News and Commentary

HAMILTON: 6 Lessons For A Young Conservative

When I wrote my first opinion piece as a junior at Pitzer College, I attempted to address a noticeable double-standard within the Claremont Colleges. The campus climate came across as being very liberal and tolerant, but there was not much to be desired about various divergent viewpoints, including those regarding the Arab-Israel conflict. This issue puzzled me immensely. “How can my fellow liberals be so opposed to hearing alternative points of view?” This led me to writing the following lines that were included in my first article:

If, as a community, we cannot take ownership of our collective humanity and start having dialogue with those whose opinions contradict ours, then we will not learn anything and will become the very agents of injustice that Claremont students love to fight against. This does not only go for discussions about Israel, but for discussions about everything.

At the time, I believed that writing those lines would open the door to fruitful conversations with others. That isn’t what happened. Within minutes of publication, some of my peers would compare me to the KKK, which tore me at the core. “How can supposedly tolerant people be so quick to call others racist for disagreeing with them?” Back then, I could not reconcile what I witnessed at the Claremont Colleges with the liberal ideas of free speech, free exercise of religion, and the right to defend yourself from imminent harm that my own ancestors sought to ensure, protect, and defend during the American Revolution.

Over the past few months, I have thought about how I turned from being a classically liberal Democrat into a libertarian-leaning conservative. However, each time I think about it, I just recall the very day I realized the unfortunate truth that progressives, whom many of my friends and colleagues call the “regressive left,” hijacked the party that, according to my parents’ beliefs, represented liberty, tolerance, justice, and freedom.

That day was June 30, 2014. At the time, I was interning for the Zionist Organization of America. A few weeks prior, the genocidal Islamist terrorist group Hamas kidnapped three Jewish teenagers in Judea and Samaria who sought to hitchhike from one part of the territory to another. They were slaughtered and buried close to Hebron and their bodies were found the aforementioned day. In a moment of uncontrollable fury, I wrote an open letter to President Obama in my blog for The Times of Israel, lashing out at him for failing to act upon his promise to the Jewish community to stand by them and the State of Israel in the face of genocidal threats. Part of my reaction came from the fact that one of these teenagers, Naftali Fraenkel, was an American-born Jew. His family moved to Israel hoping to live as self-determined Jews in our indigenous homeland, but Obama could not be bothered to do or say anything to hold Hamas accountable for kidnapping and subsequently killing him.

To me, that translated as a failure to uphold basic values of liberty, tolerance, freedom, and justice, and for what? The promise of “peace” with those who sought to destroy the Jewish state? Then, I asked myself the next unfortunate question: What if I were killed by Hamas instead of Naftali? Would Obama and the Democrats have cared? As the summer progressed and Israel engaged in another war with Hamas, Obama, the mainstream media, and much of the Democratic Party answered my question. When they drew moral equivalencies between Jews who sought to defend themselves and genocidal terrorists who not only wish to kill Israeli Jews but also American Jews, I realized that I didn’t belong in the Democratic Party. I changed my voter registration not long afterward and I never turned back.

During this period of political confusion, I had long conversations with people who identified as conservative and I talked to them about a handful of important topics ranging from foreign policy, the economy, immigration, and abortion. Some of these individuals became some of my most cherished friends to this day: Daniel Mael, Josh Hammer, Zachary Silver, and Alexandra Rosenberg, just to name a few. The more I talked to them, the more I realized that I truly wasn’t alone by refusing to identify as either a liberal or a progressive. They had been there and done that. Furthermore, they helped me weather through the storm during my senior year at Pitzer, where I often found myself secluded in a consortium filled with progressives and only a handful of people willing to stand by me. Without my Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter, my sister, and these groups of friends, I know that I would have lost my mind.

Despite my belief that I was conservative, I still felt that I needed to learn more information about conservatism, libertarianism, and classical liberalism so that I could properly articulate their views and defend them in a public forum. I sought information from various people over the past four years, including but not limited to: Ben Shapiro, Frank Luntz, Caroline Glick, Dave Rubin, Brooke Goldstein, Charles Jacobs, Josh Blackman, Ilya Shapiro, John Malcolm, and Max Abrahms. ​The craziest thing that I learned in pursuit of gathering ideas and information was how willing people were to teach others about the ideas that mattered to them and how they were willing to address disagreements in a fruitful way. At the same time, they knew where to draw the lines with those who neither cared about engaging in dialogue nor were they interested in making forums easily accessible to their ideological opponents than those who kept repeating their narrative. While others sought to widen the Overton window, others felt compelled to close it. Those who wanted to keep it open, I realized, were truly the liberal, tolerant individuals that I had been taught throughout my life to stand by and defend.

One of the ways I started airing out my grievances at the hypocrisy of the regressive Left was to write articles in student newspapers. First, I started out in The Student Life before I became a staff writer for The Claremont Independent. Though I had already established myself as a widely-read blogger for The Times of Israel, I decided to expand my platform by starting a blog with The Huffington Post. During the 2016 election season, I determined that I wanted to work toward pushing back against the same deceptive mainstream media that I challenged in the summer of 2014. I subsequently joined The Daily Wire in September. I do not regret my decision to put myself out there in the public arena even though my ideas are unpopular among my generation and they do not conform with the narratives that I grew up listening to for the overwhelming majority of my life.

However, I have come to the conclusion that I have said enough and I have given the movement all that I could possibly give. For that reason, I am putting down the pen and I am moving on from the political commentary realm. It was not an easy decision, but there are times where one has to walk off into the sunset and let the next generation of young conservatives continue the fight.

