By Emily Wilder
There’s no shortage of think pieces on why Ben Shapiro is a little turd.
Surely no one earns that title more than someone who lasted 16 whole minutes on BBC with Andrew Neil, renowned conservative commentator, before finally degenerating into a temper tantrum, calling him a “leftist snowflake” and actually saying “I’m more popular than you” out loud. This behavior was not an anomaly for him, either, but rather a script he seems to follow whenever a challenger can break through his bombasting long enough to demand evidence. Oh, the irony of the title for his lecture at Stanford on Thursday, “Facts Don’t Care About Your Feelings.”
But as someone who has been involved with campus politics in the past, and is still attempting somewhat to keep my finger on the pulse during my time away from Stanford this quarter, I have other things to say about the Stanford College Republican’s (SCR) activities.
The Stanford Sphere’s Editorial Board published a fantastic article titled “Right Wing Trolls on Campus Don’t Deserve Your Time” regarding SCR’s event with Dinesh D’Souza, although it just as easily could have been published for Andrew Klavan, Charles Murray, Robert Spencer or any one of their B-list professional provocateurs. They urged the campus Left to rethink the cycle campus politics inevitably falls into when far-right figures are invited to campus: “We… must not let [them] dominate the news cycle or campus activism for a second longer than [they have] already. It is not that the campus left must take the high road, and take a principled stance of ignoring our problems until they go away, but simply that we don’t have time for this.”
The Sphere isn’t wrong. There was a small olfactory disruption to the D’Souza event, but not much else to follow the campus uproar to his invitation. And SCR proceeded to invite another troll soon after. And another. I wonder, when the Stanford College Republicans bring these far-right provocateurs to our university, do they honestly believe in what they are doing? Do members of this organization and their supporters realize what they are responsible for, or do they believe (perhaps what they are being sold by the leadership of their organization and outside groups) that they are truly the champions of intellectual debate?
Because it is undeniable to me now that there is an agenda — albeit of the sometimes comically melodramatic evil villain variety, and sometimes of the more pernicious and actually evil variety — to break down our will, as former SCR co-president John David Rice-Cameron puts so eloquently. And I also believe, in a way, they are succeeding at this goal — they’re breaking down our resistance to fraudulence, to deception, to wastes of time and energy, by normalizing extremist fundamentalist ideas like they are reasonable, or even moderate (just “further right than Barack Obama”) perspectives. They are breaking down meaning and significance, subjecting us to political gaslighting about history and language. They are breaking down the purported academic and intellectual standards of this institution, daring the administration to actually take a stand and trusting that it is unlikely they will.
Ben Shapiro and the Stanford College Republicans are cut from the same cloth — posturing as intellectual elite when, really, it’s their test scores on standardized exams and their rich parents and their fancy credentials and their unending energy to make life absolutely miserable for some of the rest of us that allow them to dare to claim intellectual victory.
I know this so intimately, because, among other interactions with SCR, I had the displeasure of sitting through and actually listening to the beginning of its lecture with Robert Spencer on “Jihad and the Dangers of Radical Islam” in the fall of my sophomore year. Beyond the excitement and anticipation of our coordinated walk-out and the anger and disgust at his proud racism and islamophobia, all I felt during those ten minutes was absolute boredom. It was actually the most boring and lazy and unenlightened and philistine talk I’d ever willingly sat in on. It was so unworthy of a Stanford honorarium and lecture hall that I realized then exactly what SCR’s intentions are.
It was a glorious evening, no doubt, leaving Robert Spencer with a room of empty chairs and then arriving at our own rally outside filled with music and speeches and laughter and applause. But after it, you know what I and the other students involved with the demonstration were left to deal with? Damage control over missing weeks of class to arrange a single night of defiance. For Muslim students, the residual trauma of recognizing this kind of rhetoric would be welcomed and paid to come to campus. And the realization that this immense effort we put forth did absolutely nothing to stop SCR from doing it again and again and again. And all for a bigot so irrelevant it would be more than he deserved to call him a demagogue, who shouldn’t have had our attention, however brief, from the get go.
That is precisely what the organization, and more broadly, the speakers they invite and base their appeal to, intends. In fact, they said it more succinctly than I could themselves, in a leaked email between Rice-Cameron and Niall Ferguson last year regarding the controversial Cardinal Conversations series: “Last night appears to be a clear victory to me… a majority of students in attendance were SCR members!” While the College Republicans purportedly encourage people to come and challenge its speakers (despite each of these speakers showing a propensity to throw tantrums when engaged with civilly and in good faith), its members are also happy when they are the only one in the room. They are the echo chamber of the worst variety that they accuse the rest of us of creating, except their kind of echo chamber fosters, alongside intellectual dishonesty, racism and genocide denial and cruelty.
Because I’m not saying SCR and the views they propagate aren’t dangerous. I’ve witnessed and experienced firsthand the damaging effects of their hostility and vitriol. They see no qualms or bitter, absurd irony in appealing to wealthy, well-endowed or powerful parties outside of Stanford, like Fox News, Hoover Fellows or the literal police to target students and faculty they disagree with (all while regularly calling their detractors “fascists”). They have traumatized and humiliated and endangered and annoyed the shit out of the most vulnerable of us, particularly students of color.
What I’m saying is this: perhaps those who are critical of the Stanford College Republicans and the Ben Shapiro’s of the world can try a new strategy this time around (considering we’ll certainly, unfortunately have more opportunities to test out strategies). No, don’t ignore them or implicitly accept that this is just the way things are, but don’t gift that righteous energy to the likes of Ben Shapiro who does not meet the standards of intellectual rigor at a place like Stanford — even with his Harvard law degree — or our moral standards as a community.
And in the meantime, with that saved energy, call home or go to your club meeting or get dinner with friends or submit that p-set on time.