The Guardian recently ran an article that posses the question ‘why don’t we see any late night conservative television a la Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and Steven Colbert?’ As I read about the failed attempt by Fox News to do just that, it became clear to me that whoever wrote this article didn’t understand why; they were posing a question but didn’t have an answer. Not really. The very question itself, the very fact that somebody bothered to write up an article on the topic tells more about liberals than conservatives. It also shows an alarming lack of understanding of the conservative emotional/psychological world.
It’s not that conservatives cannot be funny – think of Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson – but to pose the question completely misses the fundamental draw and psychological economy behind the right-wing world. This goes beyond the simple observation that conservatives are sustained by anger, resentment, and a sense of self-entitled self-righteousness. When I was younger and would listen to conservative talk radio, the best DJ/hosts – Rush himself – were the best because they were so good at starting quite and slow and then building the listener into a crescendo of anger – I myself would become angry and frightened about where the country was headed and here I was maybe ten years old. Obviously irony, sarcasm, puns – has no place here. Not only would it not be understood, it would literally snuff out the entire point – the additcting cycle of rage.
But its also more complex then that: conservative comedians wouldn’t be able to compete in the first place. Right wingers don’t need their own late night show – they have Trump. Conservatives live and are sustained by the low theatre of ideology that masquerades as reality. It shelters them and guides them – they need it to cope. Think about it: what is the difference between WWE and Trump’s presidency? Or The Apprentice for that matter. Its fundamentally “the same show,” the same play of emotion and posturing which, if it has a goal, is simply that of base greed and narcissism. Attributing the normal assumptions about the motivations and goals to this administration is therefore not just hopelessly myopic, but catastrophically dangerous.
What’s worse is the response to all this by the Democratic party and establishment liberals in general to conservatives. Here’s another example: The New York Times today writing about Trump on trade: “In Trade Actions, Trump Embraces Unpredictability” goes the headline, the tag being “With New punitive tariffs on Canadian jets, the Trump administration has intensified confusion about the principles guiding its trade policy.” The only real mystery is why would anyone look for principals or a ‘policy’ in the actions of Donald Trump? The same basic problem applies to the worry over late night conservative comedy shows: it implicitly takes conservatives at their word. Across the board, the “Establishment” takes conservative talking points as fundamentally true; most Americans implicitly accept the basic assumptions and reasoning of conservatives to be true, “but if only they were more enlightened, then they would vote Democrat” runs the logic here. This is not just lazy and incorrect, it’s crippling our ability to respond and protect our open, democratic society by the forces of greed and ignorance which menace it.
The reality is that conservative thought is over-representing in this country. Country to the strange whining about there not being free speech on college campuses, the ideas and values and arguments presenting by the right wing get far more of an airing than they deserve. This includes “bandwidth” – coverage on internet, television, books, newspapers and movies – but also disproportionate intellectual pull. For example neoliberal economics, commonly called “trickle-down” or “austerity” has been throughly discredited on both the theoretical abstract plain as well as the real-world of policy. Neo-Liberalism has been the dominate political creed of this nation since Reagan and it has been a disaster – and yet, the rhetoric of neo-liberalism remains at a fever pitch, and I would say that a majority of Americans implicitly assume the tenets of neo-liberalism to be true, if a little “heartless,” instead of just plain wrong and sinisterly so. Between the stable of billionaire donors (Koch/Murdoch) that assure that any conservative ideas get fully funded and endlessly trumpeted, and the traditional tactic of businesses to pander to our lowest instincts and impulses, we are swamped by conservative ideas disproportion to an actual breakdown of the qualities of ideas and the proportion of what people actually believe and want. For example, I would argue with confidence that progressive Americans – say the actual number of people who wanted Bernie Sanders to be president – is greater than the number of people who wanted Trump or Clinton respectively – but we would not be aware of this because of the inertia and money behind Trump and Clinton.
The “conservatism” we know today represented by Trump – that mix of ethnic nationalism linked with massive corporate entities pursing profit (neo-liberalism) which gets it start with Joe McCarthy and Barry Goldwater, has been ignored and dismissed, but that only disgusts how effective it has been as an ideology. The business executive uninterested in social questions and the Democratic Establishment politician looks the conservatives as being ignorant, and excessively distasteful, but not actually un-American. We look at the Iowa primaries and we think “It’s good that such a solid middle America state gets to go first,” not “Iowa is no more American, a rural area is no more American than anybody or anywhere else.” Let’s be explicit: the crowd represented by Bannon are the enemies of America, they are the enemies of freedom and democracy. Far from representing a trend in American politics which “has always” been there, they represent the forces which our Revolution implicitly rejected in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. I deny them even the right to call themselves “Confederates.” They are something new – a reflection of cynicism, greed and hypocrisy in the internet age rather than something at all “American.” The creepy sense of authoritarian conformity – Trump’s secretary of the Interior saying that a third of government employees are “disloyal” to Trump being one of the more recent clearly fascist remarks to come from this administration (maybe we should require personal loyalty oaths?) – just makes it all the more obvious. This does not deserve any benefit of the doubt – and I question the judgment of people who would even suggest such a thing.
Kaepernick’s kneeling protest and its conservative backlash brings the issue into stark relief. The fact that’s so easy for conservatives to derail the argument and to pose the protest as “disrespect” for the flag and veterans is beyond alarming. It’s Kaepernick who embodies the spirit of America – freedom, idealism, hope against long odds – not the forces of racially infused economic stratification and crude jingoistic vitriol. It’s time we stopped calling conservatives half-way terms like “deplorable” or “racist” or “mean” and start calling Trumpism for what it is: wrong, un-American and yes, downright fascist.