I have said elsewhere that more wisdom might be found in arguing not with people we disagree with entirely, but with those who share nearly (but not all) of our opinions. That’s what I want to do here.
If, like me, you find yourself more left than right, but also find that the description given below of those on the left—whether on college campuses, in the media, or in entertainment—doesn’t describe you at all, we have to wonder just how that happened.
If there is even the smallest chance that Donald Trump’s election can bring into the mainstream something like uninformed white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and various other historically-ignorant ideologies, then the left must become more mature and less historically-ignorant itself, and more able to face the uncomfortable facts of history directly, rather than believing they can be cleaned up by renaming and banning things or people or ideas. If the decadence of our culture really does mirror that of Weimar Germany, and if Trump’s election really is anything like Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor in 1933, we need a better and stronger media and culture to go up against it.
Please pass this post along, and tell me in the comments where you think I’m right or wrong.
My wife and I don’t have cable, but on New Year’s Eve last year, we were visiting friends who wanted to watch the ball drop in Times Square, and among them was at least one Trump supporter. I forget which network we watched, but suddenly there they were: an endless gang of dumb rich celebrities being snarky, cruel, and sarcastic about everything. At one point they began picking apart this or that persons’ gaffes from the past year, wondering aloud who was the bigger racist. Probably none of the potential culprits actually were, though, since all they’d done was that very human thing of saying something vaguely uncouth in public.
Watching this, I was reminded of why I don’t have cable, but it also became clear that the Trump voter seemed to think that everyone on the left acted and thought this way: that they were mostly drunk on the perceived power and influence their “ideas” have over culture and politics, and that they were ready to deal out endless amounts self-righteous shame while also being extremely sensitive to criticism of any kind.
So that if the Trump vote turns out to partly have been from insulated, uneducated white people, you can’t really blame them when the other side is seemingly populated with insulated, overeducated, privilege-paralyzed white people, who adopt every minority they can find as their helpless pet project.
The kind of liberals that get all the attention are just as insufferable as anything Trump ever did or said. Their well-meaning arrogance mixed with knee-trembling guilt only makes for expressions of heightened emotion, and such are the things which made a real conversation about race, immigration, gender, and so much else, as impossible with them as with anyone on the right.
Trump’s vapid ability “to say it like it is” was only matched by the left’s paralysis to say much of anything at all, other than emotional clichés.
During that same trip home last year I happened to see an old Jimmy Stewart movie from around World War Two, clearly a propaganda piece carrying the simplest of messages. For a second I wondered how 1940s audiences could have been so naïve to ever pay to see such junk; but then I realized what had been happening for years in Hollywood.
Because even if you agree with the sentiments behind them, is anything more tiresome than the slew of bad movies being sold as entertainment, or even as art—whether in promoting gender or sexuality or racial issues (or even anti-fracking)—many of them so blatant in their politics and obvious in their bias, and in their sneering?
If the vocal right are really to be dismissed as brainwashed rural bigots, what has the popular left done but use their dominance in the media and education, not to skew or rig anything—which requires intelligence and planning—but to merely accomplish something much weaker and insidiously mundane: produce a populace of terrified victims who have slid into online and other censorship, and who these days need counsellors on hand if they happen to hear an opposing viewpoint?
Will there be consequences for any of the polling people, the pundits, or the talk-show hosts who proved themselves completely inadequate at their jobs? Will any of them be fired, will any of them stop writing, in the wake of the election? Will any of them humbly resign, realizing they’re just clueless? I doubt it. Everyone on the left who laughs at religion seems nevertheless to have fallen prey to the most mistaken preachers and theologians. But we can at least stop visiting their websites, cancel our subscriptions, and stop watching. We can at least cobble together some reliable way of receiving the news, and expressing ourselves.
In many ways Trump is the President we actually deserve. Since the left is obsessed with judging and shaming people for the smallest comments or slights, our entertainment and news have been filled with little else for years, and Trump seems to have run his campaign knowing that a string of nonsense and gaffes would have everyone salivating rather than critiquing. He is our reality TV star come home.
Because if it’s assumed that the alt-right is largely composed of racist make-believe conspiracies, then the supposed “mainstream” media is just as self-destructive, self-deceived, and isolated. If anything, they helped create Trump by mocking and following him the entire way. And now that the election is over, the only circus dumber than Trump’s is the social media outrage coming from our celebrities, all threatening to leave the country. How much more well-informed might we be, if we ignored all of these people who have never been paid for their ideas?
And now that places like The New York Times have suddenly realized the prevalence of “fake news” on social media, will they do anything to improve their own reporting, their own editorials, their own research, their own presentation? (Admittedly, this article is a good start.) Perhaps a crackdown of sorts on Twitter and Facebook will happily eradicate social media as we know it—or just force them to hire nannies for all of the offended users on all sides turning each other in—but the dominant print and television media will still be there in some way. And is their brand of clearly unreliable and cloistered news any better than outright fake news?
America went with the entropy vote, the chaos vote, not the vote of any organized upheaval, let alone a coup. The world as we know it ended with a whimper, with ineloquence, with a distrusted mediocrity, not with any kind of major threat; and like an addict who needs to hit bottom before they can get back up, maybe we need to see the worst of ourselves before any recovery can really happen. But that bottom is composed, more than anything else, of our media and our culture, which we choose and wallow in every day.
By all means keep protesting, but there must be an inward reckoning as well as an outward one. If the anger over Trump’s win or the tears over Clinton’s loss reflect anything like reality, and if the choice of Clinton was so supposedly self-evident, the left has to ponder the limitations of their own message beyond the ignorance of those who voted for Trump; and it has to ponder the uses and abuses of a condescending celebrity media and celebrity culture, not just upon opposing voters, but among their own supporters.