Photo Essay Politicon photo essay

Politicon 2018 was, per usual, an over-the-top experience, but the mood and the crowd were conspicuously more Trump-friendly than in previous years. A certain kind of red baseball cap was worn proudly, and full-throated “MAGA!” eruptions were let loose, by a higher concentration of people in that section of downtown L.A. than could be found on any other square block within a 20-mile radius.

Organizers of the politics-meets-showbiz summit know how to lure big-ticket names from the speaker’s circuit to their event. Although any number of panels just like the ones staged Saturday around the Los Angeles Convention Center were no doubt also happening all day on cable news, a sizable audience of political junkies showed up as well, hoping to catch the live version of their favorite political acts.

If the below tweet is any indication of what conference-goers were in for, it apparently wasn’t much of a deterrent—nor was the steep $70 ticket price.

This is where it was possible under one big roof—maybe big tent is more like it—to hear former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speak dolefully of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s suffering behind bars, or shop for #Resistance- or #MAGA-themed merch in side-by-side vendor booths. Visitors might also take in the polarizing Ben Shapiro’s keynote speech, request a photo-op with combative Fox News stalwart Tucker Carlson or The Young Turks’ Cenk Uygur, or listen to celebrated NBA rebounder Dennis Rodman describe his “basketball diplomacy” stints in North Korea.

The event also provided a contained testing ground for political players like Christie, former National Republican Committee Chair Michael Steele, and embattled comic Kathy Griffin to circulate and do some image control, perhaps even audition for their next political, private-sector and/or TV gigs. The perpetually bewildered Carter Page was also on hand to tell interviewer Scottie Nell Hughes that, despite his treatment by the likes of Anderson Cooper in recent months, he was “absolutely not” a spy for Russia, though he again confirmed that he was an FBI informant.

Observing loyalty rituals that have long ceased to surprise, neither Christie nor Page was there to criticize President Trump, despite how both of their lives were seriously affected by association with his campaign. Nor was Rodman, despite his interviewer Touré’s efforts to push him on that subject. To the contrary, Rodman claimed the ability to count Trump as a friend without needing to speak to the president’s policies or how, as a commenter from Detroit put it during the Q&A portion of the program, Rodman’s fans might register Trump’s impact on the country.

Rodman’s answers about his relationship with the U.S. president mirrored those about his friendship with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un. Touré picked up on how the NBA’s accidental diplomat dodged and weaved his way out of certain questions, but Rodman insisted on his ability to declare himself at once not “political” while also casting himself as a creative force who, as he put it, brought North Korea “to the forefront” of American politics. Likewise, he said he supports Trump “as a friend,” but as to what Trump “does as a president, I can’t control that.”

Finally, to Touré’s point-blank question about Trump’s racial politics, Rodman produced another arguable response. “Everyone thinks he’s racist as hell. I don’t think so,” Rodman said, before backing up another African-American entertainer in Trump’s milieu. “Did you see that piece the other day with Kanye and Jim Brown? … They made some good points,” he said. Two years into Trump’s first term, more than a few members of the Politicon audience were clearly there for comments just like these.

Watch three clips from Rodman’s panel below (third clip courtesy of TYT via YouTube):


Finally, here’s Christie describing Paul Manafort’s deterioration in prison, or “what jail can do to someone who is not used to it”:

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