After Greta Thunberg debacle, both sides must rethink response to youth activists

The way both the Left and the Right responded to teen climate activist Greta Thunberg’s United Nations speech was a travesty. It’s increasingly common on both sides of the aisle for children to champion policy, but it’s more concerning to see petulant behavior coming from the adults in the room.

To be clear, everyone should be allowed to express their political beliefs, regardless of age. After the shooting at my school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, I spoke out for school safety and defended gun rights.

I was thrust into the political spotlight, and gave interviews to almost every mainstream outlet. I have been through some of what Thunberg is experiencing, from the advocacy to the backlash. I too faced outlandish claims and personal attacks while advocating for policy proposals I believed in. And, as in Thunberg’s case, prominent individuals said I was being manipulated or was otherwise disingenuous.

So I can see that some on both sides of the aisle are acting immaturely toward Thunberg. No one pushing policy should be exempt from intellectual critique, but at the same time, ad hominem attacks on teenagers shouldn’t occur regardless of political viewpoint.

When the Right responds with ad hominem attacks as a response to Greta, saying “she’s mentally ill” is the same unintelligent response as “you’re sexist” or “you’re a man” and therefore you can’t have an opinion about abortion. It’s not an argument, and attempting to compare her to Hitler youth imagery is asinine at best. The Right preaches to champion facts over all, and it should stick to that. However, regardless of age, your ideas can still be critiqued.

The Left is wrong when they frame any critique of Thunberg’s ideas and advocacy as a personal attack. It’s extremely disingenuous to champion a child partially because of her youth, only to then hide behind her youth when criticisms emerge.

When I was pushing school safety policies which would affect millions of people, I welcomed debate, and even debated British journalist Piers Morgan on national television. In the policy world, I was rightfully treated as an adult, and with that comes the responsibility of not acting like a child. But if you are pushing policy and you yell, fearmonger, and act childishly on national television, as Thunberg has done, you should expect to face criticism, and rightfully so.

Yet that criticism should always be substantive, and never personal.

So, too, the Left needs to decide how it reacts to children in the spotlight. The Left’s criticisms of the conservative approach toward Thunberg is entirely hypocritical when you consider how quickly liberals smeared and condemned the Covington Catholic students and Nick Sandmann.

Those children didn’t even want the spotlight, and yet the Left attacked them, tried to destroy their lives, and some even tweeted physical threats of violence. You cannot hold the standard that a child cannot be critiqued, but only apply it when you approve of their ideology.

Still, Thunberg herself also has something to learn. She ought to reconsider her rhetoric, which is at times extreme and antagonistic.

As someone who lobbied Congress and the president successfully and got federal bills passed, I succeeded because I approached the matter with bipartisan solutions, rather than with apocalyptic platitudes about how adults have doomed us.

Ultimately, everyone has something to learn from Greta Thunberg’s emergence on the national stage. Right now, both sides are handling it wrong.