“We believe in freedom. We believe in free markets. We believe in limited government.”
That is a quote taken directly from the landing page of Turning Point USA’s website, the campus-based organization I started in 2012 at the age of 18 in order to fight back against the spread of socialism on our college and high school campuses.
Two years later, I went on a barnstorming tour of those campuses coining the phrase, “Big Government Sucks!” The phrase caught on, and in many ways came to define our entire student movement that is now on over 2,000 college and high school campuses nationwide.
Recently, these three words have taken on a more urgent and terrifying meaning.
In just the past month we’ve witnessed big government block certain Christians from celebrating Easter (even at drive-in, socially distanced services). Big government lockdowns have forced entrepreneurs to shutter their businesses. And big government has forced millions of families to “shelter in place,” preventing them from such innocuous activities as golfing, paddle boarding or taking their children to the park.
I’m certainly not suggesting the government doesn’t have an appropriate role to play in combatting the coronavirus crisis. Government must be heavily involved in coordinating our public and private efforts. But these examples, and countless others, are nothing but big government run amok. This isn’t cooperation or coordination, it’s coercion by force.
And sadly, big government is only getting bigger. Advocates for an ever-expanding, deficit-financed nanny state have unveiled another weapon more sinister and corrupting to our conservative first principles than the use of force. It’s called temptation.
When I started TPUSA, I expected to be condemned by university professors and administrators, dismissed by establishment politicians and, once our organization grew, vilified in the press. Even getting attacked by ANTIFA at a café in Philadelphia, while not pleasant, wasn’t a huge shock. What I didn’t expect, however, was to be confronted by temptation, at least not in this way.
Temptation has come in the form of the new Paycheck Protection Program, authorized by the giant welfare dependency bill called the CARES Act. This is the program where a business or organization can borrow money directly from the government, much of which can be forgiven if it is used for payroll and rent or mortgage purposes.
Turning Point USA now has over 200 employees. With the shutdown of college and high school campuses — where we primarily work — we have been forced to layoff staff and cut back on expenses across the board. We could have easily qualified for a seven-figure loan.
And for a split second I considered it.
At our board’s direction we reviewed the options put forth from the SBA and the PPP program. It is tempting to want to take “free money” from the government, and we even considered proceeding with the process.
But then I remembered the source of this unexpected temptation. How could I possibly accept money from big government when I had spent my entire adult life fighting against it? How could I preach self-reliance but practice dependence? How could I argue against corporate welfare while letting my organization stand in the same line?
The answer was, I couldn’t.
There are divergent schools of thought regarding the decision I’ve made. Milton Freidman might have told me to take the money because that is how the current system works, and then use the opportunity to fight to change the system. A character in an Ayn Rand novel would most likely have refused the funds without a second thought, but Ms. Rand herself took Social Security benefits in later life. The point is, some of the brightest minds in the conservative movement, both today and in the past, would likely come to different conclusions on the merits of this decision.
But for me, and for TPUSA, to accept would have made every word ever uttered at our conferences, at our campus events, or across our social media, inevitably ring hollow.
I’m not criticizing freedom-loving American business owners who, having been brought to the brink of collapse by big government’s response to the pandemic, have been forced to accept the money. Every circumstance is different, and I am in no position to judge others.
But I still have my own God-given freewill and liberty to make my own decision.
Here is my simple statement: Accepting federal bailout money would contradict every core belief we have at Turning Point USA. We are proud to be privately and independently funded and we will remain that way in perpetuity.
Charlie Kirk is founder and president of Turning Point USA, author of the New York Times bestseller The MAGA Doctrine: The Only Ideas That Will Win the Future, and host of The Charlie Kirk Show