”
The Panic could not have succeeded without elite backing, both active and passive (i.e., non-opposition; in the face of radical-revolution, that is a form of support). Understanding elite Pro-Panic positioning and elite Neutralist positioning can both help us understand how the Panic could have succeeded, and I think helps us understand the way U.S. politics works overall.
But not to get ahead of myself, I first evaluate some of Noah Rothman’s points in his recent “Covid Reckoning” article, then get on the “power politics” part of the Panic, how he fits in there, and what he symbolizes.
Is the ‘pandemic’ over? Is the Corona-Panic as social phenomenon over?
Noah Rothman writes in “the Covid Reckoning is coming”:
“So, is the pandemic over? Strictly speaking, no. Not according to Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid czar. “We are at a point in the pandemic where most COVID-19 deaths are preventable,” Jha said on July 12.”
Doctor Jha (choose your favorite pronunciation), a name you virtually never see in the U.S. media, got attention here at Hail To You a few weeks ago (“Germany’s Wrongest Man visits Washington” (Hail To You, July 22, 2022). They had tossed Dr. Jha at a hardline, fanatical German Corona-Panicker who had fallen backwards into his country’s Health Minister slot in late 2021 after an election. The fanatic, by name Lauterbach, had been thrust towards his country’s healthy ministership by the Panic’s ongoing power in late 2021; by mid-2022, he looks to more and more people like a dangerous buffoon. Anyway, Dr. Jha. The international Covid-strategizing went on. I believe the German health minister was in Washington tacitly seeking permission to re-escalate. Two weeks later, Germany’s Wrongest Man introduced sweeping plans to re-impose a variant of the Corona-Panic regime on his subjects, starting September 30, 2022. Apparently this got the thumbs-up from “Covid Czar” Ashish Jha.
How committed to the Panic is Dr. Ashish Jha, “Covid Czar”? Jha now says (as quoted by Noah Rothman):
“We need to get to a point where we have vaccines that are truly variant-resistant”
That would be by some time about 2025, the Covid Czar informs us, if we play it well. Yes, he is committed to the Panic.
Peak Stupidity recently wrote: “the Kung Flu PanicFest seems mostly over.” The problem is, the Panic operated with a “ratchet effect.” It tended to be “two steps forward, one step back.” The “two steps forward” means the initiatives taken by the loyal-believing Corona-Panickers and their opportunist allies. The “one step back” means all forms of pushback by less-organized, less-powerful elements within the emergent Anti-Panic coalition, always seeming to be on the defensive and under heavy pressure from the Regime, and able to get partial concessions. After the general offensive by Pro-Panic forces stopped and they no longer pressed the fight, and we regained some lost ground, there is a psychological tendency to be happy and call it a victory. (And that is also the major theme of Noah Rothman’s article on the Covid Reckoning.)
Think of our friend “Mister Twenty-Nineteen” who has just woken up from a coma into which he fell on New Year’s Eve 2019. As Mr. 2019 begins looking around this world of the 2020s, there are still signs of the Panic’s residual power and the social revolution the Corona-Panic imposed on us, as if by force. If you who lived through the unfortunate years of 2020 and 2021, you have gotten used to, or desensitized to, a lot.
While the secondary effects are obvious, there are still first-order effects, more in some places than others. The normalization of masks is one, even if not “mandated” everywhere anymore, scattered reports of potential or actual revived mandates are now regular features of local news in some areas. Publicly wearing masks out of fear of flu viruses is something unprecedented in the West, and to Mr. 2019 it seems to be psychologically quite a bad sign, like a psychic break had occurred, something vaguely out of sci-fi. Our friend and his merry band of other 2019ers would instinctively regard “masking” as a sign of mental pathology.
And the injections, which Noah Rothman highlights without taking a position on himself, by quoting Dr. Jha. Mr. 2019 remembers well enough the “flu shots” each fall but generally didn’t bother getting one and never thought much about it. The new obsession with universally pushing a dubious flu-virus vaccine strikes him as strange, vaguely disturbing, another sign something dark may have happened (as it did, the Corona-Panic got loose and had its way, much damage done).
Mr. 2019 is on the job market and finds mostly he won’t be able to meet co-workers or bosses, or form organic connections with his industry, or do any of the usual things associated with a man on the rise, because companies are still doing “work from home.”
Then Mr. 2019 learns he cannot enter Canada and other places without proof of injections by the rushed-to-market substance marketed as a vaccine, because there is now a permanent virus emergency.
