Cenk Uygur likes to fight.
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If you’ve watched him on “The Young Turks,” the wildly popular online news show he leads, you know that. It’s also clear if you’ve tracked his rise from public access TV host to internet sensation. The documentary about his career is, after all, titled “Mad As Hell.”
To the founder and CEO of the Young Turks network — home to the most-watched online news show in the world, with millions of viewers a month — that fighting spirit is a source of pride, a spark he has carried since boyhood.
“I wanted to fight for justice, so I would defend the smaller kids against the bullies. I would let people take the first punch,” Uygur recalled of his youth. “My dad taught me that I should never hit first … I liked fighting, so I was like, ‘OK, I might as well try to be a good guy about it.’”
In January 2017 he launched what he calls a new wing of the Democratic Party, the Justice Democrats, to execute, in his words, a “hostile takeover” of the party establishment.
His plans might make some Democrats uncomfortable. Uygur is using his online platform’s enormous following to enlist members, solicit nominations for public office and fundraise for progressive candidates to unseat moderate Democrats in 2018.
During our conversation, Uygur acknowledged that Democrats will ultimately need to work together, particularly after the bruising and divisive 2016 presidential primary battle between Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But he defended his pugilistic stance.
“The Democrats, they use the word ‘unity’ now as an excuse for ‘Don’t fight the establishment Democrats, get behind us,’” he said. “I’m not going to unify behind a Goldman Sachs strategy. If you want to unify behind the actual Democratic platform, the Justice wing and Bernie Sanders, then get behind us and unify.”
“But,” he continued, as if addressing party officials, “we are not going to lead people into another disastrous electoral loss behind your sorry a--.”
Uygur’s combative approach is well documented. Less well known are other aspects of him that shaped his past and could define his future — all of which we covered in our conversation: his shift from being a Republican to a Democrat (“You could be, back then, a reasonable Republican”), the influence of his early childhood in Turkey on his outlook in the U.S. (“My life in Istanbul was very similar to my life in New Jersey”) and the very specific set of circumstances under which he could, one day, run for public office (“There is a fantasy, a daydream that I have”).
Check out the full conversation on this week’s episode of “Uncomfortable.”
Uygur was interviewed as part of the series “Uncomfortable,” hosted by Amna Nawaz, which offers in-depth honest conversations with influential figures about issues dividing America.