On Monday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley spoke at Turning Point USA’s High School Leadership Summit in Washington DC and offered an excellent message to young conservatives.
She asked the hundreds of high school students to raise their hands if they had ever posted anything online to “quote unquote ‘own the libs.’” The vast majority of the audience raised their hands, sparking a spontaneous applause.
This was Haley’s response: “I know that it’s fun and that it can feel good, but step back and think about what you’re accomplishing when you do this — are you persuading anyone? Who are you persuading? We’ve all been guilty of it at some point or another, but this kind of speech isn’t leadership — it’s the exact opposite. Real leadership is about persuasion, it’s about movement, it’s bringing people around to your point of view. Not by shouting them down, but by showing them how it is in their best interest to see things the way you do.”
She’s absolutely right, and we’ve all done it. Whether it’s a tweet, a meme, or Facebook post, we tend to find joy in mocking and humiliating our political opposition (particularly deserving targets) and they equally enjoy doing so to us. It’s the nature of politics, a never-ending game of one-upping each other. But in such divisive times, that game has evolved into a weapon to shut down those we disagree with.
Last week, Disney fired “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn for resurfaced years-old tweets that joked about rape and pedophilia. However, this wasn’t some random incident. This followed Gunn’s defense of liberal actor Mark Duplass for praising conservative pundit Ben Shapiro on Twitter.
Gunn’s firing was a coordinated campaign by rightwing writer Mike Cernovich and his followers. In a “report” of Gunn’s tweets, Cernovich included Disney’s press inquiries and shareholders’ email addresses, hoping they’d be overwhelmed by outraged messages. Now they’re going after liberal comedians like Patton Oswalt, Michael Ian Black, Sarah Silverman, and Trevor Noah for their histories of tasteless humor.
There was no defense for Gunn’s abhorrent tweets, but these social media hit jobs are not the answer, and his firing was unjust. Throughout this year alone, we’ve seen plenty of examples of viral mobs targeting individuals across the political spectrum.
They pulled out their torches and pitchforks for Roseanne Barr after she made a racially charged tweet mocking former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett, which ultimately led to her firing by Disney earlier this summer. They targeted Scarlett Johansson after she was cast as a transgender man in an upcoming film (of which she now no longer is a part).
They launched an ad boycott campaign against Fox News host Laura Ingraham for mocking Parkland High School student David Hogg on Twitter, and took aim at MSNBC host Joy Reid for writing homophobic posts on her now-defunct blog. More recently, they’ve gone after CRTV host Allie Beth Stuckey over a satirical interview that mocked democratic socialist candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
It’s one thing to make a joke at the expense of opponents who have embarrassed themselves. It’s another thing to hold their careers hostages until they or their employers cave to your demands.
Haley essentially urged young conservatives to avoid trolling, which is sort of ironic since her boss has become the troller-in-chief. It’s how President Trump got elected. However, he’d be better off if he didn’t purposefully rattle his political adversaries in the Democratic Party and mainstream media so often.
Haley’s approach to political discourse rings similarly to former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high” rhetoric from the 2016 election, something that fell on deaf ears since Democrats have done everything but taken the high road since Trump took office.
That being said, if conservatives “go high” and stop using the Left’s tactics against them, chances are they’d continue to use them on us, making it an uneven battle. That’s when we shift strategies from “owning the libs” to “persuading the libs,” as Haley urged those students.
At the end of the day, making the case to open-minded individuals that your conservative argument is stronger than theirs is how you win this ugly culture war and more importantly how you win elections. It wasn’t just Trump’s childish nicknames for other candidates that got him the votes, it was the policies he campaigned on and promise to appoint conservative judges to the Supreme Court.
It will be difficult to follow Haley’s advice. The temptations to kick our opponents when they’re down will always be there. But for the sake of civility in this country, we must show more compassion for those across the aisle. Maybe one day, they’ll do the same for us. Even if they don’t, it’s the right thing to do.