Noah Rothman only hints that something has become sick at the core of it all, a crazed vaccine-obsession part still quietly in place and holding the high ground of power. That the U.S. “Covid Czar” Dr. Jhasish Jha declared a five-year plan to develop a master vaccine symbolizes how deep and burrowed-in the Panic regime in place, even if it doesn’t show its full power for now. Dedicated to continuing to push injections helpfully marketed by media consensus as vaccines.
Having only hinted at the ethically problematic and unnecessary vaccine-obsession, Rothman doesn’t follow this where it goes, giving his August 2022 Commentary article on the “Covid Reckoning” a very different feel than Matthew Peterson’s remarks on the same subject in June 2022. I wonder if Noah Rothman’s choice of the word “reckoning” could have been influenced by Matt Peterson’s use of the word a few weeks earlier. At the leas, both men were thinking similar thoughts. The Claremont Institute, of which Matthew Peterson is a part, has some overlap with Commentary. At some point, both were parts of the Neoconservative movement, though the younger men at Claremont today are more a species of populist-nationalists (but not ethnonationalists), being committed Trump backers in 2020. Matt Peterson’s “Reckoning” was darker, hinting at civil unrest, or even something like a disorganized insurgency with acts of violence committed by people whose loved ones or children apparently died from vaccine side-effects. Really the weight of the many accumulated evils of the Corona-Panic era since early 2020 could do it. Rothman’s “Reckoning,” meanwhile, seems more like a giant financial audit.
The wasted money is why the “pandemic will linger”
Noah Rothman writes:
“[W]hat happened to the trillions of dollars of ‘strategic investments’ the country made to contend with the pandemic already[?] That—not the virus—is why the pandemic will linger. What we did to get through this crisis will haunt us. We won’t be rid of the pandemic’s specter until there has been a full accounting of the many mistakes we made in its midst.”
They spent tens of thousands of dollars per U.S. taxpayer, in addition to the already-heavy-laden budgets. But Noah Rothman may not fully appreciate that it was all part of the spirit of the age. The revolutionary feeling of the moment. I once called it “the Corona Coup d’Etat.” The question: “Why isn’t anyone stopping this?” we asked in spring and summer 2020. The answer was thrust as a dagger by the Panic-enforcers. “You don’t want people to DIE, do you?”
The flu virus panic of 2020-2022 covered and justified everything in moral-ideological terms. It is a failure of imagination to think that spending all those trillions was just some error in judgement or temporary excess. Rothman chooses to frame it that way, or you could be forgiven for thinking he does. It is probably also a failure of imagination to think that the shattering of the social and economic well-beings, and the trashing of centuries of tradition to embrace a mixed model of oriental despotism and medieval religion, were the products of innocent mistakes. The failure of imagination is that the “innocent mistakes” model doesn’t take us through two years and defeat after defeat after defeat on the data by the Pro-Panic side. Something larger than “a series of decisions in which sometimes you exuberantly make mistakes and other times you get things right” was going on.
I am reminded of the moral-ideological set of beliefs around the Holocaust and the moral-political imperative related to it. The Holocaust has been used for decades to justify anything and everything in U.S. foreign policy, and much in all other fields, including social policy, cultural trends, all forms of domestic politics. Such things were well covered, and often cheered for, in the annals of the neoconservative Commentary magazine over the years.
As for foreign policy: If we don’t sanction, blockade, isolate, bully, harass, intimidate, isolate, missile-strike, drone-strike, bomb, impose no-fly-zones over, or invade and occupy this certain place now now now, then there’ll be another Holocaust for sure. There’s this one leader in this distant place, and trust us he’s just like Hitler. We have no choice. We have to topple the new Hitler, it’s the most important thing in the world right now.
On immigration policy: If we allow domestic immigration-restrictionists to gain ground, they’ll start building concentration camps. The list can go on. It applies to almost anything.
“Corona”/”Covid” quickly became a new, powerful, vigorous, visceral, all-justifying moral-ideological prime directive. A few trillion dollars is nothing in the face of this kind of imperative, given also the even-starker religious overtones of the Corona-ism than even that of the Holocaust.
It was ideological-political control, and mere money is a laughable concern. That is where sciencey interest over a flu virus ended and the Corona-Religion was born, which re-shaped all that was possible and framed everything. The transition happened earlier than most of us realized, but that’s another story. Those interested in ideological control and politics must have been intrigued by the Panic’s power. Asking pesky questions about money was simply not an option in the face of this.
