Howard Stern never supported Donald Trump’s bid for the White House, but he at least seemed to get it. “I know these people,” Stern wrote in his latest book, released last May. “They’ve been listening to me my entire career. I could tell that they were just not feeling Hillary and that they were really embracing Donald.”
Flash forward to May 2020. “I don’t hate Donald. I hate you for voting for him, for not having intelligence. For not being able to see what’s going on with the coronavirus, for not being able to see what the Justice Department is doing. I hate you, I don’t want you here.” Stern said on his radio show this week.
“Go to Mar-a-Lago, see if there’s any people who look like you. I’m talking to you in the audience,” he quipped, contending “the people Trump despises most, love him the most.”
Let’s go back to his book. Stern, a passionate supporter of Hillary Clinton, reflected on her debate performances. “Donald was shredding her. He knew how to do this. He was talking like a dude. He was saying things in a clear and definite way. People were digging it,” Stern observed.
Much has changed in the past year, let alone the past month. Apparently those changes have been so dramatic that Stern, who is now “all in” for Joe Biden, has lost all sympathy for listeners who continue supporting Trump. That’s interesting because the basic reasons so many people support Trump have not changed: They like his style, they hate the political establishment, they’ll take anyone over a Democrat.
Stern can, of course, make the argument that Trump’s response to the pandemic should deter anyone from continuing to support him. People can disagree with that. What’s strange, however, is seeing one of the few media figures with some understanding of—and empathy for—the president’s base drop an h-bomb on his own listeners, then take a page straight from the Hollywood playbook and insult their intelligence.
Stern’s evolution has been an interesting one. His edges are softer, and not entirely for the worst. “Howard Stern Comes Again” is a great book. But he built a career off challenging the attitudes of haughty elites, much to the amusement of listeners around the country. Take his own words and substitute voting for Trump with listening to Stern, and you’d have a sentiment many people harbored for the host himself: “I hate you for listening to him, for not having intelligence.”
You’d think he would understand intelligent people can hold views he finds detestable for reasons that don’t render them stupid. Or that decent people can hold views he finds detestable without deserving hatred. (Some views are, of course, so noxious they are held only by people of immense moral failure. You’d think we would have learned by now that supporting Trump isn’t categorically one of them.)
Stern’s escalation seems reflective of a broader escalation in political tensions, as is to be expected when tends of thousands die, the economy crashes, and people are forced into quarantines. It’s easier to fall into the trap of seeing political opponents as horrible people when the stakes are this high, and so many lives and jobs are immediately on the line. Here, it’s instructive to return once more to “Howard Stern Comes Again.”
“As my listeners know,” he wrote last year, “I don’t like talking about my political beliefs on the air. It’s not because I’m worried I’ll drive away SiriusXM subscribers who disagree with me. It’s because I’m not well versed enough in politics. It’s not one of my areas of expertise.”
He added, “[M]y positions are constantly changing, and that’s actually the single most important rule of being successful in radio, ahead of ‘nothing is casual’—have a definite opinion. What the opinion is doesn’t matter. You just need to have a strong one and back it up.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Stern’s opinion on Trump voters is strong, given that he’s talking about them in the first place. What remains surprising is that he no longer seems to understand them.