Rachel Maddow: ‘Lock him up!”
Sean Hannity: ‘Lock her up!’
Bruno Sammartino, Killer Kowalski, Professor Tanaka, The Fabulous Moolah, The Sheik, Haystacks Calhoun, Chief Jay Strongbow, Ivan Koloff “The Russian Bear,” Billy Graham, Colonel Ninotchka, and The Progressive Liberal. Turnbuckle nose jobs, sleeper holds, flying splats, head chairs, an occasional Curley Shuffle, tag-team terror, caged grudge, and emcee Vince McMahon. Hatred never had so much fun wrestling with Truth. Until Now. Entering the ring, none other than WWE Hall of Defamer, the one, the only, Donald J. Trump, aka Saint Grobian, champion of the deplorables, who onced “schlonged” Hillary Clinton, and is feared for his legendary hold, The Pussy Snatch.
According to Rolling Stone staff writer Matt Taibbi, this is the state of affairs in national politics today — a Spectacle of bizarre performers flipping each other in the public arena, to the titillation of the rabid masses, like some scene from the classic movie, A Face in the Crowd. They are divided Left and Right, polarized bears wrassling over baby seal meat on the world’s last floe, united by their choreographed hatred for each other. The End of the World as Reality TV. Great ratings. Matt Taibbi calls it all Hate Inc. — his new book.
Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity face off on the cover of Hate Inc. Loud Democrats versus Loud Republicans. Of the two, Taibbi takes issue with Maddow more because he sees her as “smart, quick, and funny,” and should know better than to slog the slimey end of Trump and Russiagate the way she has. Meanwhile, “The Sean Hannity Show is an uncomplicated gruel of resentment, vituperation and doomsaying,” writes Taibbi. Both adhere, to varying degrees, to what Taibbi calls The Ten Rules of Hate, which include notions like, “There are only two ideas,” “Root, don’t think,” “No switching teams,” “The other side is literally Hitler,” and in fighting that other side everything is permitted. For Taibbi, they are two faces of the coin of the fucked-up Realm.
We’ve been at the bread and circuses so long in America that it’s now difficult to conjure up the sad, but heady, days of catharsis that followed Dick Nixon’s TV resignation in 1974. Goodbye to ‘dirty tricks’ and, soon enough, the Apocalypse Then of Vietnam. We weren’t happy with Gerry Ford’s pardon of Nixon, but we managed to sublimate our bile through Chevy Chase’s regular depictions of Ford falling over himself on SNL. With Ralph Nader, Noam Chomsky, Woodward and Bernstein, pushing to keep the Bastards honest, and with peanut farmer president Jimmy Carter, our dove among the warhawks, we felt we were moving toward our manifest destiny again. And the locusts sang that sweet mellow dee….
And then, lo, what rock through yon window breaks? Carter announces he has had lust in his heart for “other” women and admits so amidst all the pink bunnies spread out all over the place in the pages of Male Gaze Magazine (November 1976). Next thing you know, the press went berserk, and every time people started to forget about bunnies, and get back to kumbaya in the Middle East, John Updike put out another goddamned Rabbit book. Then Carter got into trouble again in 1979 when a naked bunny on the loose came swimming at his canoe with enough apparent purpose that he thwacked at “her” with a paddle. It was, all in all, a decade down the rabbit hole.
Well, it really wasn’t much of a hop to get from Carter’s hypothetical transgressions of the heart to Bill Clinton’s days of jizzy improvisation in the White House, a certain intern playing “Blind Willie Leaps” on his sexaphone, and all hell breaking loose inside the DC beltway (where belts never stay up long anyway) — the media frenzy, the special counsel, the calls to impeach, the partisan poli-dicking. The Clinton Show opened up a whole new can of whoopee-honkytonk. Anita Hill, Judge Thomas, pubic hair. “What is is.” You felt you were tripping. And some openly wondered how many people in Bosnia and Aftica were being taken out by cruise missiles to “detract” from the rocket’s red glare of Willy’s jism cycling the news back home.
Then after the palette-cleansing events of 9/11 wiped the smirks off our faces in a hurry and turned a whole lot of us into overcompensating conspiracy-fearists for about ten years, here we are, back in the criminal slime of celebrity sexual promiscuity. Now, with Russians.™ The phenomenon that is Donald J. Trump. He’s not only lusted after bunnies, he’s grabbed them by the pussy. Now we’re trying to figure out whether he grabbed Putin by the pussy, or if it was the other way around. And that’s all anyone cares about in America. Climate change? Nyet. Late stage capitalism? Nyet. Overpopulation? Nyet. Fashionable fascism? Nyet. Multiverses and the Singularity? Nyet. Welcome to America in 2019.
Hate Inc. brilliantly captures the current circus atmosphere and explores its roots in the political, economic and technological transformations of the last half century. Taibbi writes, “The Soviet Union let us all down by collapsing under the weight of its sociopathic leadership and systemic corruption, removing both itself and global communism as a functional adversary.”