Noah Rothman asks:
“[W]here did all the money go? If Republicans retake the House next year, they should dedicate themselves to a full accounting of where this money went.”
That does sound like Republicans. The mighty Corona-Panic, reduced to an accounting problem, reduced to something about excessive government spending, to a case of “squandering” of “taxpayer-funded largess,” as Rothman puts it later in the article. It was waste and often went in support of trendily left-wing causes like: “…’tree equity work,’ environmental justice ‘boot camps,’ ‘safe smoking kits,’ and syringes for using illicit narcotics…,” all causes which supposedly were propped up by some of the ‘Covid’ trillions.
Noah Rothman seems to be trying to do a “Paul Ryan, early 2010s” bit, finger-wagging over non-balanced budgets, but adding an early-2020s tie-in to a “Wokeness” agenda which hijacked some of the money and is morally implicated. He still seems unwilling to attack the Panic with the directness or vigor that is called for. Here is the problem: The Panic was a major social phenomenon. The mega-spending was effect, not cause. The mega-spending cannot be evaluated or understood outside the context of the Panic as moral-ideological-social-political-cultural and even religious super-force. This is the kind of re-evaluation needed, and despite all the many setbacks the Panic and its dwindling band of most extreme, 2020-level supporters in most places and the slackening of their control and influence, we’ve never gotten it.
Noah Rothman makes long-overdue call for “a comprehensive retrospective on the pandemic,” a phrasing which I think betrays the tepidness of his willingness to oppose the Panic by his unironic use of the framing term “pandemic.” The medical aspect was a minor part of the whole. And this from the safe distance of mid-2022 in which he ostensibly wants to fire a salvo at the Panic. He is only willing to pose open-ended questions about the Corona-Panic, all of which Anti-Panic people were asking in 2020 and the posing of which (by Rothman) would have been more useful in 2020 or at least 2021.
At some point, the fog will fully clear up, and a plausible total calculation of “lockdown-induced first order deaths,” “lockdown-induced second order early deaths,” and “likely vaccine-induced deaths” will be able to be made for the period of, say, January 1, 2020, to December 31, 2022. Quite good estimates are already out there but mostly from independent scholars like Robert Pezer of Switzerland. Major second- and third-order effects of the Panic have continued, and unfortunately will continue at least a while longer. There are many effects hard to quantity or quantifiable but still important. The questions that need asking are bolder than Noah Rothman is willing to give us.
Noah Rothman’s non-opposition or tepid opposition to the Corona-Panic in 2020
As I’ve suggested, some of the Covid-commentary from Noah Rothman in 2020 and 2021 suggests that he was basically a believe in the main tenets of the Panic, and that, while willing to be critical, he thought about ‘Covid’ policy as if it were a marginal tax rate debate and not the kind of struggle it was. He had a set of political goals and a political worldview and a position within opinion-shaping and discourse-framing elite political world (see below, “Noah Rothman’s role in U.S. politics”). He sought to avoid becoming too much of a partisan for or against the Panic, which meant that he seldom engaged with the numbers or other information which journalists or thinkers traditionally are interested in.
After initially embracing the Panic, by late summer 2020 and thereafter, Noah Rothman sometimes gave heavy winks and strong nods towards Corona-skeptic positions or even hinted that the full-on Anti-Panic coalition was on the right side of the battle, but he’d say things like Anti-Panic individuals he knew were “down the rabbit hole” (Oct. 2020) even when seeming to agree with them, that there was something undignified or suspect about engaging with ideas against the Corona-Panic.
Noah Rothman never truly embraced the cause with the proper vigor or moral commitment necessary amid the censorship and the discourse-distortion involved n a Panic regime, he played politics with it throughout 2020 and 2021, probably sensing the political power involved and not wanting to poke the dragon in the eye.
Never willing to pick up the musket and join the fray as other villagers fought running battles with the Corona-Moloch, Noah Rothman still saw the terrifying tentacled monster with awe-some powers of desctruction. The Corona-Moloch was a monster with powers of mind control over dupes and stooges, and a powerful army from our own ranks of insta-converts to a Corona-Religion, hystericals, and other auxiliaries.
