The country has just witnessed wild primary presidential contests. Both parties are seeing internal divisions, and struggles against the puppeteers. But on the right, it is most interesting to watch power pass from Ailes to Trump.
A couple of years ago, I came home and said to my wife, “Maybe we should switch to Republican.” Aghast (my wife is more liberal than I am) she said, “Why on Earth would we do that?!”
“Because the current Republicans are screwing it all up.”
I have noted that I am a bleeding heart moderate. I agree with many conservative concerns: government is too big; government cannot solve all of our problems; the private sector can (often) do things better.
Higher than those concerns, however, I also believe that a one-party system would be ruinous for the country. All monopolies are. So even when I disagree strongly with conservatives, I feel even more strongly that the long-term dialogue is much more important than short term concerns.
There is yet one other area where I agree with conservatives: I believe that, before Fox News, most news programming leaned toward liberal. America needed more conservative voices.
Having said that, I am not supportive of Fox News, for a simple reason: it’s not conservative. Or at least it’s not American conservative.
It’s simply angry.
Fox Ain’t Conservative
But it is much more insulting to the democracy. The first protection in our Constitution is freedom of expression. But obviously, saying what we think is only important if we are also willing to listen. If we believe that inclusiveness and plurality are essential to our form of government – and they are – then disrespecting someone who disagrees is to also disrespects democratic ideals.
That is the reason I reject Fox News. I sincerely want to hear intelligent discussion of conservative ideas and concerns. Instead I get rolled eyes, inyaface rejoinders, snickers, and other puerile bathroom behavior. I get a room of talking heads where everyone agrees, with only an occasional token dissenter who is shouted down after a few seconds. As I’ve noted before, if everyone thinks the same way, who’s thinking?
This is why Fox News is not American conservative, because anger-mongering undermines democratic discourse, and democracy itself. For all of the complaints about other mainstream media being too liberal, at least the liberal news feigns respect for those with whom they disagree.
At least they are professional.
There is nothing in conservatism that requires unprofessionalism. I have noted that I like to read George F. Will. I don’t often agree with him, but I want to hear what he has to say, because it often gives me something to think about. Sometimes he even changes my mind.
Will is able to get people to reconsider their ideas where Fox is not, because Will is typically collegial, and respectful: respectful of the opposition, respectful of the democracy, and therefore respectful of the audience.
Fox just preaches anger to the choir.
The news this week is that Fox’s architect and angermonger-in-chief, Roger Ailes, is being forced out. That is fascinating: Donald Trump is anointed as the Republican nominee for President and a couple of days later Roger Ailes is forced out at Fox.
I should note at this point, that I seriously considered not writing this post, I worried it might attract flamers and trolls. But then I realized how much of my previous writing pointed to just this post.
First, I discussed how anger is a quick and easy way to motivate people. Then I noted that once people were angry, it is all too easy for someone else to attract them with even more anger, and that Trump is a master at angermongering. I also talked about drive-by journalism, and how the desires for quick profit overshadow the needs of in-depth understanding in the democracy. I have also repeatedly talked about how our educational system trains us to be followers, not leaders; to avoid independent thinking; and how we have trouble understanding complex systems.
And finally, I talked about Donald Trump and his anger-mongering.
I see in all of this the baton passing from Ailes to Trump. Ailes used conservative issues, not as vehicle for the conservative agenda, but as a vehicle for anger-mongering, which brought him great personal power and wealth.
Which sounds a lot like Trump. I don’t disagree with Trump’s conservatism, for a simple reason: I don’t believe Trump is a conservative.
As we noted, anger draws supporters to the anger-monger, and those recruits shut down their brains; Trump is the master at this. Look objectively at the wide disparities between Trump’s realities, and his supporters’ stated desires. He was a Democrat until the last few years. He is thrice-married, knows little if anything about the Bible, yet evangelicals picked him over Cruz. He said he would build a wall with Mexico and make Mexico pay for it; even his supporters said they knew he wouldn’t do it, and now he is backing off from that. He said he is a tough negotiator, when all he ever shows us is a ham-fisted bully, and what does a strongman need of negotiation? He says he is tough, but he launches ad hominem attacks at anyone who dares disagree with him, or worse, taunts him; in fact, he apparently became a Republican after being publicly (and justifiably) ribbed by the President and a Saturday Night Live comedian. He says he loves our country and our Constitution, but at every turn he threatens to trample the Bill of Rights: freedom of expression, freedom of religion, equality under the law, limits on executive power.
Now he says he wants out of NATO, and that he supports Putin.
Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan are running double saltos with full twists, all in the confines of 6-foot boxes. In what universe is Trump conservative? What are all of the Trump supporters thinking?
Are they thinking? It is becoming apparent that many of them are not.
From Ailes to Trump
I don’t disagree with Trump; I have no idea which Trump to disagree with. I don’t know who Trump is, or what he stands for. To my mind, he is simply a narcissistic opportunist, wiling to say whatever gets him immediate money and attention. Trump is simply another wily huckster, a media-savvy anger-monger.
Just like Ailes.
Trump simply one-upped Ailes. He out-played Ailes at his own game: when Trump boycotted the Fox debate before the Iowa caucuses, Ailes found that his highly successful, highly profitable exploitation of frustration with liberal media had become a generalized disgust with all media, his included. Suddenly Ailes was hoisted on his own pétard, he became the target of the high-powered machine he had created. Trump had simply jumped Ailes’s runaway train, and stoked the engines even hotter, ever faster. The job of conducting the train, and conducting the orchestra of angry supporters, moved from Ailes to Trump.
And as millions jump on the run-away train with him and the traditional Republican leadership panics about what they can do, the rest of us, those of both parties who believe that government is a sober obligation, a collective deliberation designed by learned statesmen-philosophers, can only watch with fascination and horror.
‘Train Wreck’ courtesy of The Lone Ranger, ©2013, Disney Films. All rights reserved.