Dear Donald –
Two weeks ago, Milo Yiannopoulos was scheduled to address the College Republicans at UC-Berkeley. Recognizing his hateful and abhorrent views, large numbers of students protested the speech, resulting in property damage and arrests. The level of violence and damage was actually so high that the University decided it would not be safe to allow Milo to speak, and canceled the address. At the time, the conservative media played this entire episode as liberal political correctness and censorship run amok. In fact, you even threatened to pull back Federal funding from the university unless they let Milo speak. I’ve already written about how ridiculous that entire episode was, but it becomes a fascinating set piece when paired with this recent CPAC dust-up.
CPAC is where wannabe conservative power players go to earn their credentials. There’s never really much of surprise that comes out of it. There are always thinly veiled attacks at LGBT people, women’s rights, racial and ethnic minorities, the poor, and religious minorities. It’s the standard fare of the right. Usually, nothing to see here other than self-important rich white heterosexual Christians making themselves feel better about a nation that every year becomes a little more supportive of the poor, a little less white, a little more supportive of the LGBT community, and a little less religious. Today’s America looks and feels different than the one they grew up in, and it terrifies them. Your basic white conservative rage.
This year, they decided to invite Milo to the party and all hell broke loose. A video was released in which, through edited clips of interviews, Milo is heard seemingly arguing in favor of pedophilia. Based on the clip, Milo would take offense at that characterization, as he applies the term only to attraction to children who have not yet reached puberty. He takes this “if there’s grass on the field, play ball” approach and extends it to the “arbitrary and oppressive idea of consent,” arguing that boys as young as 13 can give informed consent for sex, pointing to his own molestation by a priest when he was only 14. According to Milo, he and “Father Michael” had a consensual sexual relationship.
I need not go much further, because the entire line of argumentation is so thoroughly disturbing and clearly disconnected from reality. It is a survivor of sexual abuse validating and justifying that abuse by attaching to it something that did not, and could not, exist – meaningful informed consent.
What I want to focus on, though, is not the fundamental misunderstandings of consent, sexual abuse, and sexual predators, but instead on the CPAC response and how it fits into a larger commentary on our current politics. After the video surfaced, CPAC rescinded their offer to Milo to speak, and he has since also lost a book deal with Simon & Schuster and resigned from his position at Breitbart. In short, this video and its implications sent people running. Milo crossed a bright line, and no matter how much they may have liked his confrontational style and the substance of his other lines of argumentation, hey we’re willing to leave him behind.
**As a side note, I noticed a fair number of folks in the far right attempting to defend Milo, even going as far as to try to parse out the definition of pedophilia and the different types of sexual attraction to underage children. Funly enough, I saw no such parsing when it was a completely fabricated story of Hillary buying and selling child sex slaves in the basement of Comet Ping Pong, but when Milo is actually talking about real priests and real 14-year-olds, webstart splitting hairs with rape.
And that bright line is what concerns me. Not that pedophilia shouldn’t be a bright line – it absolutely should be. My concern is that conservatives never seemed to have thought any of the other abhorrent things Milo has said over the years were such a breaking point for the relationship. Racism, xenophobia, and sexism didn’t do it. Islamophobia didn’t do it. Why is it that none of those statements were a problem for conservatives? CPAC is perfectly happy giving a platform to a white supremacist, so long as he’s not a white supremacist who’s also on the NAMBLA listserve.
CPAC is happy to give a platform to someone arguing that our system is too hard on sexual predators when the survivors are women in college campuses, just so long as they don’t make the exact same argument about 14-year-olds.
The fact of the matter is that, at the end of the day, conservatives don’t care about any of these issues because they realize that, at the core of their movement today, there is a pernicious vein of hatred toward women and minorities. They’ve tailored their message to be racism lite – the kind that’s acceptable at your local coffee clatch, even trough it’s rooted in the same ideology as the Klan rally down the street. They wrap their misogyny in a cloak of religious belief, but it’s the same old story of male hegemony that’s ruled for millennia. Notice how, even after you bragged about sexually assaulting women, this base didn’t abandon you. They clasped their pearls but kept up the yard signs.
At this moment, this Milo moment, we all need to consider what this blowback means. Conservatives have shown us their breaking point, and it’s far deeper down the rabbit hole than anyone should feel comfortable with it being. Even more so because none of these statements by Milo were unknown. Interviews included in the tapes were almost two years old, meaning that the issue wasn’t that Milo said these things or believed them, it was that he got caught in the mainstream media saying it. Ultimately, it wasn’t even Milo’s rants about underage sex that undid him, but the fact that those rants went public in a big way.
Conservatives have, these last few days, shown us who they really are. They are fine with bigotry and hatred and are even fine with statements about sexual abuse of minors so long as it’s out of the public eye. At this moment, ask yourself what that says about any genuine moral convictions that may exist on the religious right. At this moment, ask what value does it mean they place on any human life that doesn’t get them a tax break.
Then consider what this moment teaches us about these abhorrent beliefs. Milo is out at Breitbart not because of what he said but because he got caught in the public eye saying it. In this moment, understand what power our voices have. When we speak out, we have power. The media still have power. We must use it, and they must use it to highlight the problems with the conservative agenda and to speak truth to the powers that be.
In this Milo moment, we must understand what crosses the line for us and what we will do to call out those trespasses when they occur. I just hope that we don’t have to wait for something this egregious to be said again before we can start holding the powerful to account.