The Case Against Conservatives
Trump & Milo are the new faces of bigotry and hate.
It’s only the fifth week of the Trump presidency and within those five weeks chaos, lies and hate have been the constants.
If that assessment sounds harsh, it’s also baldly true. Some, but not all, media outlets have decided it’s time to address President Trump and his administration as it is, sans euphemism, and to call out what’s false or what’s not working or what is simply, as the New York Times has stated, "not normal."
Once you’ve antagonized Australia and Sweden, invented terrorist attacks than never happened, had your signature executive order stayed by federal courts, had five Cabinet-level nominees withdraw, had to fire the National Security Advisor for lying about ties to Russia when that country interfered in the November election and referred to the press as the "enemy of the people" – all in the first month – any pretense of normalcy is itself a lie.
As CPAC 2017 opened Feb. 23 and anti-Trump protests raged throughout the country, Trump’s dysfunctional and increasingly more disturbing presidency remained center stage in not just U.S. but world politics.
The furor that began last week when CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) announced Milo Yiannopoulos would be the keynote speaker for the 2017 event being held this weekend reinforced for many just how much the Trump presidency has flung wide the door to hate speech and all it engenders.
Just as Donald Trump has been called "brash" and "brazen," Milo – he prefers to be known by his first name, celebrity-style, like Prince and Madonna – has been most commonly called a "populist provocateur."
But where does so-called populism end and demagoguery begin?
Milo was axed from CPAC after video tape surfaced of him seeming to support pedophile relationships between adult men and boys 13 and younger in a podcast. Milo also joked about being molested by a priest when he was 13 and his exchanges with talk show host Bill Maher on Feb. 18 further inflamed women and people of color about his rhetoric.
The outrage over Milo’s seeming ties to pedophilia – which he later denounced in a press conference Feb. 20 – led to his $250,000 book deal being canceled by Simon & Schuster and his resignation as editor of Breitbart News, the far right website.
Breitbart was previously run by CEO Steve Bannon, who stepped aside to become CEO of the Trump presidential campaign in August Bannon called Breitbart a "platform for the alt right." Bannon is President Trump’s chief strategist, a White House position parallel in power to chief of staff, making Bannon the most senior member of Trump’s team, other than Vice President Mike Pence. Bannon is considered by most to be the real power behind Trump’s presidency and the author of many of Trump’s major executive orders, like the Muslim Ban.
Bannon was, along with White House counsel Kellyanne Conway and chief of staff Reince Priebus, a speaker on the opening day of CPAC 20117.
The Milo incident may seem to be over. Whereas Trump’s own discursive comments on his sexual predation of women and the accusations by women and girls that he preyed on them and forced himself on them have been shrugged off – even those including young girls in his modeling agency and at the various pageants he ran who asserted he would walk in on them when they were naked – apparently joking references by Milo about his own sexual abuse at the hands of a priest is a bridge too far for conservatives.
And yet Milo was invited to speak prior to the tape surfacing. And had gotten that $250,000 book deal for his memoir, Dangerous. And President Trump himself had threatened to pull federal funding from the University of California at Berkeley after anti-Milo protests forced the University to suspend Milo’s speech for fear of violence.
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view - NO FEDERAL FUNDS?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 2, 2017
The University had not banned Milo’s speech – in fact they had insisted the event take place despite calls from various campus groups that the University ban him. But as Trump’s tweet makes perfectly clear, he was supporting Milo, not the protests against him.
Milo may seem a strange choice of hills for the right to die on, but until that long-available tape from last year surfaced, Milo was considered worthy of a $250,000 book contract from one of the world’s top five publishers, worthy of a keynote speaker position at the nation’s oldest conservative event and worthy of a supportive tweet from the president.
Yet Milo is known for his misogynist ("feminism is cancer"), racist, Islamophobic, lesbophobic and transphobic views. He’s among only a handful of people ever banned permanently from Twitter – that includes members of ISIS but not neo-Nazi Richard Spencer – for his targeted racist harassment of SNL comedian and Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones. (Other women, especially journalists and lesbians, had also fallen victim to his attacks.)
