Late Night TV Hosts vs Trumpland, Part 2

Late night TV comedy hosts - Donald Trump - Conservatives - Progressivism - Bias

As late night TV hosts double down on their anti-conservative themes, opportunities for Left and Right to come together away from politics continue to dwindle, to everyone’s cost

Following Jimmy Kimmel’s recent pronouncement that nearly all talk show hosts are left-wing because only progressives have the required intellect to read jokes into a television camera, I wrote a bit of a meditation on why extending the politicising of everything to the realm of late night TV can only be a bad thing for society.

As amusing as I find the likes of Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher – and at their best, they are searingly funny – one cannot complain about division in society while simultaneously pitching late night talk shows to only half of the country. Even if it makes short-term business sense to drive up ratings by pandering to a particular partisan demographic, it comes at the cost of strengthening the bubble effect and ensuring that the left-wing comedians and their cheering audiences continue to be perplexed and outraged by the concerns, priorities and actions of whole other demographic groups they never bothered to understand.

Joseph Epstein picks up the same thread in the Wall Street Journal today, lamenting the way that late night comedy has jettisoned nonpartisan humour in favour of preachy, hectoring progressivism:

In a political time as divisive as ours, a public figure loses roughly half his following—and hence his charm—just as soon as he announces his politics. For an entertainer to do so is perhaps even more hazardous.

That the late-night talk-show hosts are ready to give up a large share of the audience to indulge their politics is something new in American comedy. Whatever Jack Benny, the Marx Brothers, Milton Berle, Joan Rivers or Johnny Carson might have thought about what was happening in Washington, they wisely kept it to themselves. When Charlie Chaplin was revealed as a Communist fellow-traveler in the late 1930s it hurt his reputation, though he never allowed his politics directly to influence his art. On the other side, when Bob Hope found himself, because of his support for the Vietnam War, aligned with Richard Nixon, many of his most steadfast fans deserted him. The lesson, one should have thought, is that comedy and politics don’t mix.

It is worth remembering just how recent a phenomenon this really is. Jay Leno, the former king of late night (whom I found tremendously unfunny) personally skewed to the right but refrained from turning The Tonight Show into After Hours at the Heritage Foundation in favour of a gentler, undiscriminating mockery. And as I wrote the other day, even Jon Stewart managed to excoriate the Bush administration for its manifold failings without coming across as dismissive or hostile towards those who may have voted for George W. Bush. The Daily Show always had a leftward tilt, but there was still some entertainment value for conservatives; it is hard to imagine a Trump voter watching Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel or Bill Maher with any enjoyment.

And yet this approach is clearly good business, because turning on the television in primetime is increasingly like watching Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals made flesh, night after night. Meanwhile, advertisers exercise their prerogative to stop their ads from being shown during the shows of right-wing opinion journalists on cable news, but are only too happy to have their brands associated with comedians who speak exclusively to one half of the country. Again, that is their right, the free market in action, but that only brings me back to my original point – that society is in a pretty wretched state when half the country is fair game for comedians and written off by large corporations while the other half  is pandered to by both.

Epstein goes on to make the same point:

Enough people must share the views of these hosts to keep the careers of Maher, Colbert, Kimmel & Co. afloat, which is to say to keep their ratings high enough to be commercially viable. Yet these insufficiently funny comedians, with their crude political humor, do little more than add to the sad divisiveness that is rending the country. Something, surely, has been lost if one can no longer turn to comedy as a relief from the general woes of life and the greater farce that has for some years now been playing out in our everyday politics.

We have seen what can happen when key institutions of society tilt too far one way or the other, and the destructive knock-on effects which are sometimes unleashed as a consequence. The persistent soft-left bias of the mainstream media was instrumental in driving the success of conservative talk radio in the 1990s, and then right-wing online outlets such as the Drudge Report. The free market in action, yes, but also an encouragement for the political right to decamp into a self-contained ideological bubble of their own, a swamp where exaggerations and conspiracy theories festered, leading first to obstructionist Tea Party representatives and ultimately to Donald Trump himself.

And as conservatives departed the mainstream for their new niche market refuges, so the ideological balance of those who remained tilted ever further to the left, spurring the creation of an equal and opposite left-wing bubble in what was once the unbiased mainstream space, now replete with its own insatiable demands for bias confirming facts and narratives.

Obviously this pattern is far more troubling as it pertains to the media than the relatively trivial world of late night television, but still the latter it is yet more evidence of the same divisive force at work. Where people of all political persuasions could once happily watch Johnny Carson or Jay Leno, now the Left has captured virtually the entirety of  mainstream television programming, with younger web-savvy conservatives seeking equally politicised conservative-skewed comedy such as Steven Crowder‘s growing media empire (his show is also very good).

Individually there is nothing wrong with any of these shows; it is not as though Stephen Colbert represents an existential threat to the fabric of American society. The problem is that the cumulative effect of this divisiveness, this self-segregation generally initiated by the Left and eventually responded to by the Right, is that over time there are fewer and fewer meeting grounds where people of all political stripes can gather as Americans (or Brits, for we have the same problem here) first and foremost. Our national town square is shrinking, and at a time when we most need to reach within ourselves to find empathy for those with different political views, instead we retreat into mockery and incomprehension.

