Though I’m sympathetic to the well-thought-out argument made a few weeks ago urging students to skip the Ted Cruz event, I decided to go. After all, it’s not often that you get to hear a petulant junior senator gripe from his leather chair about how conservatives just don’t get to speak their minds these days.
I’ll admit: I don’t have much respect for the senator. He encouraged students — and the American public — to take risks and stick to their convictions, democracy and basic dignity be damned. In 2016 — even after former President Trump insulted his wife’s appearance — he played it safe and endorsed him. Had Cruz taken a risk and stuck to his conservative convictions, he probably would have ended up like Jeff Flake or Bob Corker, having to defend himself from endless abuse on social media — as if Cruz didn’t already have enough Twitter problems.
In short, the event was as ridiculous as a Saturday Night Live skit. I was one of the first 200 entrants into the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale, so I got a free shirt with disturbingly high-definition imprints of Knowles and Cruz — which will play perfectly when I go back to Alabama! Knowles and Cruz must have felt like badasses as they walked onto the stage accompanied by an electric guitar and animated flames. When did conservative podcasters become so hip?
The event also felt alarmingly corporatized. It felt like a big ad for Cruz’s cactus-branded Verdict™ hats. They asked us to subscribe to Verdict+, a streaming service that lets you hear extra exclusive conservative thought for a bargain of $72 a year — the free market at work! It’s easy to tell Knowles is a trained actor. He plays the part of feisty, young conservative podcast host real well. Before the event, I’d like to imagine that he rehearsed his lines in his bathroom and then kissed his mirror.
And, please, don’t even get me started on Liz Wheeler. When she introduced the event, she sounded like Tucker Carlson if you Google translated his vitriol into Estonian then back into English. Or if you fed IBM’s Watson 50 hours of InfoWars and asked it to be funny. For 120 minutes the group spoke to a crowd of Yalies, without disruption, about everything from Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson’s credentials to fellatio.
By the end of the event, I might have laughed more than I have at any other point this semester.
The bottom line is this: these guys are not to be taken seriously. Some have rightly voiced concern that attending the Cruz event would legitimize his dangerous views. This is someone who has spread falsehoods and flew to Cancun and read “Green Eggs and Ham” in a 21-hour filibuster. And they’re not wrong; in an age with so much misinformation and polarization, the last thing we need is to add fuel to the fire.
But I went because boycotting them won’t change anything. Cruz will continue to be Cruz and Knowles will just keep his cushy job triggering the libs, Omni Hotel visit or not. Conspiracy theorists will continue to saturate the air waves with their latest creations; politicians will still do what they do best. Lies, falsehoods, demagoguery — they’ve existed for as long as humanity has, and they aren’t going back into Pandora’s box anytime soon. Standing up to senseless right-wing rhetoric might require us to simply laugh in their faces. It’s an act done not in the interests of affirming their beliefs but living with them — of invalidating them by learning to separate their madness from the precious few grains of truth we still have.
By attending their talk, we ironically undermined them: while speaking their minds freely to Yale students, Knowles and Cruz complained about being unable to speak their minds freely to Yale students. I’m glad the Buckley Program hosted the event because in the time it took Dorothy to find her way down the yellow brick road, the two speakers effectively tried to convince a group of patient Yalies that no one would ever listen to what conservatives have to say.
Carter Dewees is a freshman in Saybrook College. Contact him at email@example.com