Politicon Is the Abomination We Deserve

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Politicon, the festival of cable news-style Politics Fun, is unfortunately in the news again. Organizers released the full lineup on Tuesday and boy did it suck. In addition to last year’s faves like Ben Shapiro, Charlie Kirk, and Ann Coulter, this year’s lineup features Tucker Carlson, who last night poured a slop bucket of white nationalism directly into the president’s brain, and the infamous alt-right troll Milo Yiannopolous, who was billed simply as “Milo.” Also some guy from the Bachelor, for some reason.


Right on time, criticism of the lineup began pouring in, mostly focused on the inclusion of Yiannopolous, a man so toxic that both Breitbart and CPAC jettisoned him last year. Within a day, comedian Cameron Esposito had dropped out:


Symone Sanders, who appeared at the event last year, also publicly criticized the festival for inviting Yiannopolous:

Yiannopolous, of course, is thrilled to be getting any attention at all. Since he left Breitbart amid outcry over remarks that seemed to condone pedophilia, he’s been kind of a nobody. His laughably shitty book—which he was forced to self-publish after Simon & Schuster canceled his book deal—didn’t sell well, and he’s been reduced to saying he wants journalists killed to get attention. You never hear about him anymore, making the booking even more incomprehensible.

Then last night, Right Wing Watch’s Jared Holt reported Yiannopolous had been quietly dropped from the lineup, although he was still promoting the event on his site on Thursday morning. In an email to Splinter, a Politicon spokesperson confirmed Yiannopolous is no longer appearing at the event, saying the convention “had a couple of changes and with two months to go to the convention, more names will be added and dropped. Anthony Scaramucci is also not attending due to a scheduling conflict.” Shame.


Amid all the criticism, here’s what Politicon was tweeting last night:


Lol! I know who she is! I saw her on the TV!

I don’t like to say I told you so, but I did basically tell you so. I attended and wrote about Politicon last year, and it was complete shit. Here’s what I said about it:

Those who see Politicon as the gaudy melding of politics and entertainment are absolutely right, as are those who say it’s basically a grift. It’s also more evidence that our political institutions, the media included, are failing abysmally. It’s an empty and ultimately unsatisfying thing to sell people, a candy bar that leaves you just as hungry but with a headache. Politics is getting worse because the media is getting worse, and vice versa; events like Politicon, rewarding the most vapid impulses on both sides, only hasten that process.


This was true then, and it’s true now. I understand that Milo is both toxic and well-known enough to cause widespread outrage when Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter weren’t last year, even though both of those people have made a career out of saying horrific, racist things, too. Coulter, Shapiro, and Carlson are at least 98 percent as horrible as Milo, but they’re talked about more often at the moment, so perhaps we’ve all got some kind of inoculation to their hateful voices.

It shouldn’t work this way. Politicon should have been just as roundly ridiculed last year, when noted British racist Katie Hopkins was on the bill. Trump was also president last year; no one had any excuse then for not realizing how fucking awful an idea it was to celebrate Both Sides when one side was MSNBC liberals and the other was people who’ve spent their entire careers toeing the line between coded racism and all-out white supremacy.


The point of Politicon is to celebrate “politics” as a kind of hobby, a fun sideshow to read about or watch on TV. It can only be enjoyable in the way organizers intend—as a value-neutral celebration of the “political discourse”—if you don’t see politics today for what it actually is.

The machinery of American politics has been almost entirely hijacked to serve racists and the white, wealthy, powerful elite, with a lot of overlap between those two groups; either way, the latter is happy to whip up America’s most vile factions into supporting the party that best protects profits, even if it means doing things like exploiting a young woman’s death to paint all undocumented immigrants as murderers. That party currently dominates all branches of the federal government, plus a majority of statehouses, despite its actual ideas being deeply unpopular—partly because they’ve been so efficient at voter suppression and partly because the only other major party fucking sucks. The other party represents our only current hope for protecting poor and marginalized people in the political system as it exists today, but it still takes money from most of the same fucked-up special interests that the other guys do and tries its best to shut out any candidate with good ideas. Oh, also, irreversible and lethal climate change is hurtling towards us at the speed of a root canal appointment and no one can figure out how to pass a plan that would actually deal with the scale of the challenge, given everything I just told you about the two parties.


What the fuck is fun about that? What is there to celebrate there?

The people who accurately perceive the current state of affairs are not chumming it up with their rivals in an air-conditioned convention center or paying $50 to hear David Frum and Jason Miller chat about Trump. They are either organizing and fighting like hell to change it or they’re so paralyzed by the scale of the rot in the system that they have checked out. Either way, they do not see the value of putting Ben Shapiro and Sally Kohn in one arena to debate it out.


When I went to Politicon last year, I thought most attendees would be MSNBC fans, resistance liberals whose interest in politics had been activated by Trump. Instead, I found a much higher proportion of right wingers who were simply there to watch their heroes own the libs, from teen Ben Shapiro fans to a guy who yelled about Obama being a “mulatto” during the Symone Sanders talk. Charlie Kirk’s panel about healthcare was absolutely packed with college-aged, TPUSA types, who screamed and cheered when he trotted out an asinine line about Democrats wanting other people to pay for their stuff.

Politicon always almost exclusively celebrated and elevated the most vapid voices in our political discourse; it’s like cable news that you have to pay to watch. But it’s uniquely unsuited for this moment, where one side of the cherished Both Sides is dedicated to racist demagoguery. (Republicans were always like this, if a little more quietly, but we’re all pointing it out more now, so Politicon has no excuse.) It exists to make a profit off the sad morons who would enjoy it, and they’ve decided the best way to do that is to embrace the worst parts of the right wing.


I don’t need to tell you that you should not go to Politicon; there are a million better things to do with a weekend in Los Angeles in October, including driving around a Jack in the Box drive-thru until you get arrested and picking up trash off the 405. I hope it will be shamed out of existence, but it won’t. It will more likely just dwindle in attendance and significance until the only speakers are 2024's version of Joe the Plumber and Dana Loesch’s hairdresser. But while American politics is as bad as it is and the media is as incapable of addressing that as they are, Politicon is what we deserve.

Splinter politics writer. libby.watson@splinternews.com

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