VICTOR DAVIS HANSON
Is there a Democratic-party alternative to President Trump’s tax plan? Is there a Democratic congressional proposal to stop the hemorrhaging and impending implosion of Obamacare? Do Democrats have some sort of comprehensive package to help the economy grow or to deal with the recent doubling of the national debt? What is the Democratic alternative to Trump’s apparent foreign policy of pragmatic realism or his neglect of entitlement reform? The answers are all no, because for all practical purposes there is no Democratic party as we have traditionally known it. It is no longer a liberal (a word now replaced by progressive) political alternative to conservatism as much as a cultural movement fueled by coastal elites, academics, celebrities — and the media. Its interests are not so much political as cultural.
True to its new media identity, the Democratic party is against anything Trump rather than being for something. It seeks to shock and entertain in the fashion of a red-carpet celebrity or MSNBC talking head rather than to legislate or formulate policy as a political party. The result is that in traditional governing terms, the Democratic party has recalibrated itself into near political impotency. Barack Obama ended the centrism of Bill Clinton and with it the prior Democratic comeback (thanks to the third-party candidacies of Ross Perot) from the disastrous McGovern, Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis years. Indeed, Obama’s celebrity-media/identity-politics/community-organizing model brought him more new voters than the old voters he lost — but so far, his new political paradigm has not proven transferable to any other national candidates. No wonder that over the eight years of the Obama administration, Democrats lost the majority of the state legislatures, the governorships, local offices, the Senate, the House, the presidency, and, probably, the Supreme Court. Most Democratic leaders are dynastic and geriatric: Bernie Sanders (75), Hillary Clinton (69), Elizabeth Warren (67), Diane Feinstein (83), Nancy Pelosi (77), Steny Hoyer (77), or Jerry Brown (79). They are hardly spry enough to dance to the party’s new “Pajama Boy” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” music.
Yet those not past their mid-sixties appear unstable, such as the potty-mouth DNC head Tom Perez and his assistant, the volatile congressman Keith Ellison. Or they still believe it is 2008 and they can rally yet again around “hope and change” and Vero possumus. That politicos are talking about an amateurish Chelsea Clinton as a serious future candidate reflects the impoverishment of Democratic political talent. In such a void, a traditionally progressive media, including the entertainment industry, stepped in and fused with what is left of the Democratic party to form the new opposition to the Republican party and in particular to Donald Trump. The aim now is to alter culture through the courts and pressure groups rather than to make laws. A disinterested observer would have seen that the Democratic antidote to Trumpism was a return to Bill Clinton’s focus on working-class, pocketbook issues — the issues that might win back swing voters in the proverbially blue-wall states. But that won’t happen. The Democratic party is now in the hands of Obama progressives, who in turn follow the lead of the hip, cool, and outraged media that have no responsibility other than to appear hip and cool and outraged.
Trump apparently understands that and so focuses most of his invective not against a tired Nancy Pelosi or the shrill Chuck Schumer but at the major networks, mainstream newspapers, and Hollywood celebrities — the heart now of the progressive fusion party. Trump’s strategy is understandable. A recent study released by the Harvard Kennedy School and Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy reported that in Trump’s first 100 days, 80 percent of major-media news coverage was negative (double the figure during President Obama’s first three months). More important, anti-Trump news constituted 41 percent of all media news coverage, a percentage three times greater than coverage accorded prior presidents. In clinical terms, we might call that an obsession.
If it were not for Fox News’s much caricatured “fair and balanced” coverage (52 percent of its Trump coverage was negative, Harvard reported) to average in with other major print and television media, the anti-Trump bias would have been far greater — given that CNN and NBC ran almost no media coverage that portrayed Trump in a positive light (their coverage was 93 percent negative). The symptoms of the Media-Democratic party fusion range from the trivial to the profound. The merger is emblematized by the annual White House Correspondents Dinner, which has now fully morphed from a self-congratulatory night for Washington media insiders to a star-studded Petronian banquet of progressive celebrities.
Operationally, the celebrity world and the media have institutionalized political obscenity and street theater.
Operationally, the celebrity world and the media have institutionalized political obscenity and street theater. On Inauguration Day, Madonna dreamed out loud of blowing up the White House; Ashley Judd went on a crude, incoherent rant about Trump. Since then, media fixtures such as Steven Colbert and Bill Maher have melted down, the one suggesting on the air that Trump had committed a sex act on Vladimir Putin, the other that he commits incest with his daughter. Yet both were simply amplifying the prior gross slur from Politico reporter Julia Joffe: “Either Trump is f***ing his daughter, or he’s shirking nepotism laws. Which is worse?” Democrats in Congress and party functionaries have parroted the media’s obscenity and its pettiness. Sixty-seven representatives boycotted the inauguration.
