The collective discourse of campus politics in recent weeks has been dominated by the discussion surrounding Turning Point USA. The conservative activism group has stumbled its way into a number of campus news stories as of late, including word of their founder Charlie Kirk tabling in White Plaza, the announcement of an upcoming speaker event led by Kirk himself and the news that said event violated Stanford Student and Activity Leadership (SAL) policy, among others.
One of the more alarming of these stories took place last week when our campus’ resident investigative journalists at FoHo “exposed” connections between Turning Point and a handful of undergraduates. These connections were hotly contested by some of those named in a Daily Op-Ed, and as a result (and rather ironically I may add) FoHo found their own motives and practices being questioned by much of campus.
Compromising the public image and privacy of a group of 19-year-olds for the great crime of being associated with conservatism is itself a moral farce. But despite their heavy-handedness, FoHo was at least correct about one thing: Turning Point USA is not a force for good.
Turning Point was founded in 2012 by recent high school graduate Charlie Kirk. Since then, the group claims to have established a presence at over 1,000 universities, organized some 5,000 activist events and taken the title of “fastest growing conservative student organization in the country.” The group’s goals, as stated by their own website, are to “identify, educate, train and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government.”
As a vaguely conservative (at least by this campus’ standards) person myself, I take no fault with any of these ideas on principle. However, the methods and underlying goals of the organization have condemned them to an existence that’s even more dangerous than the supposed evils Turning Point claims to fight.
During my sophomore year, Turning Point contacted me about founding a TPUSA chapter at Stanford. I was skeptical at the time but at least read through their sales pitch, a key component of which was establishing a social media presence from conservatives on college campuses.
A cursory scroll through Turning Point’s Facebook page ended any chance of me wanting to associate with them: Loading screen after loading screen filled with little more than memes bashing Bernie Sanders, Trump-haters and really anything and everything that could be considered leftist. The memes themselves (which are still pumped out at an alarming rate) are belittling and rather stupid, even by millennial standards. Their very existence, however, spoke to a much more sobering reality about what Turning Point really stands for, which is to say, a belligerent, low-brow branch of conservatism that stifles critical thought and serves to do little more than aggravate our left-leaning classmates.
Never in my own life have I heard of a message like #BigGovSucks, #SocialismSucks or #TaxationIsTheft (just to name a few) actually succeed in changing anyone’s opinion on anything. Yes, it’s true that many conservatives like smaller government, and many liberals would prefer the opposite, but to believe that social media crusades such as these are at all constructive in building a positive discourse is dangerously naïve. And while the desire to replicate more left-leaning social media presences such as ‘The Other 98%’ and ‘Resist Create’ is admittedly an attractive one, to sink to these levels lowers the bar of critical thought for all involved parties. Simply put, memes don’t forward democracy.
And while social media is one example, the group’s other material efforts are no more encouraging. Perhaps the most offensive of them all is the “Professor Watchlist” the group maintains regularly. This watchlist consists of a ledger with all the names of any university faculty members the group has deemed unfavorable to its own purposes. Beyond being an obvious threat to academic freedom, the watchlist is sadly ironic in that it is meant to inspire fear and stifle dialogue, much in the fashion of the supposedly repressive institutions Turning Point claims to fight against. This blatant hypocrisy is indicative of an organizational culture that has an utter disregard for courtesy or dignity. And while many may argue that such a culture is just a response to equally indignant efforts from the left, fighting fire with fire is a strategy that will almost certainly serve only to further polarize and isolate an already fractured campus political scene.
On May 29th, Turning Point will host a speaker event on campus titled “Make Stanford Great Again,” led by the group’s founder Charlie Kirk and noted conservative activist (and somewhat oddly, Kanye West idol) Candace Owens. In his many interviews and Youtube videos, Kirk claims that the organization is a diverse and openminded one, but the advertisements for the event suggest a much different truth: “Trump is great. Build the wall. Deport criminal illegals. Guns save lives. There are only two genders. Abortion is murder. Defund sanctuary city San Francisco. Taxation is theft. Affirmative action is racist. White privilege is a lie.” This is not the rhetoric of an openminded, hear-all-ideas organization. If anything, it’s just a mindless co-opting of the same progressive rhetoric whose moral absolutism and half-baked nature caused many conservatives to rebel against leftism in the first place.
Additionally, leaked brochures suggest that the group attempts to finance campus elections (as FoHo previously reported) through laughably-named “leadership scholarships” but expects rigid compliance with their policies in return – defunding of progressive organizations, no divestment from fossil fuels and the blocking of all boycott movements chief among them. This attempt, to draw all right-leaning students towards a single ideological coalition, is an affront to independent thought and effectively an effort to brainwash anyone who feels the slightest alienation from the leftist hegemony of most universities. Exploiting the political isolation of campus conservatives is novel in its audacity but is bound to accomplish nothing other than further widening pre-existing political chasms.
Turning Point USA is an organization whose motives are murky, at best. Their “laissez-faire” attitude towards campaign financing laws, allegations of internal racism and general air of unearned moral superiority all only serve to compound the idea that they are not fit to bear the torch of conservative America’s future.
If any political progress is going to be made in this country by either side of the aisle, it will happen on the back of efforts to understand and empathize, rather than further alienate and anger. Turning Point is an organization that capitalizes on fear and the desire to incite opponents, where angering the left supersedes legitimate thought and discussion. It all is indicative of our reactionary culture – an antagonistic breed of modern politics that is, more than anything else, simply depressing. Turning Point claims to be the future of conservative America. If this is truly the case, we all have good reason to fear for the country’s future.
Contact Harrison Hohman at hhohman ‘at’ stanford.edu.