|Image via Alternative Nation.|
That Nixon-Reagan rightward shift did not repeal the 1960s or push the counterculture back to a beatnik-hippie fringe. But it did leave liberalism in a curious place throughout the 1980s: atop the commanding heights of culture yet often impotent in Washington, D.C.I'm so deeply tired, by the way, of this kind of plate-tectonics analysis of sociocultural change, especially when it suckers people I admire, like BooMan, into taking it seriously. Whatever is happening isn't happening to a territory of some kind, where Samantha Bee and Trevor Noah have commandeered the troops invading the late-night frontier while putschists seize the Oscars and MTV awards and a fifth column of intellectuals assaults the high ground of the Ivy League—
On late-night television, it was once understood that David Letterman was beloved by coastal liberals and Jay Leno more of a Middle American taste. But neither man was prone to delivering hectoring monologues in the style of the “Daily Show” alums who now dominate late night....
It isn’t just late-night TV. Cultural arenas and institutions that were always liberal are being prodded or dragged further to the left. Awards shows are being pushed to shed their genteel limousine liberalism and embrace the race-gender-sexual identity agenda in full. Colleges and universities are increasingly acting as indoctrinators for that same agenda, shifting their already-lefty consensus under activist pressure.Nor do broadcast media and elite schools constitute the entirety of "the culture", for that matter. But in any case, culture is discourse—shared and argued meaning, between the individual subjects, not some kind of possession one person holds and someone else is deprived of.
I'd add that what's happening in particular in the Samantha Bee world isn't anything like that in any sense, and it's extra funny of conservatives and market devotees not to get it. Late-night TV is a business with a fairly developed market operation, and it has recognized that the Jay Leno audience is now too old to stay up past 11:00.
The shows aren't dragging their audiences into some "leftist" occupation, they are being dragged into speaking the language of the younger folks who are watching (Larry Wilmore got the sack not because he's not left-wing enough but because he's not silly enough, or when he's silly he's not millennial-cool). What's happening is that the conversation has changed among the customers, of late-night TV and elite colleges as well, younger people with purchasing power, and of all ethnic and gender persuasions, and if you want to compete for their eyeballs you'd better be aware of that.
But this change may not be reflected in politics because the same customers just aren't very reliable voters, and never have been, especially since that "rightward shift" of the electorate in 1972, when the turnout dropped seemingly permanently to 55% and below in presidential years and under 40% in offyears—driven in turn by the failure of hippie idealism in 1968. Or at least that's what the likely-voter screens in the national polls assume, though they were explicitly wrong about that in the two most recent presidential years. Let's hope they're still wrong this year!
What the Monsignor is up to in this column isn't the development of some big and magisterial political science theory, as his language might lead you to suppose; it's really first steps in the construction of a narrative about how even though Clinton is going to win it will be bad for the Democrats, and in fact she really isn't going to win in the baseball-statistics sense, because it's the preposterousness of the Trump that will bring her victory and not any virtue of her own.
And by the bye to suggest that it's not Samantha Bee who is the cool one, it's Donald Trump, a political Sid Vicious—much as the the Monsignor might personally disapprove, but you know how rebellious these young people are:
At the same time, outside the liberal tent, the feeling of being suffocated by the left’s cultural dominance is turning voting Republican into an act of cultural rebellion — which may be one reason the Obama years, so good for liberalism in the culture, have seen sharp G.O.P. gains at every level of the country’s government.
This spirit of political-cultural rebellion is obviously crucial to Trump’s act. As James Parker wrote in The Atlantic, he’s occupying “a space in American politics that is uniquely transgressive, volatile, carnivalesque, and (from a certain angle) punk rock.” (The alt-right-ish columnist Steve Sailer made the punk rock analogy as well.) Like the Sex Pistols, Parker suggests, Trump is out to “upend the culture” — but in this case it’s the culture of institutionalized political correctness and John Oliver explaining the news to you, forever.Oh, right. I'll just say this: Youthful rebellion has played a part in Republican gains over the past six years, but not by Republican votes; by staying home in 2010 and 2014. Nor is there any likelihood of a youthfully rebellious surge toward Trump, who remains overwhelmingly despised by the 18-to-34s (they prefer Hillary, with pro-weed Gary Johnson, not Trump, in second place.) The rebellious Trump vote is elderly tea partiers, who have been with him from the start.
And Donald Trump is not punk. This is the wrong analogy. If Trumpery resembles a pop music trend of any time the last 60 years, it would be the hair metal of the 1990s, Guns 'n' Roses in particular: the antithesis of punk with its slick production, fatigued chord progressions and vapid lyrics, whiny, entitled macho posturing, the curated hair.
Trump thought so too:
Former Guns N’ Roses manager Doug Goldstein discussed Donald Trump’s admiration of Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose in January on the Talking Metal podcast.
“We’re playing 5 shows at Madison Square Garden in 1992. I hear, ‘Is Doug Goldstein around?’ I look, and it’s Donald Trump. I said, ‘Yeah, this is Doug Goldstein.’ He said, ‘Can you make a pass for me?’ I said, ‘Yeah sure.’ So, being quizzical, I said, ‘Why are you here?’ He said, ‘I want to meet the Donald Trump of rock and roll.’ I said, ‘I give up.’ He said, ‘You know Doug, when you’re an underdog, everybody puts you to the top. Press, your fans, and once you get to the top, they jerk your ass back to the ground. That’s what Axl Rose is.’ So I introduced Axl to him after the show.”Though Axl himself, dreary as he may be musically, is still in a different rebellious-coolness universe from Trump—cool enough, I mean, to not return the compliment. Not that prissy young Ross would have any clue. He is just such a tool.