In politics, language is central—the words we use, what they mean, and what we want them to mean. As our guest today, The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles explains how the left is a master of language manipulation. Liberals often win political victories by redefining words and rewiring our brains.
“The lie of the left that they’re pushing is that the truth is somehow cruel and harmful and that delusion will make us happy and free,” says Knowles. “That has never been true anywhere in history. “
Read a lightly edited transcript of the interview, posted below, or listen on the podcast:
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Rachel del Guidice: We are joined today on The Daily Signal Podcast by Michael Knowles. He is the host of “The Michael Knowles Show” at The Daily Wire. He’s also the No. 1 bestselling author of the book “Reasons to Vote for Democrats: A Comprehensive Guide,” which, incidentally, President Donald Trump called “A great book for your reading enjoyment.” Michael, thank you so much for being with us today.
Michael Knowles: Thank you for having me. Thank you for promoting that sort of scholarship and my magnum opus.
del Guidice: So before we get started, I’m just curious, what inspired you to write the book? It has actually a very low word count, for those who have read, so I don’t want to spoil it for people necessarily, but what was the inspiration behind it?
Knowles: Well, I wrote the book in about 15 seconds, but I researched the book for about 27 years, so I had … been sort of observing politics for that long. There’s an extensive bibliography at the back of the book and I was able to write the definitive apology for the Democratic Party, and I was able to list every single reason that there is to vote for Democrats. “Reasons to Vote for Democrats” is available now on Amazon, wherever fine blank books are sold.
del Guidice: Oh, y’all have to check it out. It’s a treat. So just pointing that out for ya’ll. So were you always a conservative? Tell us about your journey to working in media, where you are today at The Daily Wire. What was that journey like? Where did you start and how did you end up where you’re at?
Knowles: I pretty much came out of the womb smoking cigars and talking about Edmund Burke more or less. I was always sort of conservative in my first-grade classroom. I campaigned for Bob Dole. I was the only person in the country, as far as I can tell, who was excited about Bob Dole for president, including Bob Dole.
I insisted that my mother, who wanted to vote for [Bill] Clinton, … vote for Dole because all I knew about them was that Dole was a good war hero and Clinton was a draft dodger and an all-around derelict, though, I guess I didn’t know the specifics of it quite yet.
I had a little liberal period. I mean, I played around in a liberal period from, I don’t know, like 13 to 14 or 15. … It wasn’t that long and I was an atheist from age 13 to about age 23. As I got into college, my freshman year roommate convinced me that God exists with the ontological argument for God.
I noticed that everyone at Yale was pretty smart. … Many, many [were] much smarter than me. … They were pretty much atheist, but the very smartest people were Christian or Orthodox Jews. The smartest among them I noticed were kind of trending toward Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy, which seemed to me like the kookiest version of religion, with all the smells and bells.
So I was interested in that and I became more conservative over my time in college. I felt more deeply about politics. It wasn’t just like I read a blog post by Ayn Rand in high school. I started to read Edmund Burke. I started to read Russell Kirk and these kind of great political thinkers of the modern era. [I] started to read on the religious side. C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton really deepened my conviction that God exists.
And then ultimately around 23, I reverted to Christianity, aided in large part by Father George Rutler in New York who happened to be William Buckley Jr.’s priest. So there’s a sort of interesting coincidence in all of that here.
Then I was working as an actor and I was working in politics. That was my debt, basically. When I was doing plays and films in New York and LA, my waiting tables job was that I worked on Republican political campaigns because when you’re a Republican in New York, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. So that was my day job and now I’ve combined the two.
Obviously, I work in political show business or the show business of politics and I work less in mainstream show business because when you write a blank book about how Democrats are no good, you don’t work as much in Hollywood, but it’s been a real treat. I think I’m the only guy in history who got his own show for not writing a book.
del Guidice: Thank you so much for sharing your story. So, as someone who writes and talks about American politics and American society all the time, what would you say is the biggest challenge we’re facing right now in American society? If you were to pinpoint, “Hey, this is a big issue we need to work on,” what would you say that is?
Knowles: The issue is the language. The issue is the way that we speak to one another and the words that we encourage us to use and the words that we’re not using.
This takes many forms. This takes the form of political correctness, which has been a scourge for a very long time. President George H. W. Bush actually mentioned this while he was president. He said that the scourge of PC is really threatening the United States and it’s grown worse over time.
