[Attention conservation note: here come a few hundred words about xenophobia-by-proxy and the fate of polite bigotry, in the form of a dollop of bile spat at the idiot Donald Trump, who’s not interesting in himself but who’s a useful example of something very interesting, not to mention horrible.]
Just now I saw, on CNN (at a restaurant; I’d never choose to watch CNN), a panel of three or four ‘political consultants’ including Paul Begala. The pretend-journalist Wolf Blitzer moderated; the topic was Donald Trump’s recent remarks about John McCain’s ‘heroism.’ (The content of the remarks doesn’t matter.) The question before the panel: is this curtains for Trump’s ‘run for president’?
Donald Trump’s ‘candidacy’ shouldn’t be referred to without scare quotes. He can’t win, but even if he could, he’s not interested in actually being president. This isn’t hard to infer.
Still, it bears repeating: Donald Trump is less qualified to be President of the United States of America than is, say, LOVE-22. (Whom I’ve met, by the way; he’s a swell guy.)
The CNN panelists all nodded and gesticulated and looked serious (or in Begala’s case, exasperated in a good-natured ‘Once I mattered as a human being but I’m getting paid mountains of money for this so fuck it’ sort of way) and mouthed variations on ‘This weekend marks a change for the Republican Party'(!!) and ‘Trump’s done, time for serious business.’
The panel was, of course, a stupid waste of time and energy, though none of the well-coiffed idiots involved deserve to get that time back.
Here are two better questions:
Why is Trump so popular right now?
Because he’s not really running for President, so he can say what he feels, or more to the point, what millions of other Americans also feel.
Trump speaks for a large number of people — your neighbours, coworkers, friends; your parents (not mine, I’m happy to say) — who feel confused and angry (resentful) at a moment of extreme reaction in a rapidly ‘liberalizing’ country.
The word’s out: some kinds of xenophobia will now be punished by public shaming, and because speech is now more public than it’s ever been, you’re likely to be sideswiped by criticism (mostly online, people are still cowards) for ‘saying what you really think’ — if what you really think includes (e.g.) the stuff Donald Trump says about immigrants.
This doesn’t stop, say, the Stormfront folks from telling each other what they think — quite the contrary. It’s ‘moderate’ speech that gets crowded out in moments of extreme cultural reaction. ‘Polite racism,’ for instance…because the polite thing is to keep it to yourself, and when the cost of saying awful things increases, politeness dictates that you hold your tongue. It’s less safe than it was a generation ago to speak up for Bernie Goetz or George Zimmerman, so only the extremists (of every stripe, including 2nd Amendment extremists and ‘free speech’ extremists and so forth) will do so.
In that environment, with fewer polite outlets for ‘inappropriate’ speech, the folks who fill the void are…you guessed it. The impolite.
Idiots like Trump serve two purposes:
- They serve as an outlet, an outboard id, for folks who want to express anger about The Way They’ve Taken Over Our Country but don’t wanna risk it — so they take the much smaller risk of ‘Liking’ someone like Trump.
- As a fun knock-on effect, they expose people to more extreme speech than they’d otherwise hear in public, polarizing not only their audiences’ affiliations but their actual beliefs.
Trump is popular because he’s a proxy xenophobe at a moment when owning your xenophobia is seen as socially costly.
So why is CNN covering him?
Because CNN’s job is the same as Trump’s, in the long run: to make sure America is a safe place for people like Trump (or Ted Turner, or Marc Andreessen, or Nick Denton, or Larry Page and Sergei Brin, or Tim and David Geithner) to do business.
Trump sells (whatever trash is for sale today) by the truckload. The idiot Wolf Blitzer isn’t a journalist, he’s a wooden TV actor who plays a journalist for the camera. The only reason they haven’t replaced him with a Teleprompter is that the generation of screen-addicted victims of alternating overparenting and ‘well-meaning neglect’ hasn’t yet aged into CNN’s audience. CNN’s ongoing project of corroding the national ‘political discourse’ for profit needs benign nonstories like ‘Donald Trump makes a dumb crack about John McCain’ in order to move product.
(Don’t pretend that a downed Malaysian airliner is ‘news’ the way, say, the fact that the Marshall Islands are going to disappear into the sea as the water levels rise is news. If CNN had mentioned that the plane had disappeared and then moved on, the only Americans who’d’ve cared would be the Forteans and the conspiracists; Chinese-American followers of the story would surely have been getting their information elsewhere, regardless…)
Why so angry?
Good question. Why aren’t you?