The pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates we de­serve

Ours is the coarse­ness and vul­gar­ity in­vited by a runaway cul­ture

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Suzanne Fields

Don­ald Trump and Hil­lary Clin­ton are only an ac­cu­rate re­flec­tion of our cul­ture of vul­gar­ity and hypocrisy. Both of them. They’re the can­di­dates we asked for. The coun­try may not de­serve them, but we the peo­ple do.

Don­ald Trump is ba­si­cally a re­al­ity star, whose wealth and celebrity as a busi­ness ty­coon pushed him into the spot­light in the 24/7 world of tele­vi­sion news and en­ter­tain­ment, abet­ted and aug­mented by the In­ter­net. He rose to celebrity with a nat­u­ral spon­tane­ity and comic cru­elty and a gift for get­ting oth­ers to re­veal telling bits and pieces of their per­son­al­i­ties un­der bru­tal cross-ex­am­i­na­tion. He made the de­ci­sions with con­se­quences, of­ten not happy ones, for other peo­ple, and his ver­dicts trav­eled with the speed of light across a tit­il­lated tweet­dom.

“You’re fired!” are the harsh­est two words to hear in any work­place, but on re­al­ity TV it’s merely sport. In­stead of lions at the coli­seum, we get pained ex­pres­sions on a cool screen, en­ter­tained by the pain of oth­ers. The medium numbs the sen­si­bil­i­ties by re­duc­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity and anal­y­sis to melo­drama. This is not “there but for the grace of God go I,” but “there goes that loser, not me, ha, ha, ha.” Rat­ings soar.

Tele­vi­sion con­sis­tently blurs the line sep­a­rat­ing pol­i­tics and en­ter­tain­ment, and Don­ald Trump emerges as the first fu­sion can­di­date for pres­i­dent. He dis­patched his op­po­nents in the pri­maries with the glib­ness and ease that he dis­patched would-be ap­pren­tices on his TV show, “The Apprentice.” The re­sult was not so much a coars­en­ing of pol­i­tics as a coars­en­ing of au­di­ences who found it en­ter­tain­ing to watch.

Net­works gave Don­ald Trump ex­po­sure be­cause he gave the net­works the rat­ings they ma­li­ciously covet, and treated him more as an en­ter­tainer than a politi­cian who hap­pened to be run­ning for leader of the free world. This is the new po­lit­i­cal re­al­ism: sen­sa­tion­al­ism over sub­stance, emo­tion over anal­y­sis, tit­il­la­tion over thought­ful­ness, greed over the pub­lic good.

Hil­lary’s rise to power has been more cir­cuitous, as re­quired of a woman in a rad­i­cally em­pow­ered fem­i­nist world. She en­vi­sioned ris­ing to the top through mar­riage to a man she cal­cu­lated would get there first. As his side­kick, she would fol­low in his foot­steps (even if in heels), and even at the price of per­sonal pub­lic hu­mil­i­a­tion.

“Tough times make a mon­key eat red pep­per,” my fa­ther used to say, and Hil­lary early on de­vel­oped a tol­er­ance for cayenne, ha­banero, Ser­rano and even the red-hot bubba. When Bill Clin­ton cheated on Hil­lary, first in Lit­tle Rock and then in Wash­ing­ton, she dished out pep­per of her own to the ladies she scorned as bim­bos, trailer trash and Looney Tunes. If that meant reprise af­ter reprise of Bill’s sex­ual of­fenses on na­tional tele­vi­sion, that was a small price to pay for a ticket to power.

The sis­ter­hood, which usu­ally stands by women taken down by sex­ual preda­tors and power bro­kers, saw Hil­lary as their best bet to be the first woman in the White House. It was no great task to change their tune from a roar­ing de­fense of the vul­ner­a­ble to some­thing echo­ing the rap lyrics of the Broad­way sen­sa­tion “Hamil­ton”: “I am not throw­ing away my shot.” Throw­ing Bill’s women un­der the bus in the White House drive­way was just a nec­es­sary power play.

Fem­i­nism now steps up to a new stage. Women must break through the crass ceil­ing to get to the one of glass. They must fake shock at Don­ald Trump’s lewd­ness in the way that Capt. Re­nault was shocked! shocked! to learn that gam­bling was go­ing on in the casino at Rick’s Bar in “Casablanca.”

But shock can be a hard sell when shlock dom­i­nates the mar­ket. Here’s New Yorker mag­a­zine, the bi­ble of cul­ture and taste for the beau­ti­ful peo­ple, quot­ing the hu­mor of Amy Schumer, one of Hil­lary’s celebrity sup­port­ers, telling au­di­ences how my “[p-word] smells like a small barn­yard an­i­mal . . . a goat at a pet­ting zoo.” That’s just the lan­guage on stage. Off stage, in a roundtable dis­cus­sion with other fe­male co­me­di­ans in­dulging in bawdy ban­ter that might em­bar­rass the Don­ald, she de­scribes the sex romps of her movie, “Train­wreck,” in the crud­est pos­si­ble way. The ladies were jok­ing, no doubt; it was a “pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion,” af­ter all.

Not to be out­done, Lena Dun­ham, who’s allin for Hil­lary, boasts that on the set of “Girls,” her HBO sit­com that’s all the rage, “there’s not one guy on that show who hasn’t seen the in­side of my vagina.” Then the raunch gets re­ally raunchy. The sin of hypocrisy, the the­olo­gians tell us, is the evil that walks in­vis­i­ble. Now that the medium has be­come the mes­sage, noth­ing re­mains in­vis­i­ble. The proof lies all about us.

“Tough times make a mon­key eat red pep­per,” my fa­ther used to say, and Hil­lary early on de­vel­oped a tol­er­ance for cayenne, ha­banero, Ser­rano and even the red-hot bubba.

Suzanne Fields is a colum­nist for The Wash­ing­ton Times and is na­tion­ally syn­di­cated.

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