The Corona-Moloch’s eagerness to destroy lives, its demand for child-sacrifice from its followers, and the psychic power it had over so many: all these things were disturbing. To many of those who sat out the fight to varying degrees (the group I have called Corona-Neutrals, occupying the relatively wide middle of the the Pro-Panic-to-Anti-Panic spectrum), these frightful things were not unnoticed. But plenty of them sat at home by the fireside through all the sturm und drang outdoors, as other men desperately sought to fight off the Corona-Moloch monster while the monster. The monster tormented the village, feasted upon the souls of the villagers, smashed up the place, and damaged what had taken the villagers generations to build up and maintain. To those who committed themselves to fight the evil beast even at potential real cost to self, it was puzzling and disheartening to see many among our own worshipping the Corona-Moloch (the most-committed Panickers and converted Corona-Religionists). In a larger contingent of “better play it safe” people is where Noah Rothman seems to fit in. Skies are now clear enough that Noah Rothman sees fit to make himself be seen patrolling the village perimeter with musket in hand, after all.
I also note the irony: This prediction by Rothman of a “Covid Reckoning” was published in Commentary, coincidentally enough, one day after the CDC officially declared social distancing and quarantines no longer necessary…
By the time the Panic was in visible retreat as a major social force in the USA in March 2022, Noah Rothman was willing to come out and identify some of the psychological factors behind the Panic (“The Last Gasp of Covid Fanaticism,” Commentary, March 10, 2022), many being Anti-Panic talking points. He offered no apologies. Had he just suddenly gotten such ideas in early 2022? It can’t be. His long period of Corona-Neutrality put him in excellent company.
The large pool of the broad elite which was neither Pro- nor Anti-Panic, the Covid-Neutrals (or Corona-Neutralists) was a king of coalition of its own. It consisted largely of people who had not lost sight that implied, rolling cost-benefit calculations and risk-benefit calculations are still in effect (whether we want them to or not) but who were too cautious, circumspect, or intimidated; people swayed by the awe-some power of intense, saturation-level Corona-Panic-propaganda; people too closely tied to Power to take up the Anti-Panic banner and enter the fight when it counted, specifically because Power seemed to favor the Pro-Panic position.
It can be tempting to paint some set of identifiable hardocre Panickers (e.g., the odious and criminal-level Panic-pusher “Dr.” Eric Feigl-Ding) as the chief cause of the Panic’s success. The idea that the Panic’s success–its ability to successfully storm the ramparts of our civilization, send the defenders into flight, and fortify the ramparts on their own, daring the dispossessed to try to counter-attack–came from the efforts troupe of mystically skilled propagandist-evangelists, these being as generals in the war of Panic vs. Anti-Panic. It is tempting to believe such because it is “that which is seen,” and ignores “that which is unseen,” to quote the classical economist Bastiat. “That which is unseen” is the Neutrals, and they had a role, they were a factor. Was it those Neutrals with power, prestige, and influence that really allowed the Panic “dig in,” more even than the active, evangelistic, and aggressive Panickers, Panic-backers, and the many opportunists and hangers-on? If so, what prevented the “Corona-Neutralists” from coming out against the Panic?
I reviewed a few of Rothman’s columns and tweets in 2020 to see where he came down on the Pro-Panic vs. Anti-Panic spectrum. On March 31, 2020, he criticized Ron DeSantis for sluggishness on locking down Floida, saying:
“The longer [Governor DeSantis] waits, the worse and more protracted this unavoidable lockdown will be.”
These are the words of a believer in the tenets of the Panic at the time. He continued to hold this king of view for months.
In mid-April 2020, with early signs that an actual Anti-Panic coalition was coalescing, Rothman effectively declared himself a reasonable Centrist, between those extremists out there who oppose lockdowns on some kind of twisted moral principle and, on the other side, those people a little too zealous in wanting to save lives (“The avatars of the Lockdown and their critics,” Commentary, April 16, 2020). In that column, he again denounces DeSantis and other “holdout governors” for allowing so many to die so unnecessarily by these holdout governors’ reckless sluggishness in locking down:
“[Governor DeSantis] resisted calls to make federal social-distancing guidelines mandatory, leaving the matter to local municipalities for several crucial weeks. The results have been tragic. DeSantis’s government has been rocked by public feuding over the efficacy of wearing masks in public, and it has offended not just effete sensibilities but good sense by declaring the WWE an ‘essential’ business.”
