Ben Stein and Ann Coulter at Politicon in Los Angeles on Oct. 20. (photo by Rich Polk-Getty Images for Politicon)
From pundits to Hollywood types, there were many Jewish names on the speaker roster at this year’s Politicon, the fourth annual two-day convention in Los Angeles that ropes in high-wattage names from the left, right and centre. This year’s gathering took place Oct. 20-21.
In the panel called The Deep State, discussion revolved around the allegations of U.S. President Donald Trump’s collusion with Russia. Speakers included Dr. Vince Houghton (curator at the International Spy Museum), Dan Bongino (former U.S. secret service for George W. Bush and Barack Obama), Dr. Jason Johnson (professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore), former Trump aide David Urban and former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum, a member of the Jewish community.
While Frum outlined some of the evidence on meetings and correspondences between Trump aides and various Russians, he also conceded that “there are things in collusion that are utterly reprehensible, which are not illegal.”
He said, “To what extent there was cooperation back and forth, remains unclear,” but he is convinced that the facts are quite damning.
As a counterpoint, Johnson said: “I don’t think the president has such discipline or organization to pull off this kind of thing. Hillary [Clinton] lost because she ran a bad campaign, not because of a meeting with the Russians.”
Two right-wing pundits – Ann Coulter and Ben Stein – took the stage in a session called Ask Ann Anything.
Stein, the Jewish actor whose politics date back to serving as a Richard Nixon aide, said that, if he could change any numbers about America, it would be to increase the number of better-educated individuals, as well as the number of fathers marrying the women they’ve had children with.
Coulter, often appearing on media to represent the far-right, is the bestselling author of Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism and Godless: The Church of Liberalism, among others. Her key complaint was that Trump had yet to build the wall between the United States and Mexico, as he had promised, and she holds the left responsible for the immigration crisis.
Three generations ago, she said, “immigrants would come and 30 or 40% of them wouldn’t make it, and [would] go back home. Now, they all go on welfare. The Democrats pushed the bill that promised to [enshrine this],” she said.
The biggest surprise, she said, was that “despite all the race-baiting, Trump, as I thought he would, got more of the black and Hispanic votes than either [Mitt] Romney or [George W.] Bush … considering all of the racial incitement of the campaign.”
Three different questioners harshly criticized Coulter for avoiding debate with liberals, but Coulter dismissed them outright – “they couldn’t find a New York Times bestselling author to debate me?”
Yarmulke-wearing Ben Shapiro – who was in Vancouver for talks on Oct. 30 and 31 – covered the topics of free speech, constitutional rights and racism in America in his keynote address at Politicon.
“If my speech is violence,” said Shapiro, “and the government can shut down violence, then the government can shut down speech. This is ugly stuff.”
On the #MeToo movement and abortion, he paraphrased his opponents: “Men, sit down, shut up, you don’t know anything.” But, he said, “We can’t have a conversation if you’re simply going to assume I can’t understand you because of dint of birth … identity politics throws up a roadblock in the way of it. It prevents you from having these conversations.”
He said, “If you’re going to make a pro-choice argument, then make a pro-choice argument. An argument cannot be based on a woman knows better what constitutes life than a man.”
A questioner asked why, on YouTube, Shapiro appears to fume at ideological challengers.
“There are many more examples of me talking to the left in a respectful manner than there are tapes of me ‘destroying’ anybody,” noted Shapiro. “Those are the ones we like to watch because they’re more fun, but it’s not happening on a day-to-day basis.”
In a session called The Russian Menace, Jewish actor, director and author Henry Winkler interviewed author, terrorism expert and naval expert in cryptology Malcolm Nance. This year, Nance published The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West.
After Obama was elected, said Nance, Trump and a representative of Russian intelligence exchanged private Twitter messages, with the latter expressing interest in helping the U.S. change governments. “Trump responded with a picture of double thumbs up,” noted Nance.
Winkler retorted, “Not mine!” – a reference to his Happy Days character the Fonz’s signature symbol.
According to Nance, a week after this Twitter exchange, Trump registered the trademark “Make America Great Again.” Subsequently, Trump met with Russian oligarchs in Moscow for two hours, something that should raise suspicions, Nance insisted.
At one time, he said, Russians wanted the “money and luxury” that the West had, but now they employ “an old KGB strategy” of propaganda to tear down the United States.
“You don’t go at the people by invading it,” but rather, through “fake news stories,” said Nance. “You co-opt their mind; you create a new reality for them. In the old days, they used to call that brainwashing. Today, they call it Facebook.”
Evan Sayet, who has written two speeches for Trump and is the author of Kindergarden of Eden: How the Modern Liberal Thinks, told the Jewish Independent that the panel he was on, 13 Reasons Why Not to be a Liberal, could be summed up thusly:
“Everybody in America – every ethnic group in America – blacks, Asians, Hispanics, they should all be conservative. They’re family-centric, church-goers, entrepreneurs. The left has done such a great job via the entertainment industry, schools and media, of villainizing the right. Those who vote for Democrats, don’t vote Democrats. They vote against Republicans. They are so in fear of what’s been portrayed as the right.”
Other Jews to appear as speakers or panelists at Politicon included Joel Pollak (Breitbart), Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post), author Eric Golub, NBC’s Ari Melber, comedian Ben Gleib, Bill Kristol (journalist and former chief-of-staff to vice-president Dan Quayle), TV host David Pakman, TV’s Drew Pinsky, commentator Sally Kohn, mayor of Knox County in Tennessee and former wrestler Glenn Jacobs, comedian Sam Seder, actor Richard Schiff, comedian Elayne Boosler, NBC’s Jacob Saboroff, writer Jamie Kilstein, actor Josh Malina, NBC’s Gadi Schwartz and entrepreneur Fred Guttenberg.
Dave Gordon is a Toronto-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in more than 100 publications around the world.