A reader sends along a pretty great essay from Salon by a novelist named Willie Davis, who tells his fellow liberals to “grow up”:
Culture matters. In fact, in politics, it’s all that matters. How many positions would Trump have to change for you to vote for him? When Trump said he’d replace Obamacare with “health care for everybody,” did your mind change? We vote to tell others the sort of person we want to be. That’s why pollsters know who you’re voting for by the music you listen to, the neighborhood you live in and a thousand other elements that have nothing to do with whether or not you read the news. It’s why the next time Beyoncé releases an album or Woody Allen releases a movie, you already know how your favorite websites will react. In art criticism, the aesthetic quality of the work matters less than what our opinion of the art says about us. In politics, the policy doesn’t matter; it’s what our vote says about us.
On her first show after the election, Samantha Bee, the comedic equivalent of a Facebook “share if you agree” post, said, “America has done the diplomatic equivalent of installing an above-ground pool. Even in the best case scenario and it doesn’t seep into the foundation, our neighbors will never look at us in the same way again.”
Who has above-ground pools? Poor people of all races. Rural people with yards. The joke is simply “Poor people who try to act rich are tacky. People who don’t have the money to get a proper pool are an embarrassment, and they should be more concerned with the judgment of neighbors than their own happiness.”
Does that attitude matter to people? One of my best friends — a woman from West Virginia who organizes labor unions and has received commendations from the Obama White House — said when she heard Bee’s above-ground pool joke, she instantly felt like “the poorest kid in class.” She organizes unions and had everything at stake in Clinton winning, but to Bee she was just the stupid, poor kid from a stupid, poor state. That is the flip side of identity politics. It doesn’t matter what she does — only who she is.
Read the whole thing. That piece struck a resonant chord with me. Last weekend, I was driving and listening to that New York-based NPR show On The Media. Host Bob Garfield was laying into Fox News for being pro-Trump. Boy, was he ever wound up. Granted, I don’t listen to the show regularly, but I have never heard him like that. He was the aural equivalent of that self-righteous New York Times ad promoting itself. Garfield and his guest, CNN’s Brian Steltzer, made some solid points, but listen to his commentary starting at the 8:49 point, after Steltzer leaves the air. He jumps down Fox & Friends‘ and Sean Hannity’s throats, then agrees that Fox has a point when it says its prime-time stars are commentators, not reporters. Garfield goes on:
True, Hannity, O’Reilly, and Fox & Friends don’t constitute news, but nor do they trade in the informed, rigorously argued opinion that is a hallmark of journalism. What they offer is more like propaganda, political messaging on behalf of a regime often shamefully untethered from the truth.
A regime?! Oh, come off it. And hey, Bob Garfield, you work for a national radio network to whom enormous numbers of Americans are totally invisible. If you want to talk about propaganda, look at the cultural coverage of The New York Times, which is guided by the philosophy of Kellerism. And take a look at the NYT’s Opinion page on any given day, and see if you are consistently dealing in informed, rigorously argued opinion when it comes to Trump.
I turned the radio off in anger. As you know, I am definitely no fan of Donald Trump, but the blindness and self-righteousness of the media is infuriating. Willie Davis says that in politics, culture is all that matters. This is something most in our national media don’t get: that a lot of Americans don’t like them because they correctly estimate that journalists are not of their culture, and in fact view their culture with hostility, even contempt.
It’s in the framing of their stories. Last weekend, I had to go up to my hometown for a wake. Lots of people were there, and I ran into the teenage daughter of a friend. She’s a high school senior, a smart girl, and I asked her where she was planning to go to college. She told me the school — it’s a state university here in Louisiana — but said she had no idea how she was going to pay for it. Louisiana is broke, and there is very little scholarship aid, even for the best students.
“The only scholarships they have is for minority students,” she said. She didn’t seem resentful about this, just resigned to it. She said she didn’t know how she was going to pay for school, but was trying to figure that out.
I thought later, on the way home, about the unfairness of this. This girl’s parents are white working class people. I know for a fact that they are struggling hard to make ends meet. I talked to my mom about that family, which she knows fairly well. She told me that the daughter is near the top of her class, and might even be at the top of her class, but college is an impossible dream for them to afford now. Even a degree at a state institution.
But: if not for the color of her skin, she could find scholarship help. There is money available to help pay for her education. Just not for white kids, no matter how dire their financial circumstances.
When do you think you will ever see or hear a sympathetic story about people like that in the national media, or a story at all? You won’t. It doesn’t fit the preferred narrative.
In my travels, I often meet parents who feel that the transgender tsunami is overtaking their kids’ schools, and they don’t know what to do. A couple told me recently that their neighbor says three of her daughter’s best friends “identify as bisexual.” Parents from all over the country whom I meet don’t understand what’s happening, and tell me that they culture of the school their kids attend is pushing this stuff. One of this blog’s readers voiced this concern to me last spring after a talk I gave in her part of the country. Months later, in the fall, her daughter, a high school senior, came home from school and told her mother that she is, in fact, a boy.
Is this a genuine condition? Or is it a form of mass hysteria? Why does this mother feel so alone, and as if her kid’s school is working adversarially to abet her daughter’s bizarre belief that she is a male? The mother said that the fiercest advocates of transgender are parents of kids who are transitioning. They will rush to provide hormone treatment and everything else the kids ask for, out of desperation to avoid losing their kids. And they turn viciously on any other parents who resist this movement. This mom told me there is no place to dissent.
Where does this mother fit into the narrative? In one way only: as an insensitive bigot who needs to learn tolerance. For example:
i wonder if she is the problem or her overprotective and intolerant dad? teach tolerance. https://t.co/DbxAkrrH7n
— Christopher C. Cuomo (@ChrisCuomo) February 23, 2017
Yesterday I had lunch with a friend here in town. He told me he saw on this blog that I had recently been in Ohio giving speeches. He spoke about how bad the opioid epidemic is in Ohio, and I told him that the people I met there confirmed that the scourge at times seems overwhelming. It turns out that my friend lost a family member recently to a heroin overdose. This cuts very close.
We talked about the opioid epidemic in a social and cultural context, especially in context of the waning of religion and the dissolution of the idea of the traditional family. He said something that haunts me this morning, something along the lines of, “I often feel like the future is going to be Ohio. It’s going to be the rich getting richer and more isolated, and everybody else just existing, living on drugs, porn, and video games.”
If that were your future, and you knew that the people in positions of cultural power in this country were at best indifferent to people like you, and at worst filled with contempt, well, how would you vote, if you voted?
Last thing. Here is the trailer for “When We Rise,” an ABC dramatic miniseries about the gay rights movement. It’s airing this week. This is what cultural power means:
You think you’re going to see a network miniseries sympathetic to the white working class, or the working class at all? Forget about it. The culture-makers and fabricators of opinion in this country don’t even see those people, and if they do, they see them as a threat.
So yeah, Bob Garfield, Fox deserves fair criticism. But don’t think you are preaching to anybody but your own Cathedral choir. You people are waging a relentless culture war on your own countrymen, on many fronts, and in your propaganda, you portray them as the aggressors.
UPDATE: And, to be fair, I am about as ignorant as the coastal media about a lot of this. I didn’t see Trump coming either. I have found empathy with people Not Like Me — in terms of class and education levels, especially — to be hard. That’s no excuse.