The Corner

Energy & Environment

Greta Thunberg Cannot Be Both a Shield and a Sword

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg joins Italian students to demand action on climate change in Rome, Italy, April 19, 2019. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)

Here is the first rule: If you comment on politics, you are liable to be criticized. Here is the second rule: The more vehement you get in your rhetoric, the more vehement the reactions against you are likely to be. Here is the third rule: There are no exceptions to the first two rules.

There are no more rules.

I do not know whether the people who are trying to inoculate Greta Thunberg from criticism genuinely believe that we’re too stupid to see the game that is being played, or whether they know that we can see it, but imagine that they can win it by brute force. Either way, they are wrong. What is being attempted with Thunberg is one of the oldest tricks in the book. First, you find a young person who shares your politics and cast them as the uncorrupted prophet of a new generation. Second, you have them argue their case as often and as loudly as possible. Third, you cast all pushback as “inappropriate” or “bullying” or “punching down.” “Why,” you ask, “are you criticizing this sweet little girl who is just trying to help us in our quest to reorder the entire world?”

This process is not only transparent; it is grotesque. There exists no universe in which one can simultaneously cast a person as a brave truth-teller whose words must be heeded, and as an innocent, fragile child who is beneath the notice of any well-rounded adult. A sword is not a shield and a shield is not a sword. One must pick one. If Thunberg’s tears are notable on one side of the political ledger, then they are notable on the other. If her anger and fear and instability are the key to her message and appeal, then they may be referenced by her critics, too. If her age makes her different, then . . . well, her age makes her different: “Gosh, she’s only sixteen!” “Yes, exactly, she’s only sixteen.” To indulge any other approach than this is to permit one group within our raucous political conversation to short-circuit it completely.

Were Thunberg merely emoting, there would indeed be a case for ignoring her. But then, were she merely emoting, she wouldn’t have an audience. Her audience has grown because she is making concrete claims: The world will end in eight-and-a-half years; my future has been ruined; the economy can’t grow indefinitely; nuclear power is bad; the following countries are guilty, etc. To sit this one out would be to permit the adult advocates of those presumptions to smuggle them into the media, the United Nations, the European Union, and so on, and to do so without evaluation, pushback, or discussion. That will not stand — and it shouldn’t.

Most Popular

White House

More Evidence the Guardrails Are Gone

At the end of last month, just as the news of the Ukraine scandal started dominating the news cycle, I argued that we're seeing evidence that the guardrails that staff had placed around Donald Trump's worst instincts were in the process of breaking down. When Trump's staff was at its best, it was possible to draw ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review


Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More
White House

The Impeachment Defense That Doesn’t Work

If we’ve learned anything from the last couple of weeks, it’s that the “perfect phone call” defense of Trump and Ukraine doesn’t work. As Andy and I discussed on his podcast this week, the “perfect” defense allows the Democrats to score easy points by establishing that people in the administration ... Read More

Is America Becoming Sinicized?

A little over 40 years ago, Chinese Communist strongman and reformer Deng Xiaoping began 15 years of sweeping economic reforms. They were designed to end the disastrous, even murderous planned economy of Mao Zedong, who died in 1976. The results of Deng’s revolution astonished the world. In four decades, ... Read More