Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
The third debate was a rerun of the other two. Even moderator Chris Wallace scolded both candidates for repeating stale talking points and talking over each other like squabbling fishwives. Neither Trump nor Clinton said anything that will change this race one way or the other, although the media will shriek over Trump’s refusal to say he wouldn’t contest the results. There still may be an October surprise, but Trump’s persona is pretty much fixed, and any further scandals about taxes or women are already baked in. Hillary is more vulnerable to the unexpected, given her numerous scandals filled with potential bombshells, but it would have to be spectacularly damaging to overcome the media’s studied indifference to anything that might hurt their candidate. Now it’s time for the voters to decide.
So what have we learned from this election campaign? This race, the candidates, and the three debates have been analyzed and commented on ad nauseam. But the analyses with some exceptions have not been even-handed, or based on clear principles objectively applied. Both candidates are obviously flawed, and these deficiencies are plain to everyone, as both candidates’ high disapproval ratings show. Indeed, their flaws are glaring to an extent unprecedented in modern presidential candidates. Trump’s in-your-face, braggadocios, hyper-egoistic character, lack of preparation, addiction to superlative adjectives, and his crude, sometimes vulgar rhetoric, have been a year-long obsession of the pundits and media. Not so much with Clinton’s 25-year-long catalogue of scandal––from cattle futures, the Rose Law firm, Whitewater, and brutally managing Bill’s bimbo eruptions; to server-gate, email-gate, pay-for-play Clinton family foundation, auctioning off the State Department, collusion with the FBI, and giving perjurious testimony to Congress.
This brings us to one very obvious take-away from this campaign: the mainstream media are utterly enslaved to progressive ideology. Their cheerleading for Obama should have made it clear that their protestations of objectivity, “speaking truth to power,” “comforting the afflicted afflicting the comfortable,” and being the “watchdogs” of the public weal are gross lies.
The mainstream media are the “power” in our image-besotted, celebrity-obsessed superficial age. They are the “comfortable,” with the same elite credentials and zip codes as the political elite of both parties. They are not “watchdogs,” but spaniels, perched on the laps of the progressive commissars and eating from their hands. They occasionally snarl and nip, but never risk their privilege and influence by investigating and reporting the truth. You know the media are shameless hacks when Trump’s decades-old vulgar sexual banter and unproven charges of sexual groping get 23 minutes of television news coverage for every one minute on Hillary’s emails and their revelation of her corruption of the State Department, her debauchment of the FBI, her endangerment of national security, and her campaign flunkies’ dirty tricks against her opponent.
The second truth revealed by this year’s campaign is that there does exist an elite establishment that transcends party lines. It is defined by high incomes, prestigious college credentials, cosmopolitan tastes, pretensions to cultural superiority, politically correct manners, professions parasitic on wealth rather than creative of it, a preference for fashionable words over gritty deeds, and lives passed in certain coastal enclaves filled with those who share consumption choices––in food, clothing, and culture both high and popular–– that announce their social superiority. In short, they are snobs.
Thus for all their socialistic rhetoric and protestations of love for the down-trodden, progressive politicians, writers, entertainers, and pundits live in this rarefied world cheek-to-jowl with the Wall Street pirates and plutocrats whom they regularly demonize, but always with their fingers crossed behind their backs. Or as Hillary put it one of her lucrative speeches, they maintain a “private” position, but adopt a different “public” one when running for office, wooing donors, or climbing the career ladder.
So much has long been obvious about the Caviar Left. What this election has made obvious is the extent to which many Republican politicos and pundits share many of these same characteristics. The vehemence, and at times hysteria, of their attacks on Trump, their obsession with style rather than substance, with Trump’s words rather than Hillary’s deeds, were revealing. They showed a visceral hatred of Trump as a man, a distaste for a certain kind of vulgar personality that refused to perfume itself, like Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, with decorum or rhetoric. This failure of the NeverTrumpers to concentrate on Clinton’s actions as a “public servant” reeked of class prejudice.
And it blinded NeverTrumpers to their obligation to practice discernment and to make moral distinctions. The failures and failings of a politician and political appointee who has taken an oath to uphold the Constitution are light-years away in significance from the personality flaws of a businessman whose only oath is to Mammon. Clinton’s reckless behavior, contempt for the truth, disregard for the law, and indifference to equal justice disqualify her for the highest office in our Republic. Trump’s personality disqualifies him as a dinner guest in Georgetown or Menlo Park, but say nothing definite about what sort of president he might be.
The Republican establishment and its Trump Derangement Syndrome has alienated the tens of millions of middle and working class Republicans who supported Trump and gave him the nomination. Those fly-over Republicans may not have the right college credentials, but they know when they are being patronized. They get that when Paul Ryan misuses the word “racist,” he is kowtowing to political correctness. And they can detect the preemptive cringe Republicans indulge in the face of Democrats’ criticism and threats and question-begging epithets like “racist” and “sexist” and “xenophobe,” smears many Republics also have hurled at Trump. Why else would so many jump like fleas from a dying dog when the tape of Trump’s juvenile sexual boasting was revealed? Was it not to assure their fellow elites on the other side that their feminist papers are in order, and that they abhor sexism the way they’re supposed to?
The Republican elite’s alienation from many Republican citizens calls to mind Benjamin Disraeli’s description of the “two nations” in his novel Sybil:
“Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts, and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones, or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.”
For Disraeli the rich and the poor defined the two nations. We have no poor, at least as defined by the history of human experience. But we do have an upper class and a lower class, Charles Murray’s “Belmont” and “Fishtown,” the fictional communities he uses to illustrate this chasm that has developed between mass and elite in America.
But despite all that, the election will be determined by the voters. And what their behavior this election year shows is that thoughtful, sober, and judicious study of policy proposals or background facts and statistics is not that important to most voters. This is exactly what James Madison implied in his description of “faction,” the associations of voters created by similar “passions and interests.” Notice Madison did not say, created by a similar level of knowledge and agreement about the particulars of a policy or an issue. Skeptical of human nature, learned in the excesses of Athenian democracy, Madison knew voters prefer self-interest, particularly regarding the economy, and religious or ideological passions, to wonkish study of the intricacies of the capital loss carry forward tax provision, or the implications of the NATO Treaty’s Article Five.
So whoever gets elected, the new president will have won not because his or her policy prescriptions were judged to be more plausible, more coherent, more principled, more buttressed by argument and facts. That’s why we haven’t heard much of the latter from either candidate, or any serious proposals about the looming entitlement disaster or our dangerously diminished global prestige. What we have seen instead is something akin to the speeches of demagogues in the Athenian Assembly, full of wild bluster laced with charges of sordid sexual practices and promises of more state pay to the masses. And as clever rhetorical style swayed the Athenians, so too with this election, in which focus-grouped sound-bites and sophistic attack ads turned voters, as the demagogue Cleon put it, into spectators of a theatrical performance.
So we can, and should, blame the media and hypocritical elites. But around 45 million voters are going to pick the winner. And in the end they will be responsible for the result.