February 27, 2016

MORAL ROT AND THE AGE OF TRUMP, as explored by Eliot A. Cohen in the American Interest:

Trump’s rise is only one among many signs that something has gone profoundly amiss in our popular culture. It is related to the hysteria that has swept through many campuses, as students call for the suppression of various forms of free speech and the provision of “safe spaces” where they will not be challenged by ideas with which they disagree. The rise of Trump and the fall of free speech in academia are equal signs that we are losing the intellectual sturdiness and honesty without which a republic cannot thrive.

But the moral rot seeped into the modern-day American overculture long ago. I’ll eschew the usual conservative jeremiads on the radical changes in culture during the 1960s and ‘70s. But at some point in the mid-1980s, left-leaning programming executives decided that Howard Stern, Jerry Springer, and Morton Downey Jr. would bring in big ratings on radio and TV via shock. In many ways, the Trump campaign feels like a 24/7 version of the Morton Downey Jr. Show, right down to the fact that Downey was a former Democrat who saw an opening with conservative voters to exploit via an aggressive in-your-face Noooo Yewk attitude. (Particularly this past week, when Al Sharpton, whose public career began on the Downey show, made his inevitable guest appearance in the presidential campaign.)

As with Obama in 2008, whatever his many transgressions, it’s tough to complain about Trump intuitively understanding that today’s pop culture was built for him to exploit to the fullest. “Years from now they’ll say: the center didn’t hold. The tree was hollow. All it took was one hard push from a virtuoso demagogue,” Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal writes on Twitter. Ah, but which one?

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