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Scott: Young conservatives are in it for the media



There are certain things you learn to expect from other young people in a political science major. Any environment where inexperienced undergrads are forced to interact with one another and usually produces some strange, egotistical behavior. For example, at least once a semester someone will spell out their ten-year plan, casually mentioning what they’ll do when they’re governor one day and obviously ending with “and if I’m lucky, I’d love to become President” — all during what was supposed to be a thirty-second icebreaker.

Whether callow over-excitement or just annoying braggadocio, comments like that tend to betray an unflattering sense of entitlement. No one should ever assume the ability to win whatever they want, just as they shouldn’t assume it’s a stepping stone to a higher things. Regardless, planning one’s political career so meticulously without doing the work is about as impractical as it is unattractive.

Yet, naked ambition is standard procedure in political spaces. People wrangle it by adopting different personas, exploring how they might best play their cards. Committing to and using one’s political identity involves growing pains — and could there be a more surreal time to find one’s place in politics than under the presidency of Donald Trump?

President Donald Trump is the inevitable byproduct of three slowly converging factors: branding, technology and conservative media. President Trump’s remarkable knack for branding is the one thing that gave his decades of sorry ramblings a leg to stand on. Twitter’s ability to spread them like wildfire provided enough exposure to birth his campaign. And the eventual embrace of the Republican Party (once it became apparent that they were incapable of fighting him off) legitimized him. President Trump, the Republican reality-TV president, used media to take him to the top.

The Conservative Media

In conservative circles, such commodification will continue. The Republicans have many issues — apologizing for racists and protecting abusers of women are among them. They are riding on the back of an obnoxious, offensive orange tiger, too weak to climb down. Some young conservatives see that and draw two conclusions — that the Republican Party has an image problem when it comes to young, diverse representation, and that they can wheedle their way into conservative media by exploiting it. All tricks from the Trump playbook.

After all, there is already a market for conventionally attractive young people railing indignantly into the camera. It’s the natural progression from the decades of aggressive commentary produced by Ann Coulter, Alex Jones and Rush Limbaugh, as well as by President Trump. It’s Fox News-style punditry at its worst — and if using fear-mongering tactics to frighten Americans were not already cynical enough, it’s now for promoting hip young conservatives.

This type of young conservative is not hard to find, because they clearly desire attention. With Trump as the head of their party, it’s no surprise that ambitious young Republicans attempt to replicate his success. He pandered to conservative values and fears to get himself what he wanted, so why can’t they? Trained in the ways of Ben Shapiro, they utilize a rapid fire, “gotcha!” style of debate. Their presentation has a creepy plastic quality, as if in a constant audition for a talk show. They hit all the talking points — the NFL, free speech on campus and the socialist boogie man — performing them with perfect indignation and utter abandonment of nuance.

The conservative media welcomes these eager provocateurs with open arms. They encourage an irresistible fantasy, one where anyone who can work a webcam and convincingly play the part has a chance of being discovered. All it takes is an original (enough) angle and star quality — or controversy, they aren’t picky. If someone can prove they have a fresh take and an actual audience, who is to say that they couldn’t become the next Tomi Lahren?

Tomi Lahren

Tomi Lahren’s career is a perfect example of what many of these young conservatives hope to achieve. Known for her combative monologues, she is the polished, blonde personification of a geyser — constantly erupting with boiling, self-righteous anger. Back in 2014, she was able to work that anger into a successful shtick, one that landed her a show called On Point with Tomi Lahren. Since then, she has become a Fox News contributor and a rising conservative media star.

While other savvy young conservatives have yet to be invited into contracts for their commentary, the dream is to get there — even if it requires broadcasting from the dorm room first. Not everyone can be Tomi Lahren, but the sheer number of people trying to follow in her footsteps illustrates how modern conservatism provides anyone who will push their product an opportunity to make it big. Lahren makes a profit on her uncompromising ideology, but even she has indicated that even she’s not buying everything she’s selling–most notably during her 2017 admission of being pro-choice.

Kaitlin Bennett

Lahren’s style is a conspicuous influence on these hopefuls. Kaitlin Bennett, more commonly known as the Kent State gun girl, is the perfect example as she claws for a toehold in conservative media. Bennett got her taste of fame when she went viral for carrying her AR-10 in her graduation photos as if it were some brave, revolutionary act. Bennett claims that the university — the same one where four students died after the Ohio National Guard turned their guns on protesters in 1970–was obstructing her advocacy.

Bennett continues to market herself as a conservative firebrand, though it comes in fits and starts. She’s made the rounds on InfoWars and talked trash about arm wrestling Parkland survivor David Hogg. She filmed herself “undercover” at her alma mater, bothering people for their opinion on “that Kent State gun girl.” Students would mock her behind her back and then straight to her face after she revealed herself, but that’s no problem for Bennett. She’s artlessly attempting to build a career out of this.

CJ Pearson

Bennett isn’t the only one trying to spin fifteen minutes of fame into gold. CJ Pearson, whose Twitter bio reads “The Left’s Youngest Nightmare” went viral around age thirteen for a YouTube video criticising then President Obama. Now sixteen, Pearson’s support oscillates between whomever he thinks is going to win–from Cruz (until he lost) to Sanders (until he lost) to Trump. His transparent gravitation toward power has drawn public ire from conservative adults in the media. Conveniently enough, Pearson, who penned the article “I’m a Young Black Man and I Support Donald Trump” for Time Magazine, is now the National Chairman of Teens for Trump. One can only assume that there’s more to come after he graduates high school.