A new Democratic-party T-shirt reads “Democrats Give a S*** About People.” The head of the DNC, Tom Perez, routinely uses “s***” as if he were a stand-up on late-night TV. John Burton finished chairing the California Democratic convention with group chants of “f*** Trump,” with collective outstretched middle fingers. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) cried out that if the Democrats could not offer an antidote to Trump, then “we should go the f*** home.” California senator Kamala Harris, supposed icon of the future of the party, rushed in with her own four-letter obscenities. Celebrity ex-felon Martha Stewart thinks it’s hip to flip the bird to a photo of Donald Trump while simultaneously flipping the V-sign to an image of rapper Snoop Dogg, the violent ex-felon and former pimp who was most recently in the news for shooting an effigy of Donald Trump. Obscenity has become the media tail wagging the Democratic-party dog, even though such vulgarity might shock television audiences rather than win voters.
Role playing, rumor peddling, and virtue signaling, in lieu of winning elections and offices, are the new Democratic agendas.
Note also the media’s idea of the “Resistance” to Trump, as if multimillionaire celebrities attacking Trump while camped out in the scrub of the Hollywood hills were our version of the World War II maquisards who ambushed Waffen SS patrols in rural France. After the media hyped the “Resistance,” even sore-loser Hillary Clinton piled on that she too had enlisted. Role playing, rumor peddling, and virtue signaling, in lieu of winning elections and offices, are for now the new Democratic agendas. Instead of formulating policy, the fusion party targets its opponents in Whac-A-Mole fashion. After moving on from the smear of First Lady Melania Trump as an illegal alien and call girl, we went to Steve Bannon, the Charles Lindbergh–style fascist; then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the duplicitous Russian patsy; on to daughter Ivanka Trump, the incestuous peddler of trinkets; then to National Security Council member Sebastian Gorka, the Hungarian Nazi sympathizer; and now presidential adviser Jared Kushner, the Russian collaborator.
Each “scandal” got its 15 minutes of cable-news outrage and unhinged tweets from celebrities, before the wolf cries howled on to the next target. The media brag that they now more or less run the Democratic agenda. Univision’s Jorge Ramos (whose daughter worked for the Hillary Clinton campaign) recently thundered: Our position, I think, has to be much more aggressive. And we should not expect the Democrats to do that job. It is our job. If we don’t question the president, if we don’t question his lies, if we don’t do it, who is going to do it? It’s an uncomfortable position. In other words, Ramos confessed that the Democratic party apparently has neither new ideas nor a political agenda that would win over the public, and thus self-appointed journalistic grandees like him would have to step forward and lead the anti-Trump opposition as they shape the news.
Fellow panelist and CNN’s media correspondent Brian Stelter answered Ramos, “You’re almost saying we’re a stand-in for the Democrats.” Thereby, Stelter inadvertently confirmed Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon’s widely criticized but prescient assertion that the media are in fact “the opposition party” — and should be treated as such. During the 2016 campaign, James Rutenberg of the New York Times reminded journalists that they should feel no need to treat the exceptional Trump candidacy by “normal standards,” a de facto admission that journalistic crusaders would take the political lead in opposing Trump. Christiane Amanpour said nearly the same thing in reference to Trump’s stance on global warming: Journalists are now to be advocates, not disinterested reporters of the news. In the matter of the Podesta WikiLeaks trove, it was often difficult to determine whether reporters such as Glenn Thrush and Dana Milbank were colluding with the reelection efforts of Hillary Clinton, or whether an inept campaign without ideas had turned to such reporters and columnists to develop its campaign talking points and strategies.
When Thrush was caught massaging his stories with the Clinton campaign and confessed himself to be a hack, he received a career boost: The New York Times hired him. The message seemed to be that more reporters should do what the Democrats could not. The common theme of the Obama-era Journolist, Ben Rhodes’s “echo chamber,” the Washington Beltway power media/politics marriages and sibling connections, and the WikiLeaks revelations was that the media and the Democratic party were more or less indistinguishable.
Clinton modeled her talking points on media-driven agitprop such as Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and global-warming activism.
Most of Hillary Clinton’s agendas and campaign themes were not policy-oriented; nor did they grow from a coherent and detailed political ideology shared by Democratic officials. Instead, Hillary Clinton modeled her talking points on media-driven agitprop such as Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and global-warming activism. Yet outside Hollywood, New York, and Washington, the issues facing voters are not income redistribution, transgendered bathrooms, the division of Americans by race, or the radical alteration of the economy to supposedly address recent climate change induced by carbon emissions. In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll in late 2016, the media earned only a 19 percent favorable rating, which raises the question of whether the fusion between Democrats and the media is the old party’s salvation or suicide.
Donald Trump has been given a great gift in that his gaffes are seen by most Americans in the context of an obsessed and unhinged Democratic-media nexus. He is pitted against a new fusion party of media elites and aging political functionaries, who all believe that America should operate on their norms, the norms of Washington, New York, Hollywood, and Malibu — all places that symbolize, to most Americans, exactly how the country has gone wrong.