Anyone who’s been on a college campus in the past decade has witnessed a remarkable transformation of the campus right. Though their counterparts on the left get all of the media scrutiny, college conservatives are no longer the trust fund babies of country club Republicans, reflexively motivated by threats to their inheritance. Today’s campus right, without any claim to the explanatory economic anxiety that excused bad behavior in 2016, are a mix of racial partisans and Randian sadists. Though their well polished image in the press is that of earnest youngsters just looking to have a debate, they’re more often mirror images of the hordes chanting “lock her up,” animated by the politics of resentment.
The clearest, and most deflating, recent documentation of this is Alex Pareene’s excellent piece framing the events of Charlottesville as a vision of the GOP’s future. He notes that among (and likely of) the Neo-Nazis and Neo-Confederates that marched through UVA were College Republican leaders from across the country. One of them, Peter Cvjetanovic, has even become the face of the torch wielding march of white supremacists. Before his face dominated news coverage, Cvjetanovic was a member of the College Republicans at the University of Nevada at Reno and had his photo taken with Republican Senator Dean Heller. Cvjetanovic’s fellow marcher, James Allsup, was both a speaker at the rally the president of the the Washington State University College Republicans.
Connecting these two to their on-campus brethren is, as Pareene notes, a shared motivation:
Racial resentment has been a driving force behind College Republican recruitment for years, but at this point it’s really all they have left to offer. In the age of President Donald Trump, what inspires a young person not merely to be conservative or vote Republican, but to get active in organized Republican politics? Do you think it’s a fervent belief that Paul Ryan knows the optimal tax policy to spur economic growth? Or do you think it’s more likely to be something else?
This racial resentment is driving the increase in hate crimes on college campuses. But it’s also important to not lose sight of the activities that the campus right is doing openly.
Last week, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that Ann Coulter, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Stephen Bannon have been invited to speak at UC Berkeley. While these three do represent an ascendant faction on the right, their fame is based entirely on racist and Islamophobic rhetoric. The purpose of inviting them is plainly not because they have some interesting new perspective on politics, because their performances are predictable: Coulter hates Mexicans, Yiannopoulos will say bigoted things about trans people, and Bannon will use his self-aggrandizing bluster to promote conspiracy theories about China and Muslims. The reason they’ve been invited to speak is purely to get a reaction from the left, allowing the right to cast themselves as victims on campus while they use hate speech to threaten minority students and reclaim historically white institutions.
College conservatives have successfully crafted a narrative that allows them to parade as free speech martyrs, while never attempting to engage in an intellectually honest conversation. As college-aged students trend more liberal, the campus right has reorganized around explicitly hostile politics that pits the most privileged classes of society against perceived others. Rather than attempting to engage with a more skeptical student body, the right has committed itself to attacking it. They don’t use their free speech to advance their ideas about foreign policy, the opioid crisis, or even healthcare. UC Berkeley’s conservatives aren’t inviting Avik Roy to campus to discuss his hatred of Medicaid, they’re inviting people known for hate speech. This isn’t an attempt to have a conversation, it’s an active effort to make discourse impossible.
(Illustration by Satanoid)
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