Trumpers with good taste

Sorry, Charlie, you dainty Trump fans are only fooling yourselves

We are accustomed to ridicule shameless Trump suckups in the rightwing press because they’ll say or do anything to protect the Leader, even if it makes them look like idiots.

Still, you almost have to respect the intense focus of their grift; they’re like the canny servants in Jacobean plays — Mosca in Volpone, say — who unfailingly front for their masters without regard for decency or even common sense because they don’t pretend (except where subterfuge requires) to support any principle other than their master’s will.

But there’s another kind of Trumpkin that gets less attention: The longtime conservative pundit who has accepted Trump’s leadership as the cost of keeping their audience, and who hopes to grow it to include the lummoxes Trump flushed out of the klaverns who are able to read.

But because they are not completely certain that pure, red-faced Trumpism will long endure, these daintier conservatives feel obliged to qualify, tergiversate, and backpedal so they might keep their current constituency — the old-timey conservatives — while attracting, or at least placating, a new constituency of turnip-truck Trumpkins.

To me this balancing act is even more pathetic than pure Trump propaganda because, in almost every event, it offers the same support of Trump as the more forthright kind does, but without hope of actually convincing Trump true believers they’re in with the in crowd.

Take Andrew C. McCarthy’s latest at National Review, entitled “‘The Enemy of the People,’” with the subhed “Criticism of the media by a president is not necessarily a bad thing” (which ought to tell you something right there).

It should be noted that Trump’s epithet against the press, with its Soviet and Nazi resonances, still rouses his rabble and apparently the guy who sent a bomb to CNN. The phrase is sufficiently loaded that some conservatives, like Republican Senator Jeff Flake, have felt the need to criticize Trump for it — but only gently, because, while most Americans don’t see the press as a public enemy, most Republicans do, and it’s Republicans who make the donations and pay the subscription fees.

Thus we have Rod Dreher — a big-time “I’m no Trump fan, but” sort of Trump fan — sputtering about Trump’s use of EotP, but then suddenly resorting to bothsiderism, or should I say othersiderism: “It is my firm conviction that the media, being liberal, fail to see how toxic this kind of discourse is on the left,” Dreher inserts. “Many progressives absolve themselves of guilt for vilifying opponents in racist or sexist ways by saying that they are only ‘punching up.’ It’s a self-serving lie.” (Dreher supplies no explanatory link, so I assume he refers to the celebrated case of Fascist A. Strawsnowflake’s dastardly attack on Heeman Patriot.)

As usual, Dreher is explosive and barely coherent, but McCarthy, perhaps best known to my readers as one of conservatism’s foremost torture enthusiasts, gently swings the focus back and forth like an old-fashioned hypnotist’s pocket watch, until he can feel sure he has the target reader in the desired state.

McCarthy leads with this:

Depending on your perspective, one of President Trump’s real talents, or one of his most baleful traits, is his knack for the zinger label, pinned on a political or institutional foe. “Crooked Hillary,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “The Swamp” — the labels often stick . . . and sting.

Trump certainly is effective with this thing that may or may not be baleful! Also, Trump’s press criticism is “sometimes withering and sometimes unhinged,” and while journalists “worry aloud about being targeted for retribution,” that concern is “overwrought as applied to Trump partisans generally,” though it “cannot be dismissed out of hand.” Also, someone sent CNN a bomb, but someone else shot Republican Congressman at a ballfield, so Even Steven.

McCarthy goes back and forth like that, but still manages to make his central thesis known: Though perhaps he should not have expressed it in quite such crude terms, Trump is nonetheless right, because a.) the press is biased against Trump, and b.) the press is biased against conservatives, so it follows c.) Trump is conservative, and therefore right, and the press is, as always, wrong:

In the discussion [with Chris Wallace], Trump several times tried to clarify that when he refers to “the enemy of the people,” he is not speaking of all journalists; he is referring to a large subset of journalists that he calls “the Fake News”...

To my mind, there has been plenty of dishonest and inaccurate coverage of Trump. To be sure, there has also been plenty of honest and accurate coverage of the president saying things that are dishonest or inaccurate.

Guy, c’mon — bullshit or get off the pot!

Nevertheless, the sheer contempt in which this president is held by journalists is manifest. Even for those of us old enough to remember the coverage of Nixon and Reagan (as well as the Bushes), it is something to behold.

Trump is a habitual, prolific and sometimes Munchausean liar who makes Nixon look like Dudley Do-Right. Given his colossal gestures of contempt toward the press, on top of his depersonalizing attacks on them, contempt would seem to be the only rational response. But in conservative circles, there’s one thing that covers all rightwing sins and that’s the alleged bad faith of the press.

Finally, in the last ditch, McCarthy drops the tut-tuts and, clearly hoping the groundlings go for it, clasps Trump to his bosom, even referring to “Trump’s concerns that media partisanship and biased reporting distort the public’s understanding of important issues” — as if anyone could believe “the public’s understanding of important issues” is what Trump is concerned with.

Despite the maidenly blushes, the meaning of McCarthy’s column is the ultimately the same as that of more shameless columns by Trump tankies like the Washington Times (“Setting out to take down a president by any means necessary is not the role of a responsible press. When newspapers return to their fundamental role, the public reputation of the press will recover”) and Fox News (“Sarah Sanders blasts the Trump-hating media and exposes their blatant bias”).

But is his act convincing to Trump fans? Probably not. I’ve often made the point that American conservatism is now wholly under the sway of Trump, and even former Never-Trumpers and self-advertised Trump skeptics like Jonah Goldberg side with Trump on just about everything except his tsk-worthy tone and manner. But to the true Trumpkin, that tone and manner is an essential part of the appeal; if you can’t get with that, you might as well get lost.

It’s like that old Star-Kist tuna-with-good-taste versus tuna-that-tastes-good dichotomy: Like Charlie the Tuna, guys like McCarthy are forever angling to get hauled into the boat, only to be told time and time again that the voters don’t care about their breeding and good manners; they just want the succulent flesh.

After the last election and with the upcoming Mueller results looking bad, expect to see these guys, their insecurities exacerbated, stepping up the good-taste act, maybe with added harrumphs. If at last Trump does the Aguirre The Wrath of God finale with Ivanka, expect to see them in their traditional press perches and at their traditional Sunday show roundtables, filling their mouths with all the tsks they can tsk and denying they ever knew the guy. If Trump hangs in, either by electoral triumph or fascist coup, expect them to maybe flee to a fortified compound at Andrew Sullivan’s place. At least if it comes to the worst, we’ll have that spectacle for comfort.