During the celebration of the peaceful transfer of power this weekend, we were treated to some crude and irresponsible comments from liberal celebrities: Madonna told Trump voters, “F—k you. F—k you,” and added that she had “thought a lot about blowing up the White House.”
Ashley Judd continued the trend, reciting a poem called “Nasty Woman” that was written by a Tennessee teen. “I didn’t know devils could be resurrected, but I feel Hitler in these streets,” the poem declared. In a tweet, Cher called Trump spokesman Sean Spicer a “bitch.”
Meanwhile, some less famous progressives were getting into the act. “I will not stand idly by while a man named Donald Trump and his team attempt to thrust us back into slavery,” said Trump protester Eric Myers, according to The Washington Times.
Trump Derangement Syndrome is a real thing, and I suspect it will have counterproductive results for a party that might want to win back the White House someday (which would, presumably, require convincing at least some Trump voters to switch sides).
Here’s the problem: The more Hollywood liberals produce condescending videos, the more pretentious and preachy celebs like Madonna (or replace her with Lena Dunham or Meryl Streep… they’re basically interchangeable) lecture us at rallies and awards ceremonies, and the more protesters with signs and placards with the word “p*ssy” on them—the more I find myself liking Donald Trump.
And this is saying a lot. I’ve dedicated the last couple of years to speaking out against Trumpism. But if his adversaries are so odious as to drive me (an infamous Trump critic) into thinking maybe he is the lesser of two evils (or, at least, the less annoying!)―what do you think it is doing to working-class Americans?
Instead of appealing to middle America, progressives are using this opportunity to become more extreme and exclusive. A broad coalition of Americans concerned about the President Trump’s temperament and character might have included a diverse alliance of voices. Heck, I might well have been among them. Instead, pro-life women were disinvited from what was ostensibly a women’s parade.
The dirty little secret is that many on the left seem to believe that Trump was onto something. They believe that being nice and playing by the rules of civility and decency (where truth matters) are obsolete concepts. They believe that persuasion and bringing people together are just slogans.
So they fly their freak flag proudly and continue to alienate the working-class Americans who put Trump in the White House. It doesn’t seem like a smart political strategy.
But progressives aren’t the only ones who risk turning off middle America by overreacting to Trump’s flouting of political norms. The media also risk becoming an unwitting foil for Trump, and—in the process—further alienating themselves from his supporters.
From day one, a lot of Trump voters ignored our warnings about him because they had already tuned us out. They know that media bias isn’t based primarily on how we cover a story, but rather, which stories we choose to cover.
We cover the massive crowds at a women’s march but not the massive crowds at the March for Life. We raise Cain when an obscure GOP staffer posts something unflattering about President Obama’s daughter, but we barely notice when writers and celebrities mock Trump’s 10-year-old son. Both stories get covered, but one story drives the news cycle.
Let’s take this past weekend as an example. If a liberal Democrat had been elected president and Republicans had staged a counter rally, how might that have been covered?
What if, instead of Madonna talking about blowing up the White House, it had been Ted Nugent saying that about an Obama White House? What if Scott Baio had tweeted about the Obama daughters? The coverage would have been ubiquitous and breathless.
President Trump’s ill-advised obsession with the size of his inaugural crowd might have been dismissed as unimportant if Obama had done something similar. That’s not to say it wouldn’t have been covered, but it would have been relegated to second-tier status (“Inaugural crowds obviously don’t correlate with electoral success!” we might have said) in favor of wall-to-wall coverage of the dangerous rhetoric being spewed at these protests.
Instead of historians and experts wringing their hands and clutching their pearls about the first “post-truth” president, we might have been treated to round-the-clock commentary on what sort of dangerous ramifications this violent rhetoric could have. This kind of rhetoric, we might have been told, is dangerous, if for no other reason than because it might inspire some dangerous person to try to take matters into his own hands.
After years of being subjected to selection bias with little recourse, a lot of Americans have caught on to the trick, even if they don’t consciously realize what it is that bothers them. They’re fed up with it. And now, they have alternatives and options to traditional media outlets. Just as they have tuned out Hollywood elites, they are tuning out the mainstream media, too.
And if, like me, you believe healthy opposition political movements make for a healthy democracy—and that the Fourth Estate actually serves a valuable function when it comes to holding a president accountable—this disregard is dangerous.
And so, I have some unsolicited advice.
To liberals: My counsel is that engaging in irresponsible rhetoric, crazy conspiracy theories (like the birtherism paranoia that some were obsessed with during Obama’s tenure), and protests is not the way to go. Republicans lost two presidential elections, and America became more divided. The end result was the election of Donald Trump. And while one could argue that Republicans wound up controlling all the levers of power, it would be a mistake to assume engaging in an irresponsible game of chicken where you end up nominating Kanye in four years would be politically prudent or productive.
To the press: For your own good, check your media bias. It seductively manifests in the form of selection bias (which stories you cover) and eye rolls. And while we must be vigilant against the repression of free speech, don’t be reflexively defensive when Trump talks about our industry.
Yes, do fact check this new president and call him out for being wrong, but be careful not to make it personal or cross over to revenge or obsession, thereby reinforcing the existing negative perceptions about media bias.
“These are mutually enforcing problems,” observed The Washington Examiner’s Jim Antle. “People rightly don’t trust media, freeing Trumpies to spout nonsense.” Avoid what New York Times columnist Ross Douthat refers to as the temptation of “hysterical oppositionalism, a mirroring of Trump’s own tabloid style and disregard for truth.”
Something else for all of us to do: Spend some time thinking about people you might not normally rub elbows with—people who go to church on Wednesday nights, people who drive pickups, and people who shop at Wal-Mart. No, you shouldn’t gear all of your coverage toward these Americans; but yes, if you want to remain relevant and credible to them, you can’t ignore them.
Realize that the guy who is struggling to find work in Michigan isn’t necessarily going to be receptive to the insinuation that he’s a sexual predator who has benefitted from “white privilege,” and yet, that is so often the message he receives (albeit subtly) when he turns on his television and listens to a lot of political panels.
America is facing some difficult times. What is needed is not revenge or paranoia, but rather, honorable leaders who earn the moral authority and high ground to summon us to our better angels. Resist the impulse to freak out and replicate Donald Trump’s path.
If Donald Trump turns out to be as bad as you think he is, we are going to need a broad coalition of voices to vote him out—and we’re going to need a trusted and respected media to hold him accountable.