Last week’s “Fredo” controversy, and President Trump’s response, has really driven home the point that U.S. politics is now just “Jersey Shore” for vain talking heads and self-serving politicos.
The president of the United States is a braggart with a bad spray tan who spends most of his day trash-talking on Twitter. Among his chief rivals are four first-term lawmakers who call themselves “the squad” without a hint of irony and a 79-year-old who, among other achievements, is lauded for her skill in “throwing shade.”
These are among the chief characters in the “news” cycle, which has become a reality TV series about Twitter feuds between the rich and powerful while the country falls apart on their watch. In the latest episode, CNN’s Chris Cuomo berated a stranger for offending him with a Godfather reference.
Yes, this is “news” in America today: America’s middle class is declining, wages are stagnant, nothing has been done to curb illegal immigration, and wars that started before smartphones were invented grind on interminably. But all of that is just a sideshow to the real story: that some overpaid, pompous news anchor with a sinecure lost his temper.
Clapbacks and Sassy Tweets
It used to at least be possible to pretend that America was governed by people of good character. For a brief moment, it was undoubtedly true. Twitter has dispelled that illusion once and for all. It has become clear that we are ruled by preening, moronic sociopaths, whose idea of governance is something like a “Mean Girls” drama, and whose notion of public speaking is entitled performance art.
Politics has always been contentious, and some of history’s most memorable episodes were the result of elites struggling for power and prestige. But the characters in these stories had something of greatness in their stature. We are many days away from the conspiracies of the late Roman Republic or the fateful duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.
Move over, Lermontov. This is not a time of bold, open challenges. Now is the time of the clapback, the sassy tweet, the passive-aggressive innuendo, the empty death threat.
What happened to honor? That’s an archaic word. Do America’s leaders have honor anymore? Integrity? Do they even pass the low bar of maturity? It would be a moral improvement for our highest paid “journalists” and politicos to display a mental age past 16.
In all times politics has involved nastiness and a large degree of nonsense, but things have reached a point where our leaders have become so corrupt, our political discourse so empty of content—our leaders just spent two years gossiping about a Russian conspiracy, for crying out loud—so far removed from the actual, pressing political problems, that it’s actually dangerous.
Nancy Pelosi destroys “Moscow Mitch” for doing Putin’s bidding. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez threw shade at Lindsey Graham for his “white supremacy.”
While everyone is distracted by deranged speculation about Russia and childish Twitter beefs, the country continues its freefall into despair, while the “elites”—that’s the people who are supposed to be elevated above everyone else—conspire against the majority. Beyond mere neglect, our leaders have taken to attacking the citizenry for imagined “bigotry,” erasing the distinction of their citizenship, working to suppress their constitutional rights, rewriting their history, sowing division with fear-mongering over “white supremacy,” and even threatening harm for not being woke enough.
Gaslighting the Public
One needn’t go to the Jeffrey Epstein side of things to be disgusted with America’s ruling class. What happens in the daylight, on television and social media 24 hours a day, is enough of an indictment. Our “journalists” are socialites with soap boxes who exhibit the worst vices of human nature. They prattle and gossip without end, spread libels, gaslight the public, and then when called to account, heap scorn upon the hoi polloi for attacking their exalted profession.
When George H.W. Bush died, everyone mourned the loss of America’s decency. What happened to decency? Where did men of integrity go? Why is our ruling class so cowardly and worthless? Answer: it was Drumpf! The Bad Orange Man did this to us! But Trump is a symptom, an effect, not a cause. The descent started long before he rode down that escalator.
At some point, we degenerated. At some point, we decided that virtues like courage were hoary, classical abstractions with no value. At some point, we decided that manners were too uptight and old-fashioned, too “white.” At some point, we decided that America’s Christian inheritance was bad, that the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and the Book of Proverbs was mere superstition. At some point, we decided that the past must be jettisoned, with all its prejudices, and all its lessons.
At some point, America told its men to stop being men. That’s how we ended up with “Fredo.” Most pointedly, at some point, America’s leaders stopped, or at least stopped pretending to be, decent people. Powerful people in all times have done decadent and depraved things behind a mask of gentility. But until recently there was a mystique, at least, an aristocratic semblance that separated the upper crust from the have-nots. These days, it’s hard to tell the difference.
A Coarsening Liberalism, A Self-Serving Clown-Show
Our elites have been shaped by a culture of narcissism that exalts the self above all else, and which holds common sense and virtue to be not only irrelevant, but positively unfashionable. Timeless truths shrink from the utter importance of the fleeting moment; all history is a great conspiracy against the progressive elect. To make it in the woke ruling class is to swear by this false creed. Increasingly, the same is true for every American. To speak the most plain truth is to invite the wrath of the mob.
Is there some Biblical verse that predicted a time that rewards people like Ana Navarro? It’s poetic. This is a culture that lifts up the vain and false, while decent people are drowning, neglected, and abused by their “superiors” and hounded from public life for believing what people have professed to be true for thousands of years.
As ordinary people struggle to get by, the elites buy absolution for their sins by piling on the abuse. Our ruling class has struck a bargain: they can be the worst people in the world, as long as they take care to denounce the bottomless ignorance of people much less fortunate than themselves, as Patrick Deneen has explained so ably. Confessions of wokeness are an indulgence for bad behavior.
In like measure, our political conversation has been coarsened to fit the shallow dimensions of liberalism. There was a time when our leaders could address the problems of the hour, and they could do so in a way that inspired confidence in the citizenry. Today there is no subtlety or depth to political discourse, which is populated instead by idiotic platitudes and broad generalizations about American history. To hear our elites speak, nothing good ever happened before 1965, and America’s founding philosophy was authored by Emma Lazarus. Political dialogue has basically two registers: shrieking about Russia and white supremacy on one hand, and cloying sentimentalism about Ellis Island on the other.
Is this really the country that produced Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, or even Dwight D. Eisenhower? Where have the great Americans gone? Why are our leaders so devoid of wit and bravery? Do the elites even read? When was the last time a politician made an allusion to our inheritance that wasn’t slapped on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty?
Our leaders have lost all sense of moderation and cleverness in speech. There is only one tempo: that of outrage, about the need for “accountability” for this or that manufactured offense—or else the monotonous chant, like an incantation wishing some desire into reality: Ban assault weapons, Abortion is a human right, and on and on, repeated in maundering tones on into eternity.
The distinguishing virtue of our elites is not generosity or faithfulness or good service, but the faux-virtue of wokeness. In every other sense, they are the moral inferiors of the people in their charge, the so-called racists populating this land from sea to shining sea.
Contrary to the bigoted wasteland the elites imagine America to be, this is still a decent country. But politically, it is no longer a serious one. It has become a clown show run by petty, self-serving children.