I have a confession to make. I don’t find Samantha Bee very funny. I also don’t think John Oliver, Trevor Noah, or Seth Meyers are all that amusing. I bring this up because in The New York Times Ross Douthat wrote a column suggesting that liberal political comedians like Bee cause certain problems for Hillary Clinton. He says these late-night comedians and their views occupy a much greater space in culture than they do in the opinions of the electorate, which puts Clinton in an awkward position.
If Clinton gets too close to Bee’s scolding progressivism, she risks losing more middle-of-the-road voters. But if she doesn’t, she could alienate Bernie Sanders voters, 25 percent of whom already might not vote for her. For his trouble, Douthat met some rather aggressive pushback from liberals, who view all the branches of the Jon Stewart comedy tree as gold.
The liberal New Republic ripped off two pieces attacking Douthat’s conclusions. The first alleged that, wait for it, Douthat had not taken race into account thoroughly enough in arguing that part of Trump’s appeal is rooted in his rejection of progressive political correctness. The second argued that he was off-base because most millennials are socially liberal, as if older Americans don’t vote and younger people don’t become older people.
Bee herself weighed in, saying in a conference call “it’s so good to know that we’re the problem, and not racism,” according to New York Times writer Dave Iztkoff’s Twitter feed. When Iztkoff got some blowback from conservatives he had this to say:
Isn't it interesting that people get so upset that comedians have any place in our discourse, or that viewers watch of their own volition? https://t.co/dAjiayVAkn
— Dave Itzkoff (@ditzkoff) September 21, 2016
The weird thing about all of this is that the only people upset were liberals attacking Douthat’s theory. Part of the reason so many reacted is no doubt affection for Bee, who regularly “destroys” all the horrible conservative badness in the country. But what really got under their skin was something deeper.
People Are Voting for Fallon With Their Remotes
The background for the current discussions about late-night comedy is the ferocious anger thrust at “Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon for being too nice to Trump. Earlier this week I wrote about how wrongheaded the reaction was. But I failed to mention something that speaks to Douthat’s theory that hyperpoliticizing entertainment is turning off more people than it is enlightening. Fallon and “The Tonight Show” blow their competition away in the ratings. The shows’ viewership dwarfs all of the political-minded comedy shows.
“The Tonight Show” gets a bigger audience because most people aren’t looking for the self-righteous mirth of slamming those stupid Republicans right before bed. Most would rather just have a chuckle. But as the backlash against Fallon shows, that apolitical style of comedy is not only becoming rare, it is being openly attacked as insufficiently politically militant.
This is the phenomenon to which Douthat is rightly attributing much of Trump’s appeal. His signature issue, more than immigration, more than crime, more than trade, is political correctness. Are some of his supporters downright racists? Sure, but many, many more connect with him when he says the speech police are keeping us from having frank conversations about real issues and problems. It is an effective argument for Trump because it is largely true. Yet saying so drives the progressives of the cultural elite absolutely bonkers with outrage.
There are comedians who eschew political correctness; Jerry Seinfeld has taken flack for criticizing the snowflake mentality of the permanently outraged. Some comedians unable to secure late-night TV spots use the more open arena of podcasts. One such celebrity is Norm MacDonald, and a recent podcast exchange with Stephan Merchant might give a hint about why television isn’t giving him a broader platform.
About 12 minutes into a recent podcast, MacDonald and Merchant discuss transgenderism, pointing out ways in which the trans movement contradicts itself. At one point Macdonald asks if Merchant knows what cisgender means. Merchant didn’t, so MacDonald explained it is a man born a man who identifies a man, going on to say, “It’s a way of marginalizing normal people.”
Now, that’s a funny joke to my way of thinking, but not one safe for TV. Tellingly, by the end of the segment on the trans issue, Merchant suggests he knows he must have offended people, but he’s not exactly sure how or why.
Stop Ordering Us How to Think
This is exactly the predicament many voters leaning towards Trump feel. Their ideas, concerns, and feelings are consistently dismissed as not only wrong, but so wrong that they must never be spoken or heard. They know people are offended by them, but they aren’t even sure why, because it can’t be discussed. Trump and those who share positions with him are so deplorable they should only appear on TV to be destroyed.
Meanwhile, Hollywood celebrities are lining up, not just to tell us not to vote for Trump, but that not voting for Trump is the most important thing anyone can do in his or her entire life. In response to the latest video of anti-Trump hysteria, Ben Domenech hit the nail on the head.
This is the most convincing ad for Trump I've ever seen. https://t.co/8rzZdxQOGc
— Ben Domenech (@bdomenech) September 21, 2016
I understand that many right-thinking Samantha Bee fans are disappointed that not every American has jumped on their “muticulti, choose your own pronoun, get out of my safe space before I’m triggered” bandwagon. It’s hard knowing many people out there don’t share one’s fundamental beliefs. When we are told our religious beliefs, politics, and worldviews aren’t acceptable in decent discourse, it pisses us off.
Trump’s unique genius in this election cycle was in identifying political correctness as a major issue for many Americans. Resistance to the progressive inquisition explains better than anything else the surprising breadth of Trump’s appeal. Liberals don’t want to hear this; after all, they consider themselves to be the apex of tolerance. More and more Americans don’t see it that way. They see a progressive hegemony that makes their ideas cogitatio non grata.
Should Trump become the next president, a possibility some on the Left are awaking to with cold shudders, the rebellion against political correctness will be why. As much pause as Trump gives me, that rebellion alone has made his candidacy worthwhile.