Ben Shapiro is the saddest kind of mildly famous person: a former child star.
The conservative commentator first rose to prominence as a right-wing Wunderkind, becoming a syndicated columnist at 17, and a published author of a bestseller at 20, the same age at which he graduated from UCLA. In his tremulous, nerdy voice he decried the liberalism of everyone and everything from his alma mater to the producers of Happy Days. For a few years he was ubiquitous on Fox News and talk radio and in the books section at Costco.
Shapiro's joyless obsession with policing the libs defined the mood of American conservatism during the long tedious years of Barack Obama's presidency. His grinding mechanical intelligence, never satisfied unless it was collating the latest faux-outrages that ordinary conservative readers never knew they wanted to hear about, permanently debased the sensibilities of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. It also made him rich.
It is baffling that Shapiro has an audience in 2018. His writing and thinking, if you can call them that, are as dated as your grandfather's Tea Party Patriots membership card. He is a holdover who moans about principled conservatism and President Trump's supposed tyrannical instincts, as if suggesting that the center-right presidency of the mild-mannered Obama was some kind of Stalinist reign of terror were not the definition of demagoguery.
It is astonishing that any body of learning would invite Shapiro to lecture on any subject. But is it really a cause for anxiety?
The University of Connecticut recently announced that in advance of an upcoming appearance on its campus — at some unspecified date, time, and location — it would be offering counseling services to students who find themselves hopelessly immiserated at "even the thought of an individual coming to campus with the views that Mr. Shapiro expresses." This message was sent unsolicited to the inboxes of every student, as if it were some kind of tragedy for anything except literacy.
I don't hold with a lot of the “campus snowflake” talk. I think endless reporting on the goings-on at our universities is a cottage industry whose popularity tells us more about the appetites of right-wing boomers than it does about today's students, many of whom will go four years without ever thinking about politics.
But come on. I would love for someone to explain to me what exactly it is about Shapiro of all people that the mere possibility of his appearance could so offend the sensibilities of any healthy, socially well-adjusted adult that coming to terms with it would require the assistance of a mental health professional.
I am not suggesting that there is not a single person between the ages of 18 and 22 for whom the prospect of Shapiro's pasty countenance ululating somewhere on a campus of some 4,400 acres is life-destroying, but I would like to suggest that such a person is not going to have an easy time in life anyway. Nearly everything that adults do every day, from reading the news to having the same conversation about Thomas the Tank Engine with a 2-year-old 50 times, is more physically and mentally taxing than wrapping your head around the idea that somewhere a dweeb is making noise. The current job market, housing prices, the gobs of debt most students are forced to take on to be at school in the first place — these and a million other things are genuinely distressing. The fact that the Doogie Howser of Tea Party constitutionalists is making a speech that you are free to protest, heckle, ignore, or anything in between is not.
University professionals surely understand this. The life of a college professor or administrator these days is a tedious grind through endless, and largely pointless, committee meetings. Spending six months researching a journal article that will be read by six people, including its editors, is depressing. Going before a tenure board made up of people who know nothing and care less about your academic interests is probably anxiety-inducing. Shapiro is not. Which is why people who have had these experiences should not be treating those under whom they are acting in loco parentis as if they were toddlers who just saw Bambi's mother die for the first time. Their cynicism here is shameful.
Shapiro is lame. He is a poster boy for everything dorky and groan-inducing about movement conservatism. Pretending that he is a public health crisis too is exactly what he wants. Don't give it to him.