As I look back on the past four-and-a-half years of being directly involved in the political commentary arena, I have thought about lessons that I wish that I would have learned early on and what I would tell those who are currently on campus and in the real world trying to make their voices heard. I recognize that some colleges, including my own alma mater, have gotten significantly worse since I graduated three years ago and that many young conservatives and libertarians feel frustrated about their campus climate. Thus, I want to provide the following pieces of advice to young right-leaning students and recent graduates:

1. This is not the end of the world.

College is normally only four years of your life. You have plenty of life ahead of you to meet people who share your views. Just because you may feel under siege by a left-leaning student body and administration does not mean that the future is entirely doomed and that the world you live in is crumbling under your feet. The real world may have certain challenges when it comes to those who disagree with your politics, but it is mostly filled with reasonable people who can have reasonable conversations and who act reasonably around you. Just keep your head up and keep soldiering on.

2. Not every single individual who disagrees with you should be treated as an enemy.

Some of my best friends do not agree with me on most things in this world. In fact, some of the better friends I made in college believe the categorical opposite of what I stand for. Just because someone disagrees with you does not mean that they don’t care about you as an individual or that they don’t care about issues that you’re passionate about. It may be easy to view your ideological opponents as enemies, but you do not have to stoop to the level of radical leftist punks. If you wish to come across as reasonable, then be reasonable. Treat every single person as an individual with their own views and their own life story. Most people just want to be understood at a personal level and demonstrating your commitment to the individual as opposed to the collective will distinguish you from some of your radical peers.

The one distinction that I will make is that those who openly seek to align with individuals who wish to destroy your livelihood and your rights do not deserve your sympathy or time. In matters of life or death, such as siding with genocidal terrorist organizations who directly threaten those you love and cherish, you have no obligation to give them the due respect that they will not give to you. I strongly suggest applying this subset of people very narrowly. Most individuals may be confused or lack the proper understanding, but the select few who are adamantly opposed to allowing you the luxury of living a free and fruitful life should not be given any quarter.

3. If you’re going to write an article, then take good words and put them in careful order.

My third-grade teacher gave me these words of advice and I have tried to live by them to the best of my abilities. However, I am an imperfect individual and I have made mistakes in my attempts to make specific points. When it comes to one’s writing, that stays with you forever. If you feel compelled to write an article, then you should triple-check that everything you say in your piece is precisely how you want it published. At least one person will misunderstand what you’re saying, but you do not want to leave any part of your writing vague enough to open the door to an argument. Be clear and concise in your writing. If someone misreads what you are saying and takes your words out of context, then hammer them.

4. Prioritize your academics over your activism. Seriously.

I cannot say this enough. Advocacy work, especially on issues that you’re deeply passionate about, is time-consuming. You likely gain more utility out of doing advocacy work than doing research for your political science paper or your linear algebra problem set. However, you need to put your schoolwork first and foremost, especially if you wish to get competitive jobs and get accepted into competitive graduate programs. Even if you’re dedicating some time to doing well in school, the conservative movement has plenty of individuals defending the cause for liberty in your absence. When you finish your work, then do what you love to do.

5. Avoid the sensationalist traps. Always rely on principles.

There is a lot of sensationalism within the conservative movement. Some people make it sound easy to throw cheap, simplistic slogans in order to illustrate a larger point, but that does not help our movement in the long run. “Owning libs,” as the social media crowd would like to call it, will not always win over people on the fence. What does win over people is a substantive and respectful presentation of our ideas in contrast to those of the other side. We do not need to follow the tactics of the Left to prove our point; we can simply talk about ideas as they are and explain to our peers why we feel strongly about limited government, free speech, gun rights, and other important values. The most fruitful conversations I’ve ever had are with those who may not agree with me on most things, but they will leave a conversation with me and understand precisely where I am coming from. Classical liberalism requires the notion that unless proven otherwise, individuals have good intentions. If you apply this standard to our friends on the Right, then do the same with our friends on the Left. Knowing the difference between good intentions and bad intentions goes a long way in showing others that you are both serious and committed to the promise of dialogue.

6. Reach out to the experts personally and ask them questions.

During your college orientations, I would assume there was an expectation that if you had any questions about a particular subject matter, then you could go to your professors’ office hours and ask them a series of questions. The same applies to non-professoriate experts. If you’ve read The Laws of Plato, Cicero’s The Republic, or any of the classics, then you know that western civilization was predicated upon the notion of challenging your peers and asking as many questions as possible to understand where individuals stood on particular issues. If you are confused about what a reputable source wrote or said, then reach out to them and ask as many questions as you can. You do not learn through any other means. It is easy to read something, interpret it however you please, and then express moral outrage about it. It is a sign of maturity to ask genuine questions and determine where people truly stand on the issues. This is an important lesson that will carry you throughout your life and it will be highly beneficial when you enter the real world.

I​f you heed these six lessons, then you will find yourself well ahead of the curve as you enter the political realm. We need good people to carry the banner of conservatism and libertarianism and I sincerely hope that others do a far better job than I did. I will miss this world, but I know that we are in much better hands now than we were nearly five years ago. More importantly, I know that we have a chance to turn the tide on the culture war and make libertarianism more popular than the authoritarianism of either the Left or the Right. It just requires good people to make that possible.

To my Daily Wire family, I want to thank you so much for welcoming me into your fold and giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. Thank you, Ben Shapiro, for being such an invaluable mentor to me ever since I was a senior at Pitzer and for giving me the chance to shine light unto a world of darkness. To all of my friends and family who have stood by me during this time, I love you all and I look forward to continuing our conversations elsewhere.

May G-d bless and protect you all and may G-d bless and protect the United States of America.