The Politics    Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Culture bores

By Dominic Kelly

The right’s fawning over an empty provocateur reveals its skewed priorities

If the name Milo Yiannopoulos means nothing to you, congratulations on being a normal, well-adjusted person. The short version of his biography goes something like this: British, gay, alt-right attention-seeker, outspoken supporter of Donald Trump, the subject of protests on US college campuses due to his concerted harassment campaigns against a broad spectrum of minority groups. The Guardian has a longer version.

Here in Australia, Yiannopoulos has many fans on the right. Andrew Bolt called him “fabulous” in one of his multiple appearances on The Bolt Report. Bolt's Herald Sun colleague Rita Panahi thinks Yiannopoulos is “razor sharp, insightful and funny”. Former Liberal MP Ross Cameron regards him as “an ancient form of genius”. Writing in the Spectator, Daisy Cousens described him as an “intelligent, charismatic, witty, stylish, and unbearably handsome powerhouse of a man”.

In recent days, Yiannopoulos has been at the centre of a new controversy, in which it seems he has gone too far even for his most ardent supporters. Following the airing of remarks in which he appeared to condone paedophilia, he has had a US$250,000 book contract with Simon & Schuster cancelled, an invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) rescinded and was forced to resign from his position at Breitbart News. Yiannopoulos’ attempts to explain and apologise for his comments have been to no avail.

What is most striking here is how much of Yiannopoulos’ bigotry conservatives were prepared to tolerate – especially towards women, people of colour, Muslims and transgender people – before he finally went too far and upset their sensibilities. Free speech does have limits, after all.

It remains to be seen what will become of Yiannopoulos, but as conservatives quickly try to distance themselves, it’s important to consider why they were so besotted with him in the first place. And the answer is simple really: Milo hates the left, so conservatives love Milo. They have made demonising and defeating their political enemies on the left an overriding political project, to the point that they were unable to see through a shallow internet troll.

Speaking to the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, “Never Trump” conservative Charlie Sykes asked himself whether any conservative standards remain in the age of Trump:

Obviously being an erratic narcissist can’t be disqualifying. Racist tweets or bullying can’t be disqualifying. Trafficking in Alt Right memes has been normalized. So with Trump as POTUS, where can conservatives draw the line? CPAC’s logic: We’ll embrace anyone the Left hates, even if they are a vile, disingenuous, bigoted click whore.

Australian conservatives have been no better, as can be witnessed each Sunday morning on Sky News’ Outsiders program, or at “free speech” fundraisers where Muslims and homosexuals were the subject of appalling bigotry and a jolly good time was had by all.

Last night, a despondent looking Bolt sanctimoniously told his viewers to “defend the principle, not the side,” in response to the Yiannopoulos scandal. This was on his nightly show dedicated to attacking the left, which complements his newspaper column, blog and regular radio appearances also dedicated to attacking the left. This was typically disingenuous from Bolt – he was disappointed that his reactionary cause was damaged, nothing more.

Meanwhile, our conservative government blunders along with a platform of tax cuts for the rich during an apparent budget emergency and increased subsidies for fossil fuels as the world transitions to renewable energy. Good policy tends to fall by the wayside when the main cause that unites your side is bigotry and hatred.

Today's links

  • Proving themselves to be just as cowardly on tax as the government is, Bill Shorten and Chris Bowen have rejected a “Buffett rule” proposal from Labor’s Left faction, which would fight tax evasion by imposing a minimum tax rate on the ultra-rich.
  • Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has arrived in Australia as Labor debates whether to formally recognise the Palestinian state. Meanwhile, Malcolm Turnbull has reiterated his support for Israel and condemned its “one-sided” critics.
  • Foreign minister Julie Bishop has met with US vice-president Mike Pence in Washington.
  • President Donald Trump finally condemned the increase in anti-Semitism in the US, but the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect was unimpressed, calling it “a Band-Aid on the cancer of AntiSemitism that has infected his own Administration”.
  • Jennifer Hewett compares the fortunes [possible paywall] of our prime minister and his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau, while political analyst Peter Brent predicts that Turnbull won’t make it to the next election.
  • Another push to have Alexander Downer take over [possible paywall] as leader of the South Australian Liberal Party appears to be going nowhere.
  • Dick Smith finds a new culprit for the housing affordability crisis: immigrants.
  • We’re seven days and almost 15,000 words into the Australian’s campaign to destroy Yassmin Abdel-Magied because she said something the paper disagreed with on Q&A. It’s Janet Albrechtsen’s turn [possible paywall] today, and she strangely goes for an 18C angle. Guy Rundle responds [possible paywall] in Crikey.

Dominic Kelly

Dominic Kelly is a PhD candidate and tutor in politics at La Trobe University. He tweets from @illywhacker_.

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