Nathaniel Rosenberg, Contributing Photographer

Actress and podcaster Dasha Nekrasova drew hundreds of guests to the Yale Political Union’s “Resolved: Polarize” debate on Feb. 7.

Nekrasova and YPU members delivered arguments on the merits of polarization, drawing increasingly raucous choruses of approving bangs and dissenting hisses from the audience, per YPU tradition. The YPU debates every week, and has hosted guests including Noam Chomsky, Nina Turner and Chelsea Manning. Nekrasova, who described herself as a “classic liberal, Soviet immigrant, free speech absolutist,” opened the debate with an argument in favor of polarization.

“Discourse should be in service of truth,” Nekrasova said at the event. “But also, the truth is not something that is simply resolved or arrived at, but is imminent. The news is evolving with history… the driving force of which is always in conflict.” 

Nekrasova and fellow “bohemian layabout” Anna Khachiyan host the “Red Scare” podcast, which comments on culture and politics. Their discourse employs dry humor in critique of establishment politics, liberalism and feminism. The podcast has featured guests across a broad sweep of political ideologies, including prominent far-left philosopher Slavoj Zizek and right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.

“Ms. Nekrasova was a bit of an unusual guest for us,” YPU Speaker Anna Martinelli-Parker told the News, highlighting future planned speakers like political scientist Adom Getachew GRD ’15 and journalist Todd Miller. “As a result this debate was a lot rowdier that most of our debate are, but also a lot more public facing.” 

Nekrasova’s pro-polarization speech emphasized the importance of people standing for their political beliefs, which she said will inevitably meet opposition. She also praised “fundamental American principles,” like freedom of speech and political ideology, and criticized AI chatbot ChatGPT for espousing “Democratic, establishment, liberal babble” while outsourcing labor to underpaid workers in Kenya. 

“This is done in the interest of depolarizing? Of ensuring nothing is generated in any remote interest or scandal, because we are so cucked in consensus reality?” Nekrasova wondered about ChatGPT. “Anything that contradicts the status quo is sterilized, r[—] and destroyed,” she added, using a slur commonly levied against disabled people. The use of a slur was gaveled down by Martinelli-Parker as a violation of the YPU’s rules of decorum. 

After her opening remarks, Nekrasova fielded questions from audience members, several of whom questioned the merits of political extremism and her conceptions of misinformation and absolute truths. 

Sean Pergola ’24 asked about the value of polarization in the discussion of climate change, drawing hisses from many when they said there was a scientific consensus on the issue.

“I don’t believe in climate change,” Nekrasova replied. When asked about what she does believe is an objective truth, she quipped, “Yeah, there’s a Kingdom in Heaven, sure.”

Maya Shkolnik, a Columbia University student and “Red Scare” listener, traveled from New York to hear Nekrasova speak. She asked Nekrasova whether she agreed that “Red Scare” contributes to polarization and “packages conservatism to white women in a very sexy way.” 

Nekrasova noted the public’s affinity for aesthetics in political discourse — that “extremism is sexy.” 

Like Nekrasova, former Conservative Party Chairman Isabel Chomnalez ’23 incorporated the philosophy of aesthetics into her own speech in favor of polarization.

She spoke about polarization as a rosy form of the “grotesque,” in which the extremes of the political spectrum share a common experience in separating themselves from reality.

Several passionate challenges to Nekrasova’s conclusion followed her speech. One speaker who argued against polarization, a member of the Party of the Right, compared the harms caused by current levels of political polarization in the United States to those caused by hatred espoused during the Jim Crow Era. They also noted that such high levels of polarization eventually led to dehumanization and street fighting in 1930s Germany and France. 

A questioner — who sat in seats reserved for the Conservative Party — challenged the Party of the Right member on their criticism of Nazi Germany, asking “What’s wrong with violence? What’s wrong with dehumanizing people?” 

YPU members met the question with a mixture of laughter and hissing. The speaker disagreed with the questioner, expressing surprise that they had to defend the ethics of not killing people. 

One anti-polarization speaker, a member of the Independent Party, warned against polarization as a threat to democracy. They described the risk of polarization as chipping away at the shared premises of democracy, and that rejecting polarization was necessary to sustain democracy and build community.    

Other anti-polarization arguments, including speeches and rebuttals, attested that political decisions should remain in the hands of the elite and that extremism for the sake of being “interesting” undermines human connection and community. Pro-polarization arguments included attacks on centrism for feeding rhetoric without real political stances.

In total, YPU members gave five formal speeches responding to the resolution, as is YPU tradition — two affirming polarization and three rejecting it. The event lasted for just under two hours. As is customary at the end of a YPU debate, members took a vote on the resolution, passing “Resolved: Polarize” by 67-43.

After the vote concluded, the event descended into a crescendo of motions and countermotions, including one on whether to entertain a minute of silence in honor of King Charles I, per Party of the Right tradition. After several minutes of spirited shouting, the debate ended.

“There tends to be like a popular perception on campus of the YPU as kind of this purely conservative space. And that’s a perception that doesn’t correspond with reality,” Martinelli-Parker said. “There is a very, very diverse coalition of people who participate in the YPU.”

Martinelli-Parker said that as the leadership of the group, she and YPU President Jean Wang ’24 — who is also an opinion editor for the News — embody a diverse range of identities and ideas. She emphasized that the YPU was an organization intended for anyone interested in deeply examining questions surrounding politics, philosophy, and culture, regardless of their political leanings. 

Reflecting on the event after, Nate Olson ’24, the former chairman of the Independent Party, said that he had been excited about the YPU bringing Nekrasova to campus, as she was unique among typical invited speakers like politicians and journalists. 

“I think really what she’s doing is saying things to make people react in a certain way, and then make them ask why they’re doing that,” Olson said. “Or maybe she legitimately is just motivated by having a laugh and just sort of satirizing anything that she wants.”

Shkolnik noted that Nekrasova’s speech and responses at the event echoed her attitude on the “Red Scare” podcast, in which she said Nekrasova eschews taking strong stances on political issues in attempts to stir controversy. 

“Tonight was very polarizing,” audience member Oren Schweitzer ’23 observed. “I don’t usually go to the YPU. I’m not coming back again. But this was okay.”  

Nekrasova and Khachiyan end every episode of their podcast by telling listeners, “See you in hell.”

Update, Feb. 9: This article has been updated to include comment from YPU speaker Anna Martinelli-Parker ’24.

Nathaniel Rosenberg is City Editor for the News. He previously served as Audience Editor, where he managed the News's newsletter content, covered cops and courts and housing and homelessness for the City Desk. Originally from Silver Spring, MD, he is a junior in Morse College majoring in history.
Megan Vaz is the former city desk editor. She previously covered Yale-New Haven relations and Yale unions, additionally serving as an audience desk staffer.