There’s a certain stripe of conservative—“rightwinger” might be a better term—that quite literally lives off outrage. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Adam Rubenstein has a pretty apt description of the business model deployed by such pundits, whose ranks include Candace Owens, Milo Yiannopoulos, and Charlie Kirk:
[The] model is essentially this: Provoke leftist students; take video of their reactions; send the video clips to donors to solicit contributions. Lather, rinse, repeat. Money flows in, the organization expands, and the culture, the campus, the students are naught for the better.
This racket dates back to the 1990s, when Rush Limbaugh was gaining steam and conservative newsletters were all the rage. But it’s become much more effective in an era of social media, because now charlatans like Milo can reach more people more quickly, and with less effort, than ever before. Conservatism’s identity crisis under Trump has played a role, too; with the old gatekeepers discredited, boundary-pushing now poses comparatively fewer risks from the GOP establishment, and in some cases even earns you a promotion—see Charlie Kirk’s frequent White House sojourns.
The students who invite these firebrands to campus often claim to be exposing their peers to different points of view. “Yes, he’s an asshole, no, we don’t love everything he says, but hey, intellectual diversity!” To which most well-adjusted people reply: seriously? Nobody learns anything when Milo rightsplains feminism to feminists, so why not invite someone who will actually promote real debate—not just engage in performative lib-owning?
Except that performative lib-owning is the point: because without it, conservative students fear they will be steamrolled by a much louder and better organized Left, whose strategic outrage has largely succeeded in ejecting center-Right opinion from campus. Thus they invite professional triggerers as a kind of countermeasure, a way of prying the Overton window wide enough to avoid ideological asphyxiation. This is why lines about “productive debate” often prove unproductive when directed at twentysomething reactionaries—they don’t really address the survivalist impulse driving Miloism.
So let me offer a different argument that does address it: Conservative firebrands create anti-conservative incentive structures.
The thing to see here is that if your revenue stream depends on commodifying leftist tears, it inevitably depends on leftists as well—not the old-school Bernie types, exactly, so much as the Sarah Jeongs and SJWs, dyed-in-the-wool activists who explode at the slightest hint of wrongthink. And that means you have a vested interest in perpetuating the progressive grievance machine—otherwise you might end up with fewer videos, and therefore less money.
Milo’s business model, then, presupposes the existence of a loud, distemperate Left enforcing PC pieties, something he himself has admitted on multiple occasions. By straddling the line between obnoxious and odious, he triggers just enough meltdowns to generate revenue, but not quite enough to be prevented from speaking to—and pissing off—the crowd. Then said crowd spreads the word—watch out for this asshole—ensuring Milo has an angry audience at his next gig, too—and the next one, and the one after that. His strategy, in other words, is not to “own the libs”; it’s to energize and exploit them for profit.
Thus when young conservatives bankroll trigger-mongering, they’re essentially helping their own worst enemy. Raucous, truculent, and in most cases ill-spoken, the trolls confirm every insult and epithet hurled at them by the social justice Left; having been vindicated, the Left uses its newfound credibility to regulate conservative speech; and frustrated by the regulations, conservatives invite ever more frauds and hucksters to campus—which only makes the regulations worse.
All this to say: If you are a right-leaning undergraduate who can’t stand speech codes and special snowflakes, culture wars and cultural Marxists, please, please do not subsidize a multi-million dollar industry that makes money off those things. We adults would appreciate it.