Charlie Kirk and Turning Point USA

Perhaps the thirstiest of all, members of Turning Point USA regularly attempt to use media attention to build a platform. Turning Point USA is the organization behind the Professor Watchlist, an online list of professors who are accused of discriminating against conservative students. Founded by Charlie Kirk, a young man who never actually bothered to attend a four-year college himself, they operate primarily on conservative identity politics and a penchant for public embarrassment. Turning Point USA has mastered the art of the self own, most famously displayed during a protest at Kent State — an event run by Kaitlin Bennett herself–where conservative students crawled around in diapers, pretending to be liberal babies in need of a safe space.

Politics is power

Normally I don’t fault anyone for using media to promote themselves, but what these people are doing is very different than starting a podcast or a YouTube channel. Politics may feel like an industry, but that doesn’t excuse the manipulation of values and news coverage for personal gain. Politics is concerned with power, and policies affect people. It’s disgusting to see such obvious, shallow self-promotion broadcasted without a second thought.

My experiences in political circles have taught me to expect people bragging about their future success — unearned confidence is a helluva drug around here. I have also learned to pick up on the college conservatives who are looking to build themselves up at the expense of their party.

It shouldn’t be assumed that this is a problem only with national figures like Lahren or Kirk — this approach to media by young conservatives has trickled down to campuses. Look at the content and YouTube videos being put out by local student activists, club leaders and their membership. It’s there. As said best by Alex Jones in his interview with Kaitlin Bennett, “we have an unlimited supply of people like you… You’re a microcosm of the whole situation.” I do not mean to say that all college conservatives participate in this–I believe most people are genuine in their beliefs. But the ones who are there for themselves make it fairly obvious through their actions, and there are more of them than people think. There’s no indication that the conservative media intends to back down from it’s veer into polarized partisanship that is harming everyone. It incentivizes bad, self-indulgent abuses of platform, and people want their slice of that pie. My prediction is that these little propagations of Trump’s media are here to stay.

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About the Contributor
Elise Scott, Opinion Writer
Elise Scott is an opinion writer. Scott has written for the Chronicle since Fall 2018, and served as Opinion Editor through the 2019-2020 school year. She has won SPJ and UPA awards for her work at the Chronicle and is the 2020 Truman scholar for the state of Utah. Scott is a senior in Political Science and Communication.

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    LyndsayOct 19, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    I absolutely agree. It seems like being a conservative for the sake of being edgy and getting attention is particularly frequent here, although perhaps I’m exaggerating the number because of confirmation bias.
    I do think, though, that one can be sincere in their beliefs while also using them to get attention or to appear counterculture (and this is not necessarily confined to TPUSA-style conservatives — I’ve seen some anarchists and communists who do the same).

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    Frances FlorescaOct 5, 2018 at 10:34 pm

    I am a student at the U, and I do a lot in the conservative movement. I also have friends who do a lot in the media. One of the reasons why us conservatives use media is because most of the general mass media (CNN, MSNBC, etc.), except Fox News, use it to attack us. Yes, there are those conservatives who attack back, but mostly many us learn that it is not wise to retaliate, just have meaningful discussions with others. And another reason why we are all out on social media is because there are much less conservatives to go around, hence another reason why we are so close to each other. It may seem like there are those who are only using media to promote themselves, but many of us are really trying to just get the conservative message out there. That is the reason why I am in the conservative movement, and why I am outspoken about my views. Yeah, I don’t have as many views as Charlie Kirk, Tomi Lahren, etc., but that is not my goal. It would be fun to have that so people see that there are female, minority/immigrant conservatives that I do not need to live within the stereotypes. If I were just doing it for myself, I would be completely burned out by now. I do not intend to harm anybody, and it is something we fight for.

    The reason I do it is because I know my views are not the most popular. In fact when people see me tabling on campus or wearing a conservative button/sticker, they are surprised (both sides) to know that there are strong conservatives in college. The reason why I do videos is not to promote me, but so people know that there are female minority/immigrant conservatives around. It is about getting a unique voice out there. We see a lot from Cenk Uygur and Hasan Piker on the liberal side, what is wrong with having them on the conservative side?

    And most of the time, it is not necessarily about political party. Republican DOES NOT necessarily equal conservative, neither does Democrat necessarily equal liberal. Some of the organizations on campus also are NOT allowed to align with certain political parties, such as YAF, YAL, and TPUSA. CR’s being the only one aligning with a party. Even with these (minus CR’s for the most part), not everyone is registered Republican.

    Political technology is politically neutral. ANYONE can use it. It is just about how it is being used. This goes for grassroots campaigns, tabling and posting fliers on campus, and media!

    There is nothing wrong promoting principles of liberty. I do not necessarily agree with all these people all the time, but I am grateful for the freedom we have in this country to use platforms to promote conservative causes and even disagree with these people. If liberals use social media to promote liberal causes and get a lot of attention for it, why can’t us conservatives use it, too?

    Let us also not forget, MOST Hollywood celebrities are liberals (probably many closer to leftists than liberals). The liberals already have so many people in news media, Hollywood, Broadway, etc. What is wrong with having our conservative celebrities? Let’s be honest, most anyone can become famous on Youtube and social media these days if done properly.

    Isn’t it great that we live in a free country, where we can agree to disagree? Thank you for your story, but while there are some points that I agree with, I also disagree with some of your statements. It is great to hear how liberals view us conservatives.