Later in that column Rothman gets to his calculated-reasonable-centrism:
“What is the proper balance between the preservation of life and the freedom to ensure that it’s a life worth living? Only the most callous or radicalized social critic (and there are radicals on both sides of the matter) would sacrifice one consideration for the other…”
The problem is, he believed that opposing the mandates and “counter-measures,” masks, and lockdowns and all of it “saved lives” on net, so his reasonable centrism was faulty. He just assumed it and took what they were saying as an article of faith. There were reports that outraged citizens in Florida were parading around in grim-reaper costumes to protest the “DeathSantis” policies (with one eye, from behind the black mask, on a political career).
Noah Rothman’s wrongness on much of this, like saying Florida is obviously a disaster with mass deaths due to immoral sluggishness on lockdowns, is good example of even smart people with (in principle) access to vast quantities of information getting things so wrong, in some cases even wronger than someone with much less information, calling into question a lot of assumptions we make, a natural experment for us being much stupider than we’re supposed to be given levels of technology and education.
It remained the basic position Rothman to cede the high ground to the powerful forces of the Panic and their arguments and framing, mostly uncritically, seeking to play the part of “reasonable centrist.”
The Panic had shifted expectations so much that Noah Rothman’s Corona-centrism of the moment implied support for, or non-opposition to, a range of what “Mr. 2019” would rightly see as extreme positions. His denunciations of Florida and South Dakota for failing to impose hard “lockdowns,” swiftly and brutally, over what we came to understand already in spring 2020 to be a moderately severe seasonal flu virus, is an objectively extreme position.
Another swing and miss came after the riots of mid-2020. Rothman declared the racial-political mass-protests and rots of the last days of May 2020 and into June 2020, violations en masse of core principles of the Corona-Panic, were the end of the Corona-Panic and all its disruptions. This was the boldest he had ever been up to that time in leaning towards an Anti-Panic position. On his prediction that the riots marked the end of the Panic, he was wrong. The Corona-Panic as social-political force had a lot of steam still left in its engine as of mid-2020. The casual declaration of the Panic’s end when it had more than 18 months left in it, reveals Noah Rothman did not understand the Panic for what it was yet. We can’t blame him, because a lot of us misunderstood it. No one expected it; there was a frog-slowly-boiling effect.
By the end of August 2020, after the riots had mostly ended (even if the maoist-Red Guard-like activities were still ongoing, partly being a “revolution from above”), Noah Rothman’s new line was that there were now two groups of people too scared for their own good and whose scaredness was bad for our collective good. The first group of scared people Noah Rothman identified was right-wingers scared of Black Lives Matter riots. The other, larger group was those scared of “Covid.” (“Too Scared and Not Scared Enough,” Commentary, Aug. 26, 2020). The reasonable position–Noah Rothman’s own, of course–was between both positions, rejecting fear. There was moral equivalence; the two “sides “fear” groups had approximately the same power in his formulation.
The framing which Noah Rothman came to embrace on ‘Covid’ fit with the modus operandi he had developed for himself in the late 2010s as an emerging public personality. The idea is: there are real dangers from both Left and Right and taking the high ground against both is the right thing to do. If you see any signs of White-populism, oppose it; if you see excessive cultural-Leftism, oppose it. That is one approach on how you manage an imperial multi-ethnic democracy, and that is what Noah Rothman understands his role to be.
Who is Noah Rothman?
Noah Rothman was born in 1981 in New Jersey. Jewish. (Irish-Catholic mother, Jewish father; but, ethnopolitically speaking in the U.S. context, and by personal identity, he is Jewish.) He had important lower-level roles in New York-based media beginning in his early twenties. He holds two degrees from elite universities. Married to Jaryn Arnold.
Noah Rothman has bragged on social media that his wife is “Puerto Rican” and “Latino,” by which he means having ties to Latin America.
His wife is said to have family origins in Ponce, Puerto Rico, but grew up in Queens, New York. Indications are she may have Jewish ancestry of her own.
In the early 2010s, after ten years in and out of media and academia, Noah Rothman began to rise into the role of power player in elite media, and thus as a member of the broad elite. Even if you hadn’t heard his name, he was out there and had influence over discourse, and was in a kind of media-elite apprenticeship or probationary period. Editor, Mediaite, 2012-2014; Associate Editor, Hot Air, 2014-2015.
Then, in May 2015, Commentary hired Noah Rothman to be an Associate Editor. Seven years later, he still holds his editorship role at Commentary.
