The Corner


Welcome to the Club, Jonathan Chait: Part II

Last year, New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait came to the conclusion that “political correctness” was a problem after all. Why? Because, as Kevin Williamson put it at the time, the tool was “now being used as a cudgel against white liberals such as Jonathan Chait, who had previously enjoyed a measure of immunity.”

Today, Chait writes this, in the course of a jeremiad against the light-entertainment journalist Matt Lauer:

I had not taken seriously the possibility that Donald Trump could win the presidency until I saw Matt Lauer host an hour-long interview with the two major party candidates. Lauer’s performance was not merely a failure, it was horrifying and shocking. The shock, for me, was the realization that most Americans inhabit a very different news environment than professional journalists. I not only consume a lot of news, since it’s my job, I also tend to focus on elite print news sources. Most voters, and all the more so undecided voters, subsist on a news diet supplied by the likes of Matt Lauer. And the reality transmitted to them from Lauer matches the reality of the polls, which is a world in which Clinton and Trump are equivalently flawed.

Well knock me over with a spoon! You’re telling me that most people don’t read the New Republic or New York Magazine or National Review? And that they are influenced by pop-culture figures far more than by “elite print news sources”? And that this is unfair; a problem; a threat to the republic; a cancer on self-government?


Chait is, of course, correct in his basic diagnosis: The pop-culturification of politics is a serious problem. But, despite his framing, he’s certainly not “surprised” by it per se. He’s not “shocked.” And he’s not “realizing” anything. How do I know. Because I read Jonathan Chait, and Jonathan Chait understands well how pop culture interacts with politics.

A few years back, in a long and well-executed magazine piece, Chait acknowledged that Hollywood (and pop culture in general) has a bias, and that this bias benefits the Left. He also acknowledged that this matters a great deal. “You don’t have to be an especially devoted consumer of film or television (I’m not),” he wrote, “to detect a pervasive, if not total, liberalism.” And that’s important:

This capacity to mold the moral premises of large segments of the public, and especially the youngest and most impressionable elements, may or may not be unfair. What it is undoubtedly is a source of cultural (and hence political) power.

Extending his critique beyond movies and TV shows, Chait conceded that:

the world of popular culture increasingly reflects a shared reality in which the Republican Party is either absent or anathema. That shared reality is the cultural assumptions, in particular, of the younger voters whose support has become the bedrock of the Democratic Party.

Or, to put it another way: Most people aren’t reading “elite print news sources,” they’re watching mainstream television and going to the movies, and these sources are both teaching them what to think in ways that political-opinion magazines never will.

Today, Chait is less “may or may not be unfair” and more “horrified.” Why? Well, because now he believes that pop culture — which is just as shallow and dumb as it’s always been; Lauer is no anomaly — is hurting him and his party. And we can’t have that!

Welcome to the club, comrade.

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