The greatest personal tragedy of the 2016 election season isn’t Ted Cruz’s selling out to Donald Trump, or Tim Kaine’s abandonment of even the pretense of a practical Catholic faith, or the betrayal of Bernie Sanders by a corrupt and Clinton-beholden DNC; it is the grotesque spectacle of Milo Yiannopoulos, the tech editor over at Breitbart and one of the more fervent young Trump supporters on the scene today. To be fair, Milo’s self-imposed degradation is not purely idiosyncratic—he is a harbinger of things to come—and he serves the purpose this political season of giving a face to the intellectual collapse of the GOP under Trump, as well as the moral rot infecting much of its politics these days.
But the personal aspect of it all is immensely dispiriting. Bloomberg’s September profile of Milo, terming him “the pretty monstrous face of the Alt-Right,” provides an excellent peek into Yiannopoulos’s desperately sad, sick and lonely life. By his own admission, in the past four years he has not been alone in a room for more than an hour; this is the sign of a man unable to tolerate his own presence. He claims his grandmother’s death two years ago was “the only bad thing that’s ever happened to him:” this is the claim of someone to whom many, many bad things have happened. (“I’m a perpetual 14-year-old,” he says at one point, before quickly revising his perpetual age down to seven.) There are intimations of criminal behavior (years ago he got revenge on a stepdad “in a way that’s not legal”), intimations of sordid prostitution (Milo, who is gay, allegedly made $20,000 selling his body to a man in Los Angeles last year), strong suggestions of a kind of paranoid inferiority complex (he “inputs all of his friends into a spreadsheet, with columns for attractiveness, intelligence, income, and politics”), and some kind of deep-seated father issues that are manifesting themselves in the most hair-raising way imaginable: he habitually refers to Donald Trump as “daddy.”
These are the classic signs of a deeply unwell man. Pray for him; he needs it very badly. But Milo’s sick behaviors extend outside the bounds of his own squalid personal life. In the course of the Trump campaign he has courted racists, sexists, white nationalists and other bottom-feeders of the political world, cleverly using a resurgent white power movement and a confused, disaffected young conservative base to advance his own interests and broaden his own exposure. His shtick mostly consists of saying controversial things so that people will look at him; he has also regularly turned his own rabidly bigoted and racist following against people that have upset him. Like Trump, Milo imagines that “political correctness” is the worst thing that has ever happened to the human race; his response to this “political correctness” is to say things like, “Feminism is cancer,” a statement he seems to think is both clever and meaningful. He combines the absolute worst elements of both young gay camp and young half-bright political engagement: a kind of screechy pseudo-sexual narcissism coupled with the belief that pissing people off is the best and most effective form of diplomacy.
He is a parasite on the conservative movement, a fraud who clumsily adopted a kind of shadow imitation of conservatism in order to make money and be an exhibitionist.
But, distinctly apart from the admittedly pathetic and painful personal life of this sick man, there is a lesson to learn from all of this. Milo’s continuing relevance—indeed, most of his relevance to begin with—is only understandable in the context of a Trump candidacy. There would be no Milo movement if, say, Ted Cruz (or Marco Rubio, or Jeb Bush, or Scott Walker, or even Ben Carson) had gotten the nomination; he would still be a mostly obscure writer for Breitbart, writing up his nasty little spreadsheets and spending twenty-three hours on Twitter every day. Trump has done a great many awful things for American conservatism, and one of them has been to make behavior and beliefs like Milo’s somehow sustainable. This unhinged obsession with “political correctness,” the destructive, insolent political antics, the diminution of campus conservatism into some stupid anti-feminist / shock-jock outrage show: this is part of what Trump has wrought across a great deal of the American political landscape in 2016. Donald Trump has taken the best hope for preserving the American experiment and helped to turn it, in part, into a vehicle for sham racketeers like Milo.
Reversing this, if it is reversible, will take quite a bit of work. It may necessitate a new political party, at least if the Trumpification of the GOP is as deep as it seems to have been: if this is the Republican Party’s new modus operandi, then they are welcome to it. Then again, there may be a kind of weird Darwinian effect that self-purges the GOP of its newfound moral rot: as Salon reports, a number of white supremacists are getting ready to mount a “holy crusade” against Milo because he’s “part-Jewish.” It is actually a little sad to think of Milo—a disturbed, broken and ultimately pitiable man—being turned on by the political movement upon which he has staked his fortunes. But you cannot argue that he has not brought it on himself; nor can you really disagree with the proposition that, ultimately, the public ruination of Milo Yiannopoulos would be good for the United States of America.
Now if only the white nationalists would next turn on Trump: then we might be able to get some real work done.
Daniel Payne is a writer living in Virginia. He publishes regularly at The Federalist, where he is a senior contributor; his work has also been featured at National Review, Reason, Front Porch Republic and elsewhere. His spare time is spent building compost piles and reading Midatlantic colonial history.