Milo is known for his hateful views. But until the pedophile allusions surfaced, he was embraced as an enfant terrible of the right in much the same way that Trump has been embraced as a spokesperson for American conservatives and Republicans. Where Milo was considered a "provocateur," Trump has been considered a man who "says what he thinks" and has repeatedly said there’s no time in America for "political correctness," which Milo also eschews.
Milo is half Trump’s age and gay, but both men share conflicted politics: Milo claims to prefer sex with black men, despite promoting racist views and Trump’s primary focus is anti-immigrant while being married to yet another immigrant whose own legal status has been questioned repeatedly.
Milo is gay, yet one of his main targets is trans persons. Trump professes to be "for the gays," but his first action as president was to remove the LGBT page from the White House website and on Feb. 22, overturn former President Obama’s signature civil rights executive order granting transgender kids the right to use the bathroom of their chosen identity at school rather than that of their birth sex.
Former presidential contender and Arizona senator John McCain has been called the "critic in chief" of President Trump, but has voted for every one of the President’s nominees in the Senate. So despite any talk about Trump, he has a 100 percent record of voting with the president. And if McCain is the main critic of Trump, then that is criticism in name only, not criticism that is in any way subverting the president’s highly controversial and some have said proto-fascist actions.
The Milo incident may have shoved the flamboyant hater out of the spotlight, but Trump himself is still there. Are these two men that different? A month before the November election, audiotape surfaced of then-candidate Trump saying to Billy Bush, co-host of Access Hollywood, about women, "I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything."
The tape – released on a Friday afternoon – threatened the Trump candidacy briefly with even Trump’s vice presidential partner Mike Pence issuing a statement disavowing Trump’s statements – but then it was over. All the Republicans who said they couldn’t embrace a candidate who spoke that way about women because they had wives and daughters are the same people who now disavow Milo because they have sons.
Yet the similarities between Milo and Trump can’t be disavowed or ignored: their hate speech is exactly the same except Milo’s is delivered in a clipped British accent dripping with sarcasm and Trump’s is delivered in his oddly cadenced and repetitive ramble.
And if Milo were straight instead of gay, would he have been banned from CPAC? Bannon was accused of domestic violence. Trump was accused of raping and assaulting his first wife, Ivanka and of sexually assaulting a dozen or more women. Both Trump and Bannon are featured at CPAC 2017. Neither has been disavowed by, well, anyone in the Republican Party or conservative movement.
Where exactly do conservatives draw their lines? Not at referring to Mexicans as rapists. Not at "grabbing [women] by the p*ssy." Not at banning Muslims from entry to the U.S. Not from calling the free press – codified in the very first amendment to the Constitution as the most important protection of a democratic republic – the "enemy of the people."
These questions now arise daily as the Trump presidency moves into only its second month. The parallel between the sudden and precipitous fall of Milo–which many have (rightly) cheered–and the solidifying of Trump as a spokesperson for American conservativism can’t be ignored, can’t be dismissed. Milo and Trump are one and the same being. Milo appears smarter because Americans love a British accent and has much better hair, but they spew the same hateful and hate-filled rhetoric. Breitbart News has been considered an actual news venue by conservatives rather than the fake news site it is, rife with uncorroborated tales of Muslim men raping white women and ever-new and more salacious stories about Hillary Clinton.
The key difference now between Milo and Trump is that Milo could, conceivably, have used up his 15 minutes of alt-right fame. But Trump is about to put a man on the U.S. Supreme Court for the next 30 years or more, putting his own alt-right stamp on the High Court for generations to come.
And what of Trump’s latest actions? Overturning the Obama’s ruling that federal funds could be withheld from any public school denying bathroom rights to transgender kids and teens seems an odd choice of action in these early days of the Trump presidency, especially since Obama’s executive order has been stayed since May 2016 by a federal court.
