Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump points to supporters following his speech at the Charleston Civic Center on May 5, 2016 in Charleston, West Virginia.

Editor’s Note: Kayleigh McEnany is a CNN contributor. She recently completed her Juris Doctor coursework at Harvard Law School. She graduated from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and also studied politics at Oxford University. The views expressed are her own.

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Kayleigh McEnany: Donald Trump's audacious, unflinching boldness in face of criticism is a virtue

Trump has set the politically correct prison walls aflame, she says

CNN  — 

It was about a year ago that Donald Trump stormed onto the political scene. Many were taken aback by the confident, unapologetic and far from politically correct New York businessman – including me.

I admit that, for the first month of his candidacy, I had my concerns about Trump. I questioned, for example, whether someone with such cutting yet candid honesty, a candidate who veered so sharply from so many of the usual political expectations, could ever become president. The more I watched Trump on the campaign trail, though, the more some of these supposed weaknesses turned out to be strengths. I kept an open mind.

Kayleigh McEnany

Having spent years in academia – at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Oxford University and Harvard Law School – I encountered a wide range of worldviews. Some of the most interesting were from my Oxford tutor, a former Palestinian Liberation Organization representative with whom I frequently disagreed, but who I grew to understand and genuinely respect. My Harvard law professor, meanwhile, held views on the criminal justice system that sharply contrasted with my own, but that professor taught me the importance of thoughtful, civil interchange between opposing viewpoints.

These are lessons that I have kept with me, and which have helped inform my political views – including a willingness to be open-minded about Trump’s candidacy.

Like many others, I fully expected Trump to back down from his controversial statements as any good, scripted Washington politician would. After all, such brazenness was not permissible in mainstream political discourse. But rather than backing down, Trump pushed forward and the media was incensed. His audacious, unflinching boldness in the face of an onslaught of criticism is a virtue that I would not just come to accept, but also to appreciate and admire, leading me to endorse him before voting ever began.

Sadly, some seem unable to accept that maybe what America needs is someone who will level with voters, and who isn’t shy about presenting things as they are, not like we would necessarily like them to be. That is no truer than on U.S. college campuses.

Bastions of free-flowing discussion with civil exchange are the academic ideal. But during my time in academia, it became increasingly clear that prisons of political correctness with peer-engendered public shaming are now the academic reality. Indeed, the reality is that there is a contingency of liberal college students that seek not just to diminish alternate viewpoints, but to stifle them altogether.

In many cases, students who profess conservatism become the subject of anonymous ad hominem attacks – not by professors seeking to facilitate conversation, but by students seeking to stop it. At one institution, an entire student-run website was devoted in part to just this endeavor. But the bullying was not just confined to the Internet.

The squelching of speech was showcased last year when Yale students were filmed screaming down a professor who suggested that banning offensive Halloween costumes infringes on free speech. At the University of Michigan, students called police over pro-Trump messages written in chalk and suggested that there ought to be an emergency number to erase future “chalkings.”

It was this kind of mindset – the hostile advocacy of platitudes over polite dissent, dictatorial silencing over thoughtful engagement and censorship over free interchange – that took me from reticent acceptance of Trump’s approach to passionate advocacy.

It is of course not just his approach that has appealed, but his recognition that the enemy we face is not faceless but comes in the form of radical Islamic extremism, that the middle class has been left behind by both the left and the right and that unbridled immigration has victimized many Americans.

Yet it is his honest advocacy for his deeply held beliefs that has emboldened me to speak out confidently for my positions, and to ignore the anonymous attacks and scoffing jeers of the naysayers. Trump has set the politically correct prison walls aflame.

Despite the unfortunate state of freedom of ideas on U.S. campuses today, it was still the scholastic principle of openness to alternatives that encouraged me to give Trump’s views a second look, and what I found was far more nuance than the media and his critics give him credit for.

Take Trump’s supposed “ban on all Muslims.” What he actually proposed was a temporary ban on non-U.S. citizen Muslims until we discover how to isolate ISIS sympathizers. And Trump never dubbed all Mexicans rapists and criminals. Rather, he suggested that Mexican government had sent some people who fit this profile, much like Cuba did during the Mariel boatlift of the 1980s. None of this was motivated by bigotry, racism, Islamophobia or whatever other “ism” or “ia” the pundits concocted.

“The punditry snicker, the politicians sneer, and the editorialists scoff, but the American people speak and Donald J. Trump rises –commandingly so – confounding the powerful institutions of Washington D.C. and New York and earning him the ire of both.” That’s what I wrote when I endorsed him.

Yes, I knew the road would be hard, beset with opposition from the left and the right. But the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia and his infinite wisdom continue to be a guiding light. Though written in a religious context, his words are ever encouraging to those fighting an uphill battle of any sort: “Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

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