What is the line of decency in the era of Donald Trump? Republicans and conservatives now regularly and shamelessly embrace behavior that would have been political heresy when Barack Obama was in office.
Attacking veterans? That’s OK. Attacking Mexicans, the fastest-growing voting bloc? No problem. Bragging about sexually assaulting women? Everything’s cool. Being a white, flamboyant British editor of a terrorist-sympathizing website? C’mon over! Until now.
Over the last year, Milo Yiannopoulos, senior editor at Breitbart News, was the quintessential example of the American conservative’s craven Trump-era transformation. Yiannopoulos, as a leader of the “alt-right” (the Forever 21 of white nationalist groups), was sashaying up the conservative thought-leader ladder, with a million-dollar book deal, protests at his campus speeches, an interview on Real Time With Bill Maher, and a reality-TV show in the works.
Yiannopoulos’ invitation to be the keynote at the prestigious Conservative Political Action Conference made perfect sense. Then video surfaced Sunday of Yiannopoulos openly advocating sexual relations between older gay men and minors. Suddenly there was a media uproar. CPAC uninvited him as speaker, Simon & Schuster canceled his book deal, and as of this writing, staff members at Breitbart are threatening a walkout if he isn’t fired.
Yiannopoulos seems to have finally crossed a line that even Trump-era conservatives can’t cross. But not everybody out there is going to advocate sex with kids; there has to be some third rail before that, right? Which raises the question: What does it take to be fired by conservatives in the era of Trump? I compiled a short list.
1. Be a Woman Who Defies Donald Trump
Trump-era Republicans love women. White women gave them the White House. Trump-era conservatives are A-OK with women regardless of behavior or ability so long as they don’t challenge anything that men tell them to do. For example, Kellyanne Conway and Betsy DeVos have both kept their jobs. Although Conway is the upside down of competence with her #AlternativeFacts, fake Bowling Green Massacre and tweeting white nationalists, she’s still cashing a check. DeVos barely filled out the paperwork to be secretary of education, clearly didn’t study before her confirmation hearings and apparently learned everything she knows about public schools from an old VHS tape of Dangerous Minds. But she’s still got a job.
You know who doesn’t have a job anymore? Sally Yates. She was the acting attorney general who told Trump that Michael Flynn was a Russian sock puppet and that the White House “Muslim ban” was bad policy. That got her fired.
2. Be a Black Person Who Is Not Omarosa or Ben Carson
Trump loves the blacks—two blacks in particular. Even though Trump once likened Dr. Ben Carson to a pedophile, after the election he rewarded the good doctor with the most stereotypically black job Trump could come up with: secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Because what better job is there for a brilliant black surgeon with no management experience than managing a billion-dollar budget for millions of low-income-housing residents?
Trump also likes Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth despite helping to cast her as a horrible person and letting people tweet racist things about her. So no matter how badly the administration’s Black History Month events have gone, Omarosa is safe. You know who isn’t getting or keeping jobs in the Trump era? Black people not named Ben Carson or Omarosa.
Trump has barely hired any black GOP staffers to join his administration. And just last week, Shermichael Singleton, a onetime Carson staffer, was fired from HUD when a background check revealed that he had criticized Trump during the campaign.
3. Threaten White Male Masculinity
Yiannopoulos is a white power Jack McFarland and a dishonorable mention in a Criss Angel cosplay contest, but none of that got him fired from speaking at CPAC. Advocating pedophilia per se is not what got him fired, either. Remember: In the Trump era, conservatives are fine with a president who sexualizes his own daughter and routinely showed up in the dressing rooms of underaged girls during pageants. In the Trump era, it’s OK for Bible-thumping pastor-presidential candidate Mike Huckabee to defend pedophiles on reality television.
What got Yiannopoulos in trouble is that he threatened white male masculinity. Older men initiating young girls into adult sexuality is openly winked at by many conservatives and society in general. (I mean, what fantasies were Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Jessica Simpson really selling?)
But an older gay man doing the same thing? Now, that’s a bridge too far. That brings up discomfort in all the tingly places that Republicans and conservatives aren’t supposed to think about. Suddenly the sexual growth of fictitious young men must be protected from fiends like Yiannopoulos, who, less than 24 hours ago, was perfectly acceptable as a keynote speaker, so long as his sexuality was focused on fetishizing black men.
Yiannopoulos won’t be the last conservative gadfly to crash and burn in the Trump era. There will be other Ann Coulters in drag so long as Republicans are willing to swallow what meager integrity they have in order to stay in the public narrative. Just know that for now, being black or a woman or advocating sex with boys is a line conservatives won’t cross. Until they do.