But "bathroom bills" like North Carolina’s notorious HB2 law have been a focal point of conservative activism. Trump and Pence both campaigned for ousted North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory; HB2 was his signature legislation.
There was a flurry of dissent among the Trump team on Feb. 22 over Trump’s executive order. Newly confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is purported to have balked at the action, asserting that children needed to be protected from bullying and violence in the schools and Trump’s actions would take away the protections Obama had attempted to sign into law.
But Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is known for his anti-LGBT stances on almost every issue was fully supportive of Trump’s decision. When DeVos still refused, Trump reportedly told DeVos to get on board.
Earlier in the week, Rep. Maxine Waters (R-CA) referred to Trump’s Cabinet as "a bunch of scumbags" on MSNBC’s "All in with Chris Hayes, and with an action like this, which targets kids, it’s easy to agree.
Rep. Maxine Waters and Senator Elizabeth Warren
But the larger question is how far will Trump’s move right go? On Feb. 23, neo-Nazi and alt-right leader Richard Pence was ejected from CPAC 2017 as part of an effort by the American Conservative Union, which sponsors CPAC to distance itself from the alt right after the Milo debacle.
"His views are repugnant and have absolutely nothing to do with conservatism or what we do here," said CPAC spokesman Ian Walters."He's anti-free markets, anti-Constitution, anti-pluralism. This was one bad egg who bought a ticket." Walters described the alt-right and Spencer's views as "vile," "venomous," "horrible" and "repulsive."
Under the aegis of President Trump it’s become acceptable to ban refugees from our nation of immigrants, tear American immigrant families apart under Draconian immigration executive orders which Trump now refers to as "a military operation" and keep trans kids out of the bathroom.
Conservatives can argue all they want that Richard Spencer is a "bad egg," but Steve Bannon was a featured speaker and Milo was totally acceptable until it turned out he might support sex between adult men and young boys – the way President Trump said of his own then-teen daughter Ivanka, "If she weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her."
As Trump moves into month two of his presidency, with immigrants being rounded up all over the country, a new Muslim ban being structured and trans kids being kept out of the bathrooms of their gender identity until Gavin Grimm’s case heads to the U.S. Supreme Court, conservatives may want to ask themselves exactly what it is they stand for. If Richard Spencer – whose words echo Trump’s and Milo’s – is a "bad egg," but Bannon, whose protégé was Milo and who is the power behind Trump–is still talking at CPAC2017, there’s more than a little hypocrisy in play among the "don’t call us alt" right.
No, the alt-right has not been taken over by the left, as Walters said at CPAC as they ousted Spencer as some kind of statement. Conservatives built it and own it. Conservatives built both Milo and Trump and own both men and all their words and actions.Trump’s presidency has raised myriad questions. Not just because of Trump’s enraged tweets, his antagonizing of allies or his attacks on brown/black people and women, but because of his not-so-quiet, seeming dismantling of the Constitution.
CPAC has long been a proving ground for American conservativism. A week ago, conservatives were ready to use Milo to draw in young conservatives. That blew up. They tossed Richard Spencer from the lobby, while Steve Bannon was speaking. Hypocrisy is rife within American conservativism. McCain calls himself a maverick critic of Trump in public, but votes with him in the middle of the night on the floor of the Senate.
America itself is at a crossroads. Trump is our test – of our republic, of our democracy. And it’s not just conservatives who need to ask themselves where they stand. It’s all of us.
Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Scripps-Howard Award, RFK Award and the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and A Room of Her Own, senior politics reporter and contributing editor for Curve magazine, contributing editor for Lambda Literary Review and a columnist for San Francisco Bay Area Reporter. Her reporting and commentary have appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Baltimore Sun, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Nation, Ms Magazine, Diva and Slate. Her book, Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic won the Lambda Literary Award, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural & historical fiction. Her new novel, Ordinary Mayhem, won the IPPY Award for fiction and the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Mystery. Her book Erasure: Silencing Lesbians and her next novel, Sleep So Deep, will both be published in fall 2017. @VABVOX