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Finally, Some Good News!

September 11, 2019
Finally, Some Good News!
Conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos is escorted to the University of California, Berkeley campus where he is expected to speak to dozens of supporters on September 24, 2017. (Photo by JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

1. Happy Fun Time with Milo

I do not normally share good news with you. Perhaps you’ve noticed. But there’s a piece in Vice that’s maybe the happiest story I’ve seen in months:

Headline: “Milo Yiannopoulos Says He’s Broke”

Subhead: “I can’t put food on the table this way.”

You know that feeling you get when watch a video of otters holding hands? Or baby polar bears playing around?

Well go click on the Vice piece, because you’re going to get that feeling, times a thousand.

I should say that I do not ordinarily take pleasure in the misfortune of others. But what’s great about this story isn’t the fact that Milo is broke. That’s actually kind of sad and I wish him well on this front.

No, the good news is that Milo has discovered that he can no longer make a living being Milo.

And this is basically the greatest thing, ever.

The incentive structure for media-type figures created by the internet has been deeply, catastrophically unhealthy.

You’re a good reporter who goes on the road and finds interesting stories? Good luck finding a job, bro.

You’re a narcissist who gets off by setting your hair on fire and saying the most outrageous things possible? Get fat off of hate clicks, baby! That’s a growth industry!

In fact, for the last decade or so, that’s been the only growth sector in media.

The internet has pretty much become a machine that rewards people for being toxic.

Milo’s current predicament suggests that maybe we’re in the opening stages of dismantling this machine:

The disgraced right-wing troll is complaining that the major social media companies have effectively cut off his alt-right audience — and crushed his ability to make a decent living.

The former Breitbart tech writer shared the complaints on Telegram, a messaging app where some alt-right allies have set up shop after getting the boot by larger tech platforms. Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter in 2016 for directing racist abuse at the comedian Leslie Jones, losing nearly 400,000 followers. He was banned from Facebook in May.

“I spent years growing and developing and investing in my fan base, and they just took it away in a flash,” wrote Yiannopoulos, who’s previously rubbed shoulders with neo-Nazis and white nationalists. “It’s nice to have a little private chat with my gold star homies but I can’t make a career out of a handful of people like that. I can’t put food on the table this way.”

While Telegram allows Yiannopoulos to share such important commentary with more than 19,000 followers directly, it does not offer the mass reach of Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The same goes for Gab and other social networks set up in protest of Big Tech’s increasingly aggressive content-moderation efforts.

“I can’t find anyone who’s managing to grow a really big channel here,” wrote Yiannopoulos, whose Telegram posts typically reach around 2,000 pairs of eyeballs. “Everyone is hitting a wall. There’s no future to Telegram for social media refugees if this is the best it gets.”

And that, my friends, is a win-win situation. No one has curtailed Milo’s free speech. He can still say whatever he wants. He just can’t say it on the platforms that believe he’s a net negative to their businesses. It’s the free market in action!

Meanwhile, Milo is free to jabber and provoke on Gab or Telegram or whatever. It just turns out that he can’t make a buck by being an asshat.

Which is great. Because, in general, we like it when the market place does not incentivize bad behavior.

I wish Milo Yiannopoulos all the luck in the world. I hope he becomes a successful architect or plumber or coder or electrical engineer—whatever. I hope he gets a great, fulfilling job and goes on to have a happy life.

But the fact that he can no longer get rich poisoning the public square is the most encouraging development I’ve seen in media in a very long time.

2. The Three Horsemen

I did a long piece yesterday about Weld, Walsh, and Sanford. I don’t want to spoil it for you. Just go read the whole thing.

A couple things that didn’t make it into the piece:

(1) When you’re looking at electoral politics, never trust what people working for the campaign say.

Back in June, the Atlantic did a long profile on Kirsten Gillibrand where one person “close to the campaign” said, “As long as she’s got money for a bus ticket in Iowa, she’s in it to win it.

In August, Gillibrand dropped out and I’m pretty sure she still had the cash on hand for a Greyhound ticket.

So when this aide or that strategist tells you that everything’s coming up Milhouse for their candidate, you shouldn’t take it with a grain of salt. You should ignore it.

(2) The better way to think about the state of the campaigns is this: Imagine that you’ve been hired to run on the presidential campaigns and you can play whichever hand you like. Which position would you want?

At this point, my own preference would probably be, in order: Biden, Harris, Sanders, Warren, Trump.

Your mileage may vary somewhat, but when you look at the numbers I think that Biden is the obvious first choice: If you could play any of these hands, his is—just objectively—the strongest.

(3) As a throwaway at the end of the piece I suggest that I would not be surprised if someone else jumps into the race to challenge Trump.

I linked to the Carly Fiorina story, but that was just coincidence that she decided to tweet yesterday. My overall view of more challengers is independent of Fiorina.

Basically, my working theory is this: The presence of any challengers to a sitting president is an indicator of weakness. Each additional challenge is additive. By the time you get to three challengers, basically it means that there’s blood in the water for the sitting president.

It also means that the price for having decided to challenge the president is at rock-bottom. It’s not zero—anyone who primaries a sitting president will pay some price with the party eventually. But we’re approaching the point where the upside of mounting a challenge might equal (or even surpass) the downside.

If you’re looking for a worst-case analogy for Trump, think about the 1968 Democratic primary.

I doubt it’ll get to this worst-case. But you never know. The chances aren’t zero.

(4) Trump is projecting a great deal of confidence in his ability to deal with Weld, Walsh, and Sanford. As well he should. He should be able to beat them and amass enough delegates to be re-nominated.

But if, in January of 2017, I had told you that Trump would have three primary opponents by Labor Day 2019; that his overall job approval was stuck in the low 40s; and that he trailed his most-likely Democratic opponent, consistently, by double digits—well, maybe you’d be able to talk yourself into saying that he was still the favorite to win reelection.

But would you have said that everything was going exactly the way Trump had hoped?

I don’t think so. I don’t think even his most stalwart defenders would be able to muster the will to say that with a straight face.

Then again, I’ve been surprised by a lot of things these last three years.

3. Coincidence

A classic piece from the New York Times Magazine:

When the Miami Police first found Benito Que, he was slumped on a desolate side street, near the empty spot where he had habitually parked his Ford Explorer. At about the same time, Don C. Wiley mysteriously disappeared. His car, a white rented Mitsubishi Galant, was abandoned on a bridge outside of Memphis, where he had just had a jovial dinner with friends. The following week, Vladimir Pasechnik collapsed in London, apparently of a stroke.

The list would grow to nearly a dozen in the space of four nerve-jangling months. . . .

What joined these men was their proximity to the world of bioterror and germ warfare. Que, the one who was car-jacked, was a researcher at the University of Miami School of Medicine. Wiley, the most famous, knew as much as anyone about how the immune system responds to attacks from viruses like Ebola. Pasechnik was Russian, and before he defected, he helped the Soviets transform cruise missiles into biological weapons. The chain of deaths — these three men and eight others like them — began last fall, back when emergency teams in moonsuits were scouring the Capitol, when postal workers were dying, when news agencies were on high alert and the entire nation was afraid to open its mail.

In more ordinary times, this cluster of deaths might not have been noticed, but these are not ordinary times. . . . Now we are spooked and startled by stories like these — all these scientists dying within months of one another, at the precise moment when tiny organisms loom as a gargantuan threat. The stories of these dozen or so deaths started out as a curiosity and were transformed rumor by rumor into the specter of conspiracy as they circulated first on the Internet and then in the mainstream media. What are the odds, after all?

What are the odds, indeed?

For this is not about conspiracy but about coincidence . . .

Read the whole thing.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.