In 2016, [Donald] Trump was elected in large part running against political correctness because political correctness isn’t just some kind of stupid jargon that we all hear.
Julian Castro, at one of the presidential debates, … said he doesn’t support just reproductive freedom, he supports reproductive justice—and not just for women, but for trans women, which he’s just saying words that don’t make sense. He didn’t realize that trans women refers to men who don’t have uteruses, who can’t have abortions.
That’s obviously hilarious. We can all laugh about that, but you know, speech is politics. Politics is speech. When the left shuts down our speech, they are precluding us from politics. When the left equates speech with violence, they are ending our experiment in self-government and they’re replacing the persuasion of our fellow citizens with mere brute force, insisting that we can force our will onto others without even making a reasonable argument for that.
They changed the language insomuch as we’re now no longer allowed to refer to men who now believe that they’re women as “he” or “she.” Well, look, if you refer to them as “she,” then you’re accepting the premise that men can become women. If you refer to him as “he,” you’re rejecting that premise. It’s the same thing that happened with same-sex marriage.
The way the left won the same-sex marriage battle beyond Justice [Anthony] Kennedy writing romantic poetry from the bench, is that the left convinced us that same-sex marriage was about rights. Who has the right to get married? But of course that was never the debate. The debate was always, what is marriage?
Everywhere at all times, throughout all of history, sexual difference has had something to do with the meaning of marriage. It’s been at the center of it. Marriage is the union between husbands and wives. Now they’ve redefined that and said that marriage is any monogamous union regardless of sexual difference.
But I’ve got good buddies. That’s a monogamous union. Are we married? I don’t think so. I’ve got a relationship to my butcher. … Are we married? No. That’s a different kind of relationship.
But they won the battle because they redefined the term before it even took place. Conservatives are letting it happen because we think that it’s a trivial matter. Who cares? Let’s move on to something that matters, like lowering taxes, but you ain’t going to be able to lower taxes anymore if we give away the language, which is the stuff of our consciousness and the material of our politics.
del Guidice: So how can conservatives communicate more winsomely? You mentioned how Democrats on the left are so good at communicating well, or at least changing the course of a debate. How can conservatives be better and communicate more when winsomely?
Knowles: Well, that’s a wonderful word to use. Winsome. … And another “W” word that I would use is whimsy. I think you should be a little whimsical about it. I don’t think you need to be scolding or moralizing or boring.
I think it’s perfectly fine to say, “Look, Caitlyn Jenner is a man. He won the decathlon for goodness sake.” He’s definitely a man and that’s fine. I don’t dislike the guy. I harbor no ill will toward him, but he’s not a woman. Just as you can say, “Look, I have plenty of gay friends, but marriage still involves sexual difference.” Those two things can be true.
I think what the left succeeds at is telling us that we need to use their ridiculous jargon that all of us kind of mock. But they say we have to use that jargon because the jargon is compassionate. If you don’t use the jargon, you’re a mean, old, cruel bigot, and we’re not. We enjoy the truth. The truth is a good thing.
The lie of the left that they’re pushing is that the truth is somehow cruel and harmful and that delusion will make us happy and free. That has never been true anywhere in history.
One way we can help that argument is not by getting all angry and pulling our hair out and having steam come out of our ears.
Obviously, Caitlyn Jenner is not a woman. That’s fine. He can do whatever he likes. But you know, don’t force me to say that two plus two equals five. We’re not yet living in the big brother dystopia of “1984,” though the left seems to be dragging us pretty quickly down that path.
del Guidice: Not yet at least.
So one of my favorite pieces of yours was one that you wrote in June and it was titled “The Problem with Pride.” And in this piece you talk about pride and how those on the left are equating it with sexual tolerance and acceptance and also how pride has become essentially a virtue in our culture. How has this happened?
Knowles: It has become the virtue in our culture. We have a secular liturgical calendar. Some people like to pretend that there’s no established religion in the United States. There certainly is.
I mean, we have whole months. We have Black History Month, which is not really about black history, it’s about a leftist vision of black history. We have Women’s History Month, same thing, not really about women’s history but about a leftist ideological vision of it.
Then we have Pride Month. It used to be a Pride Parade then it was Pride Week. Now it’s [a whole] Pride Month, and that’s not even about homosexuality anymore.
Now homosexuality is celebrated in October. That’s the new month for LGBTQ history. We’re now actually celebrating pride, which is the deadliest of the seven deadly sins.
