In an era of rampant media bias, certain right-leaning journalists have stepped up to act as impartial arbiters of the truth. Ben Shapiro, for instance, constantly criticizes President Trump for actions he considers improper. Of course, since the presidential campaign ended and Trump’s presidency has progressed, Shapiro has found himself increasingly agreeing with the president’s actions.
And so, in an attempt to retain an appearance of impartiality, Shapiro often resorts to criticizing Trump’s messaging. He lambasts Trump’s rhetoric while defending his actions. In the past week alone, Shapiro has spent significant time on his daily show lamenting the administration’s messaging on its immigration policies and the first lady’s wardrobe choices—all while agreeing with the underlying actions behind the words.
But these criticisms are particularly baffling coming from Shapiro.
In 2011, he wrote a brilliant piece explaining why Donald Trump would be the best Republican candidate for president. He said that the ideal candidate would have “stage presence, an intimidation factor, and a willingness to play dirty” and went on to argue that Trump, unlike other high-profile Republicans at the time, had all of those qualities.
Those other Republicans—John McCain and Mitt Romney come to mind—have lacked the political hunger required to win and often ceded ground to Democrats in the name of fairness and out of a sense of moral rectitude. McCain and Romney displayed grace and charity to Barack Obama, only to be viciously smeared. The opposition, including the media, was happy to paint McCain as a deranged, senile idiot. They rushed to smear one of the cleanest candidates Republicans have ever run as a misogynistic and morally bankrupt villain. Shapiro was right in criticizing Republicans’ unwillingness to play dirty: life is not fair, and sometimes turning the other cheek does not work.
Over the past few years, Shapiro seems either to have forgotten his own advice, gotten cold feet about fighting to win, or perhaps cynically decided that he can elevate his own position among moderates by seeming to rise above the fray. While Shapiro frets over the president’s brash messaging, Trump is single-handedly destroying the media’s credibility, turning the tide for Republicans, and accomplishing more of his policy objectives than most thought was possible.
If Trump followed Shapiro’s advice and played from the standard conservative playbook, he would not be accomplishing all of the things that Shapiro actually likes. Shapiro and other conservatives might not like the way that Trump is accomplishing his goals, but Trump is doing what Shapiro and the rest of the Republicans have been unable to do since Ronald Reagan left office—he is winning. Instead of whining sanctimoniously, maybe Shapiro should shut up, listen, and learn something.
Ben Shapiro is an exceptionally intelligent observer. He also appears to be a morally upstanding man. In light of these facts and of his prescient commentary from 2011, perhaps we should give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he has simply forgotten the dirtiness of politics. After all, it is often easy to forget how difficult something is when we watch an expert attempt it. We can criticize Olympic athletes from the comfort of our homes, but it is unlikely that we could give them any advice that would actually improve their performance. Fans shouting, “be more graceful,” as a ski-jumper flies through the air is not particularly helpful, and actually may be distracting.
If it were easy to solve the North Korean crisis, immigration debacle, and long-term economic malaise among the American middle-class, we would have solved these problems years ago. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been calling for solutions for decades. Trump, in spite of the vitriolic and hate-filled opposition, has had far more success in dealing with these problems than Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama combined. And yet Shapiro spends an inordinate amount of time complaining that the president is uncouth and speaks uncivilly.
A famous diplomat once said that foreigners would always ask him what was going on. He noted that they wouldn’t know and he wouldn’t know, but they didn’t know that he didn’t know, so any answer worked for a while because it was all chaos. The same is true in domestic politics. Commentators help set the table for what people focus on and talk about. Shapiro can disagree with the way that President Trump articulates his actions—perhaps he will become president one day and show us all how to govern effectively with grace and finesse. But as long as Trump is achieving the policy goals that he wants, why should he spend so much time concentrating on what he views as the negative aspects?
Ben Shapiro is not the man in the arena right now. And it seems silly to think that the country will magically regain civil political discourse if Trump only concentrated more on his public relations strategy. Trump’s brashness is a reaction to the way that the liberally biased media has treated conservatives over the past few decades. Pointing out the bias hasn’t stopped the onslaught. Trump’s vigorous attacks, however, seem to be dampening its blows.
Trump’s strategy may fix our country enough so that we can start talking about repairing our civil discourse. It certainly would work faster if conservatives like Ben Shapiro didn’t spend so much time and energy criticizing the messaging of a master persuader.
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