Last week, the Columbia University College Republicans caused its already miniscule following to shrink further. In tweets—since deleted—posted from its account, the group demonstrated smallness not in size, but of character.
I've never had any sort of official involvement with CUCR. Still, as a Republican on an overwhelmingly Democratic campus where I’ve sometimes felt ostracized for holding unpopular opinions, CUCR had heretofore been a comfort to me.
College campuses in general are beacons of progressivism, and Columbia is no exception. Thus the conservatives here, myself included, exist in an impossible, irrelevant minority, like tiny plankton in a sea of liberal predators. It's not hard to understand why we have essentially ossified into a defensive crouch.
The tweets in question highlighted some of the worst ramifications of permanently existing in such a defensive position. CUCR retweeted a few bland remarks from the otherwise opprobrious Ann Coulter, tweeted "@seanhannity Can CU_GOP come on your show? We fully support you in your feud with Bret Stephens," and tweeted “#freemilo,” referring of course to alt-right poster boy Milo Yiannopoulos who was permanently banned from Twitter in July. In essence, CUCR hit the trifecta of combustible conservatives.
I know firsthand what it means to be harassed on Twitter. Earlier this summer, I wrote a piece for Commentary about a new excavation of a Holocaust-era site in Lithuania and was subsequently trolled by someone with the handle @6gorillion. In response to the bizarre and frightening method by which neo-Nazis like @6gorillion target Jews for harassment, many Jews and allies have placed three parentheses around their names, refusing to be conquered by this latest technological iteration of the yellow star.
Twitter takes its complicated task of both upholding free speech and maintaining some semblance of basic human decency seriously. No one, including Twitter's leadership, would argue that it has perfected this balance. Given all the offensive things said by offensive people who are still allowed to maintain their platforms—Coulter being just one convenient example—I do not for a moment doubt Twitter's decision to ban Yiannopoulos. But if CUCR, as a board, saw this as an opportunity to wade into the intricacies of hate speech and free speech, it should have issued a statement or crafted an op-ed.
Instead, by tweeting “#freemilo”—the hashtag used by his supporters and followers to protest his ban—CUCR left the impression that they support his positions. This impression must be corrected.
Even worse, in choosing to weigh in on the Bret Stephens-Sean Hannity battle, CUCR stepped into a microcosm of the chasm splintering the Republican Party. There are pundits on the right who, determined to prevent Hillary Clinton's rise at any cost, are rallying support for Donald Trump. But there are also voices which have chosen the road less traveled. Robert Frost was right— we cannot travel both. In one of his recent columns Stephens (full disclosure, I interned for him at the Wall Street Journal last year as a Bartley Fellow) made this point by beseeching Republicans to remember, "There is no redemption in saying you went along with it, but only halfway; that with Mr. Trump you maintained technical virginity. To lie down with him is to wake up with him. It's as simple as that."
As such, it is the job of conservatives who possess any modicum of integrity to condemn Trump, the man, and not merely his political positions or the particularly egregious things he so unabashedly says.
At Columbia, conservatives are a target for ridicule. We are belittled, told we're ignorant and bigoted, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, racist, and misogynistic. That doesn't give us license to morph into what they have libelously called us. If our models are the Hannitys, Yiannopouloses, and Coulters of the world, we will be unable to showcase the best that conservatives have to offer.
And to CUCR’s board members, who seem to believe deleting the tweets solved the problem, I ask: My fellow conservatives, when Hillary Clinton deleted thousands of emails, did that absolve her of the sin of the server? A mea culpa is in order here, mostly to the conservatives on this campus that you ostensibly represent. Max Schwartz, CC ’16, who was CUCR's director of communications from 2013 to 2015 told me, "Several recent alumni have expressed concern among themselves about the organization's social media." Annie Ninivaggi, CC ’17 and CUCR’s current president, admitted, “We have had some issues with PR.”
It's good that the powers that be at Columbia recognize there's a problem. What would be better, however, is a solution. CUCR did tweet that it is "in the process of integrating our social media to present a full and complete message across platforms," and I hope that this process might start with replacing the person responsible for the tweets.
Beyond that, though, CUCR must abandon its defensive crouch in order to adequately represent the full spectrum of conservatives on campus. Our issues are important, our perspective underrepresented here. All communiqué from the organization should be articulate, thoughtful, and nuanced. There is no room for insensitive bluster; inviting ourselves onto Sean Hannity’s show cannot be the way we disseminate our message.
With everything there is a season. And this season is all about choosing. Will Republicans place country before party, surrendering the White House for the sake of human decency? The party I respect, that I was once proud to be part of, will. CUCR, I hope, will too.
The author is a Barnard College senior majoring in English literature. She is the former president of Aryeh: Columbia Students Association for Israel.
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