This Conservative Thinks TPUSA is a Dangerous Turn Toward Campus McCarthyismBreaking News
tags: conservatism, culture war, Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk
Jonathan Marks is a professor of politics at Ursinus College. He is the author of Let’s Be Reasonable: A Conservative Case for Liberal Education (Princeton University Press, 2021).
Our campus cancel-culture conflict resembles the fight, commencing more than three decades ago, over political correctness. For left-liberals, as Jonathan Rauch argued in 1993, “verbal violence” was already at the core of the fight. Persuaded that “hurtful talk, like physical violence, causes pain and thereby violates the human rights of its targets,” student activists and college administrators set out to do something about it. Meanwhile, as the conservative journalist Matthew Continetti explains in his new book, The Right: The Hundred Year War for Conservatism, Dinesh D’Souza exemplified the sort of conservative who “challenged regnant opinion through provocation.” D’Souza’s band of young conservatives, initially as students at Dartmouth College, would “champion free and open debate” as an antidote to political correctness. But it wouldn’t “follow liberal rules” or fear being “crass or gauche.” This development, Continetti thinks, characterized the beginning of our period, in which politics is “less about the distribution of wealth and more about the hierarchy of values.” Among endless wars, the most endless is the culture war.
Yet conservative activism has changed, as have the campuses on which it is practiced. Let’s look at the activism first, through the lens of Turning Point USA, the “Make America Great Again” wing of campus conservatism.
In 2012, Charlie Kirk, fresh from high school, skipped college to focus on college reform. The organization he founded and leads, Turning Point USA, asserts that its field program, in fiscal year 2020, “organized 800 new high school and college chapters,” “hosted 244 instructional campus events,” and “reached 142,534 students.” Kirk and Turning Point have been accused of exaggerating the organization’s accomplishments. But with then-President Trump a regular fixture of its annual Student Action Summit and revenue up from about $80,000 in its first year to nearly $40 million in 2020, TPUSA may be, as Eric Kelderman put it in The Chronicle, “the dominant force in campus conservatism.”
That’s not good.
Turning Point says it “educates students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets, and capitalism” and favors “nonpartisan debate, dialogue, and discussion.” Consider that fib as you listen to the June 30 episode of Frontlines, a daily TPUSA podcast hosted by Drew Hernandez. That episode focuses on protesters of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, or, in Hernandez’s words, “these psychopaths, these baby killers, death cultists,” some of whom are “literally demon-possessed.” Hernandez knows who instigated the protests: Satan. God “moved in a miraculous way ... overturning Roe v. Wade.” But “Satan is going to retaliate in a very vicious way because this is about murdering babies.”
The idea that there are spiritual forces at work in the world is not to be mocked. But nonpartisan dialogue about capitalism, this is not.
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