How Conservatives Can Win Without Whining

The progressivist insistence on feeling safe and included, along with accompanying acts of censorship and personnel complaint, has proven so successful in recent years that one can hardly blame conservative students for joining in. But they should hold back. When conservatives proclaim that they are offended and unsafe, though they may win a quick victory in the ongoing campus culture wars, they only ensure future losses as well. What happened at North Carolina State this month shouldn’t be repeated.

The episode followed a customary plot. An official at a university says something offensive about a particular group; the group files an objection and the official steps down. Usually, the parties of complaint come from a historically-disadvantaged group—women, blacks, Muslims, gays, etc.—who have considerable moral authority at the school because of their victim status. The offending figure, too, has often meant no disrespect in his actions, but has shown himself insufficiently sensitive to the group’s “experience.” A protest follows, the offender apologizes, and he may or may not keep his post.

This time, however, we had a non-disadvantaged group, conservative students (presumably white), and an official who was a lot more than insensitive. He was hostile and insulting.

[The Wolves of the Academy]

Here are the things the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs at NC State wrote in separate tweets on Twitter:

But, now the GOP is the party of the NRA, neo-Nazis, the KKK, and all manner of Alt-Right crazies.

Yet another indication of the lack of ethical values inherent in Trump supporters.

Sitting in the Renaissance lounge, working, listening to three redneck businessmen discussing democratic mobs and violence. Lots of coded language.

Tiresome, predictable, irritating stuff, and it roused the College Republicans to act. The Executive Board of the CRs composed a demand letter and posted it on its own Twitter page. The Board introduces it with, “Attached here is our statement regarding insulting comments made by NC State’s Vice Chancellor.” The statement is clear, direct, and sober. But it is a misguided response from beginning to end, precisely because it copies progressivist demand and language to the letter.

[The Birth of a Nation]

The demand comes in the opening sentence:

The College Republicans at NC State are formally requesting the immediate resignation of Vice-Chancellor Mike Mullen due to his continued insolence and insulting rhetoric.

This is a mistake. The CRs should not have called for the resignation of the administrator. That’s the left’s tactic, which the young right should not imitate. Instead, the CRs should have let him remain in place, but demanded that he demonstrate somehow that he will not actively discriminate against conservative students. They should have widely broadcasted his opinion of GOP supporters, made a public issue of it, and let the leadership of this public institution in a state whose voters went for Trump in 2016 wriggle its way out of the embarrassment.

For, the vice chancellor had put himself in a tough spot. He knew that he must treat students impartially in the nuts and bolts of his position. Administrators must be fair no matter what they think of the politics of the kids. But the vice chancellor had thrown himself under suspicion. This could have been an interesting situation, with the CRs enjoying a distinct advantage.

What a spectacle it might have been if, instead of demanding he resign, the CRs had asked him to join them for a town hall meeting. They could have had fun facing their accuser and stating to him in front of a crowd, “You have called us allies of Nazis and Klansmen—me, a student from Charlotte whose mother read what you said about me—would you please explain?” No indignation, no excess solemnity, no tears. The CRs could have shown themselves to be the adults in the room, the VC the childish name-caller. And throughout it all, the CRs would have shown that they’re having a good time, that the insults are so ridiculous that they don’t deserve to be taken seriously.

[How Diversity Hijacked History 101 and All the Humanities]

Unfortunately, the CRs did take them seriously. The language of the letter after the opening demand maintains a tone of high offense. Here is the next paragraph:

Targeted rhetoric that compares Conservatives and Republicans on NC State’s campus to “neo-nazis,” “alt-right crazies,” and “KKK members” has no place in the university system. Mr. Mullen’s comments have affixed Republican students to society’s most egregious and reprehensible groups, thus widening the gap of political divisiveness and creating an unsafe political environment for all students.

The idiom comes right out of progressivist whining. “Targeted rhetorical . . . has no place . . . political divisiveness . . . unsafe political environment.” That last phrase is the worst. Conservative students should NEVER talk about safe spaces! Progressives have infantilized the campus enough. Conservatives shouldn’t add to the problem.

The next sentence gives us more progressivist lament: “Mr. Mullen has spewed hurtful rhetoric.” Hurtful is one of those fuzzy, whiny, flat, unimaginative words whose weakness is supposed to reflect the injured innocence of the afflicted one. It’s the diction of a victim mentality, and conservatives should save victimhood for people who have suffered more than an overgrown adolescent insulting them on Twitter.

The next paragraph is just as bad. It contains two words high in the social justice nomenclature:

Since 1951, College Republicans at NC State have advocated strongly for respectful dialogue and inclusiveness in the political process.

One would like to think this is parody. Progressives love to call for more “dialogue,” which usually means, “Let’s talk until you agree with me,” and their “inclusiveness” is really a form of coercion. Conservatives, then, should use them with irony. But there are no signs that the CRs have their tongues in their cheeks. They really mean it.

This time, they won. The VC resigned. But it’s a lost opportunity. I sympathize with conservative students at NC State. The relentless condemnation of Trump and his supporters is annoying, witless, and predictable, not to mention insulting. But it does no good for the right to force a resignation, not when they are so outnumbered and overwhelmed in higher education that they must play a different game. A more enduring victory would have been to ridicule him and show the campus that conservatives have better things to do than complain about puerile accusations.

