Last Tuesday, the Columbia University College Republicans hosted right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza on campus. By hosting him and similar individuals, CUCR and their counterparts on other college campuses appear to endorse the hatred and conspiracies that these individuals bring to the political dialogue of our nation. Instead of thoughtfully challenging liberal ideas on college campuses, they bring intellectually bankrupt and morally reprehensible speakers to create unnecessary controversy.
In his lecture titled The Case for Trump, D’Souza struck an aggressive tone early on, stating that he hoped to instigate more vigorous student opposition to his talks. Instead of arguing for President Trump, D’Souza’s lecture at Columbia consisted of ridiculous assertions about the Democratic Party, claiming it is the party of both white supremacy and multiculturalism, and stating both that the Democratic Party is the party of the Ku Klux Klan and that there is no place for white people within the multicultural tent of the Democratic Party. Furthermore, D’Souza trafficked in conspiracy theories which include that Barack Obama maintains anti-colonialist hatred for the United States, that Hillary Clinton is a racist Dixiecrat who uses her husband’s infidelity to enrich herself, and that his own 2014 conviction for campaign finance fraud was ordered by the Obama administration in a Putin-esque attempt to silence him.
This is not the first time CUCR has supported such a divisive figure. They sponsored an event with Milo Yiannopoulos, an alt-right agitator, earlier this year, which eventually fell through. A provocateur by profession, Mr. Yiannopoulos peddles discrimination as a form of discourse, attacking women, Muslims, gender-nonconforming individuals, and other minorities during his talks. On another occasion, he was banned from Twitter for leading racist and misogynistic attacks against actress Leslie Jones. More recently, footage has surfaced in which Yiannopoulos states his support for sexual encounters and relationships between “younger boys and older men.”
The actions and statements of both of these men are troublesome. Ideas do not exist in a vacuum; they have real-world consequences. The rhetoric of these individuals provides justification for extremism, resentment, and prejudice when it goes unchallenged. The Comet Ping Pong gunman, who sought to rescue children from a Clinton-run pedophilia ring run in the basement of a pizzeria, was inspired by conspiracy theories startlingly similar to D’Souza’s. Dylann Roof, who killed nine African-American members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, inspired another man to try and replicate his actions last month. Numerous other right-wing terrorists have been inspired by the writings and arguments of alt-right white nationalists, a group with which Yiannopoulos does not hesitate to associate. Student activists across the United States recognize this and ardently express their opposition to such voices. Rather than seeing these protests as elevations of marginalized voices and expressions of a vibrant democracy, certain conservatives perceive these actions as attacks upon free speech.
As liberals, we wholeheartedly support and depend on free speech and robust discourse; Everyone has the right to express their beliefs, regardless of their views. However, an inherent aspect of free speech is the ability to object to the opinions of others and dispute their assertions. We are not required to simply accept outrageously false or hateful ideas like those of D’Souza and Yiannopoulos. It is our duty to challenge them, not provide them with a platform. They should be held accountable for their words, just like CUCR should be held accountable for sponsoring such ideas.
By endorsing provocateurs instead of rigorous intellectuals, CUCR suggests that they would rather create needless controversy on campus than actually challenge liberal ideas. When CUCR chooses to support these individuals, they damage the cause of conservatism on college campuses. If conservatives truly wish to see more of their own voices on college campuses, it is imperative that they reject extremism. By making such voices representative of the conservative movement, CUCR tells our campus that they are not serious about discourse.
College conservatives should seek to challenge liberalism on college campuses by bringing valuable, insightful, and well-supported conservative ideas through speakers who are truly representative of conservatism, who repudiate the hatred and sheer inaccuracies of D’Souza and Yiannopoulos—speakers who can defend their ideas against liberal critiques rather than resort to conspiracy or character attacks. So far, it is clear that the fringe elements of the conservative movement that have been sponsored at Columbia do not meet this standard.
We as liberals understand our responsibility to engage with and debate conservative ideas to develop meaningful campus discourse. We are prepared to show that our policies and aspirations are worthy and intellectually sound. But we will not pretend that the baseless, vile incitements of speakers like D’Souza and Yiannopoulos are equivalent to political discourse and deserve recognition.
Conservatives, we ask you to show us that your ideas can stand up to scrutiny. Explain why your voice is valuable, bring it to the conversation, and do not cower from criticism or opposition. Convince us that your views matter.
Shrayan is a sophomore in Columbia College studying political science and sociology. Alexander is a first-year in Columbia College considering a major in political science. The authors are members of the Columbia Democrats Executive Board.