NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Can the left and right still learn from each other in America in 2019?
Politicon, “the unconventional political convention” held this year in Nashville, brings in speakers from across the political spectrum to discuss and sometimes debate the issues facing the country.
This year’s invitees ranged from conservative Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity to liberal political commentator Sally Kohn, from Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R.-Tenn., to former Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.
And attendees of the fifth annual event certainly crossed the political spectrum, from Bernie Bros. to MAGA hat-wearing Trump supporters.
Much of the political discussion focused, naturally, on President Donald Trump and the 2020 presidential election. But there was much coverage of the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the founder of the Islamic State or ISIS, who was killed by U.S. special forces while the conference was ongoing.
Here are three things I saw at Politicon 2019:
1. To Impeach or Not to Impeach
Though there was certainly a contingent of pro-Trump pundits at Politicon, there was also a perhaps disproportionate number of “Never Trump” commentators.
Politicon hosted a debate between Republican presidential primary contenders. Noticeably missing: Trump.
The panel included former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, former Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and former Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois and was hosted by Washington Post political columnist Jennifer Rubin.
Walsh and Weld insisted that Trump should be impeached, while Sanford said impeachment wasn’t feasible and Trump’s fate would be better decided by a congressional censure and an election.
MSNBC host Nicolle Wallace interviewed former FBI Director James Comey, a well-known Trump detractor.
Comey oversaw much of the agency’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential Trump campaign involvement. Comey, fired by Trump in May 2017, was accused of leaking classified information to the press.
Comey said the House “has no choice but to pursue an impeachment inquiry” over Trump’s discussion with the Ukrainian president about corruption allegations involving former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.
However, Comey did not weigh in on whether he thinks Trump actually should be impeached. Rather, he said he would withhold judgment until “we have a chance as a country to see and public testimony to get the transparency we deserve.”
If Trump wins in 2020, the former FBI director said, he will leave the country.
“From my new home in New Zealand, I still will believe in America,” Comey said.
2. Why NBA’s Hong Kong Woes Are Just Beginning
One of the most enlightening events at Politicon was a talk by Clay Travis, a Fox Sports radio host and author of the book “Republicans Buy Sneakers Too: How the Left Is Ruining Sports with Politics.”
Travis highlighted how the NBA has put itself in a terrible position over its stance on Hong Kong, and why this matters to Americans as China rises as a world power.
He said the recent controversy was a profound moment in “the conflict between sports, commerce, capitalism, and geopolitical ambition.”
The National Basketball Association has made a concerted effort to market its product in the massive Chinese market.
“In fact, more people watched the NBA Finals in China than live in all of America,” Travis said.
That market was threatened after Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets—the most popular team in China—tweeted out a simple message of support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.
This had immediate repercussions, as China put pressure on the NBA to fire Morey.
The NBA, players, and coaches mostly responded by keeping their mouths shut about Hong Kong or openly criticizing Morey, rather than the authoritarian Chinese regime.
“What ends up happening is the NBA, in the space of about a week, manages to unite [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and [Sen.] Ted Cruz, the far right and the far left, in condemnation [of] how badly they have bungled this entire situation,” Travis said.
Even more devastating for the NBA was how much the incident exposed the hypocrisy of the entire organization, which had once hitched its wagon to social justice causes.
The pro basketball league had been eager to join the crusade in support of transgender bathrooms, going so far as to pull its All-Star Game out of North Carolina when the state passed legislation that insisted people use public bathrooms corresponding to their biological sex.
Travis called this move “sham wokeism.”
Capitalistic enterprises often “trade money for morals” when selling their products, he said.
What the NBA did was expose the shallowness of woke capitalism and, in the meantime, lose a whole lot of money and credibility in the process.
3. Bagging al-Baghdadi
The news that U.S. forces had killed Islamic State founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi broke during the conference.
On one panel discussing what an “America First” foreign policy is, conservative radio host Buck Sexton, who worked in the CIA’s counterterrorism center during the George W. Bush administration, explained what the terrorist’s death means for the future of ISIS as well as in the broader war against radical Islamists.
“It’s worth going back to remember what Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, what he did, what he stood for, the things that were happening when he had the power to do them,” Sexton said.
Most Americans celebrated the elimination of the terrorist leader, Sexton said, but others immediately politicized it. He said it’s not clear what kind of impact the successful raid in northwestern Syria would have moving forward.
“It’s a good thing, we should celebrate, he needed to die—he needed to meet justice, I should say,” Sexton said. “ … Cutting the head off the snake is something you have to do, but the snake doesn’t necessarily die.”
The Islamic State, despite the loss of its leader, will fight on, he said.