Conservatives must start having fun with liberal calumny. Social justice types will never be very popular. They’re humorless and judgmental. Don’t follow their lead.


  • Mark Bauerlein

    Mark Bauerlein is a professor emeritus of English at Emory University and an editor at First Things, where he hosts a podcast twice a week. He is the author of five books, including The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Youth to Dangerous Adults.

17 thoughts on “How Conservatives Can Win Without Whining

  1. What Professor Bauerlein fails to understand is that students are fungible.

    What Professor Bauerlein fails to understand is that students, whose status is tenuous in a way that his isn’t, need to be Machiavellian in a way that he doesn’t — they either need to remove the Vice Chancellor or they will be removed themselves (and it still may happen to them.)

    Given a chance, the Vice Chancellor would simply replace them with other students, who were more compliant — students who’d love to have a letter of recommendation for law school or help obtaining a cushy state job upon graduation. The entire E-Board would be replaced, and the campus police would arrest anyone who complained about it.

    I saw this happen at UMass Amherst — the entire E-Board of the UMass Republican Club was replaced with students who hadn’t even been members of the club two weeks earlier, with the campus police removing everyone but them from the club’s office. That’s what administrators do, and given a chance, this Vice Chancellor would have done it.

    Students are fungible in a way that tenured faculty are not….

  2. Nah. If you want to communicate with people, you have to speak in a language they can understand.

    If you want to argue about the degradation of language in general, go for it and I’m on your side. But still. You have to speak to people in language they can understand.

  3. Bullshit. We have to, as Glenn Reynolds says, punch back twice as hard. Kudos to the NC State College Republicans.

    I’m sick of the “we’re better than that” mentality, with which we lose every single time. Same with platitudes about free speech and the First Amendment. The only thing the Left understands is power, and if necessary, violence. Instead of such bromides, we need to start saying “No, WE will tell YOU what you can think and say” and back it up by any means necessary. Only then will they back off.

  4. Any non-violent tactic is fair game against the left. These are fascists who, unopposed will not figuratively but literally murder their opponents. They’ll do it in stages, and the 1930s and 1940s show a clear indication of the progression.

  5. With respect, I must dissent.

    The Left suffers no penalty or inconvenience of any sort for their use of the tactics of weaponized victimhood at this time. They are able to stifle debate, dismiss inconvenient professors, students, etc. at will, and otherwise impose their will upon the rest of us at no meaningful cost to themselves. Unless and until we make them live by their own rules and use them aggressively against them, they will continue to use them against us. Only when they are forced to accept that the potential downside of their tactics make them unpalatable to them despite their effectiveness will they consider forswearing their use.

    To stand aside and allow them to continue this behavior with impunity will not shame them into stopping it….these people are beyond shame, they are only interested in power.

    1. On one hand, yes, it would be great to have cowed an administrator to publicly abase himself. Not to mention that he would have to pussyfoot on any decision involving Non-Leftist students.


      Hitting back by getting someone fired provides a potent response. It clearly warns others to tone down their abusive rhetoric, and, in future actions, sets the standard for minimally civil discourse. Not to mention the scalp. The more scalps we can collect, the more the base is emboldened.

  6. While “Calling for an administrator to step down due to highly bigoted remarks is well within the rights” is certainly true, I think Professor Bauerlein makes a persuasive argument for his approach. Recent pollical polls show that the Left is not winning the hearts and minds of the American public. The most important goal in any these culture war skirmishes is to do whatever might convince an open minded individual to consider your point of view. The Left never does this, preferring to use power politics for this purpose, and that is failing them.

  7. I’ll go further…..
    Donald Trump as made whining an acceptable behavior by conservatives.
    By doing this he has set back conservatism perhaps for a generation.

  8. Yes, this was wrong. Succeeding with lefty tactics is a Pyrhhic victory, where you trade tactical victory for strategic defeat.

  9. > The CRs could have shown themselves to be the adults in the room, the VC the childish name-caller.

    The adults are losing.

  10. I am sorry, but you are wrong here. The left creates the rules and refuses to live by them. If conservative students are going to break the death grip that the Marxist left has over higher education they must do so within the same moral framework that the left has created. Calling for an administrator to step down due to highly bigoted remarks is well within the rights of students who would have to learn under him. Self-censorship is just as dangerous as blatant censorship.

    1. Sorry but you are the wrong one. We should never adopt the language of the other side. “Inclusiveness” and “safe spaces” indeed. That is what we make fun of.

  11. Although I find the VC’s comments disgusting and so very typical of the hysterical left, I do agree with Professor Bauerlein’s approach. Conservatives should be very careful before resorting to the tactics of the pathetic left.

    Please keep up your tradition of excellent commentary, Professor!

    1. Conservative students need to either do exactly what these students did — or do nothing, and none of us know how many times in the past they had done nothing….

    2. I applaud those College Republicans for making the Left live up to their own book of rules.

      I was a CR in my youth. In those days following the Leftist-organized campus riots, we took the high road and shrugged off a lot of the campus Left’s cruel lies about us. We answered their hate with civility. The campus Left only got angrier, nastier, and more entrenched on America’s campuses. After four-plus decades of being Nice Guys who are punching bags for the campus Left, I urge CRs to start being Wise Guys who, as Barack Obama urged his fans to do, “punch back twice as hard.”

      “Bring a gun.”–Barack Obama, Leftist Transformation Advocate

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