Take Two

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

Yiannopoulos' fall might prove that America's moral compass is still intact

by Austin Cross and A Martínez | Take Two

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Milo Yiannopoulos speaks during a news conference, Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, in New York. Yiannopoulos has resigned as editor of Breitbart Tech after coming under fire from other conservatives over comments on sexual relationships between boys and older men. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) Mary Altaffer/AP

Conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos is no stranger to controversy. Critics have called his ideology sexist, racist and xenophobic.

But the straw that broke the camel's back wasn't related to his politics. Instead, it was an old video that surfaced earlier this week in which Yiannopoulos appeared to endorse pedophilia.

The bipartisan backlash was swift. Yiannopoulos' words cost him a major speaking engagement at this week's Conservative Political Action Conference, a book deal and his job at Breitbart News.

The rebuking marked a rare moment of unity for the polarized nation: the man who built a career testing the limits of human decency stumbled upon a moral line that even he couldn't cross.

"The question of Yiannopoulos I think is not a question necessarily of pedophilia, but of how tolerant people can be of things they find abhorrent up until the tidal wave crests," says Brie Loskota. She's executive director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at USC.

For years, America's far-right and sympathizers defended Yiannopoulos' First Amendment right to express his views — even if they didn't necessarily agree with them. But Loskota says his remarks about pedophilia pushed even his defenders out of their moral comfort zones.

"It was [about] the accumulation of things that could not be ignored," she says.

The principles of the nation, as outlined in the founding documents like the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, make up a moral code of sorts for Americans. Historian Brenda Stevenson says that the pushback Yiannopoulos faced throughout his career might indicate that people see his views as incongruous with those standards.

"Protests show us where we are — where some people are, at any rate. Protest is very much a part of our moral fiber, so it does mean something when you have people standing up and saying no," Stevenson says.

Exactly how the American moral codes are interpreted, however, varies from person to person.

"What societies are trying to engage in as they engage issues of morality and ethics is sometimes a sort of mosh pit of ideas coming together and people trying to figure out what we can agree on and what we can't," says Brie Loskota.

But Loskota adds that continued engagement ultimately leads to a better society.

"The more that we incorporate more voices into what our moral baselines are and what our universal values are, the more cohesive, the safer, and the more peaceful our society becomes," she says.

Click on the blue bar above to listen to the entire interview.

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