Beck and Call
It’s inevitable, in the face of any great political defeat or party realignment, for loyalties to get a bit shaky. Confusion rules the day, and the ally of yesterday is the heretic of tomorrow. Only a few months ago, when it looked like the Republican Party was about to shake itself to pieces under the weight of Donald Trump’s hairpiece, we got to enjoy this spectacle from the other end, with a lot of high-ranking G.O.P. stalwarts, faced with the unexpected ascent of a hustling boor too transparently corrupt and crass even for them, pretended briefly to have principles. This led to the short existence of the “Never Trump” movement, wherein a smattering of conservative pundits, hacks, rogue electors, and even National Review charity cases put up a big front about how party was more important than power, and that were the bankrupt casino operator to gain the presidency, they would die before they bent the knee.
This proved even more hilarious when, as Trump’s ascendance to the Republican throne became inevitable, these very same scrupulous rebels one by one dropped their pretenses of decency and began lining up to kiss his ass. Who among us, heedless of creed or color, didn’t enjoy watching Ted Cruz, who had previously treated Trump like a smear of shit a particularly unpleasant reptiloid alien finds on the bottom of its boot, forced to eat that shit-smear and spend a humiliating evening cold-calling for his nemesis? And who among us hasn’t had fun listening to high-minded Republican voices pretend they never said all the stuff we clearly heard them say for the last six months, as they queue outside of Trump Tower for their share of the pillage?
Unfortunately for the sanity and safety of the nation, this non-stop entertainment has come at the expense of the opposition. Once it became clear that Trump had actually won the election – or, more accurately, that the Democrats, faced with the most incompetent, indifferent, and disliked candidate to ever run for president, had nonetheless lost – a very large, heavy, and uncomfortable shoe suddenly got transferred to the other foot. Liberals, having spent decades moving to the right and never quite being friendly with the left in the first place, freaked out and, rather than examine the failings of their party, began shrieking accusations of treason at anyone slightly more progressive than Gary Hart. This wasn’t all that upsetting, though; liberals and leftists have always been uneasy allies, despite the fifth-column fantasies of conservatives. What was really shocking was the way so many liberals embraced right-wingers.
In the face of a historical defeat – indeed, of a historical defeat in which they were hobbled by their failure to reach out to working-class voters and to anticipate and appeal to an insurgent leftist movement amongst younger voters – you’d think the last thing the Democrats would want to do is start palling around with conservative ideologues whose sole credential was being too bullheaded to find a place at the table in the Trump administration, which was quickly becoming populated with every crackpot and dropout from the Reagan and Bush regimes. Counting on the good character of Republicans, after all, is a big part of what cost them the election. But that’s exactly what happened. Hoping to gain traction for overblown conspiracy theories about Russian hackers stealing the election, they placed their faith in the likes of career gutless sellouts like John McCain and Lindsey Graham; desperate for a last-minute reprieve from President Trump, they begged faithless electors to choose instead a ‘reasonable’ Republican like women’s rights-trampler John Kasich or Colin Powell, who merely lied us into a bloody and unnecessary war; blinded by worst-case scenarios, they hoped for the return to a position of power the shoddy likes of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney!
This sort of nonsense reached a high point (though surely not its peak) this week when comedian Samantha Bee invited none other than Glenn Beck on her program for a chummy little fireside chat. He told a lot of heart-warming and/or stomach-churning anecdotes about his good deeds, and warned Bee not to become like him – that is, so polarized by partisanship that she fails to recognize that we’re all the same and deserve equal respect, whether we’re a liberal fighting for abortion rights or a conservative calling the black president a Muslim secret agent. By the end of it, Bee was being celebrated for her fiery comic genius in getting all misty-eyed over Beck’s transparently self-serving apotheosis, and Beck – a man who referred to the scores of children murdered by right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik as “Hitler Youth” –was being welcomed as the newest Hero of the Revolution, and living proof that anyone could be rehabilitated if they only made the proper frowny-faces at Donald Trump.
Of course this was all pure theater. Glenn Beck is not reformed one bit; he is a consummate fraud who made untold millions hawking paranoid fantasies to directionless dullards. All he’s done is found a brand-new audience for his overheated apocalyptic fantasies, and he’s just swapped out “Obama” for “Trump” as the dire existential threat to our venerable constitutional republic. All letting him into your clubhouse will get you in the end is less silverware than you had before. It’s hard to blame Beck, loathsome as he is, for flipping the script on his hustle; it’s all he knows how to do, as he, like most such talk-radio poison-drippers, is more conniving than intelligent. Why in the world Samantha Bee would go along with this is the more important question.
In a way, she’s not doing anything new. Despite the fact that liberals have anointed basic-cable comedians, not actual politicians, the guardians of America’s moral stature, and charged them with the nonstop evisceration and destruction of the enemies of liberty, they remain hired mercenaries whose job is to sell advertising. The risk of charging paid entertainers and not public servants with the health of the nation is that they’ll do and say anything they think will get people watching. Jon Stewart, the George Washington of our late-night comedy Mount Rushmore, refined new ways of saying ‘a pox on both your houses’, to the point where his bland, blind centrism became the basis for a massive rally depicting respectability and niceness as acceptable substitutes for effective politics. His replacement, Trevor Noah, doesn’t really grasp the intricacies of the American political style enough to seem like his heart is in it. Stephen Colbert thought it would be a big laugh to boogie on stage with mass-murdering war criminal Henry Kissinger. Bee, a Canadian who leaned hard for Hillary Clinton and wrung a lot out of her fragrant dislike of Bernie Sanders, has her kid’s exclusive Manhattan school to segregate and shouldn’t be expected to let any actual intelligent political analysis get in the way of her mortgage payment.
But bringing Glenn Beck into the fold – giving one of the country’s most toxic charlatans a platform to sell his alleged conversion to a new batch of rubes, along with the gold bars, survivalist rations, and bogus nutritional supplements that go with it – is beyond ludicrous. Defending on the grounds that if Beck can change, anyone can, only works if you’re naïve enough to think he really has changed. And even if it’s true, why give him the airtime? He’s already one of the most famous media personalities in the world. Let him go run his game on his own radio show if it’s for real. Why not spotlight a conversion narrative that really matters, like, say one of the tens of thousands of people whose disillusionment with the ineptitude and greed of the Democratic Party led them to socialism? I could name a dozen men and women on the dirtbag left funnier than Glenn Beck. Or why not a Trump voter who’s had the scales fall from their eyes once it became clear that their beloved outsider wasn’t going to drain the swamp after all, but instead dredge up the most ravenous predators from its depths? But that wouldn’t draw in the ratings.
The more we look to pop culture to save us, the more obvious it’s going to become that wealthy entertainers, whether they’re liberals like Bee or conservatives like Beck, are interested only in furthering the interests of their class – which is to say, rich professionals like themselves. Glenn Beck isn’t suddenly showing his true colors; Samantha Bee is finally showing hers.