Enter Donald Trump, Stage Right: How the leftist manifest destiny exposed a lack of countervailing cultural figures on the right.
With the first votes of the marathon 2016 U.S. presidential election now being cast, the assembled pundits of Big Media are overflowing with predictions. If there’s one single thing we can say with assurance this season is that they’ll all be spectacularly wrong.
Exhibit A: Donald Trump. Legacy media were wrong that he’d run, that he’d last past the late autumn frost, that he’d stand a chance against Jeb Bush’s millions, that he’d lead in the polls, that he’d survive the debates, that he’d… win the presidency? The latest swing-and-a-miss came in Iowa where the media and its pollsters whiffed on Trump’s percentage of the caucus vote by seven percent.
But then Trump The Destroyer scrambled everything with his crushing win in New Hampshire this week. Poor Wolf Blitzer. The media make the same mistake: they keep thinking the election is about Trump. In fact, the election is about them. Or the rejection of them and their poodle politicians by a significant portion of the U.S. electorate. Trump has taken it to them, and they have been found wanting. (To his credit, Bernie Sanders has done the same from the left.)
Trump has become the reactionary Jon Stewart / Stephen Colbert. For years, conservatives bridled under the progressive mockery of Stewart and Colbert. To the delight of the hipster crowd, Stewart/ Colbert lampooned the right and its feckless Republican leadership. Following up Barack Obama’s condescending “they cling to their guns and religion”, the talk-show hosts wrote a cool-kids’ catechism at conservatives’ expense.
In the battle for the mainstream culture, Stewart / Colbert drubbed the right. Making the rout worse, they wore their superiority well, preening and making faces all the way to the Obama White House.
Their leftist manifest destiny exposed a lack of countervailing cultural figures on the right. While you can’t swing a cat in the entertainment business without hitting a crusading liberal, the voices of conservative actors such as James Woods, Gary Sinise, Jon Voigt and Robert Duvall were blocked by the tsunami of mockery from Stewart/ Colbert. Where was the person to match the outrageous mockery of the politically correct left?
Like the townsfolk in The Magnificent Seven, conservatives wanted their own hired gun. Whatever his other failings they’d accept a sheriff who shoots straight and verbally hits the sizable targets on Hillary and Bill Clinton. If he can expose the piety of Obama’s liberal schtick, so much the better.
Enter Trump. The NYC mogul is barely conservative, having espoused liberal ideas and contributed millions to Democratic politicians such as Hillary Clinton. But with an outsized persona honed by his reality TV past, Trump instantly reached over the legacy media of both left and right, picking off their favourites. Where the other candidates for the GOP nomination parse phrases and employ focus-group-tested policies, the free-wheeling Trump has employed the shameless mockery honed by Stewart and Colbert to skewer opponents.
Unrestrained by GOP handlers, Trump has become an unbridled mocker of the sanctimonious left and right. When Hillary Clinton wheeled out her bonafides on women’’s rights, Trump casually reminded the nation of how she’d assaulted the women who cried sexual assault against her tomcat husband.
When South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, a black Republican star, took shots at Trump, the real-estate developer instantly reminded her of the days when she came to him with her hand out for cash. Such derisive tales of money-grubbing cemented his support among those who feel gamed by the system.
Stewart / Colbert hipsters recoiled at the crudity of the broadsides on everyone from Obama to John McCain. Doctrinaire conservatives howled about his lack of purity (William F. Buckley’s National Review devoted an entire edition to a putdown of the man who might snatch the GOP nomination from its idealogical favourites). But Trump had one thing that all the polite GOP hopefuls or NR did not.
Because he was self-financing a good deal of his run to the presidency, he achieved immunity from nervous donors when attacking a sacred cow like Bill Clinton. His followers liked his independence. His assaults on immigration, in particular, were thought to be sure political death. Building walls, deporting illegals, halting Muslim immigration shocked the polite press. Each time his polls climbed.
Each time they did, the legacy media’s wobbly credibility took another hit. And still they forged on, predicting Trump’s demise. After his second-place finish in Iowa, they started digging his political grave. Then he doubled the next GOP candidate in the New Hampshire primary.
The battle for the culture is on. Bodies will fall. Only the media doesn’t recognize that theirs could be one of the bodies left in his wake.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).