Samantha Bee is the answer to a question nobody asked: what would the “Daily Show” be like with even less humor and journalistic curiosity? And yet I can’t help but slightly appreciate the TBS late-night comedian. At a time when leftist opinion consists largely of a.) sterilized wonkish analysis worshipping the idols of CBO charts, and b.) saturating gushes of snark that confuse themselves with humor and signify nothing, at least Bee is ardent about loathing Donald Trump and expresses it, without hiding behind a mask of comedic detachment, as Jon Stewart did.
Bee popped up last week when Ross Douthat, the New York Times‘ in-house conservative, wrote a piece contending that her narrow-minded absolutism had helped inflame the backlash against the left and fuel the rise of Trump. Yesterday, here at Rare, Kevin Boyd essentially agreed with Douthat, and added to the repertoire of progressive hectoring a recent screed by Drew Magary at GQ, in which Magary calls Trump voters “losers” and “hillbilly loons who are just as starved for attention as Trump himself.” That’ll show them! “I’m not gonna waste any more time trying to convince you that you’re about to do something you’ll regret forever,” Magary moans.
In spite of his best efforts, Magary does have something of a point: many Trump voters are losers, as in their job security has evaporated and they no longer feel capable of economic advancement. Many also come from communities that would affectionately describe themselves as “hillbilly,” Appalachian mountain towns where heroin is rampant and suicide rates have skyrocketed. There’s an argument to be made that some of their problems are self-inflicted. JD Vance, an Eastern Kentucky native and author of the engrossing new memoir Hillbilly Elegy, asserts that the current crisis of the white working class “is about a culture that increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.” No doubt that’s true.
But no one can objectively examine the EPA’s officious crusade against coal, or the insanely licentious opioid prescriptions of the 1990s, or 15 years of a foreign policy that’s shipped our disproportionately Appalachian enlisted men off to war in the Middle East only for victory to prove elusive, and not conclude that government policy is part of the problem. And regardless of where inflicted circumstances end and personal agency begins, the reality is this: hillbillies have made their crisis our crisis. They’ve demonstrated that after decades of being ignored by Washington and slighted by a culture that thinks of them as orthodontically neglected racists, they can exact horrifying revenge at the ballot box.
That isn’t an Appalachian problem or even a white problem; it’s an American problem.
Let’s conduct a little controlled experiment, inspired by Samantha Bee. Ready? Here we go: “DONALD TRUMP IS A RACIST, YOU BANJO-STRUMMING ILLITERATE ASSHOLES!!!” Now, a check of the evidence. The Department of Labor informs me that the unemployment rates in Kentucky and West Virginia haven’t dropped. The Department of the Treasury reports that the national debt is still verging on $20 trillion. Sources overseas insist that we remain quagmired in the Middle East. At home, the coal mines don’t appear to have reopened. Smugglers hurtle heroin down our major highways. The horse race has Trump only a couple paces behind Hillary Clinton.
But a small audience of finger-sniffing liberals regards itself with more satisfaction than it did previously! So you can’t say that outburst didn’t have any effect.
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I’ve chided the right before for dismissing the plight of impoverished Trump voters, and I’ll do the same thing to the left now. Certainly, there’s some bigotry at work here, but the Trump phenomenon cannot be explained away that cheaply — indeed, Trump’s obsession with immigration is mostly a distraction from the more pressing issues listed above. If you really want to drive a stake into the heart of the vermilion vampire, as I do, you have to understand the complaints of his supporters and find a way to reconnect them with American civic life. Otherwise, even if Trump loses, the problem will linger.
Ah, but I’m told Samantha Bee just DESTROYED Trump — scratch that, she EVISCERATED him AND his RACIST VOTERS! Why the left isn’t getting through to these people is one of the great political mysteries of our time.