Politicon brings out rabble-rousers from across spectrum

Comedienne Kathy Griffin was asked what she would do with one wish from a genie. World peace? End poverty? Free rum and Coke for everyone?

None of the above: The 57-year-old provocateur told the audience at this year’s Politicon conference that she’d wish that anyone related to Donald Trump, and anyone who works for his administration would “disappear”, or be sent to prison.

Her talk was dubbed “How to Beat Trump,” with the presumed imaginary parenthetical addition of “… and if we could, mercilessly, with a blunt object.”

The fourth annual Los Angeles convention in late October corralled speakers from left, right and centre – causing the expected friction and posturing. Known speakers included Ann Coulter, Ben Stein, Cenk Uygur (Young Turks), James Carville (strategist for Bill Clinton), Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Ben Shapiro, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, and many others.

Much discussion surrounded the lead-in to the midterm elections, the South American caravan heading towards the US, Russian-collusion, and rhetoric in the age of Trump.

Michael Avenatti and Kathy Griffin

Griffin, sharing the dais with Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti, conceded that, “I’m crass; I’m vulgar, et cetera” and believes that Republicans, “want women to be like the (Margaret Atwood’s dystopian) Handmaid’s Tale, and you know it! … they do not like equality; they’re threatened by it,” she stated emphatically.

Many will recall the controversial schtick that involved a bloodied beheaded (fake) Donald Trump head. Subsequently, she was investigated by two federal agencies for two months, on the grounds that she was conspiring to assassinate the president – an offence punishable with life in prison.

No charges were laid. Post-investigation, she redirected the brouhaha to her advantage. The newly found notoriety (and turbo-charged righteous indignation) enabled her to take her “Laugh Your Head Off Show” to 18 countries and sell out New York’s famed Carnegie Hall in less than one day.

Clay Aiken, an avowed Democrat, interviewed Fox News’ Tomi Lahren, and their exchange was non-confrontational.

Aiken, a runner-up to two reality television shows – American Idol, and Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice – jovially chastised the audience after groans and grumbles: “all these people paid good money to hear Tomi, and they didn’t pay to hear all your asses…”

Clay Aiken and Tomi Lahren

Lahren said she’s not a fan of the politics-as-celebrity show, citing a recent example of entertainer Kanye West visiting President Trump.

“My fear is that too many young conservatives are attaching themselves to personalities and not ideas. And politicians too, they’re more focused on being big stars than helping people,” she said. “This dog and pony show? I think Republicans want to win … focus on the concrete issues, and less on the circus.”

Probably the most muted response to a contentious topic was when former MSNBC host and journalist Touré interviewed basketball star Dennis Rodman, in a session called “Slam Dunk Diplomacy.”

In 2010, Rodman explained, North Korea had been seeking an American sports figure to help the hermit kingdom “integrate sports.”

“I thought it was just another paying gig,” Rodman said of his naiveté. “Hanging out, signing autographs, taking pictures. I knew nothing about North Korea.” But that changed in the lead-up to the trip.

“People starting enlightening me about the country… ‘I hope nothing happens to you. I hope you don’t get shot.’” Eight visits later, the most recent as May 2017, Rodman is convinced that Kim Jong-Un “don’t want war. He just wants to talk.” The despot and athlete remain friends, he said, having spoken last two weeks prior to the conference.

“I’m not there for politics,” Rodman insisted, to Touré’s questioning of spending buddy time with Kim. “I’m there for sports. Just to connect two countries together. I’m not there to tell someone not to shoot someone, not to take some guy’s sister’s head off. That’s not my job, OK?”

The two pals, he said, went snowboarding, and water skiing, and during breakfasts, eating “food as far as the eye can see.”

The celebrity ballplayer felt he could speak candidly to Kim. “I said ‘your grand-dad was a motherfucker. Your dad was a fucker,” Rodman recalled saying to the dictator, “‘But I’ll tell you one thing. You’ve been so cool to me; you’re probably the best of the three of those.’ And he looked at me and laughed.”

“Sports heals a lot of wounds, even if for one day,” he concluded.

That “Slam Dunk Diplomacy” had some effect, he explained, as it was Rodman’s efforts that led to two American captives released. But he broke down in tears when indirectly referring to Otto Frederick Warmbier, the college student who died of injuries shortly after repatriation.

His mention of ongoing friendship with Trump, since his days as a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice, received a warm response.

“People say Donald Trump is racist. I mean, I don’t think so,” he said, as the audience applauded.

In response, Touré insisted, “I just don’t see how you can’t call Donald Trump a racist. He is quite clearly a racist” — a statement met with intense booing.

Perhaps we’ve come to accept just how polarized US politics really is, even in what might seem cordial settings.

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