Steven Crowder Is On to Something Big with 'Devil's Advocate'
Many conservatives know Steven Crowder, host of the show "Louder with Crowder" on CRTV and a happy conservative warrior against the left.
As one can imagine from the title of his show, and his Canadian-Texan heritage, Crowder does indeed get loud and has a special talent for triggering liberals. He does this in his segments of "Change My Mind," where he sets up a table and chairs and invites people to change his mind on standard conservative positions that outrage today's liberals, such as "There are only two genders," "Rape culture is a myth," and "Trump is not a fascist." What earns the most open hostility is when he goes undercover and crashes the Women's March or joins a socialist protest.
Now Crowder has come up with his best idea yet: "Devil's Advocate."
Devil's Advocate is a new segment on Crowder's show in which he takes on the role of a smug liberal and invites prominent conservatives to debate him. So far, he has had Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro as guests to debate free speech and socialism, respectively. Even though the guests know in advance that they're arguing with an actor pretending to be liberal, they carry on as though they are having a real debate.
At first, this idea seems like more of the same: act out an exaggerated parody of the other side, present a few easy straw man arguments, and score some laughs at how stupid the other side is. This is what liberal (AKA mainstream) comedians do all the time on shows like Saturday Night Live, late-night talk shows, and most sitcoms.
To his great credit, Crowder avoids the cheap laughs and instead presents an objective debate that educates the viewer on the commonly held viewpoints of the right and left on different topics. True, he is perfectly ridiculous (yet quite accurate) with his portrayal of the smug liberal, sporting a waxed mustache, vaping an e-cigarette, having a "Coexist" tattoo on his forearm, wearing hipster glasses and a scarf, and speaking in smarmy pseudo-intellectual tones one normally hears on NPR or Pod Save America. All this works to make him that much more credible as a sparring partner for any conservative intellectual. "Skyler Turden" is the liberal every conservative person encounters in his or her life; he is legion.
Like the Christian apologist who knows far more about atheism than most atheists, Crowder demonstrates that he knows far more about leftism than most leftists, and he actually proves to be a much more competent debater than most spokesmen who rely on logical fallacies and biased editing of footage.
In his debate with Ben Shapiro about socialism, Skyler Turden not only cites the common narratives (not really arguments) about Scandinavia and the supposed economic golden age of the '60s, but also goes deeper, mentioning expanding public goods into education and health care, the richest 1% seizing all capital, corporatism, automation eliminating blue-collar jobs, and capitalism's threat to the environment – which elicits his best retort to Shapiro's claim that solar power cannot replace carbon-based fuel. "Hold on a second! (Ring! Ring!) [lifting imaginary pone to ear] Angela Merkel? Oh, it's for you. She says that's b-------." Shapiro ultimately makes a good case, but not before he has to go into particulars about school choice, the meaning of non-rivalrous non-excludable goods, and the role of social capital in society's economic well-being.
Skyler Turden's debate with Jordan Peterson works out similarly, but Crowder does almost too good a job derailing the debate and foisting the burden of resolving complicated problems onto Peterson. They discuss the meaning of speech and what is guaranteed in the American constitution. Peterson has to go after Turden, who spews out fuzzy definitions and demands that people "accept his reality." The debate ends in a stalemate on what to do about Big Tech companies censoring and banning users, where a conservative consensus on this issue is still pending, some desiring to treat these companies like a utility and others preferring to leave them alone and create alternative platforms.
When watching Crowder's impressive performance on "Devil's Advocate," one senses that all the previous segments of "Louder with Crowder" have led to this moment. Like the method actors who become the character they play, Crowder becomes Turden, an annoying vaping liberal who brings up some important (though flawed) points and is able to articulate them well without taking every counterargument as a personal attack. In this way, he fills a void that the progressive left continues to leave vacant, since leftists have long since abandoned reasoned argument for mob rule.
The thing "Devil's Advocate" resembles most is William F. Buckley, Jr.'s show, Firing Line, where Buckley would argue conservative positions against prominent liberal scholars. On that show, too, Buckley made a point to incorporate humor while keeping the overall debate serious. The show was key for introducing large audiences to conservative and liberal ideas. The world lost something important when the show stopped airing – though PBS brought it back this year with a new host.
Conservatives and liberals alike could benefit from watching Skyler Turden. Not only will they be entertained, but they will learn more about themselves; one another; and, most importantly, how to have a proper, cordial debate.
Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher in the Dallas area. He has written essays for The Federalist and The American Conservative. Follow him on Twitter.