That sucked. White Hat now alone in the spotlight, exceptionalism and neoliberalism looking more like Don Quixote than Sir Lancelot. So the Russkie demons had to be resurrected: Thank God Putin’s an asshole; it gives us something to work with. They gave us Sputnik; we gave them Stuxnet; now it’s their move.
Taibbi trots out his linguistic mentors early — Noam Chomsky and Hunter S. Thompson. One can see both at work in Taibbi’s style. He’s always keenly aware of the so-called “propaganda machine” that Chomsky in Manufacturing Consent, argues is behind all news production, the hidden vested interests, the profit-driven requirements of being in business, pandering to a readership. However, Taibbi’s prose is anything but academic; rather, it follows in the hip, snarky tradition of Hunter S. Thompson that is appropriate for a staff writer at Rolling Stone magazine.
The Russian disappointment aside, Taibbi locates the beginning of the corruption of good, solid journalism in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Far from seeing the end in Nam as a military loss, let alone a moral loss, American war hawks came away angry that ruptures in the narrative — Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers, Sy Hersh’s My Lai account — had undermined and betrayed the so-called Noble Cause. “The post-Vietnam story blamed an ‘excess of democracy’ for the loss,” writes Taibbi, “especially in the media: loserific criticism of our prospects for victory undermined the popular resolve to keep fighting a winnable war.”
The Excess of Democracy silliness sounded ominously Kissinger-esque. He’d said of events in Chile, “I don’t see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves.” It was as though the hawks and chickenhawks had replaced ‘communism’ with ‘democracy’ and Chile with America. New policy followed: Control the Messenger. One ex-CIA operative, Duane Clarridge, pardoned for his crucial role in the illegal anti-Sandinista campaign in Nicaragua, was shockingly candid with John Pilger about the fascist engine of American imperialism — “get used to it world,” it’s who we are.
This ‘national security’ attitude became policy toward journalists from Nixon onward, ratcheted up incrementally through the administrations until after 9/11. You could argue that the national political beat became little more than the propaganda arm of the War on Terror. As Glenn Greenwald and others have repeatedly charged over the years, the national press corps are made up of little more than stenographers being fed unattributed, often-uncheckable information.
Taibbi believes that part of the reason for the change in spirit that came over journalists is class-related. He writes, “…[B]ack in the day, reporters often came from a different class than the people they reported on in government. He relates the story of old school journalist Walter Winchell who was asked if he worked as a reporter: “He supposedly joked in reply: ‘Yeah, but don’t tell my mother. She still thinks I’m a piano player in a whorehouse.’”
That changed after Nixon and Watergate, he recounts. “Ironically, All the President’s Men, which made reporting glamorous, was about adversarial journalism. But the next generation of national political reporters viewed people in power as cultural soulmates because, at least socially, they were.” Suddenly, they were in a Georgetown nightclub together, grooving on Mose Allison tunes.
The economics of journalism has also played a role in the changes Taibbi alludes to. The media mergers of the ‘80s and ‘90s downsized the market, resulting in fewer outlets for news, which, combined with the ascension of the Internet in the late 90s began to affect revenue streams, especially for the press. Eventually, Taibbi argues, this began to affect news coverage and led to the transition to the current partisan bickering that represents contemporary coverage of events, especially national politics. It’s all come together like never before under Trump.
Taibbi observes, “Few seem troubled by the obvious symbiosis between Trump’s bottom-feeding scandal-a-minute act and the massive boom in profits suddenly animating our once-dying industry (even print journalism, a business that pre-Trump seemed destined to go the way of 8-track tapes, has seen a bump in the Trump years).” Trump often refers to the “failing” New York Times, and categorizes other mainstream media outlets as purveyors of “fake news,” but such attacks have done wonders for their bottom lines.
As the Peabody Award-winning Linda Ellerbee used to say, closing out her NBC Weekend stints in the 1970s, “And so it goes.”
Now that Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress last week ended as flat as a whimpering bagpipe, instead of the big bang smoke that Democrats were hoping to get from Mueller’s mushroom cloudy brain to fuel impeachment proceedings, we move in our spectacle to the last wrassling encounter on the programme. In this corner, Saint Groban, whose own government distrusts him with the country’s top secrets. And in the other corner, Julian “Wicked Leaks” Assange, wearing his fearful torn-condom mask, who the Trump administration wants to prosecute for espionage and journalism. A grudge match. The Pussy Snatcher versus The Sleepy Hacker. An atmosphere of pure hatred. Applause. The bell rings, we salivate.
Counterintuitively, The Whorehouse Pianist plays Rachmaninoff, musical pearls rolling before runting swine. Hunter S. Thompson would have loved it, dropping down another shot of whiskey, and heading upstairs for another round.