The place I think this comes from is pretty deep. I actually don’t only mean to make fun of the left for celebrating pride, which is not a great PR move.
I think it comes from viewing politics primarily through a lens of rights. As in, this can go all the way back to our view of natural rights, even to say, “I enter into politics as my own individual floating in free space and I am entitled to certain rights. Give me, give me, give me. Protect me, protect me, protect me.”
And that’s just not the most effective way to look at politics. It won’t make you happy. Obviously, rates of happiness, insomuch as they can be measured, have declined precipitously in recent decades as these ideologies have taken off. The proper way to look at politics is not primarily through a lens of rights, but through a lens and duty of obligation.
Edmund Burke talks about this a lot. We come into this world not as free floating atoms in the sky with no bonds to anybody. We come in as the babies of our parents and we’re in that family and then we have a local community and then we’ve got voluntary associations and then we’ve got our state. Then we’ve got our church, then we’ve got our federal government. We have our national identity. We have all of these bonds of loyalty, one to another.
JFK put it well, which is a rare thing for him, but he put it well. He said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, [ask] what you can do for your country.”
I think that if we approached politics in that way, we’d have a much better society if we approached it not from an angle of pride and celebrating pride as though it were the greatest virtue, but from an angle of humility, fear of the Lord, the beginning of all wisdom—that would be a prerequisite for the other virtues. Then the other prerequisite for the other virtues is courage and, unfortunately, both courage and humility are sorely lacking these days.
del Guidice: Very short supply. It’s very sad to say.
Well, another virtue you talk about in this piece about the problem with pride is selflessness. You wrote, “We have a culture that values the self above all other things.” So in a good culture, you have selflessness—you have people doing acts of charity for each other and you have people sacrificing each other for their children, for future generations. But in our culture, we don’t have selflessness. We never talk about selflessness. …
That’s why I love this piece so much. I’m like, … selfless people are the most amazing people. I think they are the people that have the biggest impact because they’re not doing it for them. They’re basically living their life for others. That’s such an amazing quality.
So how can society be more selfless?
Knowles: You’ve got to let go. You have got to let go of the belief that you own your life, that you’ve somehow invented your life and you can do whatever you want. You have no obligations to your creator.
You’ve got to let go of the idea that you can take it with you, that you can bring your material goods into the hereafter. Many people have tried, as far as I can tell, only one has ever succeeded, and half the country now doesn’t even believe in that guy. You’ve got to lose this fiction, this belief.
We have this belief that by defining our own reality—as the romantic poet Justice Kennedy said in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, he invented the constitutional right to define reality, OK? We believe that by defining our own reality, by pursuing only our interest, by acquiring all of the material goods we can possibly amass and hoarding them to ourselves, that it will make us happy. And I get why.
I understand why people think that would make them happy, but it’s a funny little trick of the world that it doesn’t. It actually makes you miserable. The way that you can feel fully human, that you can feel dignified, that you can feel joy is actually by not talking about yourself. It’s actually by giving away to others, giving to charity. It’s a wonderful thing to do that.
You know, Chesterton said, “The angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.” The other little aphorism here is that a man wrapped up in himself makes a small package indeed. So, you’ve got to always recognize that temptation for what it is. It’s a temptation [where] you’ll have the illusion of joy and happiness in front of you, but inexorably will lead you to misery.
del Guidice: “A man wrapped up in himself makes a small package.” That’s my new favorite quote.
Knowles: How great is that quote?
del Guidice: That’s incredible.
Knowles: I’d like to take credit for it, but I can’t, I’ll give that credit away to someone else, selflessly.
del Guidice: So working in media, it’s no secret to those of us who do [that] it can be exhausting and even discouraging, depending on the day. So given that, how do you stay encouraged? How do you stay grounded?
Knowles: How do you mean? Because, obviously, you get a lot of mean tweets and threats.
del Guidice: Exactly. Well, Twitter is kind of like a wasteland, honestly.
Knowles: It is just a cesspool, hellscape. There’s no question.
del Guidice: So how do you rise above that and also just remember what you’re fighting for … ?
Knowles: Well, I’ll actually say something nice about the hellscape of Twitter, which is increasingly difficult, which is that it really does keep you grounded.
I mean, I don’t mute people and I don’t block people. I’ve never blocked any person on Twitter. I get all sort of media matters, bots and all of these far-left accounts that, you know, were just opened up and have zero followers and they’re obviously being astroturfed by a political organization. They will say horrific things. I mean, things that should make people with a conscience feel deep, deep shame.