I wonder if those late night TV talk show hosts whose careers are presently flourishing under Donald Trump will ever come to realise that they, too, are catalysts in this destructive Trumpian reaction?

Stephen Colbert interviews Donald Trump

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Who Is To Blame For The Left’s Stalled Agenda?

The masterminds
The masterminds


If you were wondering exactly how deep goes the rot in the American conservative commentariat in the Age of Obama, you need look no further than the editorial and letters pages of the Wall Street Journal.

When these pages are not screeching warnings of an imagined upcoming Kristalnacht for wealthy Americans to be carried out by the seething, envious masses, they have taken to publishing seemingly highbrow retrospectives on the Obama presidency, paying particular attention to America’s failures and shortcomings under President Obama, whilst brazenly whitewashing the conservative or Republican part in those failures.

Danniel Henninger has the honour of writing the latest of these historically revisionist editorials on the WSJ’s aptly named “Wonder Land” blog – apt because what is written there bears so little resemblance to fact, or reality. In this piece, Henninger asks “The left can win elections. Why can’t it run a government?”

The editorial gets off to a bad start, attempting to link three quite ideologically disparate politicians and use their waning fortunes as evidence of a socialist malaise:

Surveying the fall in support for the governments of Barack Obama, New York City’s progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio and France’s Socialist President François Hollande, a diagnosis of the current crisis begins to emerge: The political left can win elections but it’s unable to govern.

It may have become what now passes for a fact by some on the American right, but in truth – if you look up the dictionary definition or compare his policies to those of previous Democratic presidents – Barack Obama is not a socialist. Therefore, Obama’s troubles have little to do with the travails and setbacks experienced by President Hollande of France, a legitimate socialist whose actual, socialist policies continue to do damage to that country.

Henninger then spends the rest of the article expanding on his cheeky proposition that the political left can win elections, but are unable to govern once in power. He fastidiously examines every possible reason for Obama’s failure to advance his agenda, save the most glaring one – the fact that the Republican opposition have consistently been more interested in token opposition, nihilism, public posturing and pandering to their base than they have bothered to engage in the processes of government while in opposition.

But Henninger is less interested in any kind of introspective analysis of the rights own complicity in America’s current difficulties than in spewing misleading half-truths:

Once in office, the left stumbles from fiasco to fiasco. ObamaCare, enacted without a single vote from the opposition party, is an impossible labyrinth of endless complexity.

The merits and drawbacks of ObamaCare aside, the blanket Republican opposition was more a strategic move to damage the Obama presidency than a principled stance (Republicans having long been content to leave “the best healthcare system in the world” and all it’s flaws untouched and unaddressed), and Henninger conveniently forgets that Anh Joseph Cao of Louisiana provided a solitary GOP vote for the draft version of the health bill.

Henninger’s next exhibit is the world’s response to climate change, an issue which he says has more political support than any other in our time:

No idea in our time has had deeper political support. Al Gore and John Kerry have described disbelievers in global warming as basically idiots—”shoddy scientists” in Mr. Kerry’s words. But somehow, an idea with which “no serious scientist disagrees” has gone nowhere as policy. The collapse of the U.N.’s 2009 Copenhagen climate summit was a meltdown for the ages.

It may or may not be correct to state that global warming is the greatest area of consensus in world politics at the moment, but what is truly laughable is Henninger’s neglect to admit that all of the opposition to taking any action on climate change comes from his own side. In doing so, he really answers his own question, except that it is not so much the left who are terrible at governing, but more that the ideologically inflexible American right are brilliant when it comes to using whatever political power they still wield to throw a spanner in the works and thwart the majority.

Sometimes it may be right to use opposition power in this way, in order to prevent abuse of power by that majority – but using that same tactic over and over in response to every initiative from the governing party is overkill, and the opposite of good governance.

Henninger sums up:

Making the unworkable work by executive decree or court-ordered obedience is one way to rule, and maybe they like it that way. But it isn’t governing.

True – and Henninger can rightly point to numerous cases where the left has taken these shortcuts to governance, especially recently. But he fails to take the next step and ask why President Obama and the Democratic party are behaving as they are, showing a complete unwillingness or inability to examine the GOP’s own role in creating the acrimonious partisan deadlock for which executive orders and court judgements have been the only pressure release valve.

Under the presidency of George W. Bush, the Republican Party had a tight grip on the reigns of power, holding the executive branch and both houses of Congress for a time. And in this time meaningful legislation was passed, sometimes in the face of vociferous opposition from the left and from libertarians. Significant legislation such as the PATRIOT Act, Sarbanes-Oxley and the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act were all shepherded through Congress without Democratic Party histrionics or threat of filibuster.

