Smile Politely

Running your mouth: A sacred American tradition

Charlie Kirk is the 23-year-old founder of Turning Point USA, which is a conservative nonprofit responsible for the Professor Watchlist, which is today’s young conservative’s best hack at McCarthyism. He’s an entitled fellow from Wheeling, Illinois, who didn’t get into West Point and blames it on affirmative action, so he gave up on college and embraced the new American tradition of entering politics without education, experience, or expertise. The result is yet another young conservative talking head without any original thoughts who just says provocative stuff that we’re supposed to take seriously because “Hey, is that a young conservative? That’s unusual. We should pay attention.” (Right, Tomi?)

Turning Point USA (and to an extent those that founded and support it) is something of an alt-right organization, meaning its promoted ideals run the gamut from bad to plainly stupid and are generally antagonistic toward rational thought, kindness, and the advancement of the human race. I think it’s great that Charlie Kirk was invited and allowed to speak at the University of Illinois.

That’s not sarcasm. I love that we live in a society where any jackwagon with a bad idea can get up on a platform with a microphone and try to sell me on it. That’s not sarcasm, either. I love that in the United States, you can stand up and promote contra-American values and not go to jail for it. I love that we can rally under a common cause and shout out that we think some people and ideas suck, too, and that’s okay so long as we don’t get violent and start breaking things (or other people). 

That’s what happened on the U of I campus on October 5. Charlie Kirk came to speak on “Melting Snowflakes and Smashing Socialism.” People came and protested his speaking. No one got hurt. People who disagreed with Charlie shouted things like, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Charlie Kirk has got to go!” People who supported Mr. Kirk shouted, “USA! USA!”, which is an ironic way to contest the opinions of other pro-America Americans and kind of an indictment on our ability to come up with songs or slogans to promote our favorite things. Seriously, there are few things more embarrassing than being at an international soccer match between the United States and England, and while the England contingent is serenading their team with song after song, the best we can manage is a hoarse “USA! USA!” while pumping our fists almost in time with the syllables. No wonder we’re still debating evolution.


Anyway, this is part and parcel to the First Amendment: competing ideas meeting in the public space and peacefully intersecting. It’s core to the American experience that there is no thought crime. You’re not going to go to jail for liking a minority political party or not believing in the same god as the majority. Everybody gets an opinion, and we’re empowered to project those opinions in the public arena and see if they pass muster. Offended by Klansmen walking down the road with Tiki torches? Me, too. Rather not hear from fascist-lite and his views on immigration and the media? Sure, but the thing is in this country, we have a fierce rebellious streak. Nothing turns us on to thinking or saying or doing something as someone telling us, “No.” It’s the same thing with ideas. You want to make someone sympathetic to a White supremacist? Take away the Nazi’s microphone. We hold few things more sacred than our American right to run our mouths, even if the only thing getting through our teeth is hot garbage.

Being exposed to stuff we don’t like: that’s how we grow as thinkers. That’s how we learn resolve. That’s how we learn to understand the thinking that leads to embracing bad ideas, and that’s how we learn to present better ideas supported by better arguments so that we can convince our neighbors that keggers on a Wednesday are a net negative. Or that immigrants aren’t taking their jobs, coal isn’t coming back, the AHCA is inhumane, Rodney’s a Trumpet, and that respectfully kneeling during the national anthem is a protest against civil injustice and has nothing to do with the military.

Nfl kneelingGetty Images

There are bad ideas, and there are good ideas, and if we don’t let them out into the public sphere and expose them—completely—then a lot of average humans are just going to pick the one that agrees with their bias (or that was pitched by the model with the better shoulders). That’s the point of debate, after all: to present ideas and test their mettle (and the mettle of their champions) to sway hearts and minds. The University of Illinois let a guy with some bad ideas have a microphone and give his best shot at “melting snowflakes.” Someday soon, someone with good ideas will get the same chance, and the debate will continue. That’s all right with me because this is a core American value: the right to think and express those thoughts, even if they’re dumb as hell.

Top Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

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