But I think it’s actually good that I see those because the internet is very honest and you really want to stay grounded. If you’re in the media, if you go on camera, if you give speeches, it’s very easy to get a swell head. So, actually getting criticism, having people insult you, is one good way of grounding yourself a little bit.
And then, ultimately, what you have to do is recognize that your life is not ultimately your own. Any sort of puffing up of yourself you’re going to do is going to end in disaster because no one here gets out alive. We’re all headed to the same place. That is a pretty grounding lesson to learn.
I think I have it a little easier in this regard because I got my show by not writing a book. Any professional blessing I got in this perfect embodiment of the unearned grace of God, which is a blank book. So that to me is illustrative of this greater example, which is that everything we have is a blessing, our very life is a blessing. We didn’t do it ultimately ourselves, so we should be grateful for that. We should even be grateful for suffering, which offers an opportunity to grow spiritually.
del Guidice: Thank you so much for sharing that.
So, as we start a new year, it’s no secret that we’re going to continue to see attacks on so many of the values we hold dear. Some of those include traditional marriage. You mentioned how the ball was dropped. A lot of conservatives dropped the ball in the marriage debate. We’re going to see continued attacks on the unborn, religious liberty, the list goes on. We all know it.
If you could say one thing to those who are listening and encourage them to not give up, to stay fighting, what would that be?
Knowles: Oh, we’re winning. People forget, President Trump won in 2016. I know that the media haven’t granted that yet. I know the House is still trying to overturn the election unsuccessfully, but we won and we’re winning on abortion and we’re winning on open borders and we’re winning on this whole crazy gender ideology and we’re just winning.
It might not look that way because the really serious-looking people in suits and ties on television tell us that everything’s going to hell in a hand basket and the American people hate everything that we stand for. But it just isn’t true. It’s not borne out by the facts.
And when the left is really going after you, when they’re calling half the country deplorable and irredeemable and saying the world is going to end in 10 years if we don’t give ourselves over to some sort of socialistic, collectivist, atheist hellscape—the minute that they’re coming after you with that kind of hyperbole, that’s I think the best evidence of all that we’re threatening what they’re trying to do and we’re coming out ahead.
del Guidice: So, final question. We all hear feminists talk about toxic masculinity and I think we all can see, or at least I can see, even as a young journalist working in D.C., the effects of that where men feel like they can’t lead, they feel like they should step aside and just kind of like acquiesce themselves to women. What would you say as a healthy view for men to embrace and to not basically fall prey to that ideology?
Knowles: Well, you should ground it in religion. Like Andrew Breitbart famously said, “Politics is downstream of culture,” and culture, as Russell Kirk pointed out, is downstream of religion. What the culture worships will define that culture. So you don’t want to be in the position of being a reactionary.
When the left uses the issue of race—the left are just total race hustlers, right? They constantly divide people on race and they demonize white people and they do this as a matter of course.
Now, the way to fight that, I guess you could become a reactionary and become some kind of identitarian and accept their premises, or you can fight that by rejecting their premise.
I think the same is true on sex. So the left says, “Woman good, man bad, other than man who dresses like woman,” and then that one’s good again or something. I don’t know. It changes every day. They’ll probably change by the time this podcast comes out.
So you can either become a reactionary and say, “No, women bad, men good, except for the men who do … ” I don’t know, I’m losing my train of thought. You can say the sexes each have dignity.
Eve was taken from Adam’s rib, not from his head and not from his feet. She’s not above him, she’s not below him, but she’s right from the center of his body. Men and women are complimentary, meaning they have aspects that perfect the other one. Men are a little bit more this way, women are a little bit more that way. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus, and that’s a beautiful thing.
If we could push that message and not be tricked into going down the leftist path, which, ultimately, they’re going to win because they’re better at leftism than we are, I think it would help us on the marriage debate. I think it would help us on abortion. I think it would help us on love of our nation and national solidarity. I think it would help us on the question of race.
We’ve got to be very tricky. We are walking a tight rope here and you’ve got the left screaming and you’ve got a monopoly and the mainstream media and you’ve got the whole federal bureaucracy against you. So, it’s a tough battle, but what an honor that we’ve been chosen to live during this time. What an honor that we get to fight this fight. We were put here for a purpose and we ought to do it.
del Guidice: Amen. Michael, thank you so much for joining us on The Daily Signal Podcast.
Knowles: Thank you. Always great to talk to you.