One can argue that the Republicans’ willingness to remain united as a single block in order to successfully oppose legislation is a sign of strength, and that the Democrats’ tendency to fracture and allow members of their caucus to be picked off in order to garner support for conservative proposals is a sign of weakness. But in that weakness is also the flexibility and willingness to compromise – hell, to acknowledge that some people in America hold a different point of view – that is so utterly lacking in today’s GOP and in much modern conservative thinking.

The American left may sometimes be catastrophically bad at advancing their agenda, framing the debate and winning the now all-important war of words (death panels, death taxes, job-creators) when courting public opinion, but the American right plays a daily role in the left’s emasculation. In many ways, even in opposition the Republicans have seemed like the playground bully who grabs hold of his prey’s wrist and turns his fist against him, all the while asking why the hapless victim likes punching himself so much.

Blanket, unthinking opposition to everything that the governing party tries to do has been effective for the GOP of late. They have successfully stopped President Obama’s legislative agenda in its tracks. The conservative strategy has been proven to work very well, but good responsible governance it is most certainly not.

Republicans For Big Government

Barack Obama - Sequester - Obamaquester

Run for your lives! The Obama Jobs Sequester is coming!

The evil President Obama sneakily – and somehow avoiding the notice of Congress – inserted into a congressionally approved bill a provision that would make large, across-the-board cuts in domestic spending if Republicans and Democrats failed to work together to reach a grand bargain on spending, tackling tax revenues and federal spending in a unified and bipartisan way.

And now that congressional leaders have failed to agree on these items, the undiscriminatingly large cuts are about to fall on the federal budget, which will result in many lost jobs, particularly in the area of national defence, which is just terrible. And all because of Obama. Right?

At least that’s how Kimberley Strassel, writing in The Wall Street Journal, sees it:

A year ago, the president demanded a $500 billion “sequester” of defense dollars as a penalty should Congress fail to cut a grand debt deal. Congress of course failed, and Mr. Obama’s sequester is now imminent. The sequester slash comes on top of the $487 billion in defense cuts Mr. Obama had already ordered in January of this year, threatening the likes of Mansfield.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned of the damage the sequester will do to national security. Yet the far more immediate political problem for Mr. Obama is that the cuts are compounding his domestic jobs liability—in the final stretch of the campaign.

More than one million lost private-sector jobs, to get down to it, as estimated by groups ranging from the National Association of Manufacturers to the Aerospace Industries Association. Military jobs are on the block, but the bulk of the pink slips will come from private businesses—from giant defense companies on down to smaller businesses that are the economic mainstays of their communities. They’ll come from states crucial for President Obama’s re-election: Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, and more.

So apparently, according to the Kimberley Strassel school of thought, what we should be doing in this recession is cutting government spending, because government doesn’t create jobs, entrepreneurs do. Unless that government spending is supporting jobs in the defence sector, of course, in which case we should be increasing it, dramatically!

Some more “moderate” Republicans argue that while they support cuts in principle, they are appalled by these looming defence cuts in particular because they are across-the-board and arbitrary, and pay little heed to particular defence programs or areas that could be more reasonably targetted for cutting. That’s the point of the sequester that they and their Democratic colleagues agreed to. It inflicts blind, undisciminating pain on areas of government spending precious to both sides of the political aisle, with the intention of presenting such an unthinkably draconian package of cuts that leaders would get together to forge a compromise.

If you don’t like the idea of a scythe being taken to defence spending or to welfare programmes without regard to their individual merit, get together, in the name of patriotism and bipartisanship, and for the sake of the people who elected you, and hammer out a compromise that cuts the welfare state while raising tax revenues to help close the massive hole in America’s federal budget.

Interestingly, you never hear Republicans making the same arguments against across-the-board cuts to welfare programmes, or social security, or food stamps. In those cases, apparently, it is fine to slash away at the budget with little regard for the people who were led to believe by their government (Republicans as much as Democrats) that certain benefits would be available to them, and who planned their lives accordingly, often with little left in reserve.

We can argue the rights and wrongs of this – personally I find the welfare state too generous, and politicians of all sides too cowardly in failing to tell voters the truth about the unsustainability of current levels of provision over the past recent decades – but surely we can all agree that just as you cannot rip a bandage from an open wound and expect the patient to be unharmed, so you cannot remove anticipated benefits or support from citizens overnight, at a time of economic hardship, and expect their lives, or the social fabric, to remain stable.

In fact, there is only one other area of government spending besides national defence that I can think of where Republicans have come out in outraged horror at the mere talk of blanket cutbacks – I’m speaking, of course, about Medicare. Those lofty words about scaling back federal spending and shrinking the size of government sure do fly out of the window awfully fast when one of their core constituencies (in this case, the grey vote) is in the firing line.

But Kimberley A. Strassel is not troubled by any of these arguments or contradictions, content instead to bob gently in the vast ocean of her own ignorance, wilful self-deception and cynically fiscally irresponsible propaganda.

No, for her it is the Obama Jobs Sequester, the Machiavellian outcome that he desired all along in order to gut his own nation’s capacity to defend itself. It’s the only plausible explanation for how we find ourselves in this situation. Unless it isn’t.