The Corner

Conservatives Weren’t the Ones Who Made Trump a Ubiquitous Celebrity

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Conservatives Weren’t the Ones Who Made Trump a Ubiquitous Celebrity

An important point from Jim Lewis over at The Intercept, about why it is indeed so unexpected that Donald Trump could become the face of the Republican Party, and why he represents a takeover of the GOP by “foreign” (as in alien or outsider, not as in international) values, not traditional conservative values:

…absent from all these ashen-faced accounts is any examination of the people who put Trump in a position to run for president in the first place. The man didn’t emerge, all at once and fully formed, from some hidden and benighted hollow in the American psyche. He’s been kicking around for 30 years or more, and he was promoted and schooled, made famous and made wealthy, by the same culture and economy that now reviles him, and finds his success so vexing.

After all, it wasn’t some Klan newsletter that first brought Trump to our attention: It was Time and Esquire and Spy. The Westboro Baptist Church didn’t give him his own TV show: NBC did. And his boasts and lies weren’t posted on Breitbart, they were published by Random House. He was created by people who learned from Andy Warhol, not Jerry Falwell, who knew him from galas at the Met, not fundraisers at Karl Rove’s house, and his original audience was presented to him by Condé Nast, not Guns & Ammo. He owes his celebrity, his money, his arrogance, and his skill at drawing attention to those coastal cultural gatekeepers — presumably mostly liberal — who first elevated him out of general obscurity, making him famous and rewarding him (and, not at all incidentally, themselves) for his idiocies.

My only quibble with his list would be Spy, which clearly and repeatedly argued that Donald Trump was the living embodiment of everything that was wrong with Manhattan’s high society/super-wealthy class in the 1980s. From the perspective of a lot of folks on the Right at the time, Spy offered a group of smug New York elites snickering and mocking other smug New York elites (and anyone not sophisticated enough to know who they were talking about). But from the perspective of today, the magazine’s ridicule represented the white blood cells of a functioning societal body, pointing out extraordinary sense of entitlement, hypocrisy, shamelessness, egomania, greed and Bacchanalian excess going on among the city’s elites. At its best, the magazine represented a bit of cultural vigilantism, exposing bad behavior and holding it up for ridicule and scorn that it was unlikely to get from other fawning media outlets.

As a contributing editor put it:

The founding editors of the magazine, Graydon Carter and Kurt Andersen, recognized Trump for what he was: the id of New York City, writ large—a bombastic, self-aggrandizing, un–self-aware bully, with a curious relationship to the truth about his supposed wealth and business acumen. He wasn’t so much a Macy’s balloon, ripe for the targeting, as he was the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, stomping on everything in his gold-plated path.

There was one glaring flaw in the magazine’s approach: the sarcastic cynicism of Spy more or less targeted everyone – including National Review and William F. Buckley at least once — meaning that there was no good in their perspective, few if any examples of people worth emulating.  Rereading Spy today is fascinating, but after enough issues, it begins to feel like comedic nihilism – everybody’s terrible, everybody’s shameless and out for themselves, everybody’s the worst ever. And if everybody’s the worst ever, nobody stands out as particularly bad – and there’s no point in expecting anything better.

But Lewis’ broader point stands; Spy stood out because of its scathing disdain for Trump in a media world that either celebrated him or, at worst, shook its head in amazement at that rapscallion… for about thirty years.

This is one of the reasons why it’s going to be strange and risky to see major media attempt to demonize Trump in the coming seven months. Most of the media will become some version of “Morning Joe” – declaring him unacceptable as a potential commander-in-chief Tuesdays and Thursday while welcoming his appearances by phone or by remote Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Other figures deemed beyond the pale, and denounced as furiously as Trump – David Duke, Alex Jones, Louis Farrakhan — don’t get invited to share their thoughts like clockwork morning, noon and night.

If Trump is this repugnant, nasty racist, so undeserving of public office . . .  why is he hosting Saturday Night Live and joking around with Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert? If he’s so self-evidently unsuited for the presidency… why has the national media spent a full year dissecting his every move? If he’s such a vulgar embodiment of reality-television narcissism, why the soft-focus profiles of his lovely family? If his economic plans are so wildly unrealistic and reckless, why has the business media written those glowing profiles about his keen mind and eye for opportunities?


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