Commentary is a Jewish magazine which proudly calls itself the “flagship of Neoconservatism.” Note well that Commentary is a “Jewish magazine” in that it was founded and funded by the American Jewish Committee and still today declares itself a Jewish publication today. In its mission statement, Commentary declares itself to be “engaged with…the future of the Jews, Judaism, and Jewish culture in Israel, the United States, and around the world.” That is one of its four mission-goals. The other three are: Democracy promotion “in a world threatened by totalitarian ideologies”; “American and Western security”; and “the preservation of high culture in an age of political correctness and the collapse of critical standards.”
Secure in his role by the late 2010s, Noah Rothman wrote a book: Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of America ). Naturally he got wide publicity for it. Here is interviewed about the book in February 2019 in the WMAL studio, the main AM talk-radio station in Washington, D.C.:
The Unjust book was written for a “pop” audience and got a slick marketing arrangement with the major New York publisher Simon & Schuster. The book itself was criticized for being too shallow. (Such political books seem to have degraded with time, as if intentionally.) It’s not clear it had any original insights, being more like a quickly written propaganda to feed into the publishing machine and get publicity.
One reviewer said this about Noah Rothman’s 2019 book:
“[C]hapter 1 and, to a lesser extent, chapter 2, contained too many assertions and not enough arguments and explanations. The author made no attempt to explain SJW thought or point of view; instead he too often cited a example of SJW silliness, quote some silly SJW activist, and then ended it all with unnecessary snark. He also used the standard political hack ploy by quoting something silly said by one SJW person and then attributing the quote to all SJW folks.
Chapter 2 got a little better, as the author delved into some SJW intellectual history, but he never showed how, if at all, current SJW thought is in any way tied to or influenced by that history. The historical example cited, such as radical Republicans during Reconstruction and New Deal housing policy, struck me as odd.”
Another reviewer said this of Noah Rothman’s 2019 book, Unjust:
“[T]he book ended up being was a long catalogue of such instances of injustice perpetrated by the Social Justice Movement. Helpful in illustrating what Rothman is talking about, but lacking in any cohesive vision for an alternative. In the end, I was left with the impression that this book was designed to produce outrage at social justice overreach more than constructive alternatives.”
During the Corona-Panic, Rothman got to work on another, The Rise of the New Puritans: Fighting Back Against Progressives’ War on Fun [July 2022]. In this second book, he takes up the cause of blaming the USA’s serious troubles on a centuries-long White-Protestant conspiracy against civilization. (He also seems to to trivialize the USA’s serious troubles by framing it as some “war on fun.”)
The arguments in Rise of the New Puritans are similar to the grand theory of history put out in the late 2000s by another co-religionist, Mencius Moldbug, with a fair amount of influence in the 2010s and even into the 2020s, though Moldbug has mostly stopped writing (his blog is defunct). It has always seemed to me an exercise in self-serving and intellectualized victim-blaming. But this view gets a sympathetic hearing in elite media today.
Noah Rothman’s role in U.S. politics
From his position at Commentary, by the late 2010s Noah Rothman had emerged as a (supposedly) principled, right-wing Trump critic. He was praised by some of the more histrionic Never-Trumpers, such as the extreme anti-Trump bigot Jonah Goldberg (of National Review and the American Enterprise Institute), the man who raised his fist during suit-and-tie panel discussions declaring eternal resistance to Trump.
Noah Rothman’s own reasons for opposition to Trump were those of the Neoconservatives and the New York cultural set, not those of Ann Coulter and VDare.
To be specific, Noah Rothman’s association with Commentary magazine lends us a different light by which to interpret his anti-Trump views. The supposedly conservative-something-something Commentary magazine, under editor John Podhoretz, fully endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, and even more aggressively Biden in 2020. The Neoconservative magazine spent the post-election weeks gloating about the Trump loss, hailing Biden’s historic vote-totals, and effusively thanking Americans “repudiating” four years of near-fascism (“The Repudiation,” by John Podhoretz, Commentary, Nov. 5, 2020). They had been for George W Bush twice, 2000 and 2004); in 2008, for McCain–a leading gentile neoconservative of the day; and for Romney in 2012. (The magazine apparently was for McCain in the 2000 primaries, not for G. W. Bush.) This is Noah Rothman’s world.
In late 2018, MSNBC hired Rothman as a talking-head, to bring on when needed. Let there be no doubt that they were attracted to the “principled conservative Trump critic” persona that he was beginning to cultivate, with the great helping hand of the media-elite network in which he was embedded. They knew well that he would “play ball,” given his pedigree and his Neoconservative bona fides.
When he contemplate the role of this man during the Corona-Panic, and now in the immediate post-Panic period, it is easier to understand why he chose Neutrality (never open or hardline opposition to the Panic) given his role as a rising media elite. What would have happened to him if he came out as a “Covid Denier” at any point?
In spring 2018, Noah Rothman began a series of attacks on Tucker Carlson, in one case calling Tucker Carlson disloyal and unpatriotic for opposing the bullying and bombing of Syria at the time (arranged by the Trump foreign-policy guru Jared Kushner). Rothman denounced Carlson as a Syrian propagandist, stressed the need for a vigorous interventionist foreign policy to oppose the various eternal and implacable enemies of America like Syria, and suggested anti-interventionists were either deluded dupes or acting on orders from the Kremlin in some cases.
Yes, Noah Rothman made sure to insinuate that Tucker Carlson was both a Syrian asset and a Russian asset.
A viewer commenting on the exchange in real-time wrote that Rothman came off as an “effeminate know-it-all.” The first fifteen minutes of that night’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, including the Noah Rothman segment and a counter-segment with the right-wing British politician and Trump super-fan (but opponent of the Syria-bullying at the time) Nigel Farage, is on Youtube as of this writing.
Another figure to turn his attention to Noah Rothman in 2018 (seemingly Rothman’s breakout year) was Steve Sailer. Rothman published a denunciation of White-Christian populism (or “populist-nationalism”) and strategized on how best the forces of capitalist-liberal-democracy could crush an White-Christian populists.
The column in question was: “An unpopular approach to the populism problem: A modest proposal” (by Noah Rothman, Commentary, March 2018). Steve Sailer summarized the disturbing battle-cry by playing off an old political slogan (Saile) had coined in the 2000s, slimming down Rothman’s proposals to: “Invade the World, Invite the World, Defeat the Americans.”
Rothman, in that March 2018 strategizing column on how to defeat populist-nationalists, had said this:
“Humility and passivity do not well serve those who truly believe the liberal capitalist order hammered out after the Second World War is of the greatest benefit to the greatest number. Concessions to illiberal populists or chauvinistic nationalists should not be the product of charity or self-doubt. They should be hard-won, and only after a bitterly contested ordeal. These kinds of martial metaphors will yield bouts of feigned indignation from populist nationalists who freely and recklessly resort to such language themselves, but this, too, amounts to mere theatrics. If capitalist democrats believe their model is the means by which the greatest number will benefit, and contend that their opponents are dangerously wrong, they need to start acting like it.”
When Steve Sailer accused Noah Rothman of possibly signaling that he wants mass round-ups of people who were to be put on a blacklist of suspected “populists,” Rothman responded with this:
“[T]he nationalist populist program, where it conflicts with classical liberalism, must be aggressively defined, confronted, and discredited.”
“Confronted” is still nice and ambiguous, but it’s at least a softer wording.
Populism seemed worryingly strong in 2018 to elite-media types and neoconservatives like Noah Rothman. His anti-populism strategy-talk was a staple at the time of elite commentary and often filtered down to lower tiers. The somewhat similar figure a generation older, Jonah Goldberg, published a book that same year (2018) on the same theme, the dangers of White-Christian populism and how to strangle the life out of this dangerous threat (Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying American Democracy, by Jonah Goldberg, 2018).
I think we have more than enough here for a revealing portrait of this man, Noah Rothman. Having been close to power for quite a long time, and never really separate from it, and a job resume that makes one suspect a nepotistic helping hand at work, the man has embraced his roles as a media-elite and as a “neo-Neoconservative” torch-bearer. I don’t think he took any time off to join the IDF (but it wouldn’t surprise me overly much), and otherwise he has been with media people, ideological people, political people, and Neoconservatives in New York for a long time.
Oh—by the way. Another revealing snippet. In September 2020, Noah Rothman was among those in the elite media “seeding the ground” with concerns that Trump would recklessly refuse to concede the election when he lost (it was more ‘when’ than ‘if,’ in tone)
Quote from “The Chaos Agent,” Commentary, by Noah Rothman, Sept. 24, 2020:
“It will be a shock to the system if the president refuses to concede, but it won’t come as a surprise. Trump has not been particularly coy about his intentions. Moreover, by laying the groundwork to contest the legitimacy of the election as he has, he’s revealed that his objections will be a contrivance.”
At the time of this writing (August 19, 2022), Noah Rothman was a guest on the Bill Maher (quasi-)political talkshow. He has been a guest on that show a number of times, the first in March 2019.
Evaluation of Noah Rothman’s role as elite, probably-power-politics-driven “Corona-Neutralist”
If I may be so bold to tie together some loose threads in forceful manner: Noah Rothman is as an ideological-commissar within the American empire. He tacitly sees himself serving such a role. He was happy in the role, and was doing well with it, when the Corona-Panic descended on us.
The decisions in 2020 by people exactly like Noah Rothman helped the Panic to form, rout its disorganized enemies, hold the high ground against counter-attacks in the critical period, and sustain through multiple ups-and-downs, with the Panic still majorly powerful as of early 2022, two years after the surreal and dark path to this ‘pandemic’-perdition began. As I mention above, I have called people like this “Corona-Neutrals,” between the Pro-Panic and Anti-Panic camps (both being coalitions of interests). Rothman himself being a species thereof which was basically interested in acquiescing to power, in his case not because of intimidation but because of maintaining his own power and prestige. When we ask how the Panic happened, who failed us, what kind of reactions allowed the Panic to win, it’s not just the hysterical people and the committed virus-fanatics who did it. Recall the old cliche which includes the words “…when good men do nothing.”
Another reason Noah Rothman and many others like him declined to publicly embrace the Anti-Panic position (when it mattered) despite all evidence, and all ethical and moral principle, and the increasing evidence of major problems caused by the Panic regime(s): A blending of 2010s-politics and early-2020s Corona-politics. Recalling that Noah Rothman’s (and others in his orbit’s) big interest is policing discourse to help stave off the White-Christian populist threat (and make North America a safe space for Neoconservatives, immigrants, LGBTQs, and making sure the USA remains Israel-friendly), we know that at some point during the Panic, the good-people, the broad elite, and righteous-gentiles who support the political imperative of Rejecting Fascism became identified the loyalist Pro-Panic camp. Excessive concern over a flu virus, including “lockdowns” and draconian mandates out of some b-movie, these became political-tribal identifiers. Strange days, but it happened. Things ended up, after a few months of confusion, aligning somewhat well (but never precisely) to the old cultural-political lines in which commissar Rothman felt more comfortable.
The calculated Corona-Neutralist type was not one who become an aggressive cheerleader for the Panic (and Noah Rothman never was that). Nor was he even an “anti-Anti-Panicker” as such, one who sought to bash or vilify the skeptics, dissidents, anti-lockdowners, non-maskers, anti-maskers, vaccine-decliners, in-person schooling advocates, social-distancing-scorners, and other miscellaneous non-compliers. He was often a moderate, a limited critic of such people, but just as often he hinted that he himself opposed the Panic. He was playing both sides but never in a committed way.
Even when he understood just how wrong, destructive, and crazy the Corona-Panic was (clear from some reading-between-the-lines from his later writings), Noah Rothman carefully positioned himself as a Neutral. He played politics on the Panic. Why? In no small part because he was looking to conserve his own privileged position in elite media, and because playing politics is one thing he knows well.
In my entry “Against the Corona-Panic: Say ‘No’ to jockeying for political advantage on the coattails of Corona-Hysteria” (April 2020), I warned against playing politics with the Panic. Quite many were trying to use the Panic for their own ends, but as I see it these people generally failed to understand what they were dealing with, and with perfect information would have either been committed and evangelistic Anti-Panickers or self-consciously demagogic opportunists. (A lot of people became the latter anyway, feeling their way in the dark.)
To return to Noah Rothman’s August 2022 lament over the trillions of dollars the Panic burned through: clearly he is no longer worried about the kinds of concerns I mention, which I believe led to his (and many others’) public neutrality in 2020 and 2021 when they ought to have known better.
Does Noah Rothman regret his failure to attack the Panic more openly and forcefully from the start? Does he feel like a fair-weather patriot for coming out now and attacking it, now that it’s a weak shadow of its former self? I think not. No, maybe he does think such things, but then a higher level of his mind vetoes those thoughts.
The Corona-Panic had certain political dimensions all along (sometimes more jumbled than others), and many adjusted, by instinct remaining on the side of Power (and later against what looked a lot like the dangerous “populists,” now often being maskless, unvaxxed, Covid-Denier populists). He survived, unscathed, still